André Ruschkowski

"Poetical text as a source for musical structure and timbre"

Paper for the Conference of the International Festival of Electroacoustic Music ELEKTROKOMPLEX,

1. July 1998, Herbert von Karajan-Center, Vienna, Austria.

I would like to give you a short overview to a special direction of the composing in the electronic medium, which has their starting point according to our general theme „Trends, directions in electroacoustic music“ in the concrete sound. In this case are poems, poetical texts, the starting point for the generating of the musical structure and the sound timbres. But at first three Questions:
1st) Is it in general possible to do this and 2nd) if yes, may that and 3rd) makes it then sense?
For the reply of these questions this time I would not like to go in the history of electronic music (key-word "speech composition"). Instead of this I would take a short look to the fine arts, more exactly said on some pictures of Paul Klee.Aspects in the artistic creation of Paul Klee. Since the beginning the 20th Century fine arts had a strong influence on the musical thinking of modern period. Therein Paul Klee has a particular position. A large part of his artistic creation was inspired musically. Klee was, as you know also a good violin player. Also his activities at the artist group "Blauer Reiter“ are well known. There is however still a further remarkable, but up to now however hardly considered aspect in Klee’s creation. It affects characteristics of his artistic creation aesthetics around 1920 and its - up to now - unused potential in the musical context.
From 1916 Paul Klee began to expand the number of his graphical symbols with abstract signs, numbers and letters. In the 1918 emerged water-colour painting with the German title "Einst dem Grau der Nacht enttaucht...“ („Once the Gray of the night emerged... ") took Klee a written poetic text as direct starting point for the painting.

Fig. 1 - Paul Klee: "Einst dem Grau der Nacht enttaucht ..."
(not displayed here because of copyright reasons)

This text is clearly present in the picture in that way, that the letter chains determine not only the structure of the picture almost completely, but the contours of the letters limit also the individual field plains. Klee uses here therefore the display of a poetic text as a visual starting point of both on the formal, as well as on the subject level.
In the year 1920 Paul Klee created paintings, like "Rhythmische Baumlandschaft" or "Kamel in rhythmischer Landschaft". You could see here direct parallels to the text watercolour from 1918 what you have seen just before.

Fig. 2 - Paul Klee: "Kamel in rhythmischer Landschaft“
(not displayed here because of copyright reasons)

Klee uses the horizontal arrangement, originally related from the text chains, here as central principle of structuring without using a recognisable text in the picture. These horizontal arrangements form now the background for a more unrestricted picturesque formation of this, which between these lines happens. In the complete oeuvre of Paul Klee mark these pictures a transition on the way to his only little later emerged „Colourform-rhythm-paintings“, which distinguish themselves mostly through greater formal abstractions.
Important for me was, that in a phase of significant artistic reorientation Klee had used language structures as starting point for his artistic work at both formal as well as the subject level of his paintings. Thereby he used the quality of the language, that means in his case more of poetic structures, as a directly effective and a generally understandable medium of human communication.A method, musical structures from poetic text to derive
From the existence of this concept in the sphere of fine arts could follows, that itself also could work in the musical domain. In that case poetical text or speech as starting point would be not set to music in a conventional way. It forms the starting point for the musical work both at the formal level and also for the timbre of the final composition.
Since 1989 am I thereby, to develop that corresponding technology for the musical area and to utilise it for composition. A survey to the current method shows the next transparency (Fig. 3).

The process of the transformation now subdivides itself in five phases:
1.) The poetic text is recited and the result recorded with a DAT-Recorder.
2.) The recorded text material is transferred into a computer and a time expansion at constant pitch is performed.
3.) The expanded sound material is decomposed with the help of a band pass filter in 4 different frequency ranges in an octave distance.
4.) These frequency ranges are analysed with the means of Fast Fourier Transformation and determines so the respectively dominating pitches in these frequency bands.
5.) The last phase contains the real putting together of these elements by the composer. In practice that means, that a lot is putting into trash, because with the help of this technology very many pitches become detected. At the end stands then - if everything has gone well - a score for traditional instruments.Example Trakl-Cycle
Let me show you to the conclusion of this an example, so that you could imagine the results of this technology a little bit better. 1997 in Salzburg my „Trakl-Cycle“ had it’s first performance, which was composed completely with the help of these described methods. It consists of altogether 4 separate compositions for different groups of instruments, which can be performed also separately. All of them use poetic texts of Georg Trakl as structural and tonal basis (Fig. 4).

The diagram for the making of "In blue crystal" is exactly that of the last transparency. The performance is purely instrumental, that means without electronics exclusively for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Let me play you a short sound example - taken from the middle of the piece -, where the transformation of speech articulation in the instrumentals sphere becomes especially clear.

You could see on the transparency (Fig. 4) that at the further pieces essentially more elements are involved as in the first piece.
The cause for it is that Georg Trakl had written sometimes several versions of his poems - often in the distance from several years. If you compare these versions you could see, that he had often produced equal or very similar poetic pictures with other structures of words.
The existence of these different variants of a text of Georg Trakl finds their musical analogy in the simultaneous application of 2 - and in the last piece even 3 - different structure levels. I would not like to tire you here with too many technical details. New is here - in contrast to the first piece you have heard -, that always a 4 canal tape is part of the performance. It sounds together with the instruments and the soprano voice.
These tapes contain respectively combinations of the individual frequency ranges, which were derived from the recitation of the text and it’s time expansion. The final assignment of the frequency bands and the derived pitches from it - according to phase 5 of the diagram - to the tape tracks and the instruments and the voice is a result of many decisions of the composer. It depends practically on a lot of musical and technical questions. Let me play you a short excerpt of the last piece of the cycle:

Where do the advantages lie now at such voice oriented mode of composition?
First of all this procedure makes possible a close combination by historically grown working techniques of electronic music with them of the Musique concrète as well as and the far-reaching possibilities to the sound synthesis and sound editing possibilities of present computer technology. In the center of the musical elaboration stands the sensual quality of the sound. The semantic capacity works likewise as the sensual quality of the sound - directly and without conscious - without active encoding work by the listener. From the composer point of view especially attractive is the stay in the transient zone between understandable and no more understandable elements of speech.
I hope you have seen, that this method of composition offers a practical but also a flexible and individual expandable alternative to pure material- or structure dominated procedures when composing in the electronic medium.
Thank you for your attention.



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