Im Januar; Barlow and Bolero; Generating Telephone Complaints
Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar, Shows #85–87, 4, 11 and 18 January 1997. Kalvos & Damian on the road in Amsterdam at the composer’s home. Listen to the interview (RealAudio) from the original broadcast: Audio Part 1 [0:33:28–1:42:15] / Audio Part 2 [0:30:06–1:30:10] / Audio Part 3 [0:30:00–1:14:25].
Clarence Barlow was born in 1945 into the English-speaking minority of Calcutta, where he went to school and college, studied piano and music theory, started composing in 1957 and obtained a science degree in 1965. After activities as pianist, conductor and music theory teacher he moved to Cologne, where he studied composition and electronic music, also studying sonology at Utrecht University. His use of a computer as a compositional aid dates from 1971. From 1982–94 he was in charge of computer music at the Darmstadt New Music Courses and from 1984–2005 lecturer on computer music at the Cologne conservatory. From 1990–91 he was guest professor of composition at the Folkwang University Essen, from 1990–94 Artistic Director of the Institute of Sonology at the Royal Conservatory The Hague, where from 1994–2006 he was professor of composition and sonology. In 2006 he was appointed the Corwin professor and head of composition at the Music Department of University of California in Santa Barbara.
Audio Part 1 [0:33:28–1:42:15]
[Kalvos] Clarence Barlow, welcome to the Kalvos & Damian New Music Sesquihour.
[Damian] You can just nod. You don’t have to say anything actually. These microphones are specially designed so they pick up gestures.
[K] Right, they’ll translate looks into words. Professor Barlow, we have talked about you several times, we have played some of your music already on the show; let’s have some history. Let’s start where you started and carry us forward into the present in a condensed version of how you got to the ways in which you explore music.
[Clarence Barlow] Hmm. A tall order, because as you say, if I start where I started I probably have to go all the way back to some British army soldiers marching into India several centuries ago because without all that I wouldn’t have been able to do what I am doing I suppose.
[K] It’s true, so let’s…
[D] The British army marches…
[K] That’s right. I think it was the marches that did it.
[D] That’s what got me hooked into your music.
[K] All of us. Alright, we should try to be serious.
[D] Hey! Speak for yourself.
[K] I’m sorry. The first piece I encountered of yours was a middle era piece and we’ve already played it on the show, Im Januar am Nil. It explores a large number of different things. Tell us about that. Maybe we can spring from Im Januar am Nil into some of your other pieces.
[CB] Ok. I might even help you with that by springing straight away in to another piece. Just before Im Januar am Nil — about two, three years before that, maybe more, six years as a matter of fact — I wrote a piece called Çogluotobüsisletmesi. These titles you see, are all very easy to pronounce by anybody.
[K] Yeah, Easy easy. Catchy titles. We believe in that here.
[CB] Anyway, so in that piece ……… I have one pianist playing thousands and thousands of notes, very dense. The idea is not that I just want the pianist to keep all the keys down as much as possible, it’s just that I want to have the impression of several tempi, several pieces, if you like, all running at the same time, but all possible to be played by one human mind. That is, one person, just two arms, ten fingers, and yet you have the effect of several pieces. In Im Januar am Nil it’s the opposite: I have eleven or twelve musicians (depending on whether you have one or two percussionists) playing what is actually one melody and a kind of embellishment of that melody; just two trams. The melody itself — assuming you’re going to be hearing that piece in this particular broadcast — is not heard very explicitly except at the beginning through a very faint, wispy sounding bass clarinet line, accompanied by strings. All seven of the strings are playing natural harmonics on their instruments, which happen to be (I don’t want to get too technical) overtones of the melody itself, so that they all fit into the spectrum, into the sound quality, into the timbre of the melody, played by the bass clarinet. After about three minutes, the bass clarinet stops playing and the double bass takes over the melody deep in the bass and then there are six string players left over to carry on playing the overtones. The overtones are so conceived so that put together they actually form language.
[K] This is a really important characteristic of some of the things that you have been working on. This is ground-breaking thinking.
[CB] Yes, probably and possibly, because what I am very interested in is language, I mean ever since I began to learn German and discovered that I enjoyed doing it and since then I learned some Dutch, I learned some French and a few other things. And I found that language is a very fascinating topic and that language is in a sense music in itself. [Kalvos makes some rattling noise] For example, the sound you just made with your mouth is quite incredible, Dennis. [Sound of water pouring] And that sound too, a wonderful imitation of a familiar sound. These things can be done by the human mouth and are all sounds which we like to use. For me, the thought was the most common use of the mouth — to speak — try to produce this with instruments, and try to see how far you could recognize what they are actually doing. Now, in Im Januar an Nil, the results are not so spectacular, because you can’t really tell, you have to really indulge in a lot of wishful thinking before you can hear the words which are intended. Whereas if you play a little excerpt of my piece Orchideæ Ordinariæ [or the Twelfth Root of Truth], which was done several years later, in ’89…
[K] It’s quite a bit more distinctive.
[CB] Yes, you can really tell. There I used sentences or phrases like: “Why me?”, “No money”, “My way” and these three phrases have in common that they contain no “noises”, no noise spectra like [demonstrates plosives and various mouth sounds] and you can [imitates synthesized versions of phrases above] all these things can be done by a computer, so to speak, using very simple hardware. I orchestrated that for strings in the piece last mentioned, Orchideæ Ordinariæ, and you can hear it there. Whereas, in Im Januar am Nil, you have seven string players only as opposed to a full orchestra in the other piece. In this piece, all the strings are all together playing basically what are the overtones of the spectrum of one melody . After the first three minutes, the double bass takes over this melody and continues playing it, without changing it any further, repeated again and again and again, it gets slower and slower in time, and the strings just go along with it. Whereas the piano — which has also entered at the third minute — is continuing to develop the melody, which is what happened in the first three minutes.
Actually, the piece, you might say, consists of 24 generations, these go in the form of a kind of loop. The first generation is very short — 24 eighth notes, to be precise —, the next generation is 48 eighth notes and the next is 72; all multiples of 24. And the generations get gradually longer and longer. But each generation is a copy of the generation before only expanded in time and filled in with a few more notes. That’s what happens to the melody in the development. So, at the beginning you have a very slow moving melody, at the end you’ve got a very fast-moving, dense melody, because the rate of filling in is higher than the rate of expansion. Think of it as a cross between the theory of the Big Bang and Steady State. Because in the case of the Big Bang, the universe is expanding and in Steady State, new materials keep appearing. So in this case, the universe is expanding but new material is appearing so fast within it that it gets saturated at some point. And that’s what’s happened in this piece; that’s what you’ll hear in the piano line.
[K] Technical explanation, analogy to creation, and in the piece itself, what stands out is the musicality. Do you actually approach the piece from the technical point of view, and the music simply comes out of the fact that you’re understanding of what should happen happens? What is it that makes Im Januar am Nil that makes it such a musical, masterful piece?
