It has been just over a month since I found out that I will be the Apprentice Composer-in-Residence 2014 with BCMG through the Sound and Music Embedded scheme. The prospect of working closely over time with an ensemble of the highest calibre fills me with great excitement although I cannot say that I am not being kept on my toes (in the best way possible!): My first commission of the residency will be premiered on the 26th of January as part of a BCMG Family Concerts which will also feature works by Richard Baker and Brian Duffy, Colin Matthews as well as Thomas Adès’ Living Toys. My contribution will be a short piece for Trombone, Melodica and Scordatura Melodica.
I am the proud owner of two Hohner Student Melodicas and it was with a childlike enthusiasm that my friend and fellow composer, Nicholas Moroz, and myself retuned one of the instruments (for the most part) a quarter-tone higher. (This can be achieved – without any (!) mechanical skills – by filing the individual reeds of the instrument – It’s worth it!).
Within the piece the melodicas act as a microtonal meta-instrument that is morphing between its singular and dual entities. The work itself is part of a – yet to be completed – cycle of small chamber works which so far includes a string quartet for the Ligeti Quartet and a piece for oboe solo for the Riot Ensemble. The works share arrays of material and formal processes which are concerned with imbalances and types of controlled and uncontrolled growth. The material is on the verge of collapse, placed in environments of differing degrees of procedural discipline and is somewhat morbid or damaged in a beautiful way.
The music of the trio behaves in some ways like an unwinding, broken, mechanical toy forming bizarre shapes – or like a contorted barrel organ (‘Ver-Dreh-Orgel’). From the latter image the work takes its title: verdreht. This translates as contorted, dippy, distorted, misrepresented, perverted, pixilated, preposterous, skew, twisted, wry… There is an enjoyment of play and a sense of relishing the curious results one is confronted with when following a set of absurd rules.
The score bears the following quote taken from Kurt Schwitter’s (1887 – 1948) My Art and my Life (1940-46):
‘One needs a medium. The best is, one is his own medium. But don’t be serious because seriousness belongs to a passed time. This medium, called you yourself will tell you to take absolutely the wrong material. That is very good, because only the wrong material used in the wrong way, will give the right picture, when you look at it from the right angle. Or the wrong angle.’
I came across a selection of his writings by accident recently and am not yet sure if and how his output as poet and painter might relate to my own work. Maybe the attraction was merely caused by the fact that when viewing differing things within the same temporal and contextual frame one projects ones own ideas which might not be inherent in the object itself. However, there is a certain ease, an effortlessness to his work that I feel one can learn from.
After fleeing Nazi-Germany, Schwitters eventually found exile in the United Kingdom. Some of his writings can be read in English as originals. Against the backdrop of an ambiguous relationship with Dada he created his famous poem An Anna Blume from 1919 which he translated himself as Eve Blossom into English:
Oh thou, beloved of my twenty-seven senses, I love thine! Thou thee
thee thine, I thine,
thou mine, we?
That (by the way) is beside the point!
Who art thou, uncounted woman, Thou art, art thou?
People say, thou werst,
Let them say, they don’t know what they are talking about.
Thou wearest thine hat on thy feet, and wanderest on thine hands,
On thine hands thou wanderest
Hallo, thy red dress, sawn into white folds,
Red I love Eve Blossom, red I love thine,
Thou thee thee thine, I thine, thou mine, we?
That (by the way) belongs to the cold glow!
Eve Blossom, red Eve Blossom what do people say?
1. Eve Blossom is red,
2. Eve Blossom has wheels
3. what colour are the wheels?
Blue is the colour of your yellow hair
Red is the whirl of your green wheels,
Thou simple maiden in everyday dress,
Thou small green animal,
I love thine!
Thou thee thee thine, I thine, thou mine, we?
That (by the way) belongs to the glowing brazier!
Eve Blossom, eve,
E – V – E, E easy, V victory, E easy,
I trickle your name.
Your name drops like soft tallow.
Do you know it, Eve?
Do you already know it?
One can also read you from the back
And you, you most glorious of all,
You are from the back as from the front,
Tallow trickles to stroke over my back
Thou drippy animal,
I love you!!!!
- Kurt Schwitters (1919)
Crossing the boundaries between literary and musical composition is his Ursonate (1922-32) – an early example of sound poetry. Here an extract performed by Schwitters himself:
The full text can be found here.
Schwitters said about himself: ‘I’m a painter, and I nail my pictures together.’
Kurt Schwitters: Konstruktion für edle Frauen (1919)