Introduction by Roger Reynolds to the SEARCH Project.



"The Future of Music"


Jaroslaw Kapuscinski


Copyright © 2001 Jaroslaw Kapuscinski and the Composition Area, Department of Music
University of California, San Diego
Published by Permission


Online publishing and editing by Karen Reynolds
All Rights Reserved.



SEARCH EVENT II, 16 February 2001, University of California, San Diego



The following TEXT was commissioned by the Composition Area, Department of Music, University of California, San Diego for its SEARCH initiative. The TEXT / TALK is copyrighted and appears in its original presentation here. While links TO this TEXT or recording from other sites are welcome, no part of this TEXT may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic storage or retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the copyright holders [Please contact Roger Reynolds: info@rogerreynolds.com to facilitate this.].


First, I wish to thank you for the opportunity to meet with you and share some of my work and thoughts. It is a great honor to appear here and among such distinguished guests. I usually prefer doing the talking, so I am particularly happy that I will be able to perform for you my most recent work. A lot of you know me, which makes me a little nervous. I have to face your expectations and all. Then the topic is hard too, so I think it all deserves a little exorcism to begin with.

> please click on PLAY in the Player window below <



I wonder whether we really want to establish what the future is. Logically, if you think about it, NOT knowing the future is the condition of our creativity. Obviously then it is good that we don't know it. I think that the reason we gathered here is probably more because we simply want A future, and a nice one would be... nice.

Personally, I am much more comfortable living the present then I am thinking about the future. I never plan more ahead then it seems absolutely necessary at the time. I don't have specific dreams that I want to come true. Motivated however by your invitation I did the exercise and tried to imagine the future.

What did I see? How did the future look like?

In my mind I saw a castle with many doors leading to many different places. I remembered immediately Bela Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle" and that it had seven doors and that what we find behind the last one is absolutely horrible. I decided to search the web to find out what was behind the other doors. To my disappointment I was reminded that all doors in Bluebeard's castle opened to horrible things.

I guess there are many people who see the future that way and they have their reasons. I have recently read this quote from a New York Times' interview with Susan Sontag. She says there that the aim of culture is (...) to produce food for the mind, for the senses, for the heart. (...) to keep alive the idea of seriousness. You have to be a member of a capitalist society in our times to understand that seriousness itself could be in question."

I agree that we have many things to worry about. Take the rampant materialism. It is scary to think that in fact every advertising you see does not only sell some product but promotes at the same time the materialistic lifestyle, it advertises the pleasures of owning, it tempts you with every trick possible to have more. If you shiver when you hear about the sums of money companies pay to present a 15 seconds add during the Superbowl, imagine all the advertising money that is spent everyday on every channel and type of media all over the Earth (consciously or unconsciously) to turn us into materialists. For sure, aggressive materialism and mass media fashioned by the need to reach the largest possible number of viewers, and naturally aiming for the lowest common denominator, turn our shared culture into something resembling fast food.

Yes, there are all these horrible doors opening to the future but I can see some different ones. They are maybe small but as I hope to show later size does not matter here.

An amazing man, scientist, architect, poet, philosopher, you name it, comes to mind with his strange and wonderful life. I am talking about R. Buckminster Fuller. You may remember that when he was 32, married and with small children he decided suddenly that he would not spend any more time trying to "earn a living". He believed that if he devoted himself to "(...) attending only to what needs to be done for all humanity, [he] would be supported by God in realistic, natural, but almost always utterly surprising-to-[him] ways." At the age of 88, shortly before his death, he said that he was right in his decision however unusual his early evaluation was. His life and achievements give us all hope.

For sure there are other doors like his, doors that I would rather look through. You may not call on God as your supporter if you are not a believer but I think we can safely say that there are powerful energies that work in our world with which you can be in synch, if you decide so, and then be sustained by them.

What kind of doors do I mean? What is behind them?

I constructed this divination machine to find them.

Don't worry if the machine looks suspiciously familiar. Trust me. It works.

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The image was clear. Don't you think?

Did you see the gears, the mechanics, how it turned itself into a clock?

The machine answered with a riddle. It asked -
"What time is it?"

On my watch right now it is ...(3:45) PM...

(long silent pause)

How much longer shall I wait you think?

Did we all feel the present?

Yes, the machine's answer is that the door to the future is the present.
We are standing in this door right now. You are standing in your door and
I am standing in mine and the truth is that in some way it is as far as we will ever get...

