Bernhard Lang

I. Cycling

I have always been wondering about the linearity in narrative structures. It transports us from a starting point A to another point B, thereby creating a kind of story, often connected with some development.
And I have also been wondering about the unquestioned usage of such structures in music.
In Literature this postulate of the narrative, of linear time structures has been questioned since the late 19th century.
With the introduction of introspective modes into the narrative, based on a pre-psychological mode of research, new modes of handling the time stream were created.
The programmatic work of Proust, the textual implosions of Joyce, the experiments on language by Surrealists and Dadaists all can be seen as attempts to break up linearity, to introduce synchronicity, to invert the time stream, to achieve a new difference and intensity of expression thereby.

Since music and language, music and textuality have always been closely linked since an early age, the narrative and linearity have been introduced to musical structure from the starting point.

Perhaps the first attempt to introduce a kind of circular movement or at least invert linearity can be seen in the early art of counterpoint:

  1. the endless canon is a narration turning on itself, it is a Moebius loop directed towards infinity, a circle, which breaks with the development and points from the basis of a circular movement towards a third dimension of perception.
    It is strange, that many authors of counterpoint textbooks through all ages warned against this mode of composing. It would be too mechanical and artistic for real musical composition, they say.
    Its interesting, that early versions of the endless canon arose from improvising voice parts;
    this pre-canonic pieces can also found in other cultures, e.g. with some tribes in Afghanistan: these were aborigines living in caves in a hidden Valley. Each of them picked a musical model, closed his ears, started to repeat this model till he could sing it by heart, then open his ear and could also listen to the others. I was introduced by H. M. Pressl to this art. He did research there in the seventies.
  2. the cancer movement in counterpoint allows the reading process a going back in time.
    In the early 20th century this ideas were picked up mainly by two composers:
    Anton v. Webern and Josef Mathias Hauer.
    Both concentrated on the canon and, especially Webern, on backward mirroring.
    With Hauer we find the explicit wish to escape the linear narrative, represented for him by Mozart’s music. The Zwölftonspiel was conceived as an endless loop/canon, introducing repetition into Dodecaphony. Dodecaphonic composers always demanded, that variety (“varietas”) should dominate the narration; this was a contradiction in itself, because the postulated at the same time, that the series should stay the same and that it should be repeated all over the piece. It was Hauer who exposed this repetition in his pieces.
    With Webern it was also the idea of cosmic music, influenced by anthroposophical ideas, which lead to the construction of canonic loops. The exposition of Op.21 might be quoted as an example for this, which is a four part infinite canon in itself.

Later John Cage, himself influenced by Hauer, and Morton Feldman were the main protagonists of introducing circular movement into New Music; Feldman wanted thereby to escape linearity and convert it into pure vertical perception.

Both composers showed a strong affinity towards the visual arts; the explosion of experimental music in the sixties went along with revolutions in cinema.
Werner Herzog for example shows the same sequence of a starting Boeing 707 a few dozen times in Fata Morgana.
Peter Kubelka , Valie Export and Peter Weibel started to use the loop as a new experimental means later resulting in the works of Martin Arnold.
This cutting and copying techniques, cut-ups and fold-ins were also influenced by the text experiments of William Burroughs and Bryon Gysin, also set into picture by Anthony Balch and Ian Sommerville.

This operations on films were transferred to tape music. Stockhausen used a feedback-loop in studie 2, which was also used by a couple of composers like Dieter Kaufmann and H. M. Pressl, later rediscovered as Frippatronics by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno

Discovering the loop as a means of deconstruction is a crucial step in the development of loop aesthetics:
The audio track on a vinyl disk is the image of a linear narration projected onto a circular writing process resulting in a spiral; Pierre Schaeffer discovered the information contained in the end of the rill, in the empty rill repeating itself;
When Phil Jeck or Dieb13 put a stopper of any Kind onto a vinyl disk, this results in a simple loop; there are basically two possibilities for creating a loop of that kind:

  1. a synced loop: the loop length is synchronized with the musical content of the loop, and its beat: this is the hook line, or the smooth orchestral sample repeated in its original rhythm or a symmetric division of this
  2. an asynchronous loop, where the looplenght/duration/phase is not identical with the musical phase it contains;
  3. a scratched loop, which has its loopstart/loopend/loopposition changed by moving the needle, snipping it, letting it fall down erratically etc.

The effect of this is a complete new reading of the original narrative, and here everything comes in what Deleuze reflects on the different effects of repetition:
Something pathetic becomes ironic, something trivial shows a fascinating complexity, and something quite humorous becomes menancing/obsessisive.
In this case repetition results in a kind of différance/Verschiebung of the given, a new kind of perception based on a new reading procedure, very similar to the différance of everyday language in a poetic text.

It is strange that creating loops on a disk exhibit its circular structure, which is disguised usually by the linear flow of the narrated music; cracks and glitches in the vinyl texture do the same: they put a circular rhythm onto the linear flow creating a disturbance in our musical perception of the primary information/writing on the disk.

So the disk shows this inherent dialectics between the linear narrative mode and its deconstruction in a very efficient way.

