program notes

When Beethoven calls, it's always a big event - he hardly ever uses the telephone: "Alvin, my email has been down for 48 hours and I wanted to tell you how elated I am - you won't believe it, I've just received the Siemens Prize, the Tokyo Prize and the MacArthur genius award, all in one week. Breitkopf and Bertelsmann have a lot to be happy about, no? And even beat Cage 7 times at chess. Anyway, what about you, how's it going for Donaueschingen??? all you composers running around in that twisted wreckage you call music. "It's all Arnold's fault," I blurted. "Arnold who?... oh, that sullen guy who sits painting his own portrait all day long...? he thinks all the tones are equal, even Socrates was smarter than that." "well that's what I was just writing in my program notes...I'll read you a bit:

The "Hyde" in me writes meticulously honed musical structures, simple and direct, lyrical or disruptive, informed by the Blues, Berg and Birds. Meanwhile, the "Jeckyl" in me writes for the sounds of an entire seacoast, or radiophonic geographies for millions of human voices coming out of loudspeakers buried in the earth. Musics where order and chaos are indifferently fused, as in a large building seen before and after a devastating earthquake; moments and musics where accident, chance and fate render form and content irrelevant. Music as a permanent state of emergency, where David Tudor's musical vision could make the word "experimental" sound as acceptable as any airport transit lounge and just as disconcerting.

TOTODONAUESCHINGEN is Jeckyl is experimental is defiant, affectionate, collective, nonintentional, global, unknowable. Men women and children in pitched battle with machines and archival memories. Systems of communications made out of potato and corn chips. Laparoscopic interventions to reduce the size of the sonic malignancies to their atomic weights. Fasting and binging on a constant meal of solid equal temperments. Invisibly moving pieces of music like Maradona moves the football, like Satie moves furniture, like astronauts move their bowels in space.... Ludwig, are you there? have you understood what I'm talking about? "Not a word." Then you've understood everything.

Everything surrounding the origins and circumstances of TDE exudes an air of impossibility. The very idea to take the entire recorded Archive of the Donaueschingen Festival and use that as a compositional source is as unadvisable as trying make music with the active fuel rods of a nuclear reactor. Using merely two computers, and necessarily with two different operating systems and two very different languages (MAX-MSP and C-Sound) and trying to make them communicate efficiently at their maximum levels has been an arduous struggle. On the other hand, working collectively with the brilliant minds of Nicola Bernardini and Domenico Sciajno made what would have otherwise been an impossible musical event possible. And finally the improbable idea - enthusiastically pursued by Armin Koehler and kindly agreed to by the Furst and Furstin von Furstenburg - to use the facade of the Schloss as a theater of sonic architecture by fitting hidden loudspeakers into many of the windows became impossible 'per motivi tecnici.'

Central to everything is the decision to transform and re-represent an unthinkable quantity of known music - which itself represents over a half century of a most extraordinary musical body in evolution - a body which people embraced with passionate commitment or fled from in horror. A body of music which is rock solid, yet invisible; produced in nearly every corner of this planet yet sadly inaudible but to a few people; and a decidedly grand economic luxury, if not a near economic disaster. So let's say that TDE is for me a personal homage to this great music, its authors and one of its principal centers of production.

While this act of meditated appropriation is carried out with the utmost respect for the authors and their works, its essence is to pour all of these organized sounds frequencies and vibrations into a global well from which samples are drawn continuously and indifferently taking care not to favor individuals or compositions or demonstrate the origins of the samples (though this can happen occasionally). Far from the modernist idea of collage or modish post-modern ironies, the roots of this work can be found in Ives, Cage, Cecil Taylor, David Tudor and my own ongoing research in areas of high musical danger and consequent search for musical forms in the broadest sense of that word.

Technically this is what happens in a nutshell: 30 seconds of music are selected from the beginning, middle and end of each of a large and diverse selected number of musical works commissioned by the Festival over the past 70+ years. All of these musical fragments are made available in the form of 8 simultaneous digital streams. Computer number one (a PC with Linux OS and running CSound) chooses a subset of1-8 of these streams to elaborate, in cycles (Time Blocks) ranging from every 15 seconds to every 7 minutes. It then applies to each chosen stream one of ten processing types all based on extreme transformative typologies. The transformed streams are then passed on to the second computer (a MAC G3 running MAX /MSP) which in turn processes the material of machine one with 1-10 other transformations. All of these selections and multiple processes are governed by a complex system of random and weighted probabilities which exploit and enhance the "unknowable" and illogical character of the system's behavior - which at times can appear to be attentive to conventional musical wisdom and at others acts like a disturbed child with no consideration for "good musical behavior" whatsoever. The machines, of course, have no knowledge of or sensibility toward the source musics. They simply do as they are told, and take what is fed to them as if it were the same life sustaining air,water, and music so indispensable for our own human survival.... "Ludwig - are you still there???" "Ja. Ja. but I have to run off to an improvisation contest with Scelsi, like a duel- we're only allowed one note each. Schoen, nicht?? - send you an email soon. Bis bald."

Toto Donaueschingen (1999), a sound portrait of 75 years of the Donaueschingen music festival; installation/performance for live electronics. First performance Donaueschingen festival, October 1999. For more, including a sound sample, see the SWR website.
Alvin Curran
computer realization:
Nicola Bernardini, Domenico Sciajno

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