3 Short Texts (1999-2005)

Christian Von Borries

Selected and translated by Bill Dietz

1. Music Abuse! / The Misreader Project (1999)
2. Concept for the “Psychogeography” Concert Series (2003)
3. Alvin Lucier’s Plug-ins for De-auratization (2005)

1. Music Abuse! / The Misreader Project

As reprinted in “Musikmissbrauch und Psychogeografie: die wunderbare Musikwelt des Dirigenten, Komponisten und Produzenten Christian von Borries,” (Edited by Sabine Sanio and Martin Hossbach, Berlin: Masse und Macht, 2010), p.106-107

The meaning of music can only be explained in its use.
(Score, composer, performer, listener – where does music occur?)

First Dead-end:
The Semanticist. The performer who wants to do the composer justice. This is the traditional approach and affirms the hermeneutic assumption of the existence and relevance of an “Urtext” (the historicism of “historical performance practice”). Its goal of a verifiably ideal performance produces uniformity. The maxim of reproducibility contradicts the uniqueness and ephemerality of music.

Second Dead-end:
The ‘critical’ performer who attempts to reveal a formal rationale to which a particular piece of music produces an “answer” (say, the question of what was historically new). Such performers bang out the compositional canon using whatever they feel are the most advanced techniques, highlighting these. The more complex the music, the more esteemed. This approach is largely national – Austrian, German – and primarily applicable to the First and Second Viennese Schools (Haydn/Mozart/Beethoven[Brahms]Schönberg/Berg/Webern) as well as to the Darmstadt School’s concept of material (Stockhausen/Boulez/Nono).

A way out:
Only with the evaluation of historical accounts of reception (that is, the music’s handling and effects after its genesis) can we appreciate that aspect of authorial power which is otherwise erroneously attributed to the work itself. Because the separation of a work and its history is impossible, fixation on the score leads to a false sense of security. No work can be rescued from its use. Likewise, description without reference to listening habits is inevitably imprecise. Therefore, the misreader takes the addressee seriously. The misreader attempts to render a piece’s mutation-in-use palpable. This kind of deformation interests him. He doesn’t look for the piece’s intention, he becomes its user (not: interpreter) to experience something beyond its supposed intention. He lets us hear that with a change in context, the message is also changed. And thus for him, the score becomes secondary.

As opposed to a creative artist, a reproducing artist tends to give the audience what it already wants. Recognition and putting on a show are one thing, and applied use is another, something else. Something which remains to be made audible.

2. Concept for the “Psychogeography” Concert Series

As reprinted in “Musikmissbrauch und Psychogeografie: die wunderbare Musikwelt des Dirigenten, Komponisten und Produzenten Christian von Borries,” (edited by Sabine Sanio and Martin Hossbach, Berlin: Masse und Macht, 2010), p.142

In 2003 the series “Musikmissbrauch” (“Music Abuse”) attempts a heightened engagement with specific sites. Referring to situationist theory, I call the activity psychogeography: examination of the precise and immediate effects of our geographic milieus on emotional behavior. Along with the Palast der Republik[1]and the massive Cargolifter hanger in Brandenburg (which is in danger of demolition)[2], I am interested in the construction-site of the “Topography of Terror” (where work has recently been stopped)[3] vis-a-vis the Beisheim Center at Potsdamer Platz (which is to be completed in 2004)[4]. The specific 2003 intermediary phases of these last two stand for a symbolic urbanism which offers particularly productive political frictions. A fourth presentation is planned for the “Grand Ballroom” of a 5-star Berlin hotel. There, by means of late work by the supposedly schizophrenic Robert Schuman, we thematize the strangeness of our contemporary capitalist world.

Music offers a fourth dimension to three-dimensional built architecture: time. As such, sound can be a tool with which I can measure a site’s resistance. When I listen to music, I listen to myself in space.

