Interview with Antoine Beuger

Used by permission of the Publishers from ‘Antoine Beuger’, in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music edited by James Saunders (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 231–241.  Copyright © 2009

IMG_4873Antoine Beuger’s suggestion that the subject of music is the pervasive noise of the world and that its form is cut out from this infinite diversity is perhaps surprising for a sounding result that is permanently on the verge of disappearing. The extreme dilution of sound in his work emphasises both its savoured value and the importance of space as its receptacle. Calm inaction is the norm, with sound and momentary action the exception. Listening to performances of his music, it is easy to forget what is being experienced: when sounds reappear after a long period of silence, they have an impact which is born only of necessity. Sounds also rarely appear together intentionally, almost always in isolation to further reinforce their identity: this is music of the utmost clarity. Yet within each sound Beuger suggests there are infinite possibilities, so that everything can be contained in the brief moments of activity which characterize his work. Structurally, his music from the 1990s is either rigorously ordered with a grid at its heart or very open, with the minimum necessary instructions as to how to project sounds. These approaches are linked: freedom out of precision, and precision out of freedom. More recently he has begun exploring the ontology of ensemble size in a series of pieces for specified numbers of players, such as dedekind duos (2003) in which two performers play specified pitches as long quiet tones, separated by enough time to breathe, or much longer, carefully listening to each other. From these pieces fundamental questions concerning the nature of separation and togetherness emerge, as does the serendipity of coincidence, focusing on how people interact with each other and project sound in performance. I was introduced to Beuger’s work by Manfred Werder, and we finally met up in Witten in April 2002 in a hotel breakfast room surrounded by most of the German contemporary music establishment, in town for the Neue Musiktage. Antoine showed me some scores, producing them from a beautiful well-used leather briefcase, and we had an interesting morning discussing each other’s work. I have been fascinated by his music ever since: for me it is a benchmark to which other music must be compared. The interplay of action and inaction, of sound and silence in carefully weighted and understated amounts continually makes me evaluate my own practice, and the ideas behind his work cut to the heart of the nature of music and making art.

The interview was conducted by email between 1 December 2003 – 12 March 2004.

I am interested in your notion of music being a cut into what you call the ‘timeless noise, which consists of everything that sounds’[1], in the same way that sculpture relates to stone and the possibility that it might contain all sculpture. How does this relate to your own work?

The main attraction of taking ‘timeless noise’ or ‘the world’ to be the matter of music is its infinity. So, instead of assuming music to have some finite number of basic elements to start with, I am suggesting the opposite: the matter of music is ‘all that is (sounding)’. The form of a specific music, then, is the way it cuts into this infinitely dense continuum. This suggests that, in creating music, one is not, as it were, going into the continuum to look for or to discover certain definite things to be taken out and to be used as elements of a composition. There is no way of entering the continuum: because of its density, there is no place to walk around. It seems more appropriate to think of creating music as cutting into this infinity, knowing that even the smallest slice one carves out, again, contains an infinite number of elements. So, asking someone to play an ‘a’ of a certain duration, a certain volume and a certain tone colour is like asking him to write the number pi: he’ll do something more or less approaching something else, which is more or less close to something else again, etc.

As you may see, I am trying to argue against the idea of reduction in music. Quite often my (our?) music has been called reductionist: reducing music to its basic elements. I am completely opposed to that view. Music is not made up from basic – material or formal – elements. Whatever musical thing you are hearing, be it a tone or a phrase or a chord or a piece, is an infinity in itself. Difference is everywhere. Sounding always means: sounding different. According to Leibniz there is no repetition in nature: no two leaves are exactly alike.[2] This means to me: composing is not about creating or inventing differences or concatenations of differences. Each sound is going to be different anyway. I like the idea of a piece of music being just a few sounds, of performing music as just playing a few sounds. Composing seems to me to be about making a few basic decisions, that open up a specific, still infinite world of differences: just a few sounds.

So when you place relatively isolated sounds in your music, to what extent is there an implication that we listen beyond the note/event level, that we hear these sounds as infinitely variable complexes of microtonal, rhythmic and timbral fluctuations with their own internal structure?