I will tell you now about the view through my door. All I can do is to tell you about my present and it will be up to you to decide, if so inclined, if it has any future and if you want to share it with me.

What I see around me these days is that I am sitting in a middle of some huge pile of cultural heritage, or forgive the expression cultural compost. As artists we were all piled up on it. This was done in one way by the fast food culture but what is more interesting in a different way we were turned into a heap of compost by recent years of postmodernity. Sounds bad? This was supposed to be a nicer door? Hold on, stay with me for a while longer.

First I enjoyed postmodernity, by what seemed to be the reign of ultimate diversity and equality but then the postmodern men of written word stole it from me. I was told that all we are is text and that we are inside a huge heap of it that is so complex that it is actually completely illegible. Our noses are filling with strengthening smell and our minds get blurry. We can hardly see each other and all connections between us are lost or illusory.

It is interesting that however much importance was given to words they got completely devaluated in postmodernity. Words have only an illusory and ephemeral power, just as the things they signify. No one believes any more in the myth of the Golem, that reciting the right formula of words can create a human being. To postmodern ears it only sounds cute and maybe entertaining. I am afraid that there are no sacred words, no sacred things anymore and PLEASE don't even mention the outdated word - truth. One can smell the air of decomposition around us.

Luckily this kind of postmodern world is very much like a religion; it is here to stay only as long as you believe it. However ardent the preaching of some postmodern "masters" and their neophyte followers I want to move beyond it! It is time to take the postmodern ideas where they actually lead themselves. They wanted to break the spell of words? Let's break the spells alltogether! Let's turn off the suspension of disbelief, you know, the stuff that opera is made of - let's see that Romeo is an unattractive, overweight man singing out his lungs. Without suspension of disbelief the games of signifiers and signified are just games and magic.

How to do it? Let's try to clean up the postmodern mess with its own arm - naming. I suspect that to understand what is a bottle it may help to take a drink from a shoe. Or if we stick to shoes, I think that we will break a spell if we put the right foot into a left shoe.

Consider the following well-known philosophical riddle.

If a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to see it, does it make a sound?

There is only one logical answer to this question, which is:
No, it does not make a sound.

All comes down to naming. Even if we believe that there is a reality separate from our mind and there is a wave that gets created in the air when a tree falls, it can only be a sound if it has a certain frequency that is audible and perceived by our ears. We are the ones who call it a sound, we are the ones who give names to things and by doing so we bring them to existence. This is how our thought creates things, creates reality.

In the following example you will see a short video of someone who is saying something like:
"look at me,
I am pretty,
I am strong,
I am a drag queen"

> please click on PLAY in the Player window below <



And now see the speech of your least favorite politician...

> please click on PLAY in the Player window below <



I can feel the Heisenberg principle of indeterminism hovering over my head - it says that every act or attempt to measure or analyze an object changes the object. Molecular scientists live it regularly in a very material fashion as you know.

All these examples prove the power of naming. They show how we channel our perception, how we form our experience, how by creating specific expectations we decide in advance what shape or meaning we perceive.

By the way, since we do change reality by talking about it and thinking about it, clearly what we are doing here now is not an innocent activity either. Even if we judge that this gathering is just a motion of butterfly wings remember that size does not matter. Why? I am sure you read some of the recent studies of chaos theory and you remember that according to it even butterfly wings can lead to a hurricane. This should give hope to the legacy of Buckminster Fuller - size does not matter.

Let's get back to breaking the spells of postmodernity and reveal how one can use a particular technique of naming.

You have experienced it just a moment ago how the names were changing what we saw. But what if you provide several names for the same thing? You have experienced that too.

What does the 3 chrysanthemums mean to you now?
Lets look at the video excerpt for the last time.

> please click on PLAY in the Player window below <



PAUSE

I would like to call this technique a dialectic resonance. Dialectic because we look at things from different angles simultaneously, usually two, sometimes more. Like when you look at your hand in front of you (showing), close one eye, and now close the other. Isn't it similar to or even more than resonance?

Without getting into lengthy explanations of stereoscopic vision what you saw in front of you was obviously something more than what you have seen with either of the eyes alone. You saw another dimension, traditionally called the third dimension, depth. It was some sort of resonance. Buckminster Fuller would call it synergy - the addition of things that result in more than their sum.

