Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The composition is the instrument

I went to a concert two weeks ago of music by Volker Staub, a local Frankfurt composer and instrument builder. Live performances by Michael Weilacher on a variety of percussion instruments and Staub himself on a long steel wire resonated by an oil drum were accompanied by a recording of Staub's "Witterungsinstrumente", weather-controlled instruments in an urban soundscape. The steel wire instrument was much less interesting than the percussion (to be fair, perhaps I am biased by a long relationship to extraordinary works of Lucier and Ellen Fullman for related long wire instruments), and the recording was often more vividly "composed" than the live performances, which sounded sometimes more like instrumental demos than compositions. However, this may be an altogether misplaced criticism on my part: none of Staub's instruments was built as a "general purpose" instrument for a large repertoire of music (for example, they don't try to represent all of the tones of a tuning system), but rather the instruments and compositions were built together, so that the instrument's resources and the demands of the score are mapped one-to-one.

One of Staub's instruments is a set of sliced and suspended glass bottles. Partch's Cloud Chamber Bowls are clearly an inspiration here, but the smaller, more fancifully-shaped, and multi-colored glass bells in Staub's instrument have a quality that sound (and look) more delicately chamber-musick'd than orchestrally cloud-chambered.

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