Endphase — Essay
A collection of individual commentaries, always in development
History and Theory
The Endphase Project began in early 2004. The project is built on the varied backgrounds, experiences and interests of its three members, Alberto C. Bernal, Johannes Kreidler and João Pais — composition, instrumental performance, Jazz and free improvisation, a penchant for experimentation and electronic music. The project also addresses a number of technical and material concerns in these musics. The following text presents some reflections on improvisation, conceptuality and composed (scored) music.
The innovations of electronic music, today processed almost exclusively using computers, are hardly only of a sound nature. The fact that the performer isn’t a human, but rather a machine which must be programmed with all the necessary codes, affects the entire creative process of the music in relation to the conventional sequence of ideas, instrumentation, notation, rehearsals and execution. Whereas in traditional music, ideas were typically developed from structural characteristics of tonality and instrumental possibilities (and limitations!), in electronic music — in which “everything” is not at all possible — they are based on inherent acoustic structures, digital signal processing (DSP) capabilities of software, and the possibilities afforded by the analysis and transformation of recorded sound and of physical movements (controlled mainly via MIDI).
This of course opens up an expansive field of instrument design, and experimentation with the development of interfaces between human activity and machine, comparable to what was done before with bows or mouthpieces. Complex arrangements of algorithmic sounds and structures are also possible, which, generated through controlled randomness, will never produce the same thing twice, in the same manner. The novelty of the electronic medium means that all sound research is, to a large degree, empirical. Knowledge of a variety of procedures and techniques of sound synthesis is indispensible in this context; æsthetic criteria are, however, not at all an integral necessity. It is it rare (although certainly conceivable in the future) that the creation of an electronic piece develops in a similar manner to that of an orchestral composition, composed at a desk, and primarily as a product of thought, ideas and experience; this approach is nowadays obsolete, as nowadays it is no longer necessary to employ the services of an expensively-equipped studio, in many cases, much of today’s electronic music can in fact be produced in a modest home studio. The implications of this are such that the conventional score — symbolically representing the composer’s ideas in such a way that they are comprehensible to the musician(s) performing from it — is no longer indispensible to the creation of the work, being replaced by software programmed by the author (not to mention the characteristics of the electronic sound, which can hardly be described using traditional notation). Further, due to its novelty a self-made instrument must inevitably be played by its designer, making any conventional form of notation entirely unnecessary.
How is it possible, in such conditions, to create music which will serve the imagination and demands of the composer? The live performance becomes in a way obsolete, when each of the individual sounds must be digitalised and therefore memorised, and when there is no substantial audible differentiation at each successive reproduction of the sound; at most, the visual aspect might be influential.
Let us reflect upon communal points between methods of improvisation and conceptually-arranged music.
Neither the necessity nor the established codes for a traditional score or other form of notation are present here: sound research and its subsequent organisation is primarily empirical. This is accentuated through the use of random-controlled processes, which produce notably diverging results each time and whose compositional impact can therefore not be precisely foreseen. The individualism of studio work with one’s own instrument serves no purpose without an adequate performative expression. In a manner similar to the algorithmic generation of structures Johannes Kreidler refers to the simultaneous performance by several individuals as a “generative variable”. From this perspective, the final result is a kind of live-composition, which attempts to gain æsthetic meaning through the variance and emergence of the three projects members.
How this varies from improvisation should be clearly stated: first, it should be noted, that a pure improvisation does not exist. All types of performance are a product of technical capacities and æsthetic sensibility, as well as of artistic intuition, which in the best cases associates familiar elements in unfamilar ways. This is most obvious in the electronic component: a programmed patch is anything but a spontaneous act, it is actually the result of several hours of work. Our experiences have shown that intensive rehearsing promotes and sublimates the generative process between the players. This manifests itself in the development of concepts, which articulate and deepen the positions and concerns of the project, in regards to the integration and developments of sounds, usually understood as communicative values of concordance, completion, rejection, etc., which can then be integrated into the patch during the rehearsals. In this context, minimal textual prescriptions — a score — may also result, in order to fix specific aspects of the form or the materials.
Additionally, the possibility of communication through the network is integrated. The performance actually an execution of rehearsed material(s), although it remains as closely related as possible to the rehearsed “work” and attains, at this stage, an “Endphase”: i.e. the last working stage is simultaneously the public performance. For this reason, each concert will be numbered, as each has its own individuality and would be virtually impossible to repeat. Each new performance involves the development of new ideas, which have an immediate relationship to the particular sound environment and context of the concert. To a large extent, one should speak of group composition.