I am tempted to say that we probably never or only very seldom hear ‘a note’ or ‘a sound’ and by implication always hear beyond the note/event level. The situations, in which we would say, that we hear a sound, I think, are those, where we are afraid, don’t know, what is really going on. In normal circumstances we hear things that happen: we hear a car drive by, or someone screaming, or someone open a door. We even hear him open the door very carefully or hastily. We hear that it is Sandra who opens the door, because we know that is exactly the way she always opens the door. We may even hear that it is Sandra opening the door being a bit impatient today, trying not to show it, ad infinitum. A description of what we hear will never end, especially since we never hear just one thing. Even sounds put in isolation in a piece of music always appear in a certain environment, they are part of an atmosphere, which, of course they also help to create.

So, in a musical performance, I would say, we do not hear ‘sounds’ with certain acoustic qualities. We do hear people play sounds (on instruments, usually) and upon hearing them, we immediately know lots of things about what is going on with them, how concentrated they are, how sensitive they play, how attentively they listen to each other, whether they are nervous, whether they are serious about what they do, etc. We hear that it is two people who are playing, and the way they relate; or three people, four, the way their activities/sounds get mixed and fused…

All these levels and innumerably many more are essential to a musical situation, to the experience of playing or listening to a piece of music. Listening, we immediately grasp the atmosphere, which is a conglomerate of an endless number of minute perceptions on all kinds of levels, most of them not conscious. If we are confused or don’t feel comfortable in the situation we will either try or find our way into it (using the experience we had with (similar) music before – or in other situations), or we may refuse it and stay outside. In order for a musical situation to develop, I think, someone just has to play a few sounds. A composer may have set the frame for it. I am convinced, that composing has nothing to do with inventing (concatenations of) differences, and that composers focussing on that level are very superficial.

This issue of the particular relationship between people in a piece seems to be important for you, and this is perhaps most keenly observed in a solo or duo, of which there are a relatively high proportion in your list of pieces. For you, what is a solo, or a duo? How do you view the different types of relationship which might exist within them?

You are right. The number of performers is a very essential issue to me. I am strongly convinced that there is something so to say ontologically different about a solo, duo etc. situation: it has to do with being alone, being ‘zu zweit’ (I don’t know how to say this in English. there doesn’t seem to be a word for it, maybe just ‘being two’?). Three again is a very different situation. When you go higher up differences seem to become more gradual and less ontological.

So I think solo music at its best is revealing something about solitude, about seclusion. calme étendue (1996-7) in all its different versions to me is an exploration of this situation: someone sitting there, either performing a regular activity on his instrument or just sitting quietly, doing nothing. Silence all around him. No communication, no showing, no presentation of differences to an audience. Just sitting there, all by himself, sometimes doing something, sometimes not.

ins ungebundene (1998), and in a slightly different form tout à fait solitaire (1998), takes it one step further. The player is basically sitting in silence, very rarely playing one single very soft, rather short sound. Somewhere between 10 and 40 minutes into the piece the sound stops appearing. Silence remains. The piece ends somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes after it started. This piece is revealing something about disappearance. The way the sound appears (very rarely, very soft, rather short) is already very much a form of disappearing: the moment it is there, it is already gone. Then, at some point, it has disappeared altogether and doesn’t return. What remains is what was already there: silence, but now without the rare occurrence of the sound. A silence coloured as it were by the absence of the sound: the sound has gone, isn’t there anymore. The concept, or better the experience of ‘not anymore’ as the strongest possibility for us to relate to emptiness or the void has been the focus of my attention for many years. This focus on emptiness and silence, I feel, is absolutely connected to the idea of solo music. Today I would, axiomatically, say that the content of a solo is the void.

The content of a duo is something different. I started exploring this in aus dem garten (1998). Two players playing the ‘same’ tone (again: very soft, rather short). In ten-minute sections they alternately play the tone once. So somewhere during the first ten minutes the first player plays the sound once, somewhere during the next ten minutes the second player plays the sound once, etc. A player may also decide not to play the sound. So what is at stake here is the experience of separation: they can never come together, since they are separated in time. They can come very close, if one player plays near the end if his time and the other player plays at the beginning of his time. But this nearness has renewed distance as a prize: only after nearly 20 minutes another situation of nearness may be established. So a very subtle ‘communication’ based on separation takes place. Or, in other words, being separated is established as the basis of a relationship, of ‘two-ness’.

ein ton. eher kurz. sehr leise (1998) is similar: 30 second sections this time and the additional rule that the decision not to play the sound during a section implies not playing it anymore for the rest of the performance: it means leaving the other player alone. This very much reflects a love relationship: two people are together (which means: are in a situation of being separated) for a while (I am tempted to write: twogether). Ultimately they are separated forever, by parting or by death.

