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2010-02-23

yukoz2010-02-23

[] Michael Pisaro - an unrhymed chord (EWR 0801/2)

'an unrhymed chord' was composed in 2003. This double-CD from Edition Wandelweiser contains two different versions of the piece, both recorded in 2007. Pisaro's score for this piece is as below.

  • For any number of performers
  • Sixty-five minutes long - two periods of thirty minutes each, with a five minute silence between them
  • Each performer finds one sound, preferably with pitch
  • This sound is played for one duration, between one and fifteen minutes, in each thirty minutes periods, - making sure, in the first period, not to cross over into the silence
  • The duration of the sound may change from one period to the next
  • One of the durations may be zero seconds (i.e., a player might decide not to play in one of the sections)
  • The sound may be sustained for the whole length of the duration chosen - or if it is impossible to sustain the sound for the duration, long sounds may be repeated at regular intervals
  • The loudness of the sound is in inverse proportion to its duration - i.e., the longer the duration, the softer the sound - the one-minute duration should be a comfortable mp; a fifteen-minute duration will be nearly inaudible.

CD1:an unrhymed chord  65:00

  • Realization produced by Greg Stuart (percussion)

In this version, Greg Stuart used “a wide array of percussion instruments, household items and found objects (metal, stone, clay, ceramic and skin). All of the seventy sounds were made by friction - either by bow, stick or hand.” The presented sounds are delicate pure notes, some of them sound like sine tones more than sounds of percussion instruments.

Once you start listening to the music with the score in mind, you will notice that this composition is full of surprises. In the music where one or plural sounds penetrate the music and form subtle nuanced chords, an appearance of a new sound changes the other existing sounds slightly - like they start fading or swelling. Also, when one of the existing sounds disappears, other sounds may seem like they are slightly changing their tones as well. As long as you read the score, you may imagine that one or multiple sounds would just penetrate the music like drawing straight lines, but when it is realized with actual sounds here, each sound trembles or sways slightly to give the music a wave of subtle expressions - as if someone has cast a spell on the music. At a glance from the score, this piece seems to be composed with addition and subtraction of sounds, but why do more changes happen in the music beyond that?

I found the answer when I listened to the second CD.


CD2:an unrhymed chord  65:00

  • Realization produced by Joseph Kudirka

This version was assembled from sounds supplied as audio files, sent to Joseph Kudirka from 35 musicians including Pisaro and Kudirka. The condition on the contributions was that “sounds were to be electronically generated in a non-performative fashion, the goal being to make this not a recording in the traditional sense, but rather a digital realization, designed to be equal in all listening environments, as none of the parts were created in a way dependent on a particular physical space or time.” Apart from the final mixing done by Kudirka and Pisaro, no performers had knowledge of what the others had done. Kudirka's work was to place sound files in time and set their volume levels respective to one another. The volume of each part was determined by a mathematical formula suggested by the score.

Here, electronic sounds of various textures penetrate straight in the music as you can simply imagine from the score. When a new sound appears, the existing sounds sustain their own tones and strengths without being affected by others. The entering and exiting points of each sound are clear, not like Stuart's version in which those points were somewhat vague. The swells and fluctuations of the sounds felt in Stuart's version are not in this version, and it almost sounds like a different composition entirely.


Why are those swells and fluctuations of the sounds occurring in Stuart's version (CD1) and not in Kudirka's version (CD2)? The answer might be found in the different sound sources they used. While Stuart's percussion sounds are used on CD1, digital sound files contributed by a group of musicians are used on CD2. The secret of the spell in the music seems to be hidden in the difference between percussion sounds and electronics sounds here.

Non-digital instruments like percussion generate not only the vibration of a particular sound, but also harmonic overtones as amplified vibrations. Meanwhile, electronic sounds like sine tones do not generate harmonic overtones. The reason why the sounds seem to change slightly with swells and fluctuations, when some new sound overlaps with already existing sounds, could be the phenomena of overtones of these sounds resonating each other. By comparing the two different versions on the two CDs, one of which used percussion sounds and the other which used electronics sounds while sharing the same score, perhaps Pisaro tried to show this mysterious effect of overtone's resonance that can add swells and fluctuations to the music, by using this cleverly simple but elegant score, while showing that this score can be performed in different ways depending on the performer's intention.

The effect is amazing. In Greg Stuart's version on CD1, some parts of the music evoke dreamlike images - like several fireflies are floating in a dark space, occasionally crossing each other while their lights flicker, vanishing and reappearing. Greg Stuart's extremely delicate treatment of sounds while sustaining a soft volume is both physically and mentally affecting, changing the listener's level of consciousness about their surroundings. Furthermore, the moderate volume, which is set in a range between “nearly inaudible” to “mezzo piano”, creates a sense of comfortable distance between sounds and the listeners (or a space between them), which emphasizes the beauty of subtle swells and fluctuations of sounds by fusing in the air. The inverse proportion of the duration of sounds and the volume seems to generate the state where overtones of each sound resonant in the most effective way with a mathematical proof. In the five-minute silence between two parts, the fluctuation and afterglow of the sounds remain in the listener's brain, as if the music were still continuing. While sustaining the sense of affinity between sounds and silence in this way, the music fascinates the listeners with a memorable beauty beyond theories.

I have never heard such a music that pulled out the magical aspect of music so naturally in such a simple and minimal form, as if the sound itself starts telling its secret. This might be the reason why Pisaro's music often feels like it is carrying listeners to a different level of consciousness, somewhere slightly outside the realm of reality.

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