[CB] A very good question, and one that I myself am guilty of very often in talking to younger people about their work when they want my opinion. I never ask them “How did you make this piece?”, I ask them “Why did you make this piece?” and I’m getting my own question back instead. This question can be answered by saying: “I don’t think of the theory and of the technique first.” I usually hear a certain kind of music and then look for the technique, and the new technique then presents itself. However, being rather adept at techniques and at developing new ones, I very quickly think of a technical way of solving a certain problem. Sometimes the technique might begin to be a thing of interest in itself. But basically, in this music, for example, I could hear in my mind, walking the streets of Paris in 1981, a melody repeating itself again and again, a very moving melody, very deep, almost archaic in quality. You see, now, I’m using words, that I actually have to sing something that I have heard. I remember hearing the notes E and D [sings E-D], something like that. I heard that coming in again and again, and for a long time my working title of the piece was Re-Do, which would have made D-C, which would be just as easy, but still…
This moving music, which would get denser and denser as it moved on, was actually what I could hear, and I then began to look for a way to realize it, and that’s where the technique came into play. But, obviously, in this original idea I could also hear a melody which simply gets so dense in the end that it destroys itself, just overburdens itself and collapses. That’s what it does in this piece, actually.
We listen to Im Januar am Nil by Clarence Barlow, performed by Ensemble Köln with Robert HP Platz conducting [0:43:20–1:09:07].
[K] … [Part of question seems to be missing] at a prolific composer.
[CB] No, you couldn’t say that.
[K] And you spend a lot of time writing about theory, and teaching and also programming the computer to produce some results. Has the additional — I don’t know whether to call it a burden or not — has this additional work of having to programme distracted you… Let me rephrase that: Would you prefer to have the Digital Gods be able to hand you the programme simply because you say “I need this programme so that you [sic] can compose,” or is this an integral part of your development as a composer.
[CB] Well, experience shows me that I have to do it myself… Well, I have as a matter of fact — just to contradict myself — had at least two programmes written for me in recent times, because I was able to get the right funding. You get funding and can pay somebody and it’s all part of the project, and the “powers that be” recognize the project as being of benefit to mankind at large and are willing to support it. So you are able to take a part of that budget and actually have your programmes written.
But a lot of the more complicated, demanding programmes… Also another aspect is the æsthetics, the visual æsthetics of the programme, the approach. If I don’t care as to how the user sits in front of this programme and uses it and picks various elements — if I’m thinking more of a stand-alone programme, which is not going to take a lot of your times sitting in front of a screen, you just feed it the information — then it doesn’t matter what it looks like, it could be a black box… But if it’s a programme which I expect to sit in front of a lot, then I expect also the graphics to be of a certain nature. Most computer programmes that I know belong to certain schools of thought. For example, all the IBM programmes, all the Macintosh programmes, they all look so similar. Because the people who have written them have drawn on things done before, they don’t care if it’s a totally hackneyed approach. And all these drop-down menus, all these things hidden away which you then pull down, hitch up again, I don’t favour tremendously. That’s one of the reasons why I have to do my own programmes. But the main reason is that I would have to spend all the time explaining very intricate ways of thought to somebody else, I’d have to sit by that person’s side for hours and hours, and finally have to correct the work he’d done in their absence — this happens all the time. So I’d rather go and do it myself. I find sitting on my own somewhere is just as pleasant. Trying to finish it takes a lot of time and trouble.
It would be very nice — to answer the question in nutshell — to have somebody who could read my thoughts and do my programming for me and not follow conventional methods.
[K] Using the programmes, you have done some very interesting things. Talk about AutoBusk, because that will lead us back to the piece you mentioned before, Orchideæ Ordinariæ, because of some very interesting relationship there. AutoBusk is actually very exciting, and let me make this pitch right here on the air: we would port a version of that to the PC world so that the rest of us could have the option of using it some day.
[CB] Well, actually, this year being the tenth anniversary of the beginning of AutoBusk in its present state, I hope that I can actually finish it this Summer, sometime later. It’s been a dream, but this year the dream is more reachable than it’s been in former years, and I might end up saying the same thing in the next century. But I think (and I really believe) that I can finish it this year, and once it’s finished you’d be most welcome to have the code and port it to the PC, because it’s written in a straight-forward form of Pascal, so that can be done. What would you like to know about it?
[K] Our listening audience is a general audience, and they have heard our show, they’ve heard various kinds of contemporary music. We’ve sometimes talked about automatic processes, but with no real authority, because it’s “us” been talking and it hasn’t been someone who is at the forefront of using some of those processes and creating… and creating some of the processes. How does AutoBusk work, what is it for? And maybe you could describe some of the principles which — if I’m correct — you even pioneered, ideas such as Harmonicity and so forth.
[CB] We’d have to go back a little bit. I remember when I started composing I was happy to be in a kind of idiom of Haydn-Mozart, gradually moving through the nineteenth century into the present. I remember finding Stockhausen totally incomprehensible at a certain time of my life — Prokofiev too, before that. But then I remember also getting to a point where I thought “Stockhausen seems to have blown it and he was such an incredible genius and pioneer and why he is so old-fashioned and conservative right now?” So things change. In the process of my development I began to write more and more chromatic music and gradually atonal music.
Much later, possibly through the influence of the American minimalists like Reich, Riley, La Monte Young, I began to use tonality again in a certain way. Not like the Neo-Romantics in north Germany, in the sense that I would fall back into a wonderfully comfortable old idiom, but I began to think of tonality as a kind of electricity phenomenon, a kind of field in which particles can be made to move if particles are of tones. If you set the field in a certain way, all the music could be atonal, but if you set it in another way, it could be highly tonal. It interested me to write a music which would move and this was the result of that. The first result was the piece Çogluotobüsisletmesi, whereas I wrote two pieces before that, one called …until… and one called Relationships, starting from 1972, which are actually the first attempts in that direction. For those pieces I just tried to make a very simple setup of tonality and use it in a way which, shall we say, starts in a tonal way then the tonality gradually regroups itself possibly, and then at the end you find it’s atonal, using a very simple mechanism. In the piece Çogluotobüsisletmesi, I really wanted to have a piece which you could determine to be tonal in places and atonal in other places, almost as if you were sitting at a fader, at a fader box, and moving the fader up to increase the tonality, I mean to really give it its due as a kind of field.
So I needed to define something which I would then call tonal field strength. Having defined that I also defined something called metric field strength and use both of these in mathematical form. [These are] formulæ which worked very well. To my great satisfaction, these formulæ have been checked with music outside of my own and are found tally very well indeed. A Dutch scientist recently examined three methods — one by Leer [?] and Jackendorf, one by I think Martin was his name and one by myself (we used my own metric field strength system) — and found that a lot of popular music and folk music followed my methods — without my ever having dreamt of it — more closely than the other two. This is Peter Dessein, who formerly worked in Nijmegen, here in Amsterdam. The thing is, those were the mathematical backgrounds behind trying to make a music which could be tonal or atonal, metric or ametric as the case may be.
But then again, to get back to your earlier observation, “Is technology the chicken or the egg?” …
[K] Or the omelette.
[CB] … or the omelette … I feel that in all these cases I actually heard a certain music and the only reason it sounds so technical now is because we’re using words. If I could play you the results (and you will be doing this on the broadcast), one could then hear that the music that comes out of it has a certain bearing by a set relationship with the music that I actually envisaged. The formulas that go into AutoBusk were also conditioned by inspiration, if you like, by musical means.
[K] That’s tough to hear, the word “inspiration” in contemporary music!