Three again is very different. Here neither void nor separation is the issue. It has elements of these, but sharing, fusion, mixing, having things in common, and connecting also seem to enter the stage.

My counting for a long time has been: one, two, many (a group of people). Next step would be a mass of people. Musically: solo, duo, ensemble, orchestra. If you follow this line the limit is everything, which in sonic terms is white noise. Here we are back at where we started talking…

Recently I discovered a possible way to differentiate between three and four etc. with the help of the concept of ordinal number as defined in Cantorian set theory.[3] Counting, here, starts out with zero, not with one. One, therefore, is not something given as basic unit. Set theory doesn’t accept basic units of count.

Zero is equivalent to the empty set: the set which has no elements at all. Let us write: 0. One now can be constructed as the set which has 0 as its only element: (0). This set is clearly different from 0, since it does have an element, whereas 0 doesn’t. Two is (0, (0)): the set which contains both 0 and 1. What is interesting here is that the elements of this set (0 and 1) have nothing in common, pure separation, or disjunction. Three is: (0, (0), (0, (0))): the set, which contains 0, 1 and 2. Here two of the elements have something in common: (0) and (0,(0)) both contain 0. So we have both sharing and separation. In four (the set containing 0, 1, 2 and 3) there is even more sharing: 1, 2, and 3 have 0 in common, 2 and 3 have 1 in common. Only 0 has nothing in common with the other elements. Sharing grows, of course, when you go higher up the scale. Void and separation, although always included, become more and more marginal. Also, the number of possible combinations of elements (subsets) grows, exponentially. In this language I see a clear difference between three and four: Gemeinsamkeit (sharing), emerging in three, is becoming the main thing in four, then, of course, even more in five, six etc.

In cantor quartets (2003) I am musically exploring what happens when you go from one to two to three to four. A quartet’s score has four lines, seven notes on each line. The tones are long to very long, very soft and there is time between the tones. They are all notated within one octave (upward from middle C on the piano), but each may be played in any octave.

Four phases:

(1) solo: one player plays line 1.

(2) duo: after finishing he plays line 2, another player, simultaneously, plays line 1

(3) trio: after both players finished their lines, they move down one line (to line 2 and 3), a third player now plays line 1.

(4) quartet: after they finished, they move down another line (to 2, 3 and 4), the fourth player plays line 1.

It is amazing what happens in a performance of these pieces: each step is a step into a completely different world, from a solo-world to a duo-world. The trio-world, then, works as a somewhat hybrid situation, still somewhat reminiscent of the duo-world, but no longer being it. The quartet-world really is a world of mixture, fusion, sharing.

Well, these were some thoughts on number and how I feel it impacts a musical situation.

Although you seem to indicate that sharing is impossible in a duo under these circumstances, could you envisage a situation where this might be possible in your work? The duo section of cantor quartets seems to imply this for instance, if only in a transitory way as part of the movement from isolation towards sharing.

That is a very interesting question, indeed. Of course it is possible to have a duo music in which the aspect of separation, or, as I would say, of two-ness, is not or not primarily realized. Just as in life not every relation of two people is a love relationship (e.g. two people working together, two people being friends or sharing a train compartment, etc.), in music not every duo is automatically reflecting the intrinsic or ontological structure of ‘two’, which is disjunction. In these cases it might be more appropriate to speak about ‘with-ness’, the basic experience being with someone else, not being separated from someone else, as in a love situation. Probably most duo music is doing just that: two people being/playing together for a while.

Number, in these cases, doesn’t really matter, and is basically a question of density: how many ‘ones’ are brought together: three is a bit denser than two and so forth, but not structurally different. When I write for duo situations, I want to learn about what is specific for ‘two’ as opposed to ‘one’ or ‘three’. In other words: writing a duo, I want to learn about separation, not about sharing; about love, not about friendship, etc. On the other hand, if I want to find something revealed about sharing, why should I write a duo?

