CD Reviews

Christoph Korn – SIMEON

June 12, 2013

CD
Wandelweiser

A lovely example of a very simple idea put into action. Christoph Korn is a sound and mixed media artist from Germany of whom I had not heard of before this release on the Wandelweiser label, but seems to work in a vaguely conceptual manner with his creations sometimes exploring the possibilities or impact of silence. One online film sees a pianist perform his work Transforming John Cages piano piece „For M.C. and D.T.“ into silence by not playing it composition for piano solo by sitting at a piano, preparing to play and then just getting up and walking away without touching a note. For his piece SIMEON, with is realised twice on this disc, Korn has taken a single twenty-minute sine tone, and inserted silences into it. To begin with these silences are short and infrequent, but gradually they become more common and last longer. At the end of each realisation, Korn has then added a further ten minute long silence, so each of the two realisations here ends up being half an hour long, starting as a consistent sine tone that is dissected by brief, short silences, and ending as silence, with little bursts of sine tone barely noticeable. As far as simple description of the music here goes, that’s it. What makes the piece interesting is how difficult it is to perceive. After a while it becomes exceedingly difficult to even notice if the sine tone is sounding or not at any one time, let alone spot if there are any patterns in the way the music switches on and off.

So what can we take from this music? Writing about it is extremely difficult. All I can do is describe in a few lines what happens and then try somehow to articulate the really odd sense of confusion it creates in you. Trying to sit and focus on the music, understand its structure, not let your mind wander off to anything else is just about impossible. When the sine tone is present, well, its just a sine tone. Besides the way it fades in and out over the space of a couple of seconds each time it comes and goes it does absolutely nothing special. Trying however to get some kind of structural or spatial grasp of the music proves impossible however. To begin with, the soft, quiet tone is just interrupted here and there, so its easy enough to keep track, but as the silence begins to fill the time as much as the tone, and as the passages of audible sound are irregular, of different lengths it very quickly becomes impossible to maintain an understanding of time. Was this recent silence longer than the last one? Did that short burst of tone stay longer than the one before? Is the slow decay of the sound into silence an organised, structured one or are the two elements randomly dispersed? All that you do know is that gradually there is less sound and more silence. When the final ten minute passage of silence arrives, you have no idea. Unless you are watching the CD player’s timer then it takes a long time before it is clear that the final silence must have started. Other sounds around you start to sound like tiny bursts of the sine tone as your mind tries to convince you that the music is still present.

I have found similar games to the ones played in SIMEON in some of Radu Malfatti’s earlier compositions. Like with those works, Korn’s piece seems to challenge our normal perceptions of music. If you add a lot of irregular silences, do we notice how they change? If the sounds that do appear are nondescript and uneventful do we find it harder to focus on whether they are there or not? Listening a few times through to SIMEON became a frustrating game for me. I tried to “beat” the album, to follow the music and not get lost, but I found it impossible. So maybe like the best quiet music, like Ullmann’s Disappearing Music, SIMEON achieves something special by making itself not only invisible but impossible to follow as it drifts into nothingness.

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