Vinyl as a loop generator also is somehow related to deconstructivism because it always operates on a given text, creating a second/new reading; moreover it is an art starting with a kind of technological regress, concentrating on the limitations of a somehow old-fashioned medium of scripture, making all its errors and misreading a part of it’s aesthetics.

Furthermore it connects the process of looping and scratching to body movement,
Making the operations working on the reading process very haptisch, sensual, manually orientated; as with analogue synthesizers and their turning knobs, you get what you move.

Based on its unpredictable and surprising properties the Vinyl disk in combination with a turntable has become an ideal instrument of improvisation.

When I started to do the Difference/Repetition –Series I was influenced by Phil Jecks Vinyl improvisations: I tried to transcribe this new music onto classical instruments. But this was just one effect of his: it also leads to new experiments with improvised music.

Having done improvised music for a very long time I was quite familiar with the structures of free improvisation, which in the most cases were indebted to a linear mode of narration.
The reason for this was mainly the basic principle of setting a musical impulse/form/seed/thought, and somebody reacting on this, creating a linear chain of action/reaction, weaving a narration with distributed roles.
The second basic reason was this structure of foreplay, building the tension up, climaxing and soft relaxation inherent to both sex, breathing and free musical play; this could be seen as the Grundgestalt of any dramatic text.

At a certain point I found this very tiring, and together with groups like Pick nick with Weismann, Vienna Loop Orchestra, Tricorder, Laleloo we tried to base improvisations on loops, both provided by a sampler, played by musicians, or sampled loops originally being played live.
As it turned out, this loop improvisation developed a certain kind of logic, leading to new readings of the music being played.

II. Re-cycling

It is also remarkable that the vinyl disk seems to be a metaphor for the oldest models of memory already quoted by Plato: memory is seen as a wax disk, wherein our ideas are already there from the beginning, and all our learning is based on the rediscovery of the information which is already there. So learning is based on a re-reading, it is a repetition of an idea.

In Theaitet Sokrates says:

“Let us suppose for this treatise there would be a waxen table within 
  our souls, a larger one with this, a smaller with that person, made of cleaner 
  wax with this, of dirtier with that, here made of harder, there of softer wax, 
  with some made out of the right wax…..This table should be called a gift 
  from the mother of muses, of Mnemosyne; onto this table we impress, as we suppose, 
  anything we want to remember later,”

[Theaitet, p.111f] it is the same dialogue quoted by Pirsig.

So everything is already given, we have but to recycle it. Knowledge is based on transcribing the ideas coded into universal memory.

As it seems to turn out lately, the issue of transcription starts to get more and more important for the development of new music; it is an important issue concerning the relation between notation and music without notation in the classical meaning, implying any kind of writing.
Derrida wrote about the possible loss of presence during the process of writing things down, writing being a substitute for the actual; on the other hand writing is a means to recapture a lost presence, conserving its memory, which is a very political gesture in itself.

For a composer it is a great challenge to transcribe improvised music, but also a source of great inspiration; remember Debussy transcribing Gamelan, Ravel transcribing early Jazz, Ligeti transcribing South African Kalmia-Music, Messiaen transcribing Birdsong, Honegger transcribing engine noises, Peter Ablinger transcribing city ambient noise etc.
It seems that this reference to some input outside the narrow field of instrumental or vocal music has always been a challenge for composers to effect the différance/Verschiebung
from handcrafted music towards a more artistic point of view.
Here the issue of Anschauung also comes in: the connection between hearing and writing:
This is most common with Jazz musicians, where the process of transcription precedes writing or substitutes writing in many cases.

I started transcribing improvisations about 1994, when I found myself in a deep crisis with musical Anschauung, having concentrated mainly on musical construction; being inspired mainly by Christian Loidls text ICHT, which was a transcription of dream-speech, I started to do two things:

  1. I tried to improvise again with the goal to convert the result into music; I tried this in Versuch über das Vergessen 2
  2. I also tried to achieve a kind of automatic writing by transcribing internal dream-music, created by starting a kind of speed improvisation inside my head.

When I learned to know the Music of Phil Jeck and the movies of Martin Arnold, I started my attempts to transcribe Vinyl Loops with the piece DW1 for flute, cello and piano, later revised for flute tenorsaxophon and piano.
For this kind of transcription I also used transcription programs like WIDI 2.7, and various sound editors and generators like CDP;

My vision was of an abstract turntable, instrumentalizing its processing possibilities and virtualizing them: the last result was the piece DW13, where I try to see the whole orchestra as one gigantic turntable: I also went so far to connect the speed and pitch parameters using proportions, simulating this fixed relation in turntables.

After first attempts with the Black Friday Remix-Project in Vienna I continued the idea of transcribing improvised loops – improvising with the results- transcribing this again and so on.

At the SWR New Jazz Meeting DW1.2 was to be the starting point. I did 44 samples of this piece, giving it to the various musicians, one of them Phil Jeck, whose work originally had inspired DW1; there was a Jazz-Trio featuring Steve Lacy, a New Music Trio featuring Marcus Weiss, and Three electronic musicians, using Vinyl, samplers, synthesizers and computer software.
For Phil Jeck the samples were again done on vinyl.

Bernhard Lang, Vienna, 2003