Can we simulate the same kind of dialectic resonance in an artwork? What would happen if an artwork would show that, speaking metaphorically, a hand has more than one side? It would show that reality has more than one dimension, that we can experience and constantly access this other dimension. This is exciting but so what? Just like with the view of the hand, we would see different angles, simultaneously look at things that seem to be both similar and different, create an interconnectedness of things that seem to be far away from each other... and as a result we break the illusion of two dimensions. We seem to get a glimpse of something beyond simple appearances or names.

There is an ancient example of this kind of artistic approach - haiku, possibly the smallest poetic form in the world. I will read to you a haiku by my absolute favorite haiku master, a contemporary of J.S.Bach, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) (example below was translated by Lucien Stryk in a Penguin collection of Basho's haiku called "On Love and Barley").

"In my new robe
This morning
Someone else"

Let me read it once again but backwards:

"Someone else
This morning
In my new robe"

There are only three lines but what richness of meaning. To achieve it Basho uses a well-known haiku convention that is most important to us here. Not all haiku use this principle but most do. It is called the principle of internal comparison. You compare the meanings of the three lines and consider that they all refer to the same thing, in our words that they are all sides of one hand. This technique gives haiku a unique quality of growth - an ability to convey so much more emotion than is expected at a first reading. You generate a whole space of meaning or experience in a dimension that is well beyond that of the three images defined in the three lines individually. Haiku may only seem small but in their case for sure size does not matter.

This haiku does not only grow but it actually reverses its meaning, back and forth as you keep rereading it.

"In my new robe"
(We think of some new look, something you have not worn before, external appearance, surface...)

"This morning"
(A new day, a beginning...)

"Someone else"
(Me or not me or just a new me...)

But a morning is only one of many mornings; it is the morning after a day and before another one. The whole concept of the new, fresh or of a beginning is suddenly put in doubt and reversed. "Someone else" seems to sound like an irony for a moment. But if you insist on the "not me" interpretation of "someone else" then you realize that there is never a morning or a day that is a copy of another, so the newness resurfaces again. And so it continues... The triangle of images seem to be representing aspects of the same experience but they pull us into a paradox, they are a contradiction that cannot be reconciled. Like a koan this haiku is a riddle that has no static answer. You can only understand it in a dynamic, constantly changing way.

To sum up - in the context of haiku what we could call for fun trilectic resonance is based on the principle of internal comparison. It has to be supported also by repeated reading and time for reflection, which for our needs we can transpose to more general notions of repetition and pause. These three are necessary ingredients for the dialectic resonance technique to work. Do you think it could dissipate some of the postmodern haze?

The view from my door has another major optimistic element that I would like to mention. It is the live performance as an art medium. I know that I am calling in the powers of human presence, and maybe even of human spirit for a lack of better word, which is kind of a taboo among contemporary "high culture gurus". I think that live presence and therefore performance has an exciting future. I believe that we will always appreciate the mastery or virtuosity of others. At least as long as we are not perfect ourselves. How long would that still be you think? We don't care much for the virtuosity of robots and computers, we expect them to be perfect and "impressive". It is another thing to see another person doing something that took years to master. Consciously or subconsciously we compare ourselves with this other person. Do you ever compare yourself or your abilities to those of a computer... or a tape?

Another precious dimension of live performances is usually the presence of others in the audience. There is magic or some say dangerous power in being in a group. It simple terms it reinforces the experience by for example reinforcing attention or lack of it. There is more to it though and it is harder to explain. Let's consider what Jesus Christ is supposed to have said about the power of praying in a group rather than alone. Some of you may know the words that "if two gather in prayer in [His] name [He] is with them".

For a moment let's doubt this last claim of groups having reinforcing power on an experience by quoting Wittgenstein who says in Tractatus that "there is no bigger torment than what a single person can suffer".

It would suggest that no experience could be greater than that of a single person. After some reflection I find no contradiction with my previous observation. The two complement each other. The individual experience is an ultimate measurement but it simply colored or reinforced by connection to others, to another single person or to a group. I guess one may call it synergy of groups or resonance as before but which here happens between people.

I would like to present now a work of a contemporary artist who for me exemplifies many these things. It is by discovering his work that a lot of it became clear to me. Not through anything that I found was written about him. He is usually interpreted unfortunately purely within a postmodern context that for me is much to limiting. I was absolutely stunned and transformed by seeing his work. His name is Jérôme Bel and the work that I will show today is a dance/performance work that was documented as "Jérôme Bel the Film".  I wish I could present all of it but due to time limitations I will present only 2 excerpts: the first few minutes that establishes the tempo and context for the whole work and a 10-minute fragment from the middle.