[CB] Yes, unfortunately. I can’t imagine anything more uninspiring than a lot of the stuff that we have today.
[K] Maybe we could pursue that at some point later on, but I really think we should get back to AutoBusk, because it’s very exciting. You know, I came to watch you use it and something bristled and I said “How dare one reduce the stylistic thinking that Composer X has developed over a lifetime into a formula?”
[CB] And yet, what comes out of it is very musical. Not only musical, it sounds sometimes, if I so desire, like music you know. For example, take the piece Otodeblu. It doesn’t sound at all strange, doesn’t sound at all foreign, it’s a regular blues piece, a 12-bar structure.
[K] Well… except for something else…
[CB] Except for what I put into it to make it a little bit different to regular blues, but nobody would have any difficulty in recognizing it as blues.
[K] Not at all, no.
[CB] And the whole thing, apart from five notes that I put in by hand somewhere at about one fifth of the way… you probably remembers that, there’s a bit which reminds one of sixteen tones.
[K] Sixteen Tons.
[CB] Exactly, yes. It’s a seventeen-tone piece and there’s the bass line of one of the parts of Sixteen Tons which comes in, and I put them in by hand, but apart from that, the whole thing is genuine and pure AutoBusk. So, you set out to do music. Some people are able to do it straight away, some people envisage all kinds of different complex things which you aren’t capable of handling because it’s just too complicated — just like Schoenberg couldn’t do things without the twelve-tone row.
We listen to Otodeblu by Clarence Barlow, performed on a computer-controlled modified Bösendorfer Pianola, retuned in 17 tones to the octave [1:20:46–1:24:50].
[CB] Right, you set out to do music, and some people can just do it, they take a piece of paper and write it down or they go to the instrument and play it straight away, and some people have very complex ideas that they can’t handle and they need to put them down on paper. [As I was saying], Schoenberg needed to make the 12-tone technique in order to get done what he needed to have done, and Bach needed to use fixed form like the fugue so that he could work around it rather than invent the entire thing himself. I needed to also write down these things, and my tools are not 12-tone rows anymore (though they were that at one time), they are now, have been for the last twenty years, mathematical formulæ, lots of good processes. Unfortunately our machines are so limited (and they always will be, computers and stuff) that you have to express things in a very, very simple and foolproof way, otherwise they make a mess of it. And you’ve got to also have the guts to go and redo the entire work if it comes out wrong. For me that’s the only viable and logical way for the computer. You have an idea, you put it in there, try to get to something which you could then check (so you could have certain feedback) and then after listening to the result, you decide what you don’t like about it and see if you can find a way of telling the computer what you want changed. If you’re lucky, and if you so desire, you may actually be able to reach a point where you form the entire piece finally in terms of instructions, so that the entire piece can be generated in one go and can possibly be notated for you as well using a computer programme and you don’t have to go and fiddle all over the place changing this and changing that because you didn’t like it.
That’s of course an ideal place and sometimes it might result in something sterile. Maybe you do want to go in and break up things; I mean there are lots of things the computer couldn’t do anyways and which I most firmly believe in, and that you would need to go and change.
[K] In a sense, you could restate a Bach fugue in terms of instructions, at least partly. You would obviously have sections of it which would be detailed instructions, which I guess we would consider the notes of a musical score, but many of the processes involved could be begun with a set of descriptions: here’s a thematic chunk and we’re going to be in this thematic chunk again at this point. That is really a set of instructions, except that he’s notated them in detail, whereas there are other ways of doing that.
[CB] Yes, well the trouble is, of course, at the present, we are willing to write a music which is impossible to play by human hands, whereas in Bach’s time it was inconceivable. Had Bach been living now and had he decided to write very complex fugues, if he decided to write them the way he did them then, he wouldn’t need a computer because he would really do them straight away. Trying to programme a very complex logic which was strongly conditioned by culture, by tradition, going back to Rameau and beyond, is much more elusive — even though I’ve done it to a certain extent with AutoBusk — than being free to define your own language, which you can do in the present.
We try to define our own languages — of course we are always prisoners of the cultures we live in — and that’s why even a marvellous mind like John Cage, who wants to break with everything in the past and come up with something totally unheard of, where the ego has practically no role whatsoever, comes up with new music of the 50s, and it sounds like anybody else’s new music of the 50s, just because Cage wasn’t free of that particular æsthetic. So his own æsthetic forced him to develop laws and rules which produced exactly the music that other people did. I mean, Music of Changes does have a certain similarity to Boulez, for example.
[K] You’re right there and I don’t even know how to begin assessing what that means, because you say it’s attached to a time and place. I agree that it’s attached to a time and place, but what about whether that time and place has accepted or rejected it? I don’t know if this is the time to ask that question, but you mentioned Bach, you mentioned Schoenberg… was Schoenberg a product of the time and place, and if he was, how come the devisiveness over him and his successors and the lack of identification by the general public of that as their own music?
[CB] Well even Beethoven’s work wasn’t totally appreciated in his time. I don’t think that any music that is difficult, any music that is more complex than the rest, would be acceptable to everybody at a certain time. I think you need time to get used to it. And, of course, this one traditional aspect of being ahead of one’s time has gone so far now. the minds of some people move exponentially compared to the minds of others in time. Therefore we are able and willing to leave the rest of the world far behind if we so believe necessary. Take a case from physics, Isaac Newton would have been understandable to a large part, let’s say, of the public, not to all of it. But Einstein to a much smaller [part], because once given enough leeway, the mind is able to run away and leave everybody else behind. And if you always stop and try and wait until they catch up, we wouldn’t have had Einstein this century, we might have had him three centuries from now. That’s why you’re able to do what you want to do and that’s why Schoenberg was a product of his time, even if he wasn’t understood by the majority of the people. And don’t forget, when you talk about “our time” that there is a planet around us and this planet has people who have never heard of Mozart. When you say “time” it obviously and also means a certain culture.
[K] Culture, and geography as attached to culture, and as the electronic world envelops the globe, that will even make Mozart a contemporary composer for some areas of the worlds.
[CB] By the way, I was once on a broadcast in Frankfurt, I was Guest of Honour…
[K] Guest of honour!
[CB] Well, Guest of Honour means [incomprehensible]…
[K] What, that there was money?
[CB] Well, I was given the train fare. But you’re a Guest of Honour in that you are allowed to bring in a recording (apart from your own music being played) that nobody could possibly guess… Not even the producer of the programme was permitted to know what music I was going to bring with me. I brought a piece of music, people were supposed to guess what it was. Some people said “Well, hm, very complex, must be sort of early twentieth century.” Some felt it had certain nineteenth century aspects to it, but certainly very radical. They were all wrong…
[K] They were all wrong. Well let’s do it right now.
[D] I know what it is, so I have to disqualify myself.
We listen to Bachanal by Clarence Barlow, which was based on the quiz tune [1:34:40–1:35:32], followed by the quiz tune itself [1:35:46–1:38:16], Bachanal again [1:38:56–1:39:45] and finally the quiz tune again [1:39:45–1:42:15].
Audio Part 2 [0:30:06–1:30:10]
[K] We’ve curved way away from AutoBusk. Back to how somebody uses it and then how you can express a piece of music through it, or with it, and then if you could link the train together so we can get back to Orchideæ Ordinariæ.
