«Wesselmann: Ensemble Works I»
|Marcus Antonius Wesselmann||
NONETT -512 bpm-,
Ensemble Modern – Franck Ollu.
“Whoever does not expose himself to danger will die in it.” This is the motto with which Marcus Wesselmann precedes his NONETT – an indication, with a wink of an eye, of the ridiculous, almost unrealisable tempo – indicated laconically with “512 bpm” – that only actually allows the musicians to undertake a risky “flight forwards”. Thus the piece presses ahead from the very first second onwards as if there were no tomorrow.
Even if not all of his works hold such “potential for danger” in readiness, this opening contains something thoroughly typical of Wesselmann’s music: the lack of compromise and the sober consistency with which he throws himself compositionally into the most complex structures and seemingly chaotically escalating processes, but also the direct, sometimes hard and aggressive sonority of his works. These works allow no room for any sort of emotionality to impose itself on the listener, nor do they let that listener take any comfort in what is already familiar.
They usually employ ensembles typical of jazz, a corresponding harmonic language and rhythms based on irregular, involved impulse patterns; in them, Wesselmann simultaneously appears to do everything he can to stay clear of the not infrequently cliché-ridden moribund, academic sound images of the “New Music”. For all that, his music is also based on structural priorities, on a complex organisation of the material that cannot be decoded by the listener but is latently perceptible – as is familiar to the same degree in serial music. The tension between strict construction and apparently chaotic, disorganised structures can always be sensed as one of the central aesthetic motifs in Wesselmann’s production.
What is essential for him is the idea of controlling the formal developments and the compositional integration of individual musical parameters (such as pitches, durations and dynamics), as well as harmonic constellations, event densities, instrumentations and sometimes even playing techniques on previously defined numerical formulas or binary code series which are permutated or further developed in a combinatorial manner. Time and again, Wesselmann has recourse to repetitive, at times slightly varied “patterns” which suggest puzzle-like states in their repetition and overlapping. All this is reminiscent of minimal music or repetitive music, even though Wesselmann, in contrast to these, aims precisely at processes which are non-linear and can veer into unpredictable structural patterns at their culmination points.
Although such processes in the NONETT can hardly be grasped individually because they are simultaneous layered, placed above and against each other as competing musical levels musically influencing each other, they emerge in downright exemplary fashion in the seven movements of the SEPTETT. The title and size of the ensemble provide a guideline, with the number 7, out of which almost everything is derived. Thus the instruments enter successively in the first movement (AUFbau) [CONstruction], conceived as a non-linear crescendo in instrumentation; the seven initially “unoccupied” quaver positions of the bar are successively “filled” with each additional part from back to front. Shortly before the ending, everything changes into a structure marked by chords, leading into the second movement (ABgesang) [SWANsong]. This movement, contrariwise, is designed as a composed “decrescendo” beginning with seven chords and ending with seven rests in the last of the altogether 128 appearances of the basic pattern of sevens.
Whereas, in the third movement (scherzo, lento), harmonic shifts and timbral changes are controlled over an ostinato movement in the piano bass (with each pendulum movement in the bass there appears a new event in the chordal structure lying above it), the ensemble sound in the fourth movement, relief (quasi rondo), evolves seemingly plastic “harmonic reliefs” through sections of harmonic oscillations to and fro, as well as ostinato chord chains with highly differentiated dynamics in the contrapuntal parts. This movement was also inspired by the changing timbres in Schönberg’s Orchestral Piece Op. 16, No. 3. With his subtitle sommerabend an einer umgehungsstraße [summer evening by a beltway], Wesselmann alludes to Schönberg’s title Farben (Sommermorgen am See) [Tone Colours: Summer Morning on the Lake] and to the fact that his own work is devoid of any romantic colouration.
In the fifth movement, spaltung (lamento) [splitting], a seven-note pattern is gradually “split up” – an increasing number of pitches separate from an ascending and descending scale and then remain sustained, ultimately leading to a chordal layering of the opening melodic scale. The sixth movement (kette bilden!) [form a chain!], does exactly the reverse: additional tones join a chord repeated seven times in each new bar, so that the chordal structure is increasingly transformed into melodic patterns. verschleierung (oder: das schweigen des sängers) [Concealment (or: the silence of the singer)] is the title of the seventh movement, to be understood as a kind of song accompaniment to an imaginary singing voice. Alongside the procedure of a decreasingly event density, this movement emphasises the idea of covering up musical structures, realised here through the overlapping of several different kinds of form-giving principles in a type of material multiplication.
The OKTETT, the earliest work on this CD, was the conceptual point of departure for all the ensuing solo and ensemble works. Here, too, mathematical calculation generates a complex, intricate formal design. Different musical building-blocks are introduced successively, each characterised by its own technical traits; their durations increase exponentially during the course of the piece. Before a new structural pattern is sounded, all the patterns used thus far are interposed in a form further developed in a combinatorial manner – an expansion of the form driven from the inside, causing the piece to proliferate like a germ cell to a seemingly infinite degree. Towards the end, this process switches over completely and all the patterns appear once in reverse order.
The latest work on this CD, the SEXTETT, is based on a kind of material background – at its core, it consists of a succession of chords and a simple melody revolving around itself. It is valid for the entire piece on the abstract level, but it only gradually appears in the sound – in the most widely varied manifestations and colours. Constant variation and re-colouring of the material is provided not only by the overlapping structures, shifting in their relation to each other due to their varying “period lengths”, but also by the strictly regulated instrumentation of the individual sections, whereby each instrumental combination only appears exactly one time in the piece. The more instruments play together, the longer the corresponding formal section is and the more clearly the basic material of the piece emerges. Wesselmann controls the filtering processes needed for this by means of a strictly applied binary-code combinatoriality that meticulously regulates nearly everything below the surface, but in no way robbing the piece of its astonishing vital, musically playful mood.