The work of Jérôme Bel is difficult to define as a medium. He came from the world of dance and often uses dancers in performances, which are presented on theater stage. The dancers do not dance in traditional or even modern sense of the word. They do not act out either any theatrical dialog. They simply behave following a predefined script. They do things and they are to an amazing extent themselves, ridden of theatrical magic. We know how much theater arts depend on the suspension of disbelief. Jérôme Bel seems to dare the impossible - he makes theater without "lying" to us, without "pretending". He manages to keep me on the end of the seat by providing sequences of "civilians" presenting facts. These facts are fascinating because they are full of philosophical insight and humor. Enough words. Judge for yourself.

<2 fragments from "Jérôme Bel the Film" not included in the web version - sorry>

(Last sequence shows a woman slowly dancing to the pulse of her partner's heart)

After seeing this last fragment can we have any doubts that music has a future?

To me Jérôme Bel connects the simplest facts as if creating a string against which the viewer is pressed like an arrow. Depending how deep the pressure of extremely slow tempo and long pauses pushes you in you can be shot out very far or fall to the ground. Some people leave his shows booing and some, like myself leave completely transformed. I guess, like any artist he can only point the finger to the moon - seeing the moon is up to us.

Some of you may ask yourselves, how can you apply this kind of artistic technique to music. Thinking about the material, can we find analogous "facts" that can be expressed through music? This I cannot say. I can only show to you how I apply similar strategies in my audio-visual works. I will perform for you my last work called "Yours", in which I use the earlier mentioned techniques of "naming" or dialectic resonance, together with repetition and void. The work is also an example of a media performance.

But what is a media performance? We know how powerful names are, how we use them to guide expectations and pre-condition understanding, grasping. I feel that media performance did not develop yet a clear meaning. We don't know yet what to expect from an event that is announced as such. Clearly it is not a well-established art medium, so no wonder that it has people confused very often. Let us consider for example the following question: is it a multidisciplinary medium in which each media layer reaches such high level of sophistication that it can individually hold ground when referenced to great cinema, literature, concert music, dance and theater? Is this what we should expect? Or maybe instead can we compose, perform and perceive intermedia counterpoint and layers that independently cannot stand alone?

Let's consider an example.What to do with the fact that computers allow cutting video in real time but real time performers cannot attain frame accurate precision similar to editors who can spend an hour on a single cut in the studio? Can such relatively imprecise real time editing be turned into a strength, style, idea? Can the audience positively expect it or will it stay just sloppy? If we agree that our expectations in each layer of a media work may need to be readjusted is media performance a new art medium?

Ideally and even logically the answer is yes. In practice I'd say not yet. What prevents us from seeing it that way is that our multimedia counterpoint perception, the synergetic sense is not very well developed. The traditional divisions in the arts cause that media arts are often learned, created, produced, presented and viewed with a dominance of one of the three: visual, musical and verbal layers. These divisions run very strongly in individual preferences and perceptual capacities or even talents of the viewers. It is possible of course to develop a comparatively driven expression, one which brings various media together not to assist the leading one but to experience media counterpoint but it means running against strong habits and cultural structure.

Skeptics may still ask: Is it possible for our non-synergetic civilization to have synergetic art? I don't know but I sure am doing my butterfly motions to make it happen.

There is one more particularity of media performance that needs to be mentioned. It deals with public's expectations born from the performer's use of computers. Both as artists and as viewers we often hope and expect the computers to do incredible things for us. Computers can be so fast and powerful! They are semi-gods. We do not expect anything short of spectacular from them.

In reality anyone who works with computers, especially in real time performance knows that they are not fast enough. Still, one is tempted or under pressure of techno fans to unleash more and more of the powers of computing, to reach new heights of experience but suddenly one runs into a paradox. The more the computer does for or instead of the performer, the more impressive its contribution, the least our general level of appreciation. The artistry of a live performance is judged based on the unique skills of the performer. His or her virtuosity in comparison to our own skills impresses us. I like to compare it to the experience of climbing a mountain rather then getting on top by car. When is the effort more impressive? Even for the climber/performer, when is the view more exciting? The uncritical search for computer power can turn into a disappointing circus or freak show with dancing computers. Even if it is hard to teach computers to dance, after the first wow! we don't really care that much.