[CB] If the train fare is paid. It’s maybe describable in, again, slightly technical terms. The programme runs at present on an Atari. I first began to work on it actually in 1978 on a PDP using FORTRAN, then I worked a little bit further on it in IRCAM in 1981, using C on a big PDP-10, and then I started from scratch in 1984 on my own CPM machine, continuing it on the Atari in 1987. If you are sitting in front of it, you realize that there are three voices, three parts if you like. Each is independent of the others, so no part knows what the other part is doing. And that is also true for Otodeblu, which you just heard. Now, if you want to change one of the parts, you have the option of using a certain scale, which you can input in a certain format (which I have defined), input a certain meter… The scale could be for example a major scale, a minor scale, chromatic, could be a gamelan scale, could be as simple as a pentatonic, could be a crazy scale you have just invented using random numbers for frequencies. The meter, however, has to be an order of multiplicator. Suppose you want a 12/16 meter; that would be 2 by 2 by 3, because you separate a 12/16 bar into two halves, and each half into a set of two quarters, and each of the quarters in three parts. You have to define the meter in terms of a series of multiplicators. That is all processed by my programme and made from quantity into quality, so that my programme begins to know which notes are harmonically more important, which notes probably have more “oomph” to them in the meter than the others.
[K] How does it understand that?
[CB] Now that’s a complex thing, that’s all part of my formula and would probably take too long to go into.
[K] In sort of an analogous way…
[CB] Well I could tell you the result of it. If you put in for example a chromatic scale, all the computer starts with knowing is I’ve got 1/12 of an octave, 2/12 of an octave, 3/12 of an octave, and so on, just a pure quantity. Then the computer fiddles around and tries to see if this particular scale had to be tuned correctly. Because obviously, 7/12 of an octave — which is a perfect fifth — isn’t such a nice interval because it’s that funny number 7/12, there’s some other reason for it and Pythagoras said this 2000 years ago that it’s because it’s the frequency ratio 2:3, which is a very simple ratio. So my programme looks into possible ratio definitions, ratio interpretations of the otherwise only quantitatively given intervals and finds a plausible tuning, after working for a few seconds or a few minutes or sometimes a few hours, possibly a few days even. The 17-tone scale took eight hours to do on a fast Atari; I once did a 21-tone scale and that took several days. Every extra note doubles the time needed, so you could work it out: eight hours for a 17-note scale and so on. In the meter, the same thing goes: I discovered once a very nice way of describing 6/8 in terms of the importances of the pulses. [Illustrates fast 6/8 meter]
[K] Some people know it as kind of a march-like tempo, other people would know it as a Gigue.
[CB] 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6, where the “4” is important. Some people would say strong-weak-weak strong-weak-weak using elements from prosody. I found it to be a much too poor terminology to use just two words to describe so many different things. I would have like to have become more differentiated, and finally I came up with the term I called “indispensability of attack”.
[K] Indispensability of attack…
[CB] You see? It could be something you feel necessary on a dark street somewhere near Central Park; in this case it’s much more innocuous. It has to do with the fact that the first pulse is most indispensable in 6/8, but the fourth pulse is the next in indispensability. I think the sixth pulse is the next, and then I think the third is the next. So if I were to take for example 1 2 3 4 5 6 and limit it to the most important pulses I would say: 1… 4… 1… 4… If I had to add one more, I might say 1… 4, 6 1… 4, 6. And then 1, 3 4, 6 1, 3 4, 6 and so on. This is where I enter a sort of hierarchy of importance of the pulse. Added to that I found the formula which would give me for any series of multiplicators the order of importance. So that you could even take an incredible meter like 3 by 5 by 7 by 3 by 11 or something like that — all the multiplicators have to be by the way prime numbers — and if I did that I’d have an enormous pulse count in the one bar but my formula would blindly give me a hierarchy. This works very well for the meters that I know and this was the one which Peter Dassein found to tally with actual practice. These things are embedded into AutoBusk; AutoBusk takes materials like scales and meters, evaluates them, and, knowing which are more important and which are less; if I say “Make the music tonal,” AutoBusk will then give those tones which are reckoned to be more harmonic — like the fifth, for example, or the octave — more probability and those which are less harmonic less probability. But if I say “Make the music atonal,” all pitches become equally probable.
[K] This all sounds very mathematical, and in the background it is, but what you see on the screen isn’t; this is somewhat slider-based, it almost looks like a mixboard.
[CB] I like user-friendly programmes.
[K] So you can slide from atonality to tonality and various…
[CB] I have attached real physical faders to the computer and you say [exaggerated politeness] “Would you like the music to be a little more tonal?” [laughter] Move the fader up and it gets more tonal. I’ve been able to show, actually very ironic once, you probably know the implications of the name “Darmstadt”?
[K] Oh, Darmstadt, we don’t have the time to explain the implications of Darmstadt, but let’s just say the implications are probably as powerful as the implications of let’s say, the New Testament.
[CB] Yes, because Stockhausen, Boulez, Henze, Pousseur, they were all over there. Darmstadt’s a little town just south of Frankfurt and it’s become synonymous with a certain avant-garde so-called serial thinking, very avant-garde, very modern twentieth century thinking. About 30 km away from Darmstadt is the city Mainz — Maynce in the Old English — and this town is famous for its carnival, second to Cologne in Germany. And this happens every early Spring and this music is of course just the opposite of Darmstadt because it’s all just march music, it’s all “oom-ta oom-ta” and dancing around and drinking lots of beer. I was once giving a lecture in Mainz on AutoBusk and I demonstrated in front of them with my faders how I could move from carnival-like music, from Mainz-like music to Darmstadt-like music.
[K] I bet they didn’t like that…
[CB] No they enjoyed it tremendously, it was at the University of Mainz, they have a university there. So, I like programmes to be user-friendly and in order to cut things short… In order to find out things… maybe if I were a chemist working in the service of gastronomy — which would be a very apt parallel — I’d want to come up with something most delicious and have to analyse the ingredients in order to find out what makes this combination so delicious and how could I find new combinations. Now of course gastronomy is one of the most conservative arts, and understandably so. British beef, for example. That’s an example where you have to be conservative and you can’t just be avant-garde and go eat it, but in the case of music you can shove anything into your ears and it all comes out anyway at some point. [K laughter] So if I were a chemist in the service of gastronomy, I might do tremendous analyses of wonderfully delicious food. It could be wine, I could be analysing the esters and the various other combinations that go into that and come up with something which would be a recipe for the future.
That’s what I’m doing in music, but unfortunately I have to dig deep down into all the numerical stuff, because music is probably the most abstract of the arts and the most based on number, more than any of the other arts I believe. That’s why I’ve done all of this and that’s why AutoBusk is a nice programme producing nice music, but it’s of course very technical.
[K] Turn it around to Orchideæ Ordinariæ, which is a masterful piece. You took AutoBusk and did some work with it.
[CB] Some of the movements are indeed from there.
[K] How did you use that? Because here’s a massive orchestral work, part of which I believe is tacked up two feet by three feet in size in your apartment in Cologne, as a matter of fact, the part that uses the phonetic resolutions that you had developed, I believe. No I’m sorry, the spiral downward, there is a spiral downward that the listeners will hear in this score that is tacked up on this massive two pages. Here’s a massive two-page score of the character of the Rite of Spring, in some ways, that you used, you might even say, mechanical means to help produce.