The interesting thing playing the cantor quartets is that the four phases are really separate stages. There is no building up, no reaching the next stage. The next stage is not reached, it is entered by stepping into it. It is a new beginning, each time. Discrete steps, no continuity. So I wouldn’t say that there is a ‘movement from isolation towards sharing’. The four worlds are not contiguous, there is a between each time. So the first stage is a real solo situation, there is nothing the other three players contribute. They are in a way just part of the audience. It completely depends on the soloist, what happens, how long it lasts (theoretically, it could take hours). Only after he has finished his line the duo world may be entered. So there is a cut one thing ends, something else begins, not a transition. Upon its start, then, the duo world is immediately there. For it to start, though, the solo world must have ended. And so on.

You haven’t asked me, but I would like to add a few thoughts on Emily Dickinson. Her work has fascinated me for a very long time and in 2001/2002 I focused on composing a series of 9 pieces on Dickinson poems.[4] Each of the pieces lasts 100 minutes, is for two performers (one speaking voice, one instrument) and is basically a syllabic reading of the underlying text. Most of the texts are fairly short, so the syllables read are surrounded by vast silences. Also the (‘accompanying’) instrument plays very few tones. Sounds of speaker and instrument never occur simultaneously. The syllables are read the way you read when you write a word and simultaneously say it: a very introverted sound, shaped by the writing movement, not aimed at communication. The pieces may be performed either individually (as duo pieces) or all together (19 speakers, 19 instruments).

I think Emily Dickinson’s poems, i.e. her writing, must be seen as (writing) letters. She wrote over 10000 letters, most of them extremely poetic by themselves or containing poems she copied by hand for the addressee. It was her way of publishing. Absence, separation is the basis of communicating by letters: when the letter is written, the addressee is absent; when the letter is read by the addressee, the writer is absent. The time of the writing always is different form the time of the reading. This was the way Emily Dickinson wanted her relations with other people to be. With the people she really wanted to be close to, she refused to sit together and talk. To her, doing this would mean a form of betrayal to the relation. It is told, that on the rare occasions a friend visited her, she would sit in one room, the visitor in another, the door ajar. Even with her beloved sister-in-law, with whom she certainly had her most confidential relationship and who lived with her family in a house on the other side of the Dickinson mansion’s garden, she used to communicate by writing letters. She never attended lectures or society meetings. To me this means she wanted all her relationships to have the intensity of a love relationship. She avoided sharing, she forced separation. Two was her number.[5]

Therefore I cannot see how Dickinson’s poetry could be recited without destroying it. You don’t recite letters in front of an audience. For it, declamation seems to be completely out of place. Let alone musical settings… My Dickinson pieces try to be faithful to the ‘two-ness’ implied in her poetry. I hope they reveal something about it in a very subtle, non-spectacular way. I tried to find a voice for the poems, which stays as close as possible to the hand-writing and is not searching for communication. Could this be the way a hand writing a letter sounds? As you see, Emily Dickinson has taught me most I think to know about ‘two’.

The parallel with this form of duo discussion is clear of course, as the separation in time and place leads to a curiously disjointed approach. In working on these interviews we are sucked back into their world when new messages arrive, and our thoughts naturally change over the course of their writing, whereas in face-to-face interviews there is perhaps more of a sense of belonging to one time and place.

The Emily Dickinson piece brings me to a question I wanted to ask you about the regular appearance of related series of pieces in your recent work. As well as landscapes of absence (2) (2001-2), there are other striking examples of this approach, notably another text-based piece calme étendue (1996-7), and also place (1996-7) and sound (1997). Could you explain your interest in series, and the relationship between the experience of separate and complete performances of their component parts?

You are right, there are many series to be found in my worklist.

(1) first/second etc. music for marcia hafif (1994). These titles mark pieces which represent significant changes or accomplishments (as I perceive them) in my work. Marcia Hafif is a monochrome painter.[6] Her work develops in series. Meanwhile there are maybe about 18 series, some of them finished, some of them still going on. The first series consists of thousands of drawings, in which she drew small vertical lines, starting at the left top of the page, going from left to right until she reached the right bottom of the page. All drawings are very similar, all are different. She did the same thing over and over again for several years. What came out were all these differences. Another series she called the extended grey series, grey paintings, each of them a different grey. As she couldn’t find another shade of grey, the series was finished (108 paintings). In the series of black paintings she goes back to the old (Renaissance) techniques of creating the colour black. The paintings present these different mixes of colour supposed to look black. In yet another series she takes two colours plus white, mixing the colours anew for each stroke, of course never reaching exactly the same result. Her work and her thinking has been a great help to me ever since I saw it for the first time.

