Supply and Demand-elweiser
wandelweiser, Profundity, and the
Devalorization of Material
as if recent considerations of the wandelweiser collective of
composers have failed to take into account the deep-seated connection
of the collective to both capital, and free-market economic models.
This essay seeks to explore these connections on the level of both
economics and material.
wandelweiser collection of composers are primarily
characterized by quiet volume levels, sparse intentionally-sounding
material, and an intense listening. However, their approach towards
material appears to be both self-sabotaging and contradictory,
leading to devalorization.
of material occurs at the point at which style or technique
stabilize, becoming manifest at the precise moment at which pastiche
becomes possible. This stylistic or technical coherence always
occurs at the expense of the material itself. Once a style or
technique becomes settled, the material utilized becomes
interchangeable with any other type of material, and thus, to
introduce the concept of an economic view of material, loses its
value by violating the economics of scarcity. If a Bach fugue can be
created out of a Nokia ring-tone or a Britney Spears melody, then it
makes precious difference what material is utilized in it –
this material becomes worthless, simply for the fact that it loses
the scarcity that gave it value in the first place.
this stylistic stability, while creating a market-metaphor that
annihilates a material's value, is also the medium which allows the
work to gain value in the musical market-place; its style or
technique creating a fixed brand identity which allows
commodification to occur. This commodification, and its stylistic
and technical coherence also functions following the marketing idea
of Category Positioning. For a composer, a
pan-stylistic/technical output will undermine market success (see the
under-played outputs of Kagel and mid-period Cage), whilst a homogonized stylistic out-put allows branding and the creation of a new stylistic "category". One of the principles of Category Positioning is that the creation of a new style is subject to the "ratchet effect", meaning that those who create a new category will stay at the top of that category, regardless of a decrease in quality.
of an artificial economy of scarcity is central to the wandelweiser
project but, rather than monetary value gained, these composers
instead trade in something that has far more intellectual caché
&ndash: profundity. When the density of intentionally-sounding events
drops to a level at which its scarcity becomes a feature, its value
increases. If this is coupled with an extended duration the
perceived profundity of each sound becomes amplified. One might
phrase this interaction as such:
Duration/Density of material
it would be tempting to see only intentionally-sounding events (such
as those produced by instruments) as “material”, this
would be to undersell the wandelweiser conceptual basis, which
also sees silence as a type of material. This silence clearly fits
the devalorization model discussed earlier, as this material is
rarely specified (as it could be by defining the performance space,
number of people, room acoustics etc.) Instead, this material type
is often completely interchangeable, and thus, completely devalorized.
of silence-as-material comes from Cage, and the wandelweiser
attitude owes much to Cage's later period of composition and his
inevitable personal corruption. The first half of Cage's career can
be seen as an articulation of a simple but beautiful idea:
sounds are equal...
his later compositions add the corollary:
some sounds are more equal than others.
I mean that the inclusivity of his earlier ideas were then
compromized by a desire to only write quiet pieces with long notes
and silence, a tradition continued by the wandelweiser school,
which wallows in his corruption. This movement, from inclusivity to a
very specific stylistic and technical vocabulary, utterly devalorized
his material whilst simultaneously mirroring a movement from
Anarchism (as can be seen in the anarcho-syndicalist sociological
set-up of pieces like Musicircus) to a disguised
support for the liberal-democratic project, exemplified by his Number
Pieces, in which the illusion of choice masks the subordination of the the player to the articulation of a formal structure in which
their contributions have no value.
mirroring Cage's corruption, wandelweiser adopts a stylistic
and technical veneer which utterly devalorizes its material, whilst
simultaneously buying into Cage's political affiliations – they
are a business after all. Thus, the profundity that should be gained
through the decrease in density and increase in duration is sabotaged
by the pastiche-able surface which acts as a wallpaper designed to
mask their market-based manouverings.
in which wandelweiser attempts to increase the profundity of
their works by increasing the durational aspects and lowering the
density typifies a very specific bourgeois approach to duration. The
idea that low density, long pieces are profound, is primarily a
mindset indulged by people who have never had office jobs, engaged in
factory work, or any employment that involves a high level of boredom over
extended durations. The idea that the duration of a Feldman late string
quartet or a four hour piece exerts on the material a type of
profundity through the exceptionality of its duration is utterly
transparent to anybody who has spent seven and a half hours a day,
five days a week doing data entry.
wandelweiser is revealed as a collective which uses ideas of a
market-based approach to material, coupled with a j'amais
travaille approach to duration, as politically questionable as
Russolo's fetishization of the sounds of industry, as a way to
increase the value of a material utterly undermined by a stylistic
coherence borrowed from the political and personal corruption of a
composer completely co-opted by the liberal democratic project.
F. Droppe (September 2012 rev. February 2013)