Wednesday, November 21, 2007

case study: einstürzende neubauten

Our examinations of Pierre Schaeffer and Tetsu Inoue both focussed on techniques for organizing found sounds into a theme and variations structure as a solution to the conceptual problem posed by musique concrète. Here we examine two other strategies, both implemented by Einstürzende Neubauten.

Like Pierre Schaeffer, Einstürzende Neubauten wanted to "perform" found sounds. Rather than sample them as Schaeffer did, however, Neubauten chose to modify the found objects themselves, turning them into instruments upon which the same pieces could be repeatedly performed. At the start, these modified instruments (including everything from pots and pans to jackhammers and buildings themselves) were usedly primarily as percussion instruments, as can be seen in this early clip:

In their present incarnation, Neubauten not only makes use of much more delicate sounds, as in their use of styrofoam peanuts as a percussion instrument, but has also found ways to perform within the Western tonal system on found objects. In several of the songs off Perpetuum Mobile, 2004, for example, Neubauten uses different lengths of piping as a pitched instrument. They also make use of pitched arrangements of metal sheets and springs and a custom built spinning device with an array of different sized metal brushes on it which can be used to perform delicate melodies.

The point here is that Neubauten looked for new timbres in found objects, but then explored ways to fit these found sounds into the Western tonal system. Here are some amusing comments on the practical difficulties of performing on such "instruments":

The second strategy we can see in the work of Einstürzende Neubauten is that of guiding composition via randomly generated constraints. This procedure is at the intersection of two distinct techniques. The first is from Western academic music where some composers of 12-tone or serial music generated the sequence of tones (or whatever) which would provide the basis for their manipulations via random methods. This procedure was developed in the latter half of the 20th century to the extent that some composers (for example, Iannis Xenakis) used chance procedures to generate entire scores. The second technique arrives via musical games in improvised music. "Free" improvisors such as John Zorn and Keith Rowe have "composed" pieces that are really a sequence of constraints defining a kind of game for the performers: a loose structure within which they can "freely" improvise.

Neubauten recently completed their "Jewels" project which involved composing a song a month for 15 consecutive months. When composing a "jewel," each member of Neubauten selected a number of cards at random from a set of 500 initially generated by Blixa Bargeld. On these cards were written phrases which might constrain the song as a whole or the individual's performance within that song in a variety of ways (which instruments to use, what style to play in, who should guide the composition of which song elements, etc.). Then, Neubauten would go into the studio and compose a song, each member constrained by the contents of his cards, though only communicating these to others when they concerned the structure of the song as a whole. This procedure left Neubauten to compose as they ordinarily would, but constrained by game-like "rules" (à la Zorn or Rowe) generated by a stochastic process (à la Xenakis).

Of course, this procedure need not be limited to found sounds; however, it does constitute a method for constraining the arrangment of sounds which is independent of any particular tonal system, and as such is particularly suited for application in the realm of musique concrète.

Jewel #8: "Robert Fuzzo"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article!!! Thought I might add that the "custom built spinning device" you refer to is actually a jet turbine. Not sure what sort of aircraft it originally came from, though...