For me, Manfred Werder is one of the most interesting composers at work today. I say this primarily because he seems to have long ago made the decision to step away from composition as the act of writing down instructions for musicians to use to make sounds, and in doing so he seems to me to have moved to a place closer to philosophical thought, and yet he still produces “scores” that act as triggers for others to consider and respond to particular situations, often musically. I don’t think I know of any other composer who is working in similar sways today. Reading and thinking quite a bit about Werder’s work over the last few months since we spoke a little in London, trying to wrap my little head around the thoughts and ideas he seems to be working with in his recent “found sentences” scores, I have come to the conclusion that Werder presents his compositions as possibilities for extending our awareness of what is already happening around us, not necessarily from a purely aural perspective either, but utilising all of the senses to engage in what he has recently written about as “the field”, a way of describing merely what takes place around us. This isn’t some kind of mystical ideal, some kind of guidance towards ‘transcendence’ pr anything so ridiculous, but instead, as I have come to understand it, a heightened state of concentration on what is actually there, as it occurs around us, as it changes, as Werder writes; “as all is permanently drifting”.
A further aspect of Werder’s thinking suggests that a performance of one of his scores needn’t take place in a concert space, needn’t necessarily involve musicians or even any kind of performers, and can be experienced by anyone taking the time to consider his selected words and then take the time to respond to them. At the realisation of Werder’s work as part of the Cut ‘n Splice Festival in London in November, several members of the Wandelweiser Composers Collective took part, but we don’t know how many, as others sitting in the audience considered themselves to be realising the work, and some did not even remain in the concert hall. He has even spoken to me of performances taking place at a time or space when nobody, or perhaps only he one person was aware that they were taking place. At the Oxford Old Fire Station Compost and Height exhibition taking place right now and until March 21st, Werder has copies of his notes on The Field available alongside a simple single-line score pinned to the wall. Is this gallery space, devoid of the artist, containing just Werder’s selected line of text an opportunity, a space in which whomever chooses to read and consider the text might be engaging in a performance themselves, perhaps even several people at once, oblivious to each other’s thoughts?
Given all of these thoughts, which fascinate and inspire me greatly, one wonders what place a CD (or in this case a paid for download) of Manfred Werder’s music might have. Bruno Duplant’s deux trois choses ou presque, a new release from Engraved Glass presents us with three realisations of these found sentences scores; versions of 2009(4), 2009(5) and 2010(2). In each we hear vibrant, busy sound worlds full of details of indoor and outdoor activity, traffic, city hum, birdsong, children at play, everything you might expect. Alongside each of the three Duplant plays an instrument, electronic sine tones, double bass and a horn of some kind. They are each quite fascinating to listen to, an aural window onto another part of the world, three sets of sounds we can only partly easily identify, and so we engage with them as a listener in a way we might not if we were just going about our way in the place they were recorded. Werder talks about The Field however as not being contained by anything. So the CD that I burned this music onto to listen to, the digital silence at each end of the disc, the sounds in the room around me do not sit apart from the performance. Here though, as each play of the CD presents the same set of sounds from the hi-fi, so maybe I am then extending the work out into my own experience here. Strangely, exactly a year ago tomorrow I wrote this review of a Manfred Werder score released on CD. Because it felt like the correct thing to do on that evening I split the review partly between my grasp of the sounds coming from the stereo, and partly on the cup of tea I was drinking while it played- both its taste, but also how it looked, smelt, felt in my hands. The need to extend Werder’s music beyond the aural, beyond even the extended sound world it met once merged into the sounds here once played seemed important.
So, I found myself engaging with Duplant’s realisations of Werder in similar ways, each time I listened, whether it be in the often interrupted near silence here this evening or alongside the roar of the car, and the already focussed visual awareness of driving to work and back today with the CD playing. To judge the music of this download away from such a consideration of everything else I can sense is then, perhaps a fruitless concern. I can tell you how the pieces here sound, but that might miss the point of Manfred’s music. I actually am not a big fan of Duplant’s playing on these works- a little too busy, and in the case of the final track with his remarkably electronic sounding horn actually quite distracting from everything else on the recording. This is pointless though simply because the recording of a realisation of these works is not the work itself. Playing the recording and existing alongside it certainly comes closer, but writing about the sounds coming from my hi-fi speaker alone would perhaps be to miss the point.
For more, well informed and extremely intriguing thoughts on Werder please see Will Montgomery’s excellent short essay Five Ways of Looking at Manfred Werder in the third edition of Wolf Notes, which can be downloaded for free here.