Hi, I’m Rudiger Meyer and this is my monthly newsletter covering what I’ve been up to and what’s been catching my attention.
A recent discovery, via Hannes Pasqualini’s Horizontal Pitch Blog, has been the music of Franco Battiato. (Hannes is also the man behind Papernoise, doing a lot of design work for the modular world, including Audulus amongst others).
As Hannes points out, Battista was, over the course of his career, “a prog-rock icon, the first Italian musician with an EMS VCS3, a minimalist composer, a top-of-the-chart pop star and a singer-songwriter. He composed songs, lieder, operas, painted and directed several films.” Hannes’ post serves as a good introduction to it all.
While there are delights to be had across the span of his career, it’s four ‘experimental’ albums from the mid to late 70s that have particularly resonated with me. Clic, Franco Battiato (in particular the second track Café Table Musik), Juke Box, and L’Egitto Prima Della Sabbie (in particular the second track Sud Afternoon).
Such a joy. The easiness of it. Direct. Intimate. Charming. Accomplished. The sense of a person making something. There’s a simplicity that perhaps also has something to do with the technical resources available at the time. Abrupt edits, hard pans left and right, not getting too lost in layers of effects. Some of the sound collage pieces share some common points with Holger Czukay’s albums that appear a little later – perhaps in part due to their having Stockhausen as a common point of reference.
In some ways I get to think of someone like Hainbach with his studio full of old gear – there’s the warmth of the (tape) technology of the time, the non-academic aspect, and stylistically we’ve perhaps come full circle in what we’re open to in terms of musical content. At times it feels strangely contemporary.
There’s also something about the intimacy of the piano recordings that’s quite crucial: The close mic’d sound of the piano. A sense of the hammers and strings. There’s a recording of a live performance Sud Afternoon by Sentieri Salvaggi for example that serves as an interesting comparison.
I’ve been faced with the strange feeling of wishing that I had done much of it myself. (Something like getting the resonances of the abrupt chords of Za to work as a piece. How many hours have I spent loosing myself in those kinds of aural phenomena?). The feeling that I came close in some cases, but never quite reached the same level of accomplishment. That can also be a little depressing, a flip side to the joy of it all. The impulse to go back and fix things, improve, revise. And at the same time very much not wanting to get stuck in my own past: Those lessons will have to be folded into the future!
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Another discovery has been the Sound American publication, in particular their Just Intonation Issue.
David B. Doty’s article The Why, How and Wherefore lays out the tuning principles nice and clearly and, I find, serves as an excellent introduction. Alongside covering aspects such as beats between harmonics and difference tones, he also mentions periodicity pitches, providing a little more specificity (and a nice diagram) to the distinction Clarence Barlow makes between intervallic and positional hearing that I referred to in my newsletter from February a year ago.
I’ve been using my Sensel Morph Partch overlay and the ID700 to explore to all those sounds – beautiful. It’s interesting how in the right context a JI
7:5 tritone, that arch-dissonance, can be part of a beautifully stable, resonant drone.
In relation to Partch Doty has the following to say:
Partch’s work (and it usually elicits strong responses), much of it does not show the intervals of JI to good advantage, being dominated by rapid percussion figuration, complex inharmonic timbres , and microtonal glissandi. A simple consonance or consonant chord, sustained and unadorned, is seldom heard.
Someone who has embraced the world of Harry Parch (and not just his tuning system) is Taylor Brook. Virtutes Occultae: A Basis in Harry Partch, another article in the issue covers his Virtutes Occultae, a 90-minute composition for six microtonally tuned and physically modelled digital pianos (in the form of an album). I’ve written in previous newsletters about my doubts regarding how well the traditional piano timbre fits being tuned in just intonation given the imperfections of it’s harmonics, but Taylor has embraced it fully and, I dare say, somewhat convincingly. Perhaps the clarity of the software pianos helps.
Josh Modney’s Ciaconna With Just Intonation: A Practical Guide to Violin Tuning / a Wilderness Journey With Bach provides a fascinating look at how (just) intonation considerations might play a role in interpreting one of the peaks in the repertoire for solo violin.
