Please, tell us something about your background, what and where did you study…
I studied Music in Auckland, New Zealand with focus on Violin (University of Auckland, Bachelor of Music). For my Masters degree, I focused on “Contemporary Performance” and “Composition” at CalArts (California Institute of Arts, Valencia, California) between 2000-2006.
How did it come that you as a violinist began to improvise? Usually, a violinist gets into the classical repertoire…
Well, a lot of students at CalArts experiment with their instruments and regularly collaborate with composers. Gradually, I was doing more improvising and composition and later I wanted to focus more on composition and decided to change my major to composition. When I moved from New Zealand to Los Angeles, my studies shifted in the direction of 20th century and contemporary music – like Schönberg, Strawinsky, Ligeti, Ferneyhough, Finnessy. Later then also Christian Wolff and John Cage. When I began to improvise around 2001, it was at first quite referential, using recycled contemporary music techniques for instance. Since 2009 I have been living in Berlin. At the beginning, improvising was something like a tool of socializing for me. When I was still living in LA, I met Berlin based composer Christian Kesten who is a part of the Berlin experimental music community. I found this approach more organic than introducing myself this way “Hi, my name is Johnny. I am a composer. Would you be interested in looking at a score…?” Improvising with locals gave me the chance to observe my environment at the same time I was playing and by time that became part of my compositions as well as field recordings. Both are methods of collecting sounds. The fact of the environment gradually became just as important as what I am playing.
How did it come that field recordings became part of your music?
When I was still living in LA, I gradually began to collect recordings of the neighbourhood. In the first pieces involving field recordings, I used the recordings as an alternative framework of organization. They also supplied the sounds of a composition. In “Los Angeles Transcriptions”, sounds from the environment were transcribed into text form. The performer has to reverse the transcription process in order to re-create the environment. For this series, the main idea is actually transcription. One has to make choices how to interpret a composition. From a Mozart or a Christian Wolff piece, the level of performer decision becomes more and more drastic and eventually it is crucial in determining the final result. A brief text on the “Transcription” series by New Zealand sound artist Luke Munn you can find at:
What do you regard as musical material in your field recordings?
In fact almost everything. However, since everything is available, I prefer to chose something non-dramatic, non-narrative sounds from the pool of available materials. Nowadays, I think of field recordings more in terms of found materials. The recorded sound is just one aspect of this field of listening. Last summer, I listened to a rugby match online, Scotland vs Wales and the crowd was singing the Welsh national anthem. In terms of musical material, my piece ‘Anthem’ is based on fragments of this singing. The more interesting aspect of this piece for me is the phenomenon of collective music-making on a non-professional level. Here you have 40,000 people singing , sharing this one song, anything could happen, yet the music stays intact.
Please, say something about the sound file that you commit…
The recording heard here was designed to be listened to in the background as the listener goes about their daily task around the house or the city. In the performance context, it will become a part of the background for a solo piece I will present at the “Intersonanzen” Festival, Potsdam (31.05/01.06). Appropriately, the piece is meant to be an observation of someone in the middle of going through their daily rituals or activities such as walks around the neighbourhood, eating lunch, hearing the church bells across the street and practicing instruments etc. I made the recordings on the way to the bike shop, so essentially it is a documentation of my walks around the neighbourhood. It is also possible to think of this as a walk of annoyance, as I hate dealing with a broken bike.
O Tannenbaum, Sonnenallee 27, Berlin-Neukölln
The New Silence
(j. chang k. nutters mj. olsen)
“Sounds are not sounds! They are here to distract the intellect and to soothe the senses. Not once is hearing ‘hearing’: hearing is that which creates me.”
The composer Peter Ablinger (born in Schwanenstadt, Austria in 1959) is, as Christian Scheib once put it, a “mystic of enlightenment” whose “calls and litanies are aimed at cognition.” At the same time, the composer, who – after studying graphic arts – studied with Gösta Neuwirth and Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, and since 1982 lives in Berlin, is also a skeptic who understands the cultural rules and (destructive) habits enforced by tradition: “So let us play further and say: sounds are here to hear (-but not to be heard. That’s something else). And that hearing is here to be ceased (‘Das Hören ist da um aufzuhören’). More I can’t say.” (Text: Christian Baier, translated by Bill Dietz)
New Silence Adjustments Episode 4
Interviewer: Sonja Heyer, born 1965, Germany. She graduated as Musician from the Academy of Music Dresden and as Sociologist and Social Anthropologist from Freie Universität Berlin. Since then, she works as a musician and artist in Berlin and Mecklenburg. At the moment, she is student of “Sound Studies” at the Universität der Künste Berlin. All works and collaborations at www.sonjaheyer.de