(2) calme étendue (1996-7) was my project for a number of years. The structure of the piece stays the same in all versions: minimal duration of a performance 45 minutes, maximal duration 9 hours; sounding phases alternating with silent ones according to a chance generated structure; in the sounding phases one sound every eight seconds, usually three seconds long, leaving five seconds of silence until the next sound. My task in composing versions for different instruments then was to find an activity on the instrument, say on the cello, which reveals something about what it is to play cello. An activity, in other words, which could be really fulfilling and satisfying for a cello player to be involved in for many hours. I used to meet with the player and just watch him play his instrument, noticing what is going on, sometimes suggesting things, trying things out until we found this one activity, which turned out to be the most revealing and satisfying. These years were in a way another study of instrumentation for me, the focus not being to find out what variety of sounds may be produced on a cello, but to find one single activity, which is really about playing cello, rather than violin or viola or a wind instrument etc. The activity was the focus, the sound resulting from the activity its natural result: this is how this activity sounds.

I continued working on calme étendue until I got stuck. The end of 1997, beginning 1998 was a real crisis for me. The structure of the piece: some sounds in regular intervals – silence – some more sounds – silence – some more sounds – silence, etc. had turned into a real problem for me. I found out that what really interested me was what happened when a phase ended: when something was over, not there anymore, and how I could turn the experience of ‘not anymore’, of ‘something gone’ into the main thing, the ‘event’ of a piece. In place and sound (ten-minute pieces which are derived form the calme étendue-series) the sound, once it has stopped does not come back. The difference between them is: in place there is some silence, some sound, some silence again; in sound there is some sound, then silence. The number of sounds for a performance of these pieces is determined by a chance operation and may vary between one and 55 sounds. These pieces radicalized the structure of calme étendue: sound gone is sound gone, there is no restart, no return.

(3) ins ungebundene, tout à fait solitaire, ein ton. eher kurz. sehr leise and aus dem garten (all 1998) in fact constitute another series, in which I did away with both sound variety, which was still important in calme étendue, and with regularity, which had been a dominant feature of my music for some years. The focus is completely on (dis)appearance, on ‘not anymore’.

(4) the colour ‘series’, cadmiumgelb, saftgrün, coelinblau, cadmiumscharlachrot,marsgelb, cyaninblau, gebrannte siena, antwerpener blau, carthamrosa (2001- ), is different. I was asked to take part in an art project: some 20 artists from different disciplines were asked to contribute 50 individual pieces (drawings, paintings, poems, music scores, etc.) each on a sheet of A4 format paper. The result was 50 boxes. Each box contained one of the pieces of each artists. I decided to create 50 title pages for non-existent pieces. As titles I took colour names (in fact I took them from a Marcia Hafif catalogue: she used to name her paintings after the colour the painting is made of). To each title comes a (chance generated) combination of instruments. I then was so fascinated by reading these title pages, that I started to get curious as to how these pieces might sound. So I started composing them. The first one I did, cadmiumgelb for double bass, basically belongs to the ins ungebundene etc. series of pieces. But from saftgrün onwards, the colour pieces started to develop a very new character: repetition started to play a major role (first time in my music), also a completely different way of playing together (no counting, no stopwatch etc., a feeling of – very slow – ‘groove’ instead). So in this series, there is no common structural idea given. What is given, very unusual to me, is the instrumentation and the name (although in some cases I combined a name with a different instrumentation).

As this series developed (and it still is), new ways of looking at silence, at (dis)appearance etc. started to reveal themselves to me. Stillness maybe is describing best what I started focussing on. Instead of silence occurring as the effect of an (irreversible) cut/event, which had been prevailing in my music, I now started thinking of silence as stillness, as a place, which is just ‘place’ without something ‘taking place’. Repetition seemed to be closest to such a place: when something repeats, nothing (else) happens. Of course in such a situation difference is taking place all the time, but it is a non-intentional difference, being there because in our world being is difference: to be = to be different.

