Iris ter Schiphorst: Vergeben / BruchstÃ¼cke zu Edgar VarÃ¨se in booklet ‘Festivals Musik der Zeit’, subject ‘double’, Nov. 2007
I was instantly attracted by the general theme, â€˜Doubleâ€™, and thus the idea of referring to an existing composition. It offered the opportunity to approach the compositional process from a different angle.
A particularly interesting aspect was the fact that this more or less coincidentally touched upon questions along the way which I had been concerned with many years ago, such as the relation between recipient/listener and a musical work in the â€˜age of mechanical reproductionâ€™.
At that time, I had been a passionate reader of Roland Barthes, who wrote at one point: â€œTraditional societies knew two places for listening, both of which were alienated: the arrogant type of listening by someone superior in rank and the subserviant type by subordinates. A liberal society is impossible if it is based on the condition that the old places (and routines) of listening are maintained: those of the believer, the disciple and the patient.â€
This was the time when I discovered â€˜new musicâ€™ â€“ and I remember how big my disappointment was when I thought I had found certain types mentioned by Barthes (â€˜arrogantâ€™ or â€˜subserviantâ€™ listening) even within this circle.
This contradicted my long-standing conviction that it was less important to pursue a workâ€™s meaning as defined by some authority than to trust oneâ€™s own senses and to allow space for oneâ€™s own way of listening.
I had always imagined a kind of listening based on â€˜dialogueâ€™, an active, dynamic process of listening which is not arrested once a work has been â€˜understoodâ€™, or ends in reverent silence when faced with great works of art, but which continues to listen and follow the traces that the works have left in oneâ€™s body. A kind of listening which leads on to writing (i.e. an idea of writing that, as I then thought, included the new audio-visual recording media).
For Vergeben â€¦ (Forgiving â€¦), I came back to those thoughts and tried to integrate them into the compositional process.
As the instrumentation was more or less defined from the start (wind instruments, percussion and piano), I soon had the idea of referring back to VarÃ¨se, whose Ã‰quatorial and DÃ©sert had, many years ago, been my â€˜initiationâ€™ into contemporary music. At that time, they seemed â€˜wildâ€™ and â€˜rawâ€™ to me, and I remember they had provoked a strong physical reaction in me at some points. It was exactly this reaction I wanted to explore, entering into a (with all due care in using those terms) â€˜sensualâ€™ rather than a â€˜content-basedâ€™ (semantic, structural, dramaturgic, etc.) dialogue.
To that purpose, I obtained recordings of those works, listening to them over and over again. Next I cut away anything which either did not suit the instrumentation or did not mean anything to me. From what was left, I selected those passages which made the strongest impression on me and moved me most.
Those remaining fragments formed the basis of Vergeben.
I began to â€˜play aroundâ€™ with those little pieces, interleaving them, superimposing them on each other, slowing them down or accelerating them, arranging them reversely etc. â€“ in other words, I rearranged them regardless of content-related or semantic connections, only following my aural sense, my pleasure in listening, freely going by Roland Barthes: â€œThe pleasure of the text, that is the moment when my body follows its own ideas â€“ for my body doesnâ€™t have the same ideas as myself â€¦â€ (1973)
During that process, some of the fragments gradually mutated into forms resembling a refrain while others demanded additional material (it was not until much later that I read in Riemannâ€™s encyclopedia that â€˜refrainâ€™ literally means â€˜fragmentâ€™â€¦). Little by little, a verse-like structure evolved. However, the abundance of material was exuberant. Without wanting to, I had written more than 40 minutes of music. It eventually turned out that the hardest part of the work was to reduce it to the extent agreed for the occasion â€“ 10â€“15 minutes.
This was how, over the course of time, my new work developed. Though initially based on VarÃ¨seâ€™s two pieces (thus on material from someone else, on which I could claim no copyright), the result had little in common with them â€“ even if my precursor does in fact echo in some places.
Seen from this point, my work is not a real â€˜doubleâ€™, not even a â€˜shadowâ€™, but rather the result of a process intended to pursue the traces that certain fragments of VarÃ¨seâ€™s music had left in me, allowing them to unfold in their own way. It is the result of handling this underlying material in a self-aware manner â€“ a self-aware kind of listening, as it were.
(Iris ter Schiphorst, translation: Andreas Goebel)