i said at the start of this Advent Calendar that many of the pieces i’d be featuring would be miniatures, but in the case of the piece behind today’s door, technically a complete performance would last 24 hours – or, indeed, could continue endlessly. Renate Fuczik by Peter Ablinger is based on the recording formally used as the Austrian speaking clock, taking its title from the name of the woman whose voice it is. Using special software, Ablinger has created a sonified rendition of Fuczik’s voice and the periodic ‘pip’ that follows each of her spoken phrases. The duration of a performance is left up to the pianist to decide for themselves, but to make it directly temporally relevant they “must match the real time exactly”, synchronised via a MAX patch.
These two short performances of Renate Fuczik were given by Mark Knoop at Cafe Oto in 2015, and what’s especially interesting about them, considering they’re adhering to the same underlying principle, is how different they are from each other. The first section, corresponding to the time period 19:58 to 20:08, demonstrates a transparent connection to the recording, displaying something of the uncanny translation process from voice to rhythm / pitch heard in Steve Reich’s Different Trains. Earlier on there’s a harmonic emphasis on augmented triads, dispersed throughout various registers but descending with each phrase, though later this becomes complicated (at one point tritonal) and harder to discern.
The second section, from 20:50 to 21:00, displays an altogether less obvious correlation to the recording. When describing Ablinger’s software to me, Knoop mentioned that it “has a number of different tuneable parameters which allow the analysis to vary” and that “the parametrical changes tend to be more gradual and happen independently, e.g. sample-rate, different band filters, compression, etc”. These kind of filtered effects are immediately apparent in Ablinger’s material. It uses a polarised registral division, hands at each end of the keyboard, articulating the pips low down rather than trying to match the high pitch of the original. The whole connection between words and pitches is more elusive, though in this respect it actually feels more involving than the other section. There’s the impression that the piano part is discerning and identifying certain specific elements within the voice and just extracting those (one portion of the performance is extremely sparse), while at other times it sounds more like an accompaniment to the voice rather than an attempted mirror image of it.
Although sadly truncated when broadcast, both performances are curiously mesmerising, not simply because of the unlikely blending of an Austrian woman’s voice and an electronic tone with the sounds of a piano, but also due to the herculean effort by Knoop to align things so carefully and precisely. As with a lot of Ablinger’s work, there’s a definite tongue-in-cheek aspect to the piece, and the way the piano version of the ‘pip’ is often either slightly out of tune or rendered as a splat on the keyboard is particularly amusing. Now all we need is a Vexations-style marathon one day, where the complete 24 hours is played…
i’d like to express my thanks to Mark Knoop for elaborating about some of the details of this piece and his performance.