[CB] Actually I think an even better example, if you don’t mind me diverging slightly, is the piece Variazioni e un pianoforte Meccanico. That piece was practically the reason for writing AutoBusk in 1986, which is when I started to write the programme. I said ’84 earlier but that’s when I started to work on my new computer, so it was actually ’86 that I started to do AutoBusk. In that piece you hear variation by variation, the whole thing is AutoBusk, the whole thing is the computer just producing that music and you can see how close it is to the Beethoven and yet how far away you can get from the Beethoven if you want it to.
In Orchideæ Ordinariæ, I wanted the first movement to resemble Pérotin, the great composer of around 1200, particularly his Sederunt principes and his Viderunt omnes. These are such wonderful pieces and pieces which I think we could look up to particularly in our day and age. [Snickering] I thought the best way would be to ask AutoBusk, so I switched on AutoBusk and tried to have one Pérotin-like line going through and see if it was possible and it was indeed, because in Variazioni — the Beethoven-based piece — you can hear the Beethoven theme in the background. Even if it’s not expressly played, you can hear AutoBusk having abstracted the harmonic rhythm and the harmonic scheme in the Beethoven theme. In this case too, I extracted certain typical mannerisms of Pérotin [and] defined them in my own AutoBusk terms. When I was composing the piece Variazioni, I used to walk down the streets… I composed the tune in Amsterdam in ’86, before which I had written AutoBusk. It was a very rainy October, and I used to get my hat and coat and go and walk along the canals in the drizzly weather looking for inspiration. (There’s that word again.)
[K] Ah that word, twice in one programme. [General snickering]
[CB] I used to use what I had done before of course when I started from scratch I knew exactly what the piece was going to be like: I knew that it was going to be based on Beethoven, I knew exactly which Beethoven theme, I knew that at the end there was going to be this big explosion based on the tone E — which is exactly in the middle of the Beethoven theme, the bit that leads from the C-major bit to the A-minor bit — and that that E was going to be a tremendous tornado which would just well up and then explode into A-minor.
[K] The importance of a note! Who just said recently in one of our interviews, “the respect for one note”? Was that Maria de Alvear? Yes.
[CB] That’s it, you see. And this particular note in the Beethoven theme I feel so powerful, so incredibly strong. Years before I wrote AutoBusk, years before I wrote Variazioni, really years before, I knew I was going to make variations on the Beethoven theme and I knew that there was this bit which was going to be this bit which would overpower everything and it actually happens near the end of Variazioni. So I used to walk down the streets of Amsterdam and I listen in my mind to what I had done up until then, the old-fashioned way. I used to get up to a point and sometimes the inertia of the music in my mind would carry me a few bars on, or I would suddenly get this vision of what could come. That’s the interesting thing, I used to hear this vision rather clearly but I couldn’t write it down because it was too fast, too thick and too fleeting. If I were to try and imagine it again just five minutes later it would sound a little bit different but in its total shape the same. So I tried to capture the shape of what I had heard in terms of, you might say, values, figures that I wrote down.
[K] How it worked, a description.
[CB] Yes, a description — mathematically, if you like, or technically — of what I could hear. After writing that down I translated that into AutoBusk code, came home, typed in the code and listened to the results and indeed it was fairly close to what I had heard. Then I had to do some fine tuning with the other parameters.
What I didn’t say earlier was that somebody sitting in front of AutoBusk will use scales (I said) and meters but I didn’t say that they also use a set of parameters and I’ll name a few. Metric clarity, that goes from totally unclear — ametric if you like — to metric. Pulse length, that has to do with the tempo; every voice can be a different speed. The third would be density of sound, “eventfulness” I call it, so it could be very sparse or very thick. And the fourth would be the length of the event: it could be a short note or a long note, it could be staccato or legato. The fifth would be the amount at which the melody jumps around.
[K] The “leapiness”.
[CB] The leapiness, or melodic scope I called it. Parameter number six is the tonality: which key is it, is it in C or is it in G? In my way of thinking, a C in one octave is not the same as a C in another octave, so I always name each note totally individually. The seventh would be the number of notes in an event: it could be a chord, or three notes maximum, in each part. Number eight would be the degree of tonality, or as I call it, “tonicality”, just to avoid confusion with conventional terms; Bartók also used that term.
[K] So it’s different from when you’re talking about what key it’s in, in the sense of how “keyful” is it?
[CB] Yes, exactly, it could be in the key of C but the key may be so weak that it’s irrelevant that it’s in C. Parameter number nine is what I call “note focus” which means where it’s all happening: in one part you might find it all happening around middle C and in another part it might be all three octaves higher. Number ten goes along with nine, that’s the note range, the width of the pitch window around the focus. Eleven is dynamics.
These eleven parameters give you an idea, this is the actual boiling down to the hard facts of structure…
[K] So you can look at someone else’s piece if you could reverse the activity…
[CB] Yes, I’ve actually tried that, as a matter of fact it’s interesting. That’s how I’m able to do music which sounds a bit like Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis period, just to demonstrate. I’ve done pieces which sound like Feldman’s early piano pieces and for lectures I’ve done things like transmogrifications, interpolations between Cage and Feldman.
[K] Like audio morphing.
[CB] Yes, exactly, in this case parametrically. In the case of Variazioni, I was walking in the streets of Amsterdam, had inspiration, came home, tried it out, did fine tuning and that’s what I got. And in the case of Orchideæ Ordinariæ, I wanted something that sounded like Pérotin, so I tried to abstract Pérotin into my own AutoBusk code, tried it out, fine tuning and then finally —something that Pérotin could have never written — a 60-part counterpoint in the sense that each part [of the counterpoint] doesn’t know of the others. So it’s counter in that sense, it’s really against, they know nothing of each other and I have them going from the lowest double basses to the highest piccoli.
By the way those who know a little bit of psychoacoustics might be interested to know that I setthe note focus — which is the level at which it is all happening, the pitch level — according to the so-called Bach scale, which is our subjective scale. It is a mapping of the Basilar membrane, the density of the hair cells on the Basilar membrane in the ear.
[K] Which is the way in which some people design the so-called loudness control on stereos, which means certain areas in the bass and the treble are boosted at lower volume levels because we hear them in different ways.
[CB] Yes well that’s more to do with the Fletcher-Munsen curves, but the Bach scale has as a result the fact that if you look at any music from the past and the present you find the double bass jumping a lot more — even in atonal music — than the piccolo.
[K] I remember you criticized a piece I was working on because I did not have respect for that aspect of the music. I was trying to get at a kind of a thickness and a density in the bottom and you right away picked up and said that’s inaudible because I’ve kind of gone against the biological limit.
[CB] Well, I’ve done that too, and as a result of that one has to actually say “one could do anything.” Im Januar am Nil, for example, goes against lots of the laws of acoustics and lots of things are very difficult to hear in that piece because of another phenomenon called masking. In that piece I literally mask out a lot of the notes which are written by the volume that I demand in the bass. I tried my best to get around it in some ways by maybe increasing the brilliancy of the bass timbres: I ask the double bass player to turn to the audience with his double bass if possible so that the sound is not as muffled as it would be otherwise. I need to write this down to cut through my own transgression of the laws of nature. In this particular case, the Bach scale is meaningful if you want to write music which comes close to what we automatically assume and presume. Take a rather rich chord up in the treble in the octave above middle C, or two octaves above middle C, a rich chord of ten notes using both hands on the keyboard and play the same chord in the bottom octave on the piano. Well it does sound like mud. And that’s because we can’t hear it because our Basilar membrane is calibrated differently.
