sa Sound Arts vol.3

XEBEC SoundCulture Membership Magazine

Special Topics

European Electro-Acoustic Music

by FUJISHIMA Yutaka (lecturer or of psychology and contemporary music)

Modernism in Music Electronic sound has begun to produce an auditory delicacy that rivals the changes in timbre of traditional instruments. Has electronic music gone one step further and entered a new phase? In this issue, FUJISHIMA Yutaka, who introduced contemporary electronic music in his production of the "Computer Plus Strings Electric" concert at Xebec last year, begins a series of explorations on the topic.

1 Perspectives on Computer Music

I would like to stress the importance of electronic systems as an essential part of twentieth century music. Chronologically, electronic music might be divided into four categories:

1. Music written for electronic instruments (1920 onwards)
2. Electronic music recorded on tape (1948 onwards)
3. Music for electronic synthesizers (1955 onwards)
4. Computer music (1957 onwards)

Although L.A. HILLER Jr. first mentioned these categories in a lecture given at the Darmstadt Ferienkurse in 1963, I think they are still valid today. He went on to identify the following sources of musical style:

1. Conditions established a priori by the programmer (counterpoint, rules of harmony, serial techniques, graphic notation etc.)
2. Statistical conditions (statistics relating to style or based on probability calculations)
3. Styles evolved by the computer itself.

The third source, he claimed, is the most important for composition because it is connected with the learning theory [*1]. (See H.H. STUCKENSCHMIDT,1969)

Is it now possible to add a new category or style to those identified in the 60's? In comparison to the 60's, the biggest change has probably been the popularization of the computer. That is to say, personal computers have become much more widespread. The term, "personal," should be given special attention as a part of modern thought in the context of personal participation as the universal principle of knowing (Michael POLANY, 1962)[*2]. Have changes in tools enabled us to create music related to our personal interests? When we consider dichotomies such as personal/universal, high/low, present/past, improvisation/ composition, object/performance, has the popularization of tools (pop tools) come to guarantee the creative act? In considering how a work that grows out of the personal extends to become universal, it is impossible to avoid historical facts. Whether such facts are accepted is beside the point, it is necessary to clarify the connections between creation and history. Next, I would like to discuss the possibilities of music composed by electronic systems, including computers, along with attitudes toward tradition in contemporary music, particularly in electronic music.

2 Attitudes Toward Tradition

In conversation with Célestin DÈLIEGE in 1975, Pierre BOULEZ spoke about musical languages of the past:
"At present, activities are somewhat disorganized, and not always very interesting. People do indeed want to do without history, but only because they have never known it. There are a lot of self-taught musicians, but self-taught by accident. What I want now is for everyone to be deliberately self-taught." (Pierre BOULEZ, 1975)

This is a characteristic comment for someone as uncompromising as Boulez. In response to this, I would like to turn to Michael NYMAN:
"In a strange way history has come full circle. Some things I wrote about in Experimental Music:Cage and Beyond (1974) have stood still, and I thought political music would become more important than it has done. But what I find interesting is the cultural division between Pierre BOULEZ and STOCKHAUSEN, and John CAGE and Morton FELDMAN on the other hand. Cornelius CARDEW criticized me for making that distinction, he said they both represented bourgeois art. Yet it seems to me that the division has become still more severe. The administrative power lies on the Boulez side, while minimalism has created the contemporary agenda--and a new audience." (Michael NYMAN, 1995)

On which side do we, Japanese, stand? On the administrative side or on the side of the general public? Or is it possible to stand somewhere else beyond this dichotomy? First, I would like to take a look at Boulez's music.

3 "Répons(1981-)" by Pierre Boulez

I was fortunate enough to attend the general rehearsal of "Répons" at the newly opened Cité de la Musique in Paris in February 1995. Boulez conducted. There were six soloists (two pianos, two groups of tuned percussion instruments, a harp, and a zimbalon), a chamber ensemble, computer machinery, and speakers set on the stage, which was in the center of the hall, facing the audience as well as four other pairs of speakers placed throughout the audience on the second floor. The audience was completely surrounded by the sounds created and controlled by Boulez. I found myself in a visible world of sound where sounds, subtle fragments of material, went through continual transformations for a period of about forty minutes. All of the elements (color, tempo, and rhythm) changed and were never repeated twice, and the sound of the instruments was instantly modified by the computer. According to the speed of the electronic process, the modifications obscured any awareness of the master-servant relationship between man and computer. In other words, it was impossible for the listener to be completely aware in the world of electronic speed. We, therefore, had no other choice but to undergo the sound as sensory data. It was the beauty of the signifiant. Boulez has created absolute beauty through his uncompromising attitude. It is an indeterminate, but unified and indivisible form (the sound particle) of beauty, and not the stable beauty of the signifié expressed in terms of an aesthetic sensibility based on a predetermined concept. In order to create such a radical world, it was essential for Boulez to have computers and IRCAM [*3], an institute almost entirely dependent on the French government's music budget.

4 Music Born Out of Twentieth Century Thought

How can we be assured that there is beauty in Boulez's music? As I mentioned above, we undergo his music as sensory data, meaning that it is supposed to make our senses soar, not lead us into contemplation. There is none of the weight of German music. The lightness stems from the analytic capabilities of the computer, and from the evolution of the smallest, most basic sound unit from the semitone (of SCHÖNBERG) to an electronic unit (the sound quark) [*4]. Even for a physical experiment, it is obvious that this kind of pursuit requires an enormous budget and huge facilities. And what's more, it calls for a genius. The French government, which has supported Boulez, has been rewarded with "Répons," and as a result, it is we who own this art work developed through the Twentieth century concept of science. In the sense that he has advanced from the place Schönberg left off, Boulez occupies a place in the lineage of European music, and as a composer, he has given careful consideration to tradition,or as he said,"those who are deliberately self-taught." And in considering what is necessary for the scientific development [*5] of music, Boulez has followed his own ears to present us with the computer music of "Répons" [*6]. This work made me realize that art truly is created by the human will, and it is the will that enables man to possess a space. For those forty minutes it was this sort of unyielding will that took control of the Cité de la Musique; Pierre BOULEZ was upon me. Kicking out! Or?

[*1] The learning theory in this sense is a cybernetic model, but at the present, it might be an artificial intelligence program based on a cognitive model. See Johnson LAIRD's study (1987) for parformance models.

[*2] Regarding personal awareness, see Ludwig WITTGENSTEIN, and Michael POLANYI. [*3] For details on the establishment of IRCAM, see chapter 17 of Pierre Boulez:Conversations with Célestin Dèliege(1975).

[*4] It reminded me of the dot paintings from MONET's later life I saw at the Musée Marmottant.

[*5] Boulez's conducting is completely devoid of ostentation, showing what a thorough modernist he is.

[*6] The Japanese premiere was given on May 23,1995.

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