The ideas of a “cannon” and a “canon of works” have one thing in common: to use either seems pretty outdated. However, it would seem churlish to ignore the popularity of a particular work and its prevalence in concerts, even if we baulk from referring to it as a “classic” – a word which, whether referring to a musical work or a car, seems designed for middle-aged white men. One work which has become a frequent feature of concerts of experimental music is G Douglas Barrett’s A Few Silence (Location, Date, Time of Performance), a work which would classify as being over-played, if it wasn’t for the paucity of experimental music concerts and, more importantly, the way in which its construction is so contingent upon environment, performer, and instrument that each iteration reveals a new type of richness. A Few Silence engages with several recurrent aspects of Barrett’s work – transcription and the grid.
A Few Silence asks the performers to textually transcribe the environmental sounds over a five minute period and then to play their transcriptions using a pre-selected set of musical instruments or objects. The work forces the performers to articulate the nature of their listening, transcription and playing in a way which necessitates the insertion of multiple perceptual, imaginative and material grids between the original sound and its re-creation, resulting in an abstracted version of the original which foregrounds the traces of its cognitive and physiological journey. In the same way that a No-Input Mixer tells us how a particular mixer hears and “speaks” through the articulation of silence, Barrett’s piece uses the “silence” of environmental sound to show how a performer hears, how they describe that hearing, and how they interpret that description.
The idea of the grid comes back in his Derivation series of works, in which this abstraction is fed back into itself in a way that spirals each consecutive iteration further and further from its origination. Each work in the Derivation collection of works is a transcription of the previous one in the series, like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, each foregrounding its mode of listening and mode of transcription. a quantization of a quantization of a quantization…
Much like David Kant’s Happy Valley Band (http://www.davidkant.com/happy_valley_band/index.html) series of works, in which the disparity between human and machine listening is highlighted through performances of computerized transcriptions of popular song, here the aim seems to be to crowbar the act of transcription from any pretence of a faithful replication of “reality” and instead use the resulting void as a space for creativity.
Which brings us to the work being performed at Weisslich 6 and 7 A Few Marlenes (Where Have All The Flowers Gone), here, once again, the grid re-asserts its presence; Marlene Dietrich quantized and filtered through the physiology of three different performers. Film asks us to fill in and interpolate the movement between the 41.67 milliseconds that lie between each frame of a movie run at 24 frames per second. Here that grid is increased and orchestrated, and somewhere in that gap something else occurs.