The Bach Chaconne was still present in my mind after Kuno Kjærbye’s presentation of an ambitious project in which he invited composers to compose pieces for solo violin – to be performed alongside Bach’s Sonatas & Partitas over the course of three concerts. That was at the last Frankenstein’s Lab shortly before the first Corona lockdown. Some information on the composers’ approaches as well as the Chaconne specifically, also referring to some of the aspects Josh mentions in his article, can be found in the ‘Lab Report’.
A recording of Josh’s take on the Ciaconna, also surrounded by contemporary pieces, can be found on his 2018 album Engage. It’s quite something.
Catherine Lamb also features in the issue. I’d come across the Jack Quartet’s recording of her String Quartets which was released in December. The liner notes can be found here:
While John Cage has largely been received as an advocate for the music that “utiliz[es] conceptual, theatrical, performative, or visual pursuits,” Tenney read Cage against the grain, not as the emancipator of noise, but as the liberator of harmony: “Cage has always emphasized the multidimensional character of sound-space, with pitch just as one of its dimensions.” And Tenney takes this image from Cage, arguing for a conception of “total sound-space … more complex than Cage could have known: ‘Within it a place will be found for specifically harmonic relations – and thus, for ‘harmony’ – but not until this word has been redefined to free it from the walls that have been built around it.’”
The feats of musicianship are impressive but it makes for intense listening, beautiful as it is. Similarly with Wolfgang von Schweinitz’ Plainsound Etudes.
Catherine Lamb also features in the recent OCCAM Ocean Issue of Sound American, dedicated to Éliane Radigue’s “radical musical ecosystem”. It’s a fascinating project involving the creation and passing on of the ‘piece’ directly from person to person via a long collaborative process. A way of working that’s been on my mind since watching Felix Profos’ Grund last year.
There was quite a bit of activity around Éliane Radigue’s 90th birthday. Peter Kirn posted an article on CDM that included a link to a fine documentary on her. Unfortunately only free to watch for the week of the birthday. Here’s another.
Éliane was close to the art world to start off with. Married to Arman who formed a little group with Yves Klein. I saw (or heard, read?) a documentary a while back where she talks about the three of them sitting (herself pregnant) on the beach at Nice at night, talking amongst themselves and listening to the ocean. Following that thread I spent the beginning of an afternoon paging through a book on Klein. Reading about this obsession with ‘the void’. Giving up contrasts. A sense of being not covered by thought. Here’s a little excerpt from his Monotone Symphony. Not so much a single note as claimed, but an orchestrated D Major chord. 3 flutes, 3 oboes, and 3 horns, 20 piece choir, 10 violins, 10 cellos, and 3 contrabasses – divisi.
It gets me thinking of a Stockhausen piece I’m particularly fascinated by – Trans, an excerpt of which can be seen from around 45′ in TRANS und so weiter…, a documentary from the early 70s.
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I was surprised to discover an article on Alt-Text, “The Hidden Image Descriptions Making the Internet Accessible” in the New York Times.
Last year Craig Mod, based a 20-issue newsletter around the idea of flipping the classic image-first, description-second flow. The newsletter sent out a link in the form of a description, which one could then choose to click through to see the picture. I took that as a point of inspiration to make sure that I included text descriptions for my lockdown photo-project, using those descriptions in a similar manner for the overview on the project’s archive page.
Via the New York Times article I came across the Alt-Text as Poetry site. They have a workbook that can be downloaded in various formats.
Why Think of Alt-Text as Poetry?
Framing alt-text as a type of poetry allows us to approach it with some of the ideas and strategies that have been developed by poets. That said, we’re not interested in producing alt-text poetry that exists outside of making the internet more accessible. We recognize that others have used alt-text and code as inspiration and media for poetry, but for us, increasing website accessibility remains the first and most important condition of alt-text’s poetic potential.
I’m not sure why this little alt-text thing has tickled me as much as it has. Something about the semi-hidden nature of it. Published but not immediately seen.
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Back to the 70s. Unseen Worlds will be releasing John McGuire’s Pulse Music. As with the Battiato albums there’s delight to be had in its warm clarity and directness. Elecronic sounds throughout, beautifully placed and tuned in terms of timbre. Another side of minimalism.
I first came across John McGuire’s name in Kevin Volans’ Summer Gardeners, his 1984 collection of interviews with composers. It would be wonderful if it could be reissued, as was Walter Zimmerman’s Desert Plants.
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And to close off, an article on How the Physics of Resonance Shapes Reality.
All the best