Thus an approach to working creatively with electronic music was found. From a compositional standpoint, it is interesting to note that this approach permitted the realisation of work which exhibited a close relation to the original ideas: this would normally require a significantly longer period involving notation and rehearsals. Based on these reflections, one might conclude that a continuation of these processes and procedures could conceivably lead to the completion of a through-composed piece, which would be produced in a studio and introduced as a sound file. Such a conclusion would in fact be incorrect, since the improvisatory aspect of the variance, enhanced in the concert situation, ought to remain until the end of the projected work: the performance. Further, the stage performance attains greater significance and meaning through the instrumental design, providing a solution to the generalised problem of the reception of apparently “abstract” sounds in electronic music.
In regards to the Composition—Concept—Improvisation relation, it can also be seen that an important hinge builds the separate views of different levels. In contrast to traditional jazz improvisation, where the superimposed formal scheme must always be present, here all musical layers can be arranged in a manner of formal division: a form can be definitive, its contents will be generated live; a material is prepared ahead of time, but its development is carried out only in the concert situation. The term instability characterises this situation most adequately; a musical construction is only partially determinate. The excitement [elation? intoxication?] of the live situation should not become a routine, for it would certainly be reflected in the performative characteristics of the music. The only certainty is that what was performed — and has already vanished — has been (digitally) transcribed by the recording medium.
Since the beginning of the “Endphase” Project a fairly intense degree of programming and rehearsing has been undertaken, and a considerable number of performances executed, in which, in some cases, already pre-fixed or retained materials were disassembled and refined, and in others, new experimental ideas were integrated and developed. Thus alongside the differenciation of the different concert situations and its reflection upon the conceptual development on the form of the piece takes the integration of pre-existing objects a growing importance, such as for example the quotation of Pierre Schaefer’s music in Endphase 4. The medium works then as a recording, archival and reproductive instrument. On top of these reference the musical material can be pushed in the direction of semantic significance, like the integration in a concrete historical point, the general categorisation and when possible the materialisation. The inclusion of this type of material in an improvisation is a surely most fruitful branch in this still young field of expression.
Simultaneously are all three participants interested not only in the musical realisation, but also on the development of theoretical approach. For that purpose was created in the beginning of 2005 the website www.endphase.net, in which the sound documentation and theoretical concerns should be stored.
—Bernal / Kreidler / Pais 2005
In the written composition the “real” time (as displayed by the chronometer) plays no importance, because the creative and performative processes occur on different levels. A piece composed in a traditional manner is the result of a long process, during which several phases or layers are developed. The duration of the processes can vary considerably — although it is always longer than the finished work, and there is no direct connection between the two time scales — independent of the written or conceptual complexity of the piece in question.
In improvised music there is no difference between these two temporal layers. Although an improvisation can always be prepared (as with a composed piece), the compositional and auditive processes take place simultaneously. This work environment demands a special type of virtuosity of the composer/improviser: he be aware of his own material as well as that of his colleagues, and must maintain an open relationship with his instrument, in order to adapt himself to the varying contexts which arise during the performance.
Further, the state of the materials and/or processes can change radically at any given moment. In this regard, the greatest challenge for the composer as improviser is reached at the point where he stands in a kind of zero-time (in a conceptual and corporal sense), and is also conscious of which moment of the improvisation in which he finds himself.
—João Pais, on Endphase 1 (June 2004)
“écriture automatique: implies by no means an absence from the composition, but rather a higher control, in which the critical and conscious thought is united with the unconscious of the thought.” [G. Deleuze. Das Zeit-Bild]
Improvisation, not in the manner of normal improvisational procedures, which usually mean traditional — or in any case derived from written — procedures transformed into an improvisation through patterns of action and reaction, but rather in the manner of a composition without pre-defined parameters, or a path, in which its form is assembled by the improvisation in real-time. A contradictory situation: one collective and three individual improvisations; personal and anonymous sound events; reacting to the others, to the whole, and the attempt to maintain a dramaturgic autonomy; an improvised composition and a composed improvisation.
—Alberto C. Bernal, on Endphase 1 (June 2004)
Endphase: the final, formative working phase, which is simultaneously the concert performance. The work is composed by arranging the materials offered by the performative playing surfaces (each member has built his own “instrumental” environment and “rehearses” with it). The division in three independent players is a generative and controllative variable: the various plans are always crossed, commented on or developed in different manners.
—Johannes Kreidler, on Endphase 1 (June 2004)