3. Alvin Lucier’s Plug-ins for De-auratization

First printed in Texte zur Kunst, December 2005 (the “Sounds” issue), p.122-125

“I don’t want to project anything too poetic into space. I want to keep it clean, so that space can be perceived without distraction.”[5] The one thinking this way about perception gave up composing at age thirty-two. “What is more necessary than a particular form of composition would be a collection of tools.” In its stead, he came to create pieces (or better: instructions for actions) articulating space in particular ways. In this way, he managed to avoid that which to this day he can’t explain: “Why was I so confused by a piece of music which was supposedly interesting?” Though such a remark might sound today a bit like John Cage, it goes beyond Cage’s conception of disinterested listening. As James Tenney suggested, there was always a mysterious, expressive quality to Lucier’s sounds left to themselves. I suppose the reason would be that with Lucier, for the first time in history, music is understood as a means to reveal something about space and is thereby divested of its impulse to self-referentiality. “Thinking sound as measurable wavelengths instead of high or low pitches shifted my idea of music from the metaphorical to the factual and brought me in a very concrete way into contact with architecture.”

This is also an experience I’ve had. In realizing Alvin Lucier’s sketch of an idea, “Exploration of the House,” I conducted a short piece of orchestral music, recorded it on tape, and played the recording in the same room back again and again until the resonant frequencies of the space amplified themselves. The technical procedure is analogous to Lucier’s famous spoken solo, “I am sitting in a room.” After about twelve passes, any resemblance to music has been overlaid with spatial characteristics of the given room. After which, only the natural resonant frequencies of that specific space remain audible.

The four spaces I chose were the former teller area of the central Dresdener Bank in Berlin (later the East German State Bank), the Hellerau Festival Hall near Dresden, the large East German radio studio in Berlin-Oberschöneweide, and the Jacobi Church in Stralsund.

Decisive for the comparability of these four very different spaces was the identical loudspeakers and microphones set-up in relation to the ninety-person orchestra. The natural radiation pattern of the orchestra served as an absolute, space-independent acoustic reference point.

I chose a sample from an isolated chromatic sequence by Anton Bruckner. “It will be different than ‘I am sitting in a room’ because it is performed in real-time and will be made up of shorter fragments. I already have a title: ‘Exploration of the House.’ Technically it’s very simple. You hang a microphone over the orchestra.” I had read this in the 1995 collection of Lucier’s writings.[6]

My CD project, which was authorized by Lucier after a phone call, was initiated in 2002 on the occasion of the closing of the former East German State Bank as a financially independent production venue. By such more or less creeping re-definitions of all the recording sites, “Exploration of the House” became a project about the disappearance of public space. The CD is an acoustic memento of that process.

Exploration Of The House by Christian von Borries, after Alvin Lucier

In this sense, “Exploration of the House” is also a real-estate project. Cultural activities serve today to increase profit margins. We are a part of this system. Back then, I was interested in making this political aspect of the usage of space audible. Lucier himself acts differently, typical for an American of his generation socialized on the East Coast in the twenties and thirties: defensive, friendly, warm-hearted, I’m even tempted to say “kind”; and thereby, unassuming. As we crossed incredibly loud 42nd Street in Manhattan and a group of laughing school children passed us by, he casually said that this was the most beautiful thing there was to hear. The auratic moment, noted since Benjamin in the art work, then complicated by the possibility of technical reproducibility, and nevertheless consistently longingly awaited, has with Lucier made the jump to the recipient.

A year later, Lucier himself returned to “Exploration of the House.” He chose, however, a sample from a passage out of Beethoven’s overture, “The Consecration of the House,” a wonderful alliteration of “Exploration of the House.” About this version, he says, “For me it’s not so much about the final result as about going through it from beginning to end.” Even in his “Music for Gamelan Instruments,” which sounds like anything but gamelan music, he still claimed that he remained extremely cautious when using the music of others in his own work. Because I was fascinated by this aspect of his ideas’ similarity to music at large (in so far as it is likewise incompatible with the concept of intellectual property), I tried to convince him to reconsider aspects of his friend Morton Feldman’s music. But he dodged, mainly in relation to Feldman’s traditional work-concept, apparently for reasons of author’s rights. “When you improvise, you first and foremost show your past and personal preferences.” Exactly.