I didn’t want muddiness in the bass, I wanted it to be just like Bach or Dvořák would have done and have a jumpiness in the bass based on that. So, two parameters, the leapiness or the melodic scope and the other was the note focus gaps between each instrument and the next: they were according to the Bach scale. You have this Pérotin-like thing. The result is a very even-sounding, thick texture. If you listen to the last bars of that movement you will hear how even it sounds all the way from the bass to the treble. Had I not done that, had I done it every major third or so, put each interval a major third apart, it would have sounded very, very thick in the bass and you would have heard less in the treble to the normal ear.
We listen to Orchideæ Ordinariæ (1989) by Clarence Barlow, performed by the Südwestfunk-Orchester, Ingo Metzmacher, conductor [0:53:02–1:30:10].
Audio Part 3 [0:30:00–1:14:25]
A brief intro before resuming the interview at [0:31:44].
[CB] That’s going of course now into psychoacoustics, which is quite different.
[K] The question of audio morphing reminds me that there has been a lot of rewriting going on of history. You mentioned some work that you had done in the early or mid-1970s which is represented in your work about Calcutta. What’s going on generally in this rewriting in the areas of multimedia, in the areas of music and so forth, and maybe you can incorporate some description of this work in the process?
[CB] You’re talking about the piece CCU?
[CB] Well, I don’t know what it has to do with the rewriting of history, but it’s certainly documentation, or documenting.
[K] Well, we spoke to a couple of other composers, Laurie Spiegel and Éliane Radigue [see interviews in eContact! 10.2], both of whom expressed in their ever so polite ways, a certain level of disgruntlement about the fact that their pioneering work has been expropriated by others and simply taken on as if it were those others’ works.
[CB] In 1971 I studied the subject Hörspiel with Kagel. Hörspiel, the German word meaning “hear-play”; that’s now taken in the music world to mean a whole genre of compositions who are really the results of recordings made of everyday sounds. You could, for example, have people talking, you could have doors being slammed, all the stuff that goes into backgrounds in normal radio plays (Radio Play is the regular English translation). Klaus Schöning of Cologne radio now calls it acoustic art, and he’s the head of the department of Radio Plays, at least he was the head of that part of the department that supported Kagel. Back in ’70 [I] had the brilliant idea (I still think) of standing on the street corners in Calcutta with a tape recorder and recording sounds from all over the place and mounting them into one giant Hörspiel, one giant Radio Play. No sooner said than done, in January 1971 I was standing with a Hitachi cassette recorder in various parts of Calcutta, making recordings of the people passing by, people playing music, people doing all kinds of things — Calcutta is a very sound-rich city — and came back and began to sort out the materials and found out that the quality was so bad on this cassette recorder. Those days, in ’71, the cassette recorder was just about six years old and the quality was really not usable at all so I had to just put all the cassettes away.
In ’77 I then spoke to another producer in Cologne radio, Jan Reichle, and said that I would be interested in going to Calcutta and making recordings on a good machine. He said “Well, what would you use them for?” I said “Oh, you often broadcast music from India and this might be useful for you, to form a backdrop,” and he liked the idea. He also knew that I wanted to use it for a composition. So I went down to Calcutta and did twenty hours of recording using a Stellavox machine — very good quality recording this time, for those days, I mean today we probably have DATs or something else — and came back and in 1979, two years later, I approached Klaus Schöning, the man I mentioned earlier, who also did Roaratorio for John Cage. It took some convincing, he didn’t really like the idea, he thought it a bit strange, and it took a while. I sat with him and said “Well, look, it’s a portrait of a city, a city as a kind of giant machine, as a kind of organization…
We listen to CCU (excerpt) by Clarence Barlow [0:35:55–0:40:32].
[CB] Well he took a little bit of convincing, I remember sitting down with him and telling him this is a portrait of a city, it’s an enormous machine, or it’s an enormous organism, alive and producing all these sounds, and finally he said “Ok, you’ve convinced me, you can do it.” I don’t know whether this is coincidence or not, but the man who had worked in that very same studio just before my time was due was John Cage. I was told by people who worked in there that he didn’t really know what to do with the idea of Ireland and culture and that kind of stuff. Schöning apparently told him “Well, why don’t you go around and make recordings of the street and put them together as a kind of portrait”? That’s what was done and second to that, when my piece was done, Schöning liked it a lot, a great deal, to such an extent that he started a whole series which he called Metropolis and he invited lots of people to do portraits of various cities. He called my piece — he renamed it without my permission — Metropolis Calcutta and when I pointed this out he said “Oh yes, yes, you’re right, it wasn’t called Metropolis Calcutta” and he wrote also somewhere else, ‘This piece was written for the Metropolis series.’” I said “Not really true, but you can let that stand if you want to,” and he cancelled it.
So it’s an interesting case of a piece which engendered a whole series suddenly being a part of it in hindsight. In a sense that’s probably what you were talking about.
[K] It’s always… “interesting” is the more objective word, but it’s really sometimes disturbing that pioneering ideas are sometimes obscured by people who exploit them for other reasons. [We’re] seeing that happening today, as I mentioned, to a few composers: their ideas as much as their music have been expropriated by others and are being put forth as if they belong to other people.
[CB] This is a kind of vicious circle, because if the pioneering ideas didn’t have to wait that long to be generally appreciated, they would be known and there would be no chance of anybody else appropriating them. But that’s always what happens, you’re forced to earn your living in various ways, you’re forced to do things that are not in the front rank of that which you want to do and you lose a lot of time that way. Lots of stuff which you would have done years ago — like AutoBusk is still not finished — is still dangling on and finally when you finish it, somebody else has done it.
[K] We’ve been talking about history, and let’s get out of that and talk about what you’re doing now. We’ve been concentrating on this incredible weight, this burden of the past, let’s talk about right now. We were just treated to something this evening…
[CB] Let’s lay my burden down by the canalside. [General laughter] Well, that’s a question: what is now? In 1990 I was asked to become Artistic Director of the Institute of Sonology and that’s an institute I had studied at in the early 70s, ’71–72. I thought it was a great honour and I was very pleased at the offer and I took it. I discovered after awhile that that institute is not the institute that I knew then. Of course, things have to change, obviously, but an institute which was for the avant-garde had now become an institute primarily for techno and house music… which I like, and I can also say a word or two and have connection, but I think it should go much beyond that. But then if you want to talk about serial music, algorithmic composition and all those things to people who are basically interested in techno and disco and house, you’re talking to the wall. And if you really go out of your way to organize festivals to bring really wonderful people from all over the place to the place where you teach, to organize the grants for the festival, make posters and put them up all over town, at least try to do that, and you find not only have your PR people not succeeded, in that they forgot to send the posters out or they didn’t get that interview on TV as desired, and that the whole thing just falls apart — the students don’t come because it’s not their kind of music and the other teachers work from 9 to 5 and are happy to go home in the evenings and not come to any events — you’ll find that a lot of time has been spent trying to change things. Now I found whether I organize or whether I compose, it’s all part of the same thing. I personally don’t look at myself in the mirror, while I’m shaving, for example, and say “You’re a composer.” I’m just plain old Clarence Barlow and whatever I do is what I do: if I cook a meal for you, then I’m cooking a meal for you at that moment; if I’m organizing a festival, that’s what I’m doing. For me, working in the arts means doing something which will shake people up a little and which will point out a thing or two, and not necessarily show everybody “Look, I am an artist too.” I don’t regard activity in the arts as a mirror for other people to see me in, I regard it as something in which I can be active, just in order to do something. I believe Schoenberg must have been motivated in similar ways when he did his 12-tone technique and I think [Stravinski’s] Le Sacre — I’m not comparing my work with theirs, but I’m just saying motivations, they were human beings too — could be very similar. You want to do something because it could change something, you try to improve something.
