- FURT: defekt
In recent years, powerful portable computers and related technologies have made the performance of "live electronic" music ever so attainable. This genre, it should be kept in mind, has a relatively long history, from the titillating performances of new electronic instruments such as the Theremin in the 1920s, to the signal-processing-based, directed improvisation music of Karlheinz Stockhausen and many others in the 1960s and 1970s, to the interactive computer-based experiments of George Lewis and others in the 1980s and beyond. So-called "laptop" music has become quite popular lately, in an underground sort of way, especially in Japan. The stylistic gamut is wide, running from loop- and drum-track-type music to noise-manipulations à la Merzbow or Zbigniew Karkowski.
FURT was formed in 1986, and consists of Richard Barrett and Paul Obermayer. Mr. Barrett is well known in the new music world as a composer of post-Ferneyhough, "new complexity" music. His music in particular explores the "matter" of performance, an approach that usually involves layered (and often extended) instrumental techniques and subtle gradations of pitch, timbre, rhythm, and so forth. He brings his compositional concern for the sonic material of music to the electronics domain. Mr. Obermayer is primarily known as an improviser (working with the London Jazz Improvisers Orchestra and the trio Bark!, among others), and he brings that experimental, hands-on approach to the electronics domain. FURT tries, above all, to blur the distinctions between composition and improvisation.
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The recordings, of which defekt is the most recent to date, represent perhaps the fullest manifestation of this quest, in that live improvisations form the basis for studio production to create the product issued on compact disc. In listening, and not knowing what could have been performed live from the arsenal of samplers and other devices the duo happens to use, one can really only listen to the material as presented and not speculate as to which sonic layer or gesture was produced by which performative act or compositional decision.
The music gathered on defekt presents work from 1997 to 2001. The variety of material, and the variation of mood, texture, dynamics, density, and allusion, all speak to FURT's mastery of the genre and and the duo's highly fertile imagination. [End Page 71] There is humor here, and reflection, too, and homage as well as pointed political satire. Seriousness, too, as evidenced by the quotations included on the CD liner. From Bertrand Russell: "Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built." And from Edward Bond: "if the spectator thinks this is pessimistic that is because he has not learned to clutch at straws. . . . The alternative, apart from the self-indulgence of pessimism, is a fatuous optimism based on superficiality of both feeling and observation."
Gute Nacht dates from 1997 and forms the first part of a seven-movement work entitled Failed Experiment, presented in London that year. It takes Franz Schubert's song cycle Winterreise as its point of departure. This becomes clear only toward the end of the piece, where very brief fragments—isolated chords, piano passages, vocal phrases—appear. Otherwise, the five minutes of Gute Nacht are rather frenetic, a collage of rapidly shifting sonorities, mostly electronic or highly processed. As the rest of the Failed Experiment cycle involves other musicians performing live (one hears the whispered voice of Ute Wassermann in the one moment of Gute Nacht where the otherwisedense texture is cut off by silence), one presumes that the entire work explores something more of the range of sonorities and expressive realms hinted at in this introductory piece.
Perhaps the most disturbing work on the CD is Volkmusik, which derives from a performance in Austria in November 2000. The political context at that time—the neofascist Jö rg Haider had recently been elected to power—was such that many artists were...