From my point of view computers as tools are mirrors of us. We can make them as unspectacular as we want them to be. I was brought by force to these realizations when I started to work on "Yours", the piece that I will present now. Let me say a few words about it.

I was invited to ZKM to do a project and got tempted to use one of the instruments of the "future" that  I found there - the motion simulation platform. It was a curious new instrument for me, which offered and exciting new experience. It seemed perfect because I always thought that motion is the principle connection between image and sound. The set-up at ZKM gave me an opportunity to create an immersive multimedia experience that involved motion of spatialized sound, motion of a dancer's body on large size video projection screen, imaginary motion prompted by a spoken text and in addition to that motion of the viewer's body. Once I started learning to play this instrument it turned out to be a most sophisticated technology but it was actually giving me a very limited meaningful expressive scale. I would say that it ranged from something like a rocking chair to riding on the back of a camel or rather on a dinosaur. The motion of the platform was so crude and heavy and it was making those unheard of noises and hums... My whole concept of subtle, beautiful images and sounds tumbled.

I had some help to deal with the situation. Throughout the development and production of the piece I had a great collaborator, a dancer, choreographer and media artist Nik Haffner. Over time we developed such close understanding and trust in each other's artistic instincts that almost all creative decisions were taken together and it would be hard to trace in many cases who had the original idea.

We realized with Nik that we could still do something with the platform if we managed to tune all media, including the "dinosaur" to some common ground. It is like with masses and trajectories of planets, if they are not well balanced you may cause a cosmic disaster. We both like simplicity - achieving most with the simplest means and we agree with those who think that a piece is ready when there is nothing more that can be taken away from it. This however was more than being simple, we found that we needed to go PRIMAL. What was the image going to be? It became really clear that the only image that can face this "dinosaur" music was a nude body of a man, just as vulnerable and macho as this "impressive piece of technology".

The work started but half a year later after running tirelessly for another installation the platform decided to go on early retirement. A replacement was going to be brought in only with the so-called next year's budget. In the meantime we decided then to plunge into a project that I always wanted to do - a real time media performance for piano (Disklavier) and computer controlled video projection. Originally it did not involve "primal creatures" but here we had all this interesting material shot already with a great dancer and a thoroughly developed concept of the PRIMAL I decided to reshape the original ideas knowing that there is no interest in going after any kind of semi-god spectaculars.

We too attempted to clear our material from the suspension of disbelief, clear it from culture, from beauty codes. If at all possible the body is just a body here. The piano is not a musical instrument. It is a source of sound, noise or an energy tool. This non-music is based on the spectral concept of physically (not culturally) based sound tension, on harmonic notes for a consonance or non-harmonic for a dissonance. It consists of single events, energies, colors, densities, and pauses of varying duration. There is never regular (metronomic) pulse.

The sound gestures pull the strings of the video puppet, they control it, interpret it, they name the image with sounds, they constantly make little corrections in those names through variants and repetitions as if looking for the right energy or meaning.

The gestures of the video/dance obviously return the favor of interpretation, sharing expression and meaning with the sounds. Being primal though, their meaning is only in traces, as if just being born. Devoid of a narrative they manifest themselves as pure energies of the body, shifting positions of limbs, tensions of muscles. They are organized in single motives that gradually build up into a sequence. You first learn words before you get to hear a sentence. Some of you may not consider this dance and probably rightfully so.

The text in the piece will be heard from speakers behind you. It does not tell a story. It brings in another level of meaning or "naming" by providing a metaphor for the performance. It paints the idea of one person imagining, controlling another, creating and sculpting the other freely. We found it in a short piece of prose by Samuel Beckett called "Company". In it, the protagonist lays on his back in the dark and listens to his own mind. For company the mind presents him with another, someone who is not completely separate. He can hear a voice of the other ... or is it his own? Beckett's text controls the performance as well as it leads you through it. I control the dancer for you but you control me through your attention or lack of it. At some point you will too get control of the "other". When you hear to close your eyes, please follow the instructions if you want to experience it. Everyone controls everyone else in this piece, hence its title - "Yours". At the end I think you will see however that this piece is also or maybe even most of all about freedom.

Here is Antony Rizzi warming up on stage...

(After a few out takes of Tony's warm-up begin to play "Yours",

lights go off,

voice from behind the public starts:

"Your mind
never active at any time
is now even less then ever so.
But in order to be company
you must display a certain mental activity.
It must not be of a high order.
Indeed it might be argued the lower the better.
The lower the level of mental activity the better the company,
up to a point.")