So I spent a lot of years not composing because I was organizing, doing festivals. And all these years, since 1990 — you said I’m not prolific and that was true before and it’s even more true now — the only thing of importance that I have written since then, the last piece before the 90s, was Orchideæ Ordinariæ. In 1990 I wrote a four-minute piano piece which you heard, Otodeblu. In 1991 I wrote nothing except for one piece I don’t like, it’s not important, I just wrote it for an evening somewhere, a sixteen-minute piece for tape. In 1992 I wrote an installation, I planned an installation for four computers and a microphone. You speak into it and your voice gets recorded and then refurbished and brought out over loudspeakers, it’s called Talkmaster’s Choice.
[K] It was very interesting the kind of techniques that you used behind that as well, but maybe we’ll save that for another time. It’s a very interesting piece and well worth a half-hour’s talk.
[CB] I think it’s fun, particularly, if the box is standing somewhere with all the computers in it, you can press the button and speak into the mic and then hear your own voice again. It’s a great hit at the conservatory I must confess, all the students who didn’t like to come to fantastic people coming from all over the world came to that box, because they wanted to hear their own voice…
[K] Push the button and hear their own voice.
[CB] Yes, exactly. That piece, Talkmaster’s Choice. just to describe it very briefly, runs from a kind of literary exercise where your words are rebound in a new order, that gradually actually chops up the syllables into shorter and shorter fragments, so at the end it sounds a bit like rap and finally electronic music. It becomes very rhythmic. I like to say the end is a bit like Michael Jackson in [a] traffic jam, if you would imagine what I mean: making his usual gurgitational sounds — which I like, by the way — and traffic noise in the back. Anyway, that was ’92. In ’93 I wrote nothing, as far as I can remember. In ’94 I wrote a piece called Farting Quietly in Church: it’s a forty-minute piece about electronics and it’s probably the most important thing I’ve written since the orchestra piece. So a five-year gap, I mean five years of something not of that import. In ’95 I did nothing but a two-minute piece to accompany a film, a piece I like very much, very enjoyable. It’s called Estudio Siete and it goes along with a film by Oskar Fischinger. But it can be held on its own.
[K] And it’s a very interesting basis on which you developed that piece, it’s very — dare we use this phrase — actually we could use this word for all of your music which is what is so wonderfully incongruous about what has happened to contemporary music in your lens, and that is that it’s “listenable”. Ultimately every single piece of yours that I have heard is listenable, and the same thing is true about this. This is a piece that has incredible theoretical basis: I watched you pull this piece up on the computer, I watched numbered frames go by and you explained to me in terms of the shapes of the objects in the film and how they influenced the harmonic content of the sound. And yet what comes out, ultimately, is not a theoretical treatise, of which I’ve heard many expressed in audio form, but a piece of music.
[CB] To recount, I do not do music “how” but I do it “why”. In other words, the why is more important than the how and the how follows from the why. So it has to sound good, I have to like it. And even in the days where I was writing music more in a Cage vein, in a sense, where I said “This music cannot be bad or good, it can only be ‘there’” (that’s what I used to normally tell people), even then the music was listenable in some way or the other, because sneakily I have allowed the mathematics to work in that direction. But I have been more positive and more active in this direction in the sense that I want something to sound good, I want to like it myself, and that’s where I’ve been doing things for about twenty years now.
[K] We have a couple of questions, we have the important poll that we need to complete taking, but if you had to stand back and say what Clarence Barlow’s pioneering act was, musically, what would that be?
[CB] That’s very difficult. I’m not going to of course plead false modesty now and say it’s not for the composer to decide, because I’m sure that all good composers know what their value and their merit is. I imagine there are a number of things that I have done, some of the things are of a technical nature: my defining of tonality and meter, my work with phonetics, these are things on the one side. Another technical thing is the fact that I was probably the first one to use computers in Germany back in ’71 and have insisted on the use of that technology not because I like it but because it solves a lot of problems. I always try to free sceptics of fear and if they hear bad music done on the computer I say “Well it’s the people behind the computer who have done this music, not the computer itself”; that’s probably one thing.
But I think on the other hand, the idiom I came up with, I think you might say that this idiom stands out. I don’t try to cultivate one idiom because I don’t believe in image polishing or image cultivation, I don’t believe in that at all. But whatever I’ve done has a certain homogeneity, because I’m me and because I can’t jump out of my own shadow, I’m just somebody who is limited; I can only do certain things. Mozart could never possibly sound like Debussy or sound like Schoenberg even though he pointed in that direction (in the direction of Schoenberg). So I’m also limited much more than Mozart is because I think those are people were immeasurably greater than any of us today. I’m not just being nostalgic — there was another great period we had recently which ended around 1972.
I think my greatest achievement has probably been, in the face of adversity, to espouse tonality again, in a way that was not desired at that time (in the early 70s), decide not to join the bandwagon of those, and I decidedly refused and I was asked of those who pursued backward-looking romantic philosophy. I think basically doing my own thing, I think that is my best achievement. And if you look at my different pieces — I could name a few which I think are the outstanding ones; there are lots of pieces of mine which are small-fry, by comparison. The good ones are, for example, Textmusik (of the 70s)…
[K] And we hope to actually have a performance of Textmusik in Vermont at some point. We have a pianist locally who is extraordinary and has a copy of Textmusik and has been exploring it.
[CB] There is this one very long version which might be the one you are thinking of doing, number six…
[K] Yes, that’s the one.
[CB] That’s one piece, and moving on (that was 1971) and I could jump over the middle years, although in those days those pieces seemed to be important but then they led to the AutoBusk, so that overshadows the ones between. So in 1978, Çogluotobüsisletmesi, 1984 Im Januar am Nil, 1989 Orchideæ Ordinariæ, and 1994 Farting Quietly in Church. If you don’t mind me spending a minute or two on that, something that I have tried to do over the last five years (you asked me this question earlier and I answered it simply by listing things) but one of the new things I have been doing is something which you might call theatre; it’s Music Theatre in a sense but certainly not in the Kagel sense. It’s theatre which uses music as its vehicle. Kagel makes theatre about music. In my case, it’s really theatre. It may be about music but then it’s about music in its own content and not through its mode of presentation. Kagel’s theatre is about music presentation and it revolves around music presentation and involves music presentation.
