Update: ‘Impressions on Surfaces’


As this post is following on from my July 21st post, describing ‘Surface I’ from my ongoing project, ‘Impressions on Surfaces,’ I’d first like to draw attention  to my description of the unifying concept in the project, extracted from that post:

The core of ‘Impressions on Surfaces’ is in two parts; an audible layer of precomposed, repeating material presented on the score and to be played by a performer, and an inaudible layer, the content of which is only hinted at by its ‘imprint’ on the former. The inaudible layer was generated with IRCAM’s Open Music from randomly selected preset rhythms, and consists of five streams of pitch and rhythm data.

Before I go further, I’d also like to return to, and expand upon, the visual/tactile analogy I presented in the previous post: I invited you to imagine a piece of tin foil stretched over a painting. The painting is obscured both visually and to touch. By looking, we might gain some knowledge as to the nature of the painting; the size of the canvas, and perhaps some prominent brush strokes forcing themselves against the foil. To touch, we may gain a little more idea of the details the foil obscures; the grain of the strokes, perhaps some idea of the nature of the paint, the outlines of figures or aspects of its composition. In any case, the sum of all the sensory information one could obtain would not go nearly far enough to expose the true nature of the painting. The tin foil dominates every sensory aspect of it; what it does not completely hide, it obscures and distorts with its own characteristics.

Suppose the tin foil was exchanged with a piece of muslin cloth. The change would not only affect our immediate perception of the surface layer, but also our comprehension of the painting beneath. Different aspects of the painting become more prominent; perhaps we could see some shades of colour through the tiny holes in the muslin, while it might now be too thick to reveal the strokes underneath to touch. Here, the inaudible layer is analogous to the painting, while the surface covering it is comparable to both the audible layer and the conditions through which aspects of the inaudible layer might become apparent.

For each section, there is both a unique audible layer, and a unique series of conditions through which material might pass from the inaudible to audible. In other words, I’m exchanging the surface covering our painting per section. It is my intention that throughout all sections, the content of the inaudible layer remains the same, as does our imaginary painting in the above analogy. This is because the clear difference in the way aspects of the inaudible layer manifest themselves in the audible from one section to another highlights the extremity of the filtering effect taking place. Additionally, it is more interesting to me to shed light on multiple aspects of a single form (obscured as they are) than it is to shed light on a single aspect of multiple forms.

Can Music Incite Radical Social Change?

The ever so slightly younger me was convinced of many things with regard to music that proved difficult to shake, the most sacred of which being the notion that it could convey a meaningful political message by means other than the sheer audacity of its own existence. My explanation for indulging in such naive symbolism, however briefly, is that I could not find a way to reconcile the life I had left behind with the one I so desperately wanted to break my way into. How could a man who had spent the last of his teenage years activizing, occupying and polemicizing in the name of Socialism so wholeheartedly embrace the regularly elitist, often inward-looking world of ‘new music,’ except in the hope that his own music might somehow promote concrete anti-capitalist ideas?

While music can serve as no such platform, no work is created from nothing; it is a product of its time, reflective of and inseparable from the society within which it is situated. It is from this vantage point, carved from my understanding* of the writings of Pierre Bourdieu and Terry Eagleton, among others, that I have gradually formulated a new reconciliation. In developing a fascination with the works of early experimentalists such as Cage, Wolff and Cardew, and later Fluxus artists such as George Brecht and Allison Knowles, I became increasingly aware of the inherent barriers manning the borders of bourgeois culture: The neigh-on impenetrable muscle memory of a virtuoso violinist, who has spent years proudly honing the techniques necessitated by traditional repertoire, the sacred social norms of the concert hall or, indeed, a given composer’s unquestioned assumptions as to his or her role in the act of creation are to name a few.

Music cannot activize like a protestor, nor can it incite specific actions (revolutionary or otherwise), but it can share a protestor’s optimism. It is my sincere belief that through a multitude of ideas that actively resist aspects of oppression in composition and performance situations – from Richard Barrett’s ‘point-zero’ approach to instrumental writing to the cross-referential, intelligently programmatic works of Michael Finnissy – one or two of those barriers might, for a brief moment, be made permeable enough to expose a little of the potential that could exist in the music of a post revolutionary society.

* Or misunderstanding, as the case may be.

Fluxus Performance
Takeshia Kosugi, Anima I & Ben Vautier, Attaché de Ben & George Maciunas, Solo for Violin. – Photography by George Maciunas