The Tristero System


In the summer of 1998 I felt a double need: firstly, I wanted to work on two entirely contrasting work cycles in order to expand the range of my music and to be able to probe its extremes. One of these cycles would be dedicated to the composer Gyrgy Kurtg. Secondly, I wanted to dedicate an homage to one of my favorite writers, Thomas Pynchon. I realized immediately that if I was to respond with an Hommage Thomas Pynchon, it would have to be every bit as exceptional and eccentric (in its literal meaning: thrown out from the center) as Pynchon's work and as certain odd circumstances connected with the author, such as the fact that we know nothing about him, or even what he looks like. I thus had to thoroughly modify my manner of composition---in its material, its techniques, its sound world and its ultimate performative character in concert---at least for this purpose. It would have been too simple merely to invent a music whose character suited Pynchon's semantics, a semantics that posits significatory relations on all sides while simultaneously contravening them. My approach would have to go to the roots. This first of all required a sound world capable of giving expression to the destructivity of today's society, especially that of mega-metropolises. And this was only possible with electronic means; thus, I turned to the Experimentalstudio of the Heinrich Strobel Stiftung of the SWR (Freiburg) in order to learn the necessary skills. Next I required a hypertrophic form. I decided on a poly-work consisting of several works that served different functions within the overall form. The Pynchon Cycle consists---in addition to the composite work, Hommage Thomas Pynchon---of the following pieces: 1. the ensemble piece The Tristero System, whose instrumentation of two pianos, two percussionists, two bass clarinets, three trombones and four piccolos offers sufficiently repellent post-urban sonic material (duration: 18', composed in 2002); 2. the solo cello piece The Courier's Tragedy, which literally depicts, musically and above all performatively, the tragedy of the soloist who fails in the attempt to control---in fact to defeat---an inhuman machinery (duration: 19', composed in 2001). 3. the harmonically repellent tape piece D.E.A.T.H. (8-track, duration: 11'-12', composed in 2001/2002), which literally presents the final decomposed state of the material resources employed; 4. finally the piece W.A.S.T.E. for oboe and live electronics (duration: 18', composed in 2001/2002), which is not actually heard during Hommage Thomas Pynchon, yet whose sound material slumbers in the computer's memory as an subconscious layer, occasionally, in a transformed state, surfacing and taking effect. The form of this poly-work had to be conceived as a shattered one from the outset. I decided to take this to its extreme and make the work infinitely long---a music without any temporal end, one that made the greatest possible provocation of the art world, a permanent threat: an untreatable paranoia, as it were. Strictly speaking, the spatial dimension would also have to be extended into the infinite. It should sound not only in a single performance location, but virtually the whole city, the whole region, the whole world---in analogy to the (not only) musical culture industry, which likewise forces itself on the whole world without asking whether this is in the recipients' interests. For pragmatic reasons, which can unfortunately not correspond to artistic ones, the duration is limited, and the space even more so. One must in the end organize a "concert," an event with a fixed time and a predefined location. The four works listed above can be performed independently. Hommage Thomas Pynchon incorporates the first three works. The work is simultaneously ensemble music, musical theater and a music installation, and this combination is therefore innovative in so far as it makes use of the newest technology to do something that would previously have been impossible, simply because these resources had not been sufficiently developed: the initiation of a real-time computer-assisted compositional process that sounds like composed, rather than algorithmic music, this latter a form of organization with which composers in this field previously needed perforce content themselves. I was not concerned with presenting the latest craze in live electronic form, but rather quite the opposite: it was only owing to the fact that that live electronics now possessed a sufficient capacity for complexity and differentiation---and that also means: the possibility of polyphony---that I could become creative in this genre. I did not wish simply to take narrative threads from Pynchon's body of work (in this case I was using the novel The Crying of Lot 49) and translate them into musical form. Rather, the dramaturgy of the cello piece is identical to that of the systematic murder of all the protagonists in that novel's "Jacobean Revenge Play" between Faggio and Squamuglia. I attempted to incorporate as many connections as possible at an abstract, and therefore musically absurd level: I scanned the entire text of the novel and converted it into hundreds of thousands of numbers, which, turned into algorithms, determined the sonic and musical flow of Hommage Thomas Pynchon with its parallel identities. Admittedly, I had to push the absurdity of this abstract material application to such an extreme that it would take shape and---paradoxically---could almost become as meaningful as Pynchon's novels, which, read in the right manner---i.e., repeatedly---enable us to read and thus experience the world, this cursed dichotomous world of ours, like some great Borges-esque library. Hommage Thomas Pynchon is of an extremely performative character. At the start, the 18-minute ensemble piece The Tristero System is played in the main performance space (the "concert hall") as if one were attending a normal concert. At the same time, the Pynchon Architecture with its computer program is started. It creates an "automatic writing" based on the material sounding on stage. The sound director fades in---in an improvisatory fashion---this electronically-altered music via the hall's loudspeaker system. As the instruments of the ensemble form its initial sound material, the two layers mingle well, avoiding any interruption once The Tristero-System is finished and the musicians leave the stage without applause. Now the central concern is the deliberate simulation of a continuation of this ensemble music with other means. And it is the task of the sound director to "interpret" precisely this in the most musically convincing manner. After a while, the cello soloist appears and attempts to counteract and ultimately defeat the electronics with his piece The Courier's Tragedy (in five acts with a prelude and an epilogue). He fails, and must fail, because the cello piece follows precisely the same dramaturgy. He may be able to manipulate the sonic events, but is ultimately "killed" by them. He too leaves the stage, exhausted. After an hour the situation changes: the hall doors are opened, and from a distance the 28 loudspeakers in the four acoustic spaces announce to the audience that the music is also playing elsewhere. At the same time the continuation of The Tristero System, i.e., the sound-processed material of the "automatic writing," is turned off (it is now heard in all four acoustic spaces), and D.E.A.T.H. is played instead in the concert hall and looped indefinitely. Sooner or later, the members of the audience will exit the hall and explore the entire surroundings with their ears, hopefully with sufficient calm, time and curiosity, each finding his or her personal space in which to linger. What is heard---the music installation, which is heard in all places, but in a different form in each---must be sufficiently musically convincing to keep the listener in one spot for a certain time. In the best case, one will find oneself in an ambivalent situation: perhaps fatigued and accustomed to the conventional two-hour concert format, one simply wants to go home, but the music might be sufficiently gripping to prevent one from heeding that call. It is therefore important to hinder arbitrary entering and exiting. The visitor and listener should act as responsibly as in a concert, except that the choice of space and spatial movement is free. One can move between the four acoustic spaces---each with six loudspeakers and an "interference loudspeaker"---and also re-enter the concert hall with its entirely different music.

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