The Book Cooks
Excerpts from
grubenklang: reloaded a documentation

(Random Acoustics; Cologne)


Almut KŘehne + Georg Graewe                                                        Courtesy of Georg Graewe

[grubenklang: reloaded was a year-long program of concert series and special events curated by Georg Graewe for Ruhr.2010. Although Graewe reconstituted his GrubenKlangOrchester for five concerts, and also presented an evening of his compositions, played an improvised set with Evan Parker (soon to be released as a Nuscope CD) and closed the year with a solo piano concert, he programmed twice as many concerts featuring other artists. Series included piano now, new generation and French-German collaborations. words & music was a 9-concert series pairing composers and poets.

grubenklang: reloaded – a documentation consists of a 116-page book and a disc containing video and audio recordings, published in a numbered edition of 1,000 copies. For more information, consult: http://www.randomacoustics.net/]

Inflections in Space

A conversation between journalist Johannes Fischer (JF), poet Anja Utler (AU), singer Almut Küehne (AK), and pianist Georg Graewe (GG), on the occasion of the first evening of the series words & music, on February 4, 2010 in the bookshop Napp, Bochum.

JF: Ms. Utler, there is something like an ascending line towards a de-entitising of words in what you have presented here. If I hear it correctly, the individual word was more complete, more “together” in your first text than in the second one, where it becomes more of an expression of physicality, a reaction of the breath coming into contact with the outside world. Am I seeing this correctly and to what extent is this means of expression of what you are trying to say?

AU: In general I think that the “Word,” as an entity, is over-rated. I think there is this metaphor: There is the individual word, the substantive, the noun, and it is more or less something like a kind of character one is not allowed to fiddle around with. In the past, one used to feel free to bend things around and now you hear things like: you are not allowed to alter proper names. So now you don’t say: “in der deutschen Bahn,” but you say in “der Deutsche Bahn.” As if it would change the character by adding one letter at the end. And I particularly like it when words interact with each other, where they also refer to each other spatially, by inflection, as we say in grammatical terms, by actually getting in relation to each other. And this is why, I think, the word as a fixed unit, disintegrates more and more in my texts, and it is right that the body now plays more of a role instead, also knowing and trusting that the act of speech is something that interacts directly with the mind. And this does not only apply to the person talking but also to the listener. It is a well-researched correlation that the breathing frequency as well as the muscle tone and the heart adapt to what one is listening to. And this all works together.

JF: Could it be said that a kind of polyphony in Ms. Utler’s work – one which will have to be further defined – offers something suitable for being transformed into music?

GG:  In composition, when you are working with texts, you first of all take them apart. You irreverently pick them to pieces and try to put them back together in the way that fits you. Obviously they have to be texts which you find accommodating, which means they offer this possibility and which, most of all, result in something beyond that in their new reconstitution. And it is also about understanding text musically. Naturally, you can also do this with non-literary texts, because first of all there is this process of neutralizing the material. On the other hand, I also have to say there has to be something in the text which inspires you. In the case of the songs we are about to hear, I really had been looking around for years for something to work with and luckily, I found it.

JF: I am really looking forward to this. It is difficult to ask this beforehand, but still, Ms. Kuehne, what’s the material like to sing? Is it possible to bring it into a linear kind of thing, or is the singing itself disconnected, turned in on itself, at times almost like in a successful or unsuccessful dialogue, or – if I may ask this a bit offhand – can you sing something like this in a traditional way?

AK: This is a very good question. We first performed these songs 2 years ago! I didn’t know them at all at that time and I found it difficult, as a singer, to find a way into these texts. Normally I convey texts through my very own emotionality. For me, the words are like a shell which I fill up with my being. The poems have a very strong kind of structure but somehow, nevertheless, there always remains this distance. I cannot really describe it but for some reason it was very difficult for me to put my emotions into it. And then Georg said, just stop trying, leave it the way it is, more abstract or with a bit more distance. And listening to Anja now it becomes very clear ... it also reminded me a bit of old poetry and classical literature, because they also work a lot with direction, I mean where one word really pushes towards the next one. Where suddenly each single word is so important and now I just try to ... well I can’t say what I am trying to ... (laughs). I just hope I’ll find my way. Obviously you cannot sing it like a chanson. That’s something totally different.