In my case, it’s theatre about something else, or maybe about music, but that which is to be said is said in so many words and it uses music as its kind of vehicle. For example, Fruitti d’Amore, written for Frances-Marie Uitti back in 1988. I didn’t mention it just now because it’s a piece all to its own, it’s a different category altogether and it’s maybe not a piece of music even. It’s a piece in which for the first twelve minutes, the cellist reads out cooking recipes of a most disgusting nature — based on Amnesty International reports, among other things — very sardonic, and inspired by the film Brazil and by other films of that nature like Costa-Gavras’ Z; I could name a few more, like Modern Times by Chaplin. In this piece I tried to shake people up and tried to make them realize that the things are not pleasant or in order in the state of Denmark and a lot of things have to be changed and done. The first twelve minutes have the telling title, Con fuoco alla Giordano. It’s supposed to be music con fuoco (with fire) but alla Giordano reminds you that Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake. The second movement is called Musica alla vostra commodità (Music for your Convenience) which is the first attempt that I also know of, the first in my life, of writing a music which does not purport to be good. Ok, I’d written music which could be compared to Cage, but this particular piece sets out to be a middling piece of music which cannot allow itself to rise to heights. It starts off in a goodly way, gets to a certain point where you’re thinking “Now we’re getting somewhere” and it fizzles out. And it’s an eight-minute piece.
[K] Sounds like Sibelius to me.
[CB] Yeah, but I like Sibelius, I think he tried to be good. [General laughter] In this particular case, the music cannot be allowed to be good because if it becomes good it detracts from the entire topic. You’re supposed to sense a struggle there, a struggle of the music itself against its own odds.
[K] Its own mediocrity.
[CB] Yes, and the last of those movements is called Ucceli Ungheresi, which is the only really good music in the piece and it's a video film involving lots of pictures from archive and television, a very fast-moving film. So, that was an attempt to write theatre which is presented in the form of music. And Farting Quietly in Church is at the same time a long sermon about the possibilities in serialism and computer music — and it also purports, by the way, to be based on Haiku form and to be a lecture on a piece written in Haiku form back in 1968; in actual fact it’s a transcription of the [English translation of the] Catholic Catechism of 1994, or 1993 in the German-speaking world, it was freshly published then. I take the Ten Commandments and the Seven Sacraments and form them in a Haiku shape of 5+7+5. This entire thing of forty minutes is really a heavy sermon, a very heavy sermon. Using the entire Catholic Church’s Catechism, the entire bits that I have taken out, but rephrased as if it were all about serialism and about 12-tone music and there’s a whole story going along with it which you find in the programme notes about a scientist named Bernold Feintheil and his son Albert Feintheil and the things that they did. An example would be Albert Feintheil’s writing a piece called Mudwall Earth Dance Idea based on a very obscure technique his father had developed back in 1923. His father had developed the 17-tone technique at the same time that a couple of Austrians that were doing similar things with 12 tones. He got very chagrined and committed suicide because of the attention given to the others and not to himself, His son Albert picked up the father’s system and wrote this piece called Mudwall Earth Dance Idea and took it to Darmstadt in 1949 in the hope that they would play it there; instead they took the work of somebody who I would call an Ornitholic: Messiaen. Because he was a Catholic… so an Ornotholic. They played his piece, now his piece has the title, if you take the German translation of Mudwall Earth Dance Idea it’s Mode-Val Erden Tanz Idee. And that’s somewhat similar to Mode de valeurs et d’intensités, the piece performed of Messiaen in Darmstadt that very year. So Albert Feintheil was also terribly chagrined and withdrew to music teaching. [Kalvos laughing] There’s this whole story attached, and there’s a theory — maybe as my final contribution to this — proposed in this entire thing, that had there been a world war in the 70s instead of just a recession, music wouldn’t have sickened… but died, to rise again as a Phoenix. I’m glad there was no war and we have to pay the price for it.
We listen to Ucceli Ungheresi by Clarence Barlow [1:01:10–1:05:35].
[D] Most of the people we’ve chatted with on this Euro-Tour de Musique moderne have known one another, there’s been an incredible network. Maybe it’s just because Amsterdam and Cologne and Paris have geographic closeness to one another; I’ve not seen that at all in the United States. Is that why you tend to hang around in Amsterdam and Cologne?
[CB] There is a lot more — shall we say — of the social aspect in contemporary music in Europe. America seems to be more tightly-knit around universities, as far as I can see. So the academic aspects over there — you come, you do your job, or you study and you go away again — whereas here we live with the place and music is indeed given a certain amount of hearing. In the old days it was a lot better, actually twenty years ago you used to hang around with all these people, and young students of the present are beginning to do this again. There was a bit of a gap and people didn’t go out so much together, they just were happy to each be independent and try to make a mark, because they were all in the shadow of all these famous composers of before. But now that the shadow has receded far enough, people are actually meeting up with one another again. I think that at the beginning of the 21st century you will see a lot of it again, that social aspect. In my time, when I was a student I used to hang around a lot with people like Walter Zimmerman and Kevin Volans… I could name you lots of people, like Robert Platz and so on. We were all very good friends (and we still are), but only fate has taken us in different directions.
I personally — this is a personal thing which I’ve probably not shared with anybody else — don’t like to be restricted to a city, I like the idea of the region. I’m also very much against the idea of the Nation-State. I believe the regions exist and can be pointed out, the Nation-States were just defined on paper and then enforced. That’s why I like the idea of living in Amsterdam and Cologne; when I go from here to there the only border I cross that I recognize is the river Rhine, which splits the Catholics on the one side and the Protestants on the other. You may wonder why this should be the case, but don’t forget that for centuries the Rhine wasn’t an easy river to cross. And people from the Baltic Sea could come down up the Rhine — well they had the Elbe to cross and the Vistula and lots of other rivers, but the Rhine was the biggest — they used to come down to this river and then stop. People from the Parisian region used to come up from the other side and stop here. If you go from the Netherlands, you will find, on the left bank of the Rhine, Catholics who love to go out and eat well and enjoy life — and confess later, maybe — and on the other side of the Rhine you’ll find people who really work hard and want to have a good economy and everything proper. The same thing goes for Cologne as well.
That’s the only real border. So, personally, I don’t recognize these State borders but the Rhine is a border to contend with; fortunately there is a bridge near Cologne.
[D] Do you recognize the border between your music and, say, one of your former colleagues, Janni? I believe he studied with you years and years ago, and somehow he’s relegated to the Acropolis in Greece, where he occasionally performs.
[CB] Well, I could imagine in a benign moment sitting down to AutoBusk and producing the same thing… I’m just being facetious. [General laughter]
[K] I think we’ll put a check in the “yes” column on that response, do you think?
[D] A Czech? We’re not dealing with Czechs.
[K] Ah, then we’ll put a Greek in the “yes” column about Janni? [General laughter]
Our guest today — and probably for several weeks — on the Kalvos & Damian New Music Sesquihour has been Clarence Barlow. And now, let’s ask one more question, and that is: “What is the question we should have asked?”
[CB] Um… where should we go out for a good meal?
[K] Indeed! Thank you Clarence Barlow, for joining us on the show.
[CB] My pleasure.
We listen to CCU (excerpt) by Clarence Barlow [1:09:44–1:14:25].
Transcription by shirling & neueweise, October 2008.