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at114    Antoine Beuger - ‘Ockeghem Octets’  (2005)

Ryoko Akama - melodica      Seamus Cater - concertina

Kate Halsall - harmonium      Sarah Hughes - e-bow zither

Ecka Mordecai - cello           Harriet Richardson - flute

Leo Svirsky - accordion        Kathryn Williams - alto flute

Total time: 67:47

Youtube extract

Interview with Antoine Beuger

As I understand it, the ‘ockeghem octets’ are one of a long series of pieces, each one written for one more musician than the previous piece in the series, starting with the ‘dedekind duos’ and ending with the ‘ihwe tunings for twenty’. What gave you the idea for series?

1996-1998 I had been focusing on solo music or, as i would call it now: music for solo situations, exploring in what ways solitude (as opposed to loneliness) can be reflected and experienced meaningfully in a musical situation.

1998 my musical exploration of  “being two”, of the duo, started and is still continuing. you certainly noticed, that a lot of my music is duo music, or: music about “being two”, or, more radically, about love. I strongly believe, that of all the arts, music, the art of sounds appearing and disappearing, the art of approximation (in tuning, timing, sound balancing …), can be the most reminiscent, commemorative, resonant of the single most important event, that human beings may experience in their lives: love. And if music can be this, it should be this. Especially in the constellation that is by itself closest to a love relationship: the duo.

2003, very much inspired by Alain Badiou’s book Number and Numbers, a study of number with a very strong political subtext, it occurred to me, that the number of people, which constitute a group, might have an essential impact on what can happen, which kind of interactions, of sub-groupings etc. may emerge in such a group.

In other words: that going from 1 to 2, or from 2 to 3, etc. is not just adding one, but shifting from one situation to another, different one. Badiou’s book encouraged me to think of each number as having its own “ontology”, constituting its own special “world”, as it were.

My idea then was to create a series of musical situations in which all players do the same: play very long, very soft tones. So it is not their being different from each other, that primarily shapes the musical situation, but their number, their “being two”, their “being five”, …

Of course, the shifts are more overtly dramatic with the smaller numbers, as in real life. But continuing my search I was really surprised, how even situations like “being eleven” or “being seventeen” may induce very specific worlds.

Since 2010 Johnny Chang has been putting the series into practice in Berlin, this way allowing the ensemble Konzert Minimal to gradually emerge along the growing number of players involved in the pieces.

Last year ‘van riel tunings for fifteen’ was performed.

Wandelweiser is stereotypically thought of as being very sparse music, but - perhaps inevitably - pieces for larger ensembles, like the ‘ockeghem octets’, don't sound like this and are quite dense in parts. Were you consciously trying to get away from the stereotype of what Wandelweiser music sounds like?

No. I had been interested in playing and composing music with long, quiet sounds since 2002. Before that my music mostly consisted of rather short sounds immediately disappearing upon appearing.  Long, quiet sounds with no specific durations allow the players to focus their attention completely on (the playing of) each individual sound, tuning in with the others, without having to think about coordination or formal intentions. On the sonic surface, this of course creates more continuity or, at times, density.

Like most other Wandelweiser music, these pieces refute any stereotypes, that may exist, all by themselves.

Each of the pieces in the series includes a kind of dedication in its title to someone whose work you admire. Why Ockeghem, and does your piece connect with his actual music in some way?

Each piece is dedicated to one of my “heroes”. They may be visual artists (Tschirtner), philosophers/mathematicians/scholars (Dedekind, Cantor, Jankélévitch, Florenski, Meinong, Routley, Badiou, Ihwe), film makers (Peckinpah, Kiarostami, Ozu, Els van Riel), poets (Mallarmé, Ashbery, Faverey, Gerhardt, Basho, Leopold).  In this series Ockeghem is the only composer. Of course I have more than one musical “hero” (John Cage, Froberger, Beethoven being the most important others). Often the namings have to do with sound (dedekind duos, cantor quartets, faverey tunings for fourteen, ihwe tunings for twenty), as is the case here: ockeghem octets. Each of the ockeghem octets also constitutes a kind of double canon, which, of course, links the piece to Ockeghem formally as well.

It's now 25 years since you and Burkhard Schlothauer set up the Wandelweiser collective. Over this period the group and its influence have expanded a great deal, and the work being produced under its name has diversified hugely. What would you say are the key elements of continuity across this period, and what do you see as the major changes? And how do you think it will develop over the next decade or so?

Honestly, I have no idea, how Wandelweiser and whatever and whoever is connected with that name will develop. New composers became involved, bringing new ideas and new relations. Also each composer regularly catches the others with surprise. Paradoxically, if anything, it is the respect towards and the embracement of this never standardizable plurality and discontinuity, that has been the key element of continuity across time. My poet friend Oswald Egger coined quasi-mathematical term “discrete continuity” for this  phenomenon.

Maybe it makes more sense to think of Wandelweiser not in terms of aesthetics alone, but rather as a multi-faceted practice, a very open meeting place for people, works, events, ideas, passions, allowing all kinds of unforeseeable work and interactions to germinate and grow into many unexpected directions. For that to (hopefully continue to) happen, I guess, our courage to withstand the lure to be more organised, more well-defined, more in control of what “we” are, or what “Wandelweiser” is, of what people write about "us", more determined about who belongs to “us” and who doesn’t, in short: to withstand the lure to be and to represent something, is probably our main asset.

Recent developments in the world, especially the unbridled conflation of economic and political power in the new USA government (which amounts to the abolition of politics as a value based public interaction between free people), have made me realise even more, that our way of dealing with each other and each other’s work runs completely contrary to these totalitarian developments and that, again, what we do is subversive reality and not mere romantic intention. I could imagine, that Wandelweiser (whatever and whoever that is) will be inspired increasingly by the awareness of this political dimension of what we do.