Tunings of the World 2.0: »A perpetual, opaque, extended present« – Laure M. Hiendl in conversation

Laure M. Hiendl presents the work »In Abeyance« as part of »Tunings of the World 2.0« on the 29th of October at Fahrbereitschaft (Teilelager). In this interview, Hiendl explains how Lauren Berlant’s theories informed their work, how an orchestra can be converted into a sampler and what (or what not) this has to do with R. Murray Schafer’s notion of the soundscape.

The starting point of your work was a passage from the book »Cruel Optimism« by Lauren Berlant: »In the cinema of precarity, the shift in the portrayal of immobility from a normative, conventional, habituated solidity to a living paralysis, playful repetition, or animated still-life has become a convention of representing the impasse as a relief from the devastating pain of this unfinished class transition.« What attracted you to this idea as a whole and more specifically to the concept of the »animated still-life«?

The term »animated still-life« expresses a kind of temporality that fascinated me: in a certain way, the apparent opposites of movement and stillness are connected. Berlant's writing is characterised by an incredible precision, elegance and by a poetic power through which Berlant – similar to the works by Édouard Glissant or Fred Moten – poetically connects and works through conceptual opposites. Through this poetic connection, a different space opens up that steps out of the processes of historical-linear thinking and enables other ways of thinking.

In Berlant's book, this critique of historical-linear thinking arises from an extensive critique of society, which I cannot go into here. What I was fascinated with was the consequence Berlant drew from this for aesthetic forms and formats: Not the linear dramaturgies that still characterise the formal language of Western concert music today are the adequate forms of our time, but what Berlant calls the »impasse,« or the »stretched-out-present«: a kind of perpetual, opaque, extended present that develops nowhere – especially not forwards, at most sideways perhaps, laterally....

The animated still life, in its moving standstill, captures precisely this sense of time that I wanted to realise sonically in »In Abeyance.« And »In Abeyance« also contains precisely these contrasts – though of course it is also a concert piece that has a beginning and an end – but which hopefully opens up a different, non-teleological musical space of experience in between.

For »In Abeyance« you use the ensemble as »a kind of sampler,« as you write. What exactly does that mean?

As I continued to think about the figure of the »animated still-life,« it occurred to me that with my self-programmed phasing samplers – for example in my pieces »2. Streichquartett« or »microphase« – I had actually already produced something like musical still images. By selecting small sound grains from ever slightly different positions from a sampling window, these phasing samplers create a kind of moving still image of a sound object that we can view from a similar but constantly slightly different perspective.

I wanted to transfer this process to notation, and in the end I programmed a patch that generated tables with certain readout points in sixteenth-note grids, from which I assembled the score in a long copy-and-paste process and then manually revised and refined it. With this score, the ensemble now plays what an electronic sampler would otherwise play, thus ultimately becoming an instrumental-acoustic sampler.

The source material for this acoustic sampling is the ballet »Job« by Vaughan Williams. What makes this work interesting for you in musical and thematic terms? The story of Job could even be interpreted as a biblical prefiguration of the »cruel optimism« that Berlant writes about.

I spent a long time thinking about what could serve as source material for an instrumental-acoustic sampler, trying out classical and contemporary instrumental-acoustic music, spectral analysis and electronic music. It became clear that »elevated« classical music, whatever that means, or even modernist New Music would not fit at all with this rather postmodern approach to sampling. The hollow pathos of New Music or the classical avant-garde has no place in it. I was looking for a different kind of kitsch and originally wanted to use something more trivial than Ralph Vaughan Williams, namely film music.

If this concept of sampling is worth anything, it's only if it manages to stretch a short, banal, trivial sample to 45 minutes and makes it interesting in the process. If the source material had been any artful musical phrase of significant music, this would only have stood in the way of making the sampling process clear. Now, unfortunately, film music scores are very difficult to access. The epilogue to Vaughan Williams' »Job« appeared on a Spotify playlist with the theme »relaxing orchestra music« and with its banal, modal-harmonic turns it was the perfect source material. Vaughan Williams is still an important reference point for many film composers.

Thematically, the figure of Job has nothing whatsoever to do with my project.

In terms of content, you approach affect theory and thus social questions, but implicitly also political and economic problems via Berlant's work. What connection do you see to the overall theme of the event, which borrows its overall title from R. Murray Schafer's »The Tuning of the World«?

I only know excerpts from Schafer's book, but the seemingly clumsy naivety with which he intertwined socio-political developments with musical structures doesn’t really appeal to me from today's perspective.

But if you want to think about which instruments and musical tools have permeated and transformed our listening culture of the last decades more lastingly than anything else, you can't get past the sampler and the drum machine. These machines enable such a hard metrisation of time and thus of the musical sense of time that simply did not exist in this form before. Add to that the sampler's ability to form new things with found material and you have the perfect instruments for a musical postmodernism – something which New Music seems to have barely reached, if at all.

These techniques influence my musical thinking and listening more than anything else, and so it was only logical for me to transfer these structures to instrumental acoustics as an essential component of postmodern soundscapes, to use Schafer's term here.