Better Know A Weisslich: David Pocknee

Political activism, text score calendars, and reconquering musical complexity for the untrained performer are all part of WEISSLICH co-curator David Pocknee‘s unapologetically eccentric output. In a random order, here are some of the things that I love about his work.

The New Fordist Organisation, a group of composers and artists of which David is a part, who apply the principles of industrialised mass-production to artistic creation. Three of my favourite things that David contributed to their exhibition at GEMAK, The Hague, in 2013 (although the many wonderful things they create deserve to be explored in full) include:

a computer-driven method for composition, which lets you improvise an orchestral piece with a MIDI controller and simultaneously writes the score. Efficiency is maximised to the point where you can produce a 10 minute orchestral work in 20 minutes.

An efficiency-saving method for painting which uses a computer to analyse an image and break it up into individual brush strokes of different colours. Any untrained painter can then reproduce the image by copying the brush stroke he or she is told to apply by the computer, which projects these onto the canvas.

An efficiency-saving method for showing untrained performers how to play the piano by transferring the notes of a musical score into a sequence of lights which is projected onto the keys of a piano, showing the performer which key to press at which time.

What I especially like about these works is that they walk the tight-rope between irony and po-faced seriousness beautifully, something which comes back again and again in David’s work. Yes, the whole thing can be read as a critique of (post-)industrial capitalism, but the works the New Fordist Organisation creates in the process are so formally and conceptually interesting that could just as well be appreciated in and of themselves. So you go between these two poles, unsure as to whether the pieces should be seen only as criticisms or whether you are meant to enjoy the sounds/shapes/movements/words they make. Also, check out their beautifully produced exhibition catalogue.

Augenmusik III: The Picture of ASKO|Schönberg (2012) is best described as a concert hall work of musico-political activism. In this piece, the instrumentation and musical material reflects the fact that between 2009 and 2012, Asko|Schönberg ensemble received the fifth highest amount of state funding amongst Dutch ensembles, and, in 2011, spent more than half of their concerts performing one piece, Kurt Weill’s Threepeny Opera. The piece does what so much music wants to do but shies away from: talk explicitly about what is necessary for musical practitioners to receive state subsidies for art and culture, a process which, as is made evident in the piece, is too often embroiled in

appealing to the only criteria that modern western-european governments think is a judge of quality: profitability and popularity. – David Pocknee, Augenmusik III: The Picture of ASKO|Schönberg (2012)

The performance comes complete with diagrams showing the flow of public subsidy for the arts in the Netherlands.

On a similar theme is Economics (2010), a piece saturated in socio-political irony where the performers throw money on each other’s scores to dictate how and what they play. The score notes that

It is probably best to make a note of how much money you put into the piece before starting. This prevents fights. Players can ask the audience for money. This is a form of public subsidy. – David Pocknee, Economics (2010)

A wonderfully raucous recording can be heard below, where one performer in particular is being pretty heavily invested in.

The first time I got to know David in flesh and blood was through the Text Score A Day project, which had him brushing each tooth with an individual toothbrush, finding all the possible permutations of four plastic cups, and shouting at an imaginary dog to ‘drop it’ for an unadvisedly long period of time, at the first WEISSLICH concert in 2014. The Text Score A Day project involved one text score comprising no more than 140 characters being tweeted each day, every day, for one year between 2012-2013, on the Twitter account @textscoreaday. True to text score tradition, some are thought experiments, provocations, statements, meditations, temptations, fantasies or witticisms as much as (or as well as) instructions to action. The project has now been turned into an online calendar which will renew itself for all eternity. You can see what today’s text score is here.

As well as making concert hall music, art installations, and online text score libraries, David writes essays and publishes journals, tackling subjects as diverse as sadomasochism, virtuosity, human sexuality or indeed public funding and sub-prime culture. You’ll most likely find some strand of conceptual thinking in his piece for the upcoming concert. What I’ve given you here is really the tip of the iceberg as far as his output is concerned, so for the curious amongst you who want to open the pandora’s box that is his brain, I strongly recommend visiting his website: http://www.davidpocknee.com/

-Louis d’Heudieres

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