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Oliver Schneller - Chambres Separees, KOMA, Entrop, Zwischenwelten (review) - Computer Music Journal 25:1 Computer Music Journal 25.1 (2001) 75-76

Book Review

Chambres Séparées, KOMA, entrop, Zwischenwelten

Gerhard E. Winkler: Chambres Séparées, KOMA, entrop, Zwischenwelten. Compact disc, 1999, ORF Edition Zeitton LC- 5130; available from Ensemble die reihe, Taborstrasse 24a/2/25, 1020 Vienna, Austria; telephone (+43) 1-21-600-65; fax (+43) 1-21-852-86; electronic mail; World Wide Web

A recent release with music by Austrian composer Gerhard Winkler (b. 1959) contains recordings of three pieces for instruments and "interactive live electronics," and an earlier, purely instrumental quintet entitled Zwischenwelten. Mr. Winkler, who has worked extensively in the experimental studio of the Heinrich-Strobel-Foundation in Freiburg, at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, and at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) in Paris, is currently lecturer for Multimedia Art in Salzburg and one of the pioneers of real-time interactive composition in Europe.

The three pieces involving electronics, Les chambres séparées (1995), KOMA (1996), and entrop (1998), form a trilogy in which the computer's function is not only to transform sounds live, but extends to shaping the formal procedures of each individual performance to a significant degree. The musicians find themselves in a complex computer-controlled environment in which the written score has been replaced with a virtual score generated live and relayed to the players through laptop screens. The interaction between the musicians and this set-up entails, according to the composer:

influencing the computer environment, which reacts in a complex and non-linear way according to the inner system-attributes of the chosen simulation-program, thus forcing the musicians to "live" with the (partly unforseeable) results of their actions: in regard to sound in the live electronics, in regard to notation with the score or the playing instructions projected on the screens in front of each musician. Thus a non-linear feedback cycle is created; the work tends toward musical self-organization.

The recording of each of the pieces of the trilogy sounds very different, but they all leave one thing to be desired: to hear and see them live. Merely hearing a recorded stereo version of the pieces is unsatisfactory, not only because an intricate eight-channel spatialization is built into them as a compositional parameter, but also because the second work, KOMA, makes use of colored movable lighting that plays an important role in providing the listener with a visual/acoustic orientation through the highly complex and dynamic procedures involved with the performance.

Les chambres séparées, commissioned and performed by the Trio Accanto (saxophone, piano, percussion) along with interactive electronics, operates via eight loudspeakers in four virtual sound-spaces which correspond to four different modes of sound transformation, or rather, sound retention. The first mode consists of certain patterns of repetition of live-sampled ensemble sounds. The second mode "coats" an instrumental sound with melisma-like figures derived through amplitude-modulation. The third mode produces filtered glissandi through microtonal transpositions, and the fourth extracts a brief sample and repeats it with pendulum-like regularity. All four modes of transformation are then further processed by a program simulating the growth and decline of biological dynamic systems [End Page 75] (STELLA II by High Performance Systems) and spatialized corresponding to one of the four sound spaces. The actions and reactions of the three musicians influence the whole system, hence the course of spatialization. The recording of this performance suggests the attractive, agile, and busy world of mobile sound objects. The listener can detect that processes are in progress by gestures of stagnation, acceleration, accumulation, and repetition.

While Les chambres séparées is more pointillist in character, the second piece of the trilogy, KOMA, for string quartet and interactive electronics, commissioned by IRCAM, has a more epic and continuous nature, in part through the use of predominantly sustained sounds. The electronics operate more in the background and seem to only marginally accompany or interfere with the string quartet. The computer here is put to similar use as in the preceding piece but what controls it this time is the "catastrophe theory" developed by mathematician René Thom. What attracted Mr. Winkler to this model was the unpredictable sudden leaps from a given state to another ("catastrophes")--the discontinuities within a continuity--that this system simulates. In between such states can lie the possibility of an "inner zone" of tranquillity which, however, is short-lived and labile itself.

Each of the four musicians exercises and passes on the leadership role in order to control the spatial disposition of sound by their actions in three categories: range of glissandi, change of dynamics, and timbral inflections. The outcome of the recorded version reflects more continuity than discontinuity, and one misses the colored light projections that, in a live performance, illuminate the sound-space where an acoustic "inner zone" lies.

The last part of the trilogy, entrop, for English horn, female voice, and interactive electronics, seems at first listening to relate back to the sound world of chambres séparées. But, as the piece unfolds, a very different character emerges, in part due to the following interesting premise: each performance of entrop is based on a tape containing the sounds of various rocks and smaller stones. This tape part is transformed live by the actions of the singer and the instrumentalist and then recorded onto a new tape. This transformed version then becomes the basis of the next performance which subsequently documents the new transformations. Through this process the piece acquires a kind of "historicity" as a stone itself might carry imprints of its own history. While this particular feature obviously cannot be appreciated by the listener of the CD, the piece has an engaging, atmospheric character which is held together by the recognizable and recurrent sounds of stones and some rather unusual processing of the human voice.

The most intriguing feature of this trilogy is perhaps the notion and realization of the dynamic, self-organizing work. Instead of positing and configuring musical material to a point where it becomes determined and, in a way, finite, Mr. Winkler creates a set of potentialities and probabilities from which a vastly different work grows every time a performance takes place. But not only does the system remain flexible and open, in the case of entrop, the notion of growth transcends the single performance by retaining a memory of previous transformations, thus concretely shaping the piece through its own history. With Mr. Winkler's work, a new chapter is opened in the discussion of open form in composition.

Reviewed by Oliver Schneller
New York, New York, USA

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