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Supply and Demand-elweiser
wandelweiser, Profundity, and the Devalorization of Material

It seems 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.

The 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.

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.

However, 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.

The idea 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:

Value = Duration/Density of material

However, 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.

The idea 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:

All sounds are equal...

To which his later compositions add the corollary:

...but some sounds are more equal than others.

By this, 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.

In 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.

The way 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.

So, 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)