JF: Ms. Utler, did you think that your work contained something like the potential Georg pulled out of it? Were you surprised to be confronted with the offer of having your text transcribed into music?

AU: I think Georg’s was in fact the first offer I’d received. And then I ... what surprised me was that I got so many more offers after that. But I should also say why that was so surprising. It was because all those things were so different. There were such totally different approaches which became evident, how people work with these texts and this is something that surprised me a lot; that it obviously appeals to such different people, and then obviously releases a kind of point of friction from which something new can develop ... and this is naturally something I really like.

JF: So if you read Ms. Utler’s works and looking at the graphic notation on the one hand, and if you listen to Ms. Utler recite the texts on the other hand – and I’m extremely curious how they will be coming to us now from the mouth of Almut Kuehne and from the hands of George Graewe – they somehow seem to gain a momentum that emerges from the texts, and that approaches the listener kind of like an offer; that invites the listener to find something, something like one’s own way, of deciding oneself, in actual fact, which design I choose from the selection that is kindly on offer. But I guess this is a moment you do not especially plan – at least I could not imagine it being so?

AU: The whole approach is non-narrative. Which means that no one can just stand there and say: okay, so and so is now the author, he is telling me something, and then we will look at the whole thing here together. Rather it is actually something open-spaced, where every individual has to enter into, independently, and has to establish his or her own communication with that which is happening with regard to language and linguistic mutations and spatial linguistic inflections. So, it is in so far intentional, because that’s the way the whole approach is.

JF: Georg, what aspect of Ms. Utler’s texts stood out for you as a composer, if you could express it in words? What was it, the high point?

GG: Bends and inflections. There are indeed certain spatial concepts. On the one hand it is about movement of course and on the other hand it is also about the scale of that movement. And I think it is good that the terms bends and inflections have been mentioned because that is what happens to the material. That’s what I was saying before:  When I get a text like this, first of all of course it has to fascinate me, but then, when working on it, I just have to handle it in a very brutal manner and forget everything one might assume the text to mean, and only in the next step will one find out if it in any way does justice to the original material. It’s not about – and here I’m very happy about the catchphrase – narrative form.

JF: Ms. Utler, is it important in your work that the semantic aspect is kind of dealt with semiotically, through setting of signs? So that, if I may use the term of suffering injury, of no longer being “safe and sound,” it isn’t necessarily expressed through a sense of context but rather through fragments of words. I find that your grasp of things is a rather more cautious approach. To what extent is this not only a tool but instead an appropriate means of expression? And to what extent is this stimulating for you, Georg, to see a linearity being interrupted by a very consciously executed punctuation?

AU: Obviously, as a writer, from the artistic and historical context, there is the immediate reflex to say: of course I’m working with the semantics, because otherwise I’ll be right over there into sound poetry, and I don’t want to go there. But it is correct insofar as you say, it will set a sign, and there are other qualities also of signs that are absorbed – actually they do not need to be absorbed, they are activated, that’s what I would say. Naturally, the physical component becomes something like ... no, I think it’s better to say: Linguistically, it is called indexical sign – the sign as a symptom, so to speak. This is where I come in. I take the signs and let them react with symptoms and then observe how this semantic context and the semantic progression evert, swell up, in response to a symptom. This is exactly what happens and there is no more intense way of describing this process because then you, as a reader, have to get back into the text itself.

GG: Well you could describe the act of composing as the unleashing of sounds. And this obviously includes that it is not about harmonizing. This is also why I avoid expressions like “set to music.” You have a text which is integrated into the other material and then all this starts to interact – the musical sound material and the phonetic sound material, for example. And what comes out at the end is something you can evaluate, naturally within a rough static kind of framework – which has to do with craftsmanship – but it is not linear, it is about different dimensions. The inflection, the inflected space, this doesn’t work in three dimensions.

© Random Acoustics 2012

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