Music with the Real

Norwegian academy of music

The Artistic Research Project Music with the Real departs from a current critical debate on music, aesthetics and digitalization*, and aims to develop compositional and performance-related practices through cross-media works integrating audio-visual samples. A group of five composers and one performer will create a body of works interrelated by a focus on the same artistic discourse: a common practice fundamentally critical to recycling conventional sound practices from the New Music canon, attempting new and unexpected dialogues with our familiar surroundings by employing elements from concrete and digital surroundings.

We have gathered a research group to present lectures, participate in symposiums and to provide artistic contributions to the project. This group includes:
• Henrik Hellstenius (professor of composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo)
• Clemens Gadenstätter (composer, professor of music theory, analysis and composition at the University of Graz and guest professor in composition at Musikhochschule Dresden)
• Carola Bauckholt (composer, Cologne)
• Johannes Kreidler (from Berlin, composer, writer and lecturer at Musikhochschule Hannover)
• Dr. Matthew Shlomowitz (from London, composer, Lecturer of Composition and Music Technology at Southampton University)
• Håkon Stene (performer and researcher, Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo)

Furthermore, a group of associated members will be connected to the project through seminars, lectures and performances.

The project will result in five new, larger works by the composers involved, created in cooperation with performer Håkon Stene. These will range from solo works incorporating larger electronic environments, to chamber groups and ensemble/soloist settings. A seminar series with theoretical text production will accompany the artistic portfolio.

Historical and current contexts
The inclusion of concrete material from outside the arts into the arts is a roughly 100-year old practice, occurring first in the visual field. In concert music, one can trace the incorporation of outside-musical sound objects, “composed samples” and ”referential” material – allusions and metaphors – to scattered examples from renaissance polyphony’s intertwining of popular tunes, Biber’s Battaglias, dramatic effects in operas (thunder, gunshots etc.), Beethoven’s Wellington’s Sieg and Symphony nr. 6, the Romantic Program Music movement (Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, Listz’s Die Hunnenschlacht etc.), in Ravel and Debussy’s audio depictions, in Mahler’s composed samples of Viennese waltz music and other direct quotations in Symphony nr.9, in Webern’s semiological “aura”, through the complex superimposing musics of Charles Ives’s Country Band March, Berio’s Sinfonia and B.A. Zimmermann’s collages to name but a few. All of these are examples of instrumentally composed samples alluding either to worldly phenomena or to other instruments, like in the case of Biber, a string instrument prepared with paper between strings and struck col legno to imitate the military drum on the battlefield. It was first with the emergence of recorded sound and electronic apparatus like the radio that sound from the outside world could be reproduced in a realistic fashion inside concert halls. The significant turn arose when recording techniques became accessible for composers like Pierre Schaffer and John Cage in the 1940s. Throughout musical modernisms, sound, in all its shapes, was liberated from its traditional, instrumental roots, conceptualized and explored as musical material in a variety of ways.
The integration of samples in art music has expanded greatly in the last years. Besides employing samples as a fundamental part of their music, composers such as Bernhard Lang, Carola Bauckholt, Matthew Shlomowitz, Johannes Kreidler, Simon Steen-Andersen, Joanna Bailey, Stefan Prins and others represent a tendency among composers to eschew the material defined and handed down by New Music’s canon, and to reflect current popular culture, cheap mass-produced consumer technology and typically “low status” materials. Whereas the unfiltered montages comprising found materials offered by the Schaefferian Musique Concréte wished to abstract the connoting potential of its sound objects, these composers wish the exact opposite: A material that is derived from the real world, that is conceptualized as art and communicated back into the world in the attempt to have its audience re-reflect perceptions of the familiar.

Impulse and Intention
Our motivation for the project is twofold: There is a growing consensus among musicologists, composers and musicians in the field of New Music that the “Klangrecherche” of the past six decades has revealed a growing fatigue in the last ten to twenty years, partly due to a singular focus on musical material operating within a pitch, rhythm and timbre paradigm only. In comparison to other art genres, art music has been clinging to means and methods of creation and communication lacking the openness and manifold of, say, visual arts or modern theatre. It has been claimed that this has led to an aesthetic isolation of art music. In an art form so focused on material, the fatigue has been obvious for many, especially since the last major material inventions of instrumental music now dates back to spectral music of the 1980s and Helmut Lachenman’s musique concréte instrumentale of the 1970s, both of which have been stylistically widely copied.
Secondly, we desire to respond to a recent and ongoing critical discourse about the aesthetic and artistic consequences of the Digital Revolution in music and multimedia art based on the aforementioned assumption of fatigue and need for re-orientation in New Music. We wish to explore these observations through artistic research, furthermore influence that discourse through artistic work exploring extended, transmedial practices based in music. There is at present a renewed interest in the art music field to deal with reality – that is, not least in the many new forms it presents and integrates itself in modern lives through new technology. The merging of virtual and physical identities, often referred to as “cross-realities”, stimulates many, especially younger artists – many of whom label themselves digital natives – to integrate into music elements derived from such contexts.
Our project group aims to gather and present such practices that are shifting focus away from pure abstract sound design, towards engaging dialogue with familiar surroundings including referential – even prosaic – elements from popular and everyday culture.

*H.Lehmann, J.Kreidler, Mahnkopf: Music, Aesthethics, Digitalization – a Controversy: Wolke Verlag 2010; H. Lehmann – The Digital Revolution in Music – a music philosophy: Schott 2013; J.Kreidler – Music with Music: Wolke Verlag 2012; Various publications in MusikTexte, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Musik & Ästhetik, Positionen).