(5) At about the same time I started the Emily Dickinson series (landscapes of absence). All the things I have been talking about seem to be reflected in her work, which I had been reading for years. Now I wanted to find a voice, a sound for this poetry. I wanted to create situations in which the poems might be read (both silently, by the audience, which has a copy of the text; and aloud, by the speaker, who is reading the text without reciting it or representing it). I decided to select about 20 poems and to create a 100 minute piece or situation for each of the poems. At first I thought they all should be for speaking voice and piano, done by one player (like a singer accompanying himself on the piano). After I performed the first piece (ein einz’ger vogel um halb vier / at half past three, a single bird) I discovered that it should be done by two performers, that it really is music for two. I also decided that I wanted to have German translations of the poems, so in Germany the pieces could be done in German. A 70 year old German lady,[7] who had grown up bilingually in Canada and who had sent me her translation of four trees upon a solitary acre which I found brilliant, translated the poems for me. Even if she isn’t a professional translator, I think her translations are the best to be found for Dickinson’s poetry in German.

I wanted each of the pieces to be based on the same set of basic decisions (one poem, 100 minutes, syllabic reading, very few sounds, voice and instrument never coinciding), still having a distinct individual atmosphere. At the same time, unlike other series I had been working on, I wanted to envisage the option of playing all pieces simultaneously. The idea being that in such a simultaneous performance all distinct characters of the individual pieces would disappear, still, so to say ‘undercover’ would determine the atmosphere of the amalgamated piece. This type of disappearance I would like to call ‘disappearing into containment’: the individual pieces and characters are now contained in the amalgamation, without being presented as something by themselves. I speculated a ‘Dickinson-world’ would emerge comparable to a late summer meadow with its specific overall sound, in which the individual occurrences are contained. This is exactly what happened, when we did a performance of it last year (landscapes of absence 3).

(6) que le lieu (2001) is another series slowly developing: the core part of each of these pieces is a extended unison phase, which lasts at least 2/3 of the total duration: nothing is taking place but place itself. This unison is the result of the first part of the piece, in which it is gradually approached. At the end the unison is left again: going to a place, staying there, leaving the place.

(7) ce qui passe (2002) is a series of pieces for instruments that can produce non-decaying sounds (winds, strings). They all have the same structure: 70 tones structured as a very slow melody (each tone a quiet breath or bow; some silence between two tones); one of the tones is repeated 34 times, one of them 21 times, one of them 13 times, one of them eight times; four of them five times, five of them four times; six of them three times; seven of them two times. To this series I can add as many pieces as I want: I just have to apply the chance procedures generating the intervals, and the ones identifying the tones to be repeated. In these pieces there is a sense of melody (going on), which turns into stillness time and again (repetition).

(8) the dedekind duos and the cantor quartets (both 2003-) are the series I am currently most involved in.

My answer turned out to be very long. I thought the best way to answer your question would be to look at the individual series. In each case the working process seems to be different, although I think in all cases it has to do with staying with an idea, testing the consequences of it, trying it out until I get stuck or just leave it. I think there is a lot of similarity to Marcia Hafif’s method in painting.

I was interested in your comment about repetition appearing for the first time in your work in the colour pieces, and later in ce qui passé. Whilst you seem to be referring to repetitions of sounds (and the implication of difference that this creates), the repetition of structures seems to have been present for a longer time (in calme étendue for instance). I particularly like the way you test structures many times to see what they might reveal through making different cuts into the mass of potential sounds available. It’s all too easy to finish a piece and think everything has been said in relation to a particular idea without really exploring some (all?) of the other possibilities. It’s an experimental approach, and a particularly exhaustive and rigorous one at that.

For me repetition also implies a concern with scale and duration (repetition denies oneness), and I was hoping you could say something about the relatively long duration of some of your pieces?

 

You are saying some interesting things about repetition. While I referred to it in relation to sounds being repeated, you are certainly right, that it is possible to think of repetition as something staying the same, not changing: a structure is repeated, like in calme étendue (three seconds of sound, five seconds of silence; sounding parts alternating with silent parts). Even if the sounds involved may be different from each other, the structure is staying the same.

In such a situation what you are listening to is the concrete sounds and their differences, not the structural intricacies of a composition. What is going on is immediately clear, so you can concentrate on listening to what is really sounding. That, of course, is not at all clear (in terms of structural comprehensibility), since now you are facing a world of singularities, of differences, of ultimate non-repetition. Maybe it is more a world of similarity than of sameness. And similarity means difference. What is similar cannot be the same. I think similarity is a very interesting concept as it locates itself somewhere between sameness and difference.

