A monochrome set

August 24, 2007

silence is not an acoustic phenomenon

there is silence, where depth disappears and expanse emerges:
on the surface

still waters are said to run deep,
but in reality it is the imperturbability of their surface that impresses us.


and a quiet person’s silence hides nothing deep-
it hides nothing at all.

Antoine Beuger – Silent harmonies in discrete continuity

So to the most recent release from another of the Wandelweiser Collective’s main names, Antoine Beuger. Composed and realised on a computer in 2002, Silent Harmonies in discrete continuity was released earlier this year. The music consists of twenty-four three minute “tracks” although it is clear to me that they are meant to be played in succession as one long piece. The only reason I can imagine for the separate track idents could be to play the music in shuffle mode, though this is not suggested anywhere amongst the minimal sleeve notes. The above short poetic words above do appear however, providing a thoughtful, if oblique reference to Beuger’s thought processes in writing this music.

The music is in itself some of the most sparse, austere music I think I have ever heard. The twenty-four pieces each consist of one pure tone created by combining eight frequencies, one from each octave. The tones are consistent throughout their three minutes, fading slowly in and out of their allotted time frame, each containing a depth and a warmth individual to themselves, but essentially this is twenty-four three minute long tones spaced apart.

So what are we supposed to do with this music? Is there some hidden code? How are you meant to enjoy it? Is it meant to be enjoyed?

Beuger adds a note on the sleeve about the composition; “one sound goes, another one comes and so it goes, step by step, continuously” This in itself may not seem to help much, but then he also dedicates the piece to the American painter Marcia Hafif, famous mostly for her monochrome works. I read this dedication halfway through Silent harmonies… and at that point I brought the CD player back to the start and began to listen again. Each of the twenty-four tones is quite lovely in itself. Turning your head as they fill the room reveals the individual frequencies within. One moment when I yawned (no comment on the music!) revealed a completely different sound to the one I heard a moment before. So each of the tones could be seen as a colourfield, with the detail within resembling the brushstrokes used to create the work. Placing these pure tones / pure colours beside each other then causes simple juxtapositions akin to wandering through a gallery of Hafif’s works (not something I have done but looking at photos its not so hard to imagine) I return to some of the ideas I considered about Radu Malfatti’s works in previous writing, can we remember the sound that preceeded the one we are currently hearing? If so can we remember the one before that? Is there a natural progression? Have any of the sounds reoccurred?

Listening to this music is an experience not that dissimilar to standing before a room full of Barnett Newman paintings (something I have done) or maybe Callum Innes, or Rauschenberg’s monochromes. How do you respond to this music / painting? Careful study will show changes in light and shadow over time, just as experiencing this music at different times will bring different background sounds. Studying those paintings up close will show the manner in which they were made. Stepping back and taking in an overview will reveal an overall mood, an atmosphere in the room that seeps into the people pasisng through it. I hear this music in a similar way.

The biggest mistake I think you can make in approaching Silent harmonies in discrete continuity is to treat it as just another piece of music and expect it to reward you in a similar manner. i don’t think this will happen. I may have read the music entirely incorrectly (and I am sending these reviews to the composers concerned to try and find out) but for me this music works on a very basic, functional level, asking the listener to accept it for exactly what it is, leaving it up to them to find their own individual response to what they hear.

Clearly not for everyone, but I’ve found this CD intriguing and somehow rather inspirational.

Images are of Marcia Hafif’s work.

Comment (1)

  • J.K. Brogan

    August 25, 2007 at 8:38 am

    Thanks for these reviews, Richard.

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