Saturday, August 12, 2006

Pierrot Lunaire, somehow

At first, when listening to Pierrot Lunaire, Arnold Schoenberg's seminal 21 song-cycle about a drunken clown which marks the pivotal moment in the composer's transition between tonality and complete atonality, one feels the desire to claw one's eyeballs out, or gnaw off one's arm. It is remarkably unlistenable, at first listen. Yet, Schonberg made it possible for John Cage to compose music using an elaborate system of flipping coins and charting their outcomes in the 70's.

Balancing the beauty of Schoenbergs 12-tone technique and Cage's random approach, Sam Renseiw captured a short recital some years ago at a workshop presentation. View the resulting cut-up with sound excerpts from Klovndk by clicking here or mouseplay it by the ear above. (patafilm #228, 02'09'', 9.8 MB, Quicktime/mov - Flash version here)


Blogger gurdonark said...

I read a biography of Schoenberg last Summer. I am always ambivalent about the importance of context to a literary or musical work. The "background story" is always fascinating, but is it essential?

On the one hand, one may quite reasonably argue that without an understanding of Schoenberg's inherent traditionalism and the musical culture of his time, his atonal and serial phases will not be seen in context, and not be understood, as with the popular conception of this work as "mere noise".

Yet I like the idea that one must be open to music as sound, to the experience of the feel of the sounds, without the context of warmth or revulsion. Just sound--to be experienced as sound.

12-tone composition is a fascinating thing, because the excessive and mildly absurd "rules" of its composition create not only barriers but also
a kind of liberation. Because it is music composed according to a system, it cannot be random or "wrong" music. It has an inner rightness in the act of adoption of the reasoned system.

Yet there are so many systems and ideas which provide useful organizing principles. I chose this post to review from within the archives because it fell on an anniversary of my birth. I do not believe that system is a system as worthy of imitation as the works of Schoenberg.

Indeed, I wonder if we should not apply a bit less of the high elven to our systems, and settle instead for simple hobbit-magic. I think of the French painter Franz Marc, who, prior to the First World War, expressed the enthusiastic hope that it would sweep aside the old rigidities and somehow purify the culture. In fact, it cost him and the best of his generation their lives, and gave rise to an art, a music, and a theology of shell-shocked realization. I think that the over-systematiized idea perhaps proved a pitfall.

I suppose one could argue that WWI gave us, indirectly, Schoenberg, Tillich, the Lost Generation, Wilfried Owen. Yet I'd rather have studied peace than the poetry of its demise.

Perhaps this is the virtue of the pathless land of the voodle. There are a world of meanings, but perhaps it is better to draw them
out daily, as with a weblog, working out one's salvation with the requisite fear, and not a little trembling.

In this film, I love the interplay of the dissonant keys and the smooth dub, and the glancing blows of peaceful play drawn by the way the camera glimpses these images in motion.

Saturday, March 01, 2008 7:04:00 am  

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