↬ Twenty-three – 06: Deserts, Designs, Festivals

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.

Boris Baltschun has a new album out – Desert Dictionary. Released on Mads Emil Nielsen’s arbitrary label. A ‘dictionary’ with beautifully recorded South African words spoken with South African accents. Placed in sparse landscapes of artificial ‘field recordings’ that in some ways remind me of the Kevin Volans studio recreations of the South African environment that I included in my mixtape. Sounds that take me back to my roots.

Desert Dictionary – Karoo photo by Boris Baltschun

Besides running his label and creating albums and installations, Mads Emil has been organising concerts over the years in Copenhagen, often working with modular stuff. Boris, born in Bremen, studied, as I did, in The Hague and forms a duo with Serge Baghdassarians, who I remember from my study days back in Bremen.

* * *

Jeremy Smith has been working on a Pitch Wheel and updating the Quantizer module in the Audulus library, specifically focussing on the UI. I’d made my scale and tuning tiles, also to be included in the library, but they don’t include any visual display of the notes, given the limited amount of space available. Jeremy has included my list of scales in the modules, and we’ve been working together on getting all those note names correctly displayed for the 36 scales in all their 24 transpositions (both sharps and flats for each degree) – something that turned out to be a little more tricky than first expected. In the end we gave up on generating them with programmatically and resorted to a list of tables: The historical aspect of note names and accidentals (× for a double sharp, but no equivalent for a double flat etc.) complicating the matter a little.

Different views an Audulus pitch wheel and quantizer. WIP.

It’s taking shape nicely. The wheel got me thinking of the old iPod jog/click wheels, and then the more recent Teenage Engineering TP-7 Field Recorder. My joke is that there’s engineering, then over-engineering, and then teenage engineering. Their recent stuff represents an incredible achievement, but there’s also a strange feeling that comes along with it – a kind of fetishism that one doesn’t feel with Dieter Ram’s designs, for example. Similarly, would one describe a 70s Nagra as over-engineered? Beautifully-engineered, I think.

Teenage Engineering TP-7 Field Receorder.

It’s also there in Apple’s new Vision Pro headset: an incredible feat (as much as it is disturbingly dystopian) – though in this case necessary to reach their ambitious goals. Is the over-engineering something that we simply get used to? Pushing the boundaries. Normalised over time?

All that’s missing is a Werner Hertzog voice-over: “But why?”.

* * *

On the Audulus front I’ve also been diving into getting my Lua basics a little more thoroughly in place. I found a useful 15 minute ‘crash course’ (for those who already have a little programming experience) on YouTube (Mark Boyd also has two good intro videos), and have been making an Audulus version of the summary it provides – with examples that can be tried out directly in the Audulus environment since the Audulus Lua implementation has some aspects that are specific to it.

* * *

Music. Ying-Hsueh Chen put together a performance of Xenakis’ Persephassa for Klang Festival. Originally commissioned by the Percussions de Strasbourg to be performed at fourth edition of the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis in Iran. A very different place at the time. There’s an interesting photo of the Percussions’ instrumentarium for John Cage’s First Construction In Metal and Varèse’s Ionisation in front of the steps of the old ‘Palace of Darius’ ruins.

Percussions de Strasbourg with the instruments for John Cage's First Construction In Metal and Varèse’s Ionisation in from of the steps of the ruins of ’The Palace of Darius’ in Persepolis, Iran.

For Persephassa each percussionist was apparently placed on the stump of a column of this same palace, the distance between them being up to 50 metres.

Persepolis - Palace of Darius - Steps, Ruins. Hansueli Krapf - Wikipedia
Persepolis Palace of Darius Ruins. Diego Delso - Wikipedia

That breadth of open space was unfortunately not present at the Klang Festival performance where everything was somewhat claustrophobically crammed into the foyer of the Copenhagen Opera. I can understand the practicalities of holding the performance there, but felt that the work didn’t come across as fully as it could, also thinking that some of the longer silences between the cascades of percussion impulses would have worked better in an outdoor setting with some sounds from the natural environment to colour them.

Two years later Xenakis would present his Polytope de Persepolis at the same ruins, a little further back from the stairs. Described by the composer himself as as “neither a work of theater, nor a ballet, nor an event. It is visual symbolism, paralleled in sound, and in the end it is sound – music – that must prevail at all costs.”

Xenakis’ piece was … a multimedia spectacle staged in the dark of night all over the archeological site of the ancient city, using two lasers and ninety-two spotlights that projected patterns that evoked the Zoroastrian symbolism of light associated to eternal life. Fifty-nine loudspeakers projected, in turn, eight channels of sound throughout the audience, who, in the distance, could see bonfires burning and parades of children carrying torches over the hills, forming even more patterns, the most important of which was a message ‘written’ in Persian: “We bear the light of the earth”.
—A Closer Listen

Iannis Xenakis at Persepolis, Iran during the preparations for his Polytope of Persepolis.
Xenakis Persepolis – children with torches: “We bear the light of the earth”

…reactions of the local press following the Polytope show caused a violent polemic that Xenakis was unable to accept. Five years later, he would decline the proposal for a second Polytope in Persepolis, distancing himself from the increasingly authoritarian Iranian regime.

* * *

Regarding festivals and the role they play in society: There’s been some back and forth – intense discussion – around the shape of Klang as a festival on Seismograf. It occurred to me that I’d collected some thoughts of my own about the festival in a blog post exactly 10 years ago:

Since Klang Festival’s branding of their festival with this word I’ve been thinking about the term ‘avant-garde’ and wondering how to make sense of it in relation to both the festival and the field of contemporary art music…

…These considerations in turn throw some of the “avant-garde” issues into relief. The notion of the present day artist as individual creator, no longer in opposition to the masses (and all that has gone before) but in collaboration with them. No longer having to stake out a pure position in relation to mass corruption but in a wild creative dance that embraces large chunks of the world. No longer the artist as intermediary pushing ahead on behalf of culture as a whole but rather one in dialogue with it.

All the best,
and Happy Solstice,
↬ Rudiger

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Hi, I’m <a rel="me" class="p-name u-url" href="https://rudigermeyer.com">Rudiger Meyer</a>, a composer interested in the play between music, sound, and&nbsp;media.