Le souffle du temps II - Réflexion
Mit Auftragskompositionen von:
«Kunst macht sichtbar. – Dieser Gedanke steht hinter einem Schaffen. Unsichtbares sichtbar zu machen. Vergessenes hervorzubringen und in eine Welt einzutauchen, wie sie nur die Kunst hervorbringen kann». Von H.R
Piano Judith Wegmann
Ton: Simon Fankhauser
Mit speziellem Dank an Ralph Kretschmar
Art: Ralph Kretschmar | Das Treppenhaus | Kohle auf Papier (2019)
Offizielle Webseite Ralph Kretschmar | Der Junge hinter der Wand
Liner Notes by Andy Hamilton
Judith Wegmann's Le Souffle Du Temps – "The Breath of Time" – from 2017 was a set of pieces for prepared piano, that drew with assurance on both composed and improvised practice. She has now taken that project to a meta-level, engaging Swiss composers Cyrill Lim, Hans Koch, Daniel Andres and Edu Haubensak to reflect on Le Souffle Du Temps, each composing one work. Their compositions in turn are commented on by four "Reflections" by Wegmann, taking up nearly half of the CD's total fifty-six minutes.
The compositions make use of computer programs, contact microphones, gongs, feedback and other tools, including small, handheld devices. How do they relate to the improvisations, I ask her? "The compositions are derived from many discussions with the composers, and reflections on my first CD, thoughts on life, etc. I want to continually provide works to be commissioned – these are a major source of inspiration", she explains.
"I rehearsed the written compositions, simultaneously improvising and reflecting to see what compositions I myself could elicit", Wegmann continues. "I made sketches to show how I would like to organise my improvisations…With practice and preparation, and later playing the concerts, these activities [became] a natural process". All her pieces vary from concert to concert: "Every room, every moment during which a concert is being performed is a unique experience, which cannot be repeated".
Wegmann was born in Zug, and lives in Biel. She studied at the Jazz Schools of Lucerne and Bern, also studying classical music. Musicians who draw on both composition and improvisation usually have a pull towards one or the other – Wegmann is unusual in the equilibrium of her practice. "As well as the technical grounding, classical training has given me a sensibility for breathing, slurs and a feeling for phrases", she comments. "In turn, jazz and free improvised music has given me more freedom as an interpreter of classical music. They complete one another". For her, these contrasting practices, that until fairly recently suffered from mutual incomprehension, make a unified whole.
Her projects explore the limits of musical space and time: "I have been dealing with the subject on an artistic level for a long time, asking: what makes a sound, what are the interactions between space and sound…I have conducted long performances to find out what effect these have on me, the space in which I am playing and my body."
"Improvised music offers me completely different experiences using my body, the space I am playing in, time itself and especially the exploration of sound," she adds. "For a performer of written music, this is a very valuable experience. I feel very much at home playing new music, classical, free jazz or improved music. This diversification is a great freedom". But she is careful not to criticise contemporary specialisation: "I would never say that musicians who 'only' interpret are not free! Everyone must be free to discover their own artistic language".
She has been touring her programme of compositions and reflections for a year, and it is constantly in flux. The recording could not include all seven commissioned compositions: "So it is an extract from the journey". Her concerts include them all, and with her improvisations, they last two hours without a break: "I wanted musically to oppose the fast tempo of today where everything else is constantly changing".
As with Le Souffle, the haunting, evocative soundworld of the "Reflections" reminds me a little of George Crumb's Makrokosmos. Wegmann's gentle, understated art nudges her sounds into patterns that compel attention. She described Le Souffle as ten "conceptual" pieces, but not in the sense of "conceptual art": "I mean having a structure or outline in your head," she explains. "As I layer the different sounds, I contemplate the whole, hearing how it will sound. It is a free approach, but when I step on stage, I feel the space, the audience, the atmosphere and then I hear the entire piece when I sit down at the piano – just as I do with improvisations".
Wegmann's remarks remind me of how difficult it is to talk about these questions – the concepts of improvisation and composition can seem very unclear. I believe it's important to distinguish specific and more general senses of "composition":
(1) In music and the performing arts, composition is opposed to improvisation – composers are mostly desk-workers who produce works, usually notated.
(2) More generally: composition involves putting things together, in an aesthetically effective form, which improvisers as well as desk-composers do – this is essential to any artistic activity or performance.
I believe it's the second sense that free improviser Keith Rowe has in mind, when he says, "There is no such thing as non-composed music. You can never get away from some form of composition".
The distinction between specific and more general senses explains why improvisers can refer to improvisation as a compositional method – in contrast to what arts funding bodies call paper composers, who produce scores. As Tony Buck of Australian improvising trio The Necks comments,
…it's no longer a dichotomy of improvising and composing…improvisation is a methodology for composing, just like serialism, or rhythmic inter-locking…[free improviser] Steve Beresford did compose a piece of music, he just did it there and then – and he's not interested in doing it again.
("I am in complete agreement with Tony Buck", Wegmann comments.) Improvisation as a compositional method therefore involves
(1) Spontaneous composition
(2) No repeat performance of a fixed composition – a musical work.
All the pieces on this recording are compositions therefore – it's just that some are created spontaneously, and not repeated, while others are more fixed. It's Wegmann's achievement to blend these two approaches seamlessly, creating a sublime musical experience. As she comments on her homepage: "There is a silent line on earth. Words flow on one side to meet it – beyond it begins an expanse of silence (or music)".