It also plays an important role in thinking about series. A series of pieces is not just a collection. It is not about addition, it is more, as you say, about exploring and has to do with the idea of exhaustion. Do you know Deleuze’s text about Beckett in which he differentiates exhaustion from fatigue?[8] It is very inspiring. Exhaustion means all possibilities have been explored, there are no more options left. Fatigue means one doesn’t have the (physical) power to continue, even if exploration hasn’t yet come to an end. Involving oneself in a series to me really means staying with an idea, exploring the different ways it can go, observe the changes taking place from piece to piece. Not just applying the same concept over and over, generating an increasing number of pieces.

In the Dickinson series I wanted each piece to have a very definite, singular atmosphere. They shouldn’t be the same piece in different forms. On the other hand, they shouldn’t be just different pieces. They are similar. Similarity connotates both sameness and difference. And similarity cannot really be planned or constructed or generated. It is more something to be found. The image of exploring (unknown territory) seems very adequate. Being involved in a series is very much like exploring unknown territory, of coming to places, where you haven’t been before, of finding out about things rather than inventing them. And it is something done stepwise: you go from here to there and on and on. You have to go through one place to come to the next one. Of course, it is hard to say, when such a journey has come to an end. Usually it just finishes by decision: it is enough. But I think one should not stop too early, even more so because one inevitably will stop too early. Basically such explorations are infinite, so you’ll never arrive. The job is never done. So leaving a job for another one or getting engaged in a new relationship should be based on a wise decision.

Duration very often has been my first inspiration for a piece. My first thought would be: I want to do a piece for one singer, which is 2 hours long. Or in the case of calme étendue: what about a nine hour piece? At first, the idea of long durations had to do with a piece being identical with a concert, instead of being included in a concert. When you go to the theatre, it is very unlikely, that you are going to see two or more pieces being performed. Instead, you are going to see Hamlet or Waiting for Godot. In music you are going to hear a concert by the London Symphony playing this, that and that. I wanted a music performance to be more like in the theatre: one thing, one experience.

So my idea has always been that as a composer you don’t just write pieces which then are performed in concerts, if you are lucky. What you really (should) do is to invent situations in which people are coming together to hear music. The music then is the centre of the situation and not just included. In case of the very long durations, it is necessary to think of the whole context: people should feel free to leave the concert hall for a while, so there should be a nice, inviting place for them to stay, when they want to take a break, something to drink, to eat maybe. At the same time the stillness of the concert room should be guaranteed, you may want to think about how people are going to be seated etc. So in thinking about the piece, you are really thinking about what the experience is going to be like. And the piece is not just the score or the notes or the sounds, it is the whole context of its performance. Another aspect which I like about long durations is that they give you so much time. It is an extremely generous way to deal with time: we just take ourselves four hours or nine. No economical concerns (‘isn’t it taking too long, doesn’t it cost a lot of time’). Sheer generosity. You don’t have to be rich to spend time. Time is no one’s property.

 

[1] Antoine Beuger, ‘Grundsätzliche Entscheidungen’, Edition Wandelweiser, http://www.wandelweiser.de/beuger/ABTexte.html (30 May 2006)

[2] The original source for this can be found in paragraph 9 of The Monadology (see Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, The Monadology and Other Philosophical Writings, trans. Robert Latta (London, 1971) p.222)

[3] The text Beuger used as a reference whilst developing this approach was Alain Badiou, L’être et l’événement (Paris, 1988), translated as Alain Badiou, Being and Event, trans. Oliver Feltham (London, 2006).

[4] landscapes of absence (2) (2001-2)

[5] Beuger cites Cynthia Griffin Wolff, Emily Dickinson (New York, 1986) as his main source on Dickinson

[6] For more information on Marcia Hafif, see her website at www.marciahafif.com. Beuger particularly recommends the text Beginning Again, originally published in Artforum (September 1978).

[7] Edith Kloss, although her translations remain unpublished.

[8] Gilles Deleuze, ‘The Exhausted’ in Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997)

 

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  1. […] week I’ve added the interview I did with Antoine Beuger in early 2004. I’d met him a couple of years earlier for the first time in Witten and was […]

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