steady statism

Monty Adkins – Shadows and Reflections

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An interesting aspect of what i’ve been calling ‘steady statism‘ is the relationship it has with the idea of stasis. What is a musical stasis? Considering that music unfolds in time, isn’t it an oxymoronic idea? Furthermore, is such a hypothetical stasis intentional (objective) or perceptional (subjective) – or both? When writing about Markus Reuter’s Falling for Ascension, i remarked about one of the fundamental characteristics of steady statism: behavioural stasis, where the music changes over time but its underlying mode of operation – the compositional processes that lead to the musical material – remains essentially static, a system out of which musical outcomes emerge. More recently, i’ve been reflecting on the other kind, perceptional stases, where the emphasis is on extreme stillness of utterance, which may or may not be (or appear to be) the product of a behavioural stasis.

A striking example of this can be heard on Monty AdkinsShadows and Reflections, released a couple of months ago on the Crónica label. This album was one i’d been anticipating for a while; Adkins spoke about it briefly during the Dialogue we recorded together in the spring, explaining how it was inspired in part by the process of painter Gerhard Richter:

…it’s the way in which he chooses certain types of colours on his squeegee, and then draws them very slowly down the canvas. So one of the things i’ve been working on recently is how you could actually compose very short fragments of material and then slow them down, and then, as he does, layer them on top of one another. So i’ve just finished a long, 40-minute piece, and that piece is made up of six three-minute pieces, and what I did was slow those pieces down, just as Richter would take very specific parts of the paint, and then slowly draw those across and add extra layers on the canvas. So that piece was drawn out of the technique of his paintings. [… It has] no gesture in it at all, which is quite unusual for me […] it does go somewhere but it’s pushing that to the absolute extreme: out of forty minutes, the main thing happens at thirty-two minutes. And I find, [when] you get to that point, there’s almost a sense of ecstasy.

This latter aspect is a familiar Adkins trope, one i’ve remarked upon numerous times previously, where the timing of a gesture or sound is not merely pivotal but transformative, making one reappraise much if not all that went before. But my anticipation for Shadows and Reflections was particularly piqued by the idea of it being essentially bereft of gesture, suggesting an altogether more ‘flat’ sonic journey. Read more

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Jeroen Diepenmaat – Double Landscape

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One of the more unusual items to have arrived at my door recently is Double Landscape, by Dutch “visual artist with a preference for sound” Jeroen Diepenmaat. It’s unusual insofar as it comes in the form of a small plastic wallet containing a small business card CDr – which contains just a single track, lasting just a few minutes – together with a fold-out inlay card with drawings of cassette-like images and a download code. It would have been a lot of work to go to for just a few minutes of music, and indeed the download reveals the actual entirety of the album: 84 tracks (the CDr containing just one of them) lasting a little over five hours. That’s a lot of music, but it doesn’t take long to realise that there’s a theme at play here, one that draws connections with both the Roland Kayn box set i reviewed earlier this week as well as the examples of ‘steady state’ music discussed recently.

The Kayn connection is twofold. First, each of the 84 movements is a paradigm of the whole; the way each one behaves is, essentially identical, though the specific details are unique. Second, the range of materials used is relatively small, establishing a strong relationship between the different pieces, which are, in essence, sonic siblings. More on this in a moment. The ‘steady state’ connection is to do with this behavioural commonality, involving pairs of cycling loops. These loops are derived from a recording of Diepenmaat playing piano; this was split into seven tape loops, inserted into physical cassettes, which were then combined in pairs. Double Landscape is the product of the various possible combinations of these pairs. The cycling process of these loops quickly establishes in each piece a steady state, one that – unlike most of the examples discussed previously – has a distinct ambient quality, the resultant musical texture resulting from the coincidental ways in which the details of each loop impinge against each other. Both the serendipity of the process and the physicality of the medium are important to Diepenmaat, as he explains:

I like coincidence, so I made the rules to let the coincidence work. Besides the combinations, due to small differences in tape length the sounds move towards/apart from each other. Also tape hiss and the wear of the tape is audible in some of the tracks. I like it when it is alive like that.

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Altered (steady) states: Kenneth Kirschner – September 27, 2016/November 17, 2016; Markus Reuter – Falling for Ascension; Formuls – entryiseasierthantheexit_exit

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A few years ago, when writing an extensive monograph on the music of Kenneth Kirschner, i used the term ‘steady state’ to indicate the particular way in many of his works that material is deployed and juxtaposed over extended periods of time. This latter aspect, extended time, is vital: both as a compositional approach and a listening experience, it could be described as ‘macrospective’; what happens moment by moment is of secondary importance to its long-term structural dimension. However, what makes ‘steady statism’ – to coin a phrase – so engaging is the way we as listeners are pulled back and forth between focusing on the short- and long-term actions of the music, ever aware of its essential open-endedness yet nonetheless engaged by the shifting, possibly transient, ways it is manifested on the surface.

Steady statism has connections (roots even) to, among other things, 20th century US experimentalism and ambient music, two areas that have had and continue to have significant influence on contemporary music-making. In Kirschner’s case, it remains a key part of his musical language, demonstrated in several of his most recent works (all of which are available for free download from his website). In September 27, 2016, it’s articulated via widely-spaced miniature gestures – emanating from what sounds like piano, violin, vibraphone and/or glockenspiel: possibly real, probably synthetic – each one comprising a single pitch held for a short time. Not all of the instruments play in each gesture, and the length the pitches are held is not precisely exact in each instrument, but that’s by the by; the process the work undergoes is a simple, solemn statement of these micro-ideas, each one allowed to sound for only a few seconds before the music disappears back into the darkness. The silences are roughly between 20 and 40 seconds’ duration, meaning that most of September 27, 2016 is silent, yet to my mind this only gives each of these sonic motes more potency. And there are surprises too, such as when, nine minutes in, there suddenly appear to be many more string instruments present than we suspected. Fascinating and beautiful. Read more

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