Instead, he would later write, “I dream of performance sites designed specifically for works dealing with three-dimensional sound characteristics.” This too was something I had experienced in the production of a CD made up of various new interpretations of Debussy’s classic “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.”

Alvin Lucier: Amphorae. Replay Debussy, produced by Christian von Borries

Lucier and I wrote back and forth by email about the piece which would be called “AMPHORAE.” It would consist of the Debussy piece played back once or many times in an antique-as-possible Greek vase, and the recording of its resonances. In the course of our dialogue, during which many other ideas were discussed, we went from a group of five vases to a single vase, an original bought online. In reply to the precise description of the piece he sent me, I sent a quotation from Debussy: “It is necessary to leave oneself fully behind and to leave the music to itself with a process – to be a vessel, through which the music can pass.” He answered, “Dear Christian, thank you for the quote. I’m in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains and listened to AMPHORAE last night on a Sony boom box. It sounded wonderful!”

I put his fee from Universal Music in an envelope and sent it on to Connecticut. Then I read, “The future of music is going in a totally different direction than Sony and Disney and all that.” He’s right. Whoever understands acoustic signatures as music and thus works on their becoming objects, and whoever also develops plug-ins for anyone’s use, will never be in danger of sounding like industrial music made for people who don’t enjoy music to begin with.

[1] Translator’s note: The Palast der Republik (“Palace of the Republic”) was the seat of East German parliament as well as a venue for various cultural functions and entertainments. After German reunification it stood empty until its demolition in 2008. Von Borries was one of many opponents’ to the building’s demolition and was the first to use the site as a temporary art venue in the interim before its destruction.

[2] Translator’s note: The enormous space (1181 feet long, 722 feet wide and 328 feet high), built for the construction of heavy lift airships in the nineties, was not demolished but instead converted into a tropical theme park.

[3] Translator’s note: The museum/memorial’s original plan, across the street from the former Nazi courts, was to be developed by Peter Zumthor. The original plan was scrapped and Zumthor’s partially constructed components were destroyed in 2004. A new design by another architect was completed in 2010.

[4] Translator’s note: The completion of the Beisheim Center in 2004 (which houses private apartments as well as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel) marked the end of the construction of the commercial and business district Potsdamer Platz.

[5] Translator’s note: All quotations from Lucier are taken from e-mail correspondence with von Borries. As the English originals have been lost, they have been translated back from von Borries‘ translation into German.

[6] Alvin Lucier, Reflections. Interviews, Scores, Writings / Reflektionen. Interviews, Notationen, Texts, Cologne: MusikTexte, 1995.

Christian von Borries is a conductor, composer and producer of site-specific psychogeographic projects. His work has been commissioned by the Lucerne Festival, Kunstfest Weimar, Volksbuehne Berlin, Kampnagel Hamburg, Documenta 12, and many others. His cd, “replay debussy” won an Echo Award. His first film, “The Dubai In Me” won a prize at the FID Marseille Film Festival and was shown at film festivals all over the world, including the Yekaterinburg Industrial Biennale and the Principio Potosi exibition in Madrid and Berlin. His second film “’mocracy” won the Klaus-Wildenhahn-Prize at Dokumentarfilmwoche Hamburg. His third film “I’m M” premiered in Mexico City and was shown at the Bergen Assembly Biennale in 2013. He just finished his forth film “IPHONECHINA.”  He is an anti-copyright activist and lives in a green house in Berlin. In 2011 he was guest professor for architecture at the Art Academy in Nuremberg, in 2012 he taught at the film school HFF in Potsdam. In 2013, he participated in the Central Asian Pavillion at the Venice Biennale, the Bergen Assembly in bergen, and the Werkleitz Biennale in Halle, Germany. http://masseundmacht.com/