Mariam Rezaei & Matthew Shlomowitz Six Scenes for Turntables and Orchestra (2023)*
Alvin Lucier Diamonds for 1, 2 or 3 Orchestras (1999)
Anthony Braxton Creative Orchestra Music (1976)
* Belgian premiere - commissioned by Brussels Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Brugge, Darmstadt Summer Course, DE SINGEL, Ictus, nyMusikk Oslo
Music is both the most dynamic and the least tangible art form. Sounds fly around you, but they cannot – either literally or figuratively – be captured. Ultimately, music is just vibrating air, as fascinating as it is elusive. Sounds move through space, but do not themselves occupy any tangible space, as a sculpture, painting or building does. In 1803, the German philosopher Friedrich Schelling described architecture as ‘frozen music’. Conversely, music could be called ‘flowing architecture’, forces in motion that keep each other in equilibrium through time and space. The latter dimension is purely metaphoric. We call a note ‘higher’ or ‘lower’, whereas in reality these are just particles of air that vibrate faster or slower. And yet, music can in fact suggest spatiality, if only by spatialising the arrangement of the sources of sound through space.
In the interpretation of Alvin Lucier’s Diamonds for 1, 2 or 3 Orchestras that we hear this evening, for example, the audience is seated between two orchestral groups in front of and behind the stage. The sounds thus come at you frontally and along your back, giving direction and depth to our listening experience. This orchestral work suggests spatiality in still another way than via spatialisation. We here long, sustained notes in contrary movement, alternating between a rising and falling note. These are almost scales, lines of notes that suggest the geometric form of a polished diamond in which ascending and descending lines radiate from the widest point.
The contrary movement evokes the image of a form expanding. Because every orchestra draws its own diamonds, the result is not entirely rectilinear for the listener, and that is a good thing. Ultimately, the beauty of a diamond lies not in its shape, but in its colour and sparkle. Thus, the fascination of Lucier’s orchestral work lies not in the pitch of the notes: the slowly rising and falling scales could even be considered outright simplistic. Instead of pitch, intervals, melodies or chords, in this work it’s all about sound. The higher the carat of a diamond, the more shades of colour and light intensities it contains. This aural diamond has the same sparkle. The strings play short, gliding notes that fall outside the pattern of the measured tuning. The less stable to key, the more subtle the colour nuances. They resemble electronic sinus tones that softly rub against each other, like a prism in which the refracted light takes on different colours and brings about different flickers. The work opens and closes in the same key. As soon as we hear a beginning, development or end: Diamonds is not process music that evolves in a direction. Instead, the work invites us to listen ‘vertically’. This composition was once described as a remarkable musical monolith. But it is a stone that vibrates and glows intensely.
Anthony Braxton mobilises the power of collective creativity. His works, under the heading Creative Orchestra demand more of the musicians than a faithful performance of the score. The members of the orchestra are invited to be just as inventive as the composer. They are given the time and space to develop musical material and add it to the performance. Instead of a relationship of authority between composer and musician, here there is a shared, non-hierarchical responsibility for the final result. Braxton sees his work as a reservoir from which musicians can draw elements for each performance that cut across each other. Tonight, the starting point is Composition No. 151 for small orchestra, but in addition, we will also hear materials from Composition No. 63 for two improvising soloists and a classically structured chamber orchestra, and Composition No. 147, a concerto for three clarinets and orchestra. The transitions between the works come about via improvisation. The score gives a glimpse into the way in which composition and improvisation interact. They contain classically noted melodies and rhythms, but regularly leave room for a free contribution by the musicians. Recognition, repetition and (individual) authorship are essential features of the concept of a work in classical music. These play out in the background when various ‘works’ are performed simultaneously, and the end result is thus different each time thanks to the creative contribution of the musicians. For a musical jack-of-all-trades like Anthony Braxton, who is at home in the music of Webern, Varèse or Stockhausen as in swing, free jazz and music for marching bands, this is music to his ears.
Not only in physics but also in music, a lot of energy is released when opposing forces act upon each other. That is certainly the case in the cooperation between the turntablist Mariam Rezaei and the experimental composer Matthew Shlomowitz. With record players and records, Rezaei creates a kind of industrial sound landscape in which there is a good deal of space for the unexpected. Shlomowitz is, in turn, a master of decontextualisation. He likes to place musical styles or everyday sounds in a different context in which they take on a different meaning. They are responsible, respectively, for the solo part and the orchestral score: this division of labour succeeds only thanks to the trust gained after many years of collaboration. The result consists of six strongly contrasting scenes that flow into each other without interruption. Crunches, organ notes, an homage to the American free jazz drummer Milford Graves, playing around with the rhythmic beat or a glissando in a harp: it is delightful for a listener to be swung to and fro in this way!