Dec 2022

Music Scores #2, Fantasia is published.

Dec 2022

The revised edition of Thomas is published.

Nov 2022

The second print of Post-Texture is now available.

Oct 2022

Workroom Specter’s new series Music Scores #1, Prélude Non Mesuré is published.

Sept 2022

Post-Texture is published.

Absentee. Sound, Time, Relations, and Music

Conversation with the Composer Seokmin Mun

Min Oh, Seokmin Mun

2020

This text is the reorganization and adaptation of memories and memos during the rehearsal process from February to November 2019. It is mainly based on conversations with the collaborators Seokmin Mun and Hyeongjun Cho, but it also includes conversations with other figures who were not directly involved in the work. Things that I have read or heard or previously written are also quoted and weaved together as if parts of the conversation. Conversations with a source are referenced in the footnote.

  • Oh

    We’re about to embark on a long journey of conversation, starting with the question, “Can music be made with sounds that are difficult to hear or sounds that are not made?” But before that it seems important for both of us to inspect the difference in our directivity and speed. Over the past few years, through experiences of various collaborations, I have witnessed how the same word is used in different ways, either subtly or completely disparately, in different fields or by different people. Frequently-used words, such as ‘medium,’ ‘collaboration,’ ‘direction,’ ‘production,’ ‘performance,’ ‘time,’ and ‘space’ seem to have an even wider range of meanings. I think it’s important to know the difference in our fundamental thoughts behind ideas of ‘listening,’ ‘difficulty in listening,’ ‘making sound,’ ‘sound,’ ‘music’ and ‘composing’ so that we can quickly discover the areas where we can adjust our opinions when there are differences in views. This may sound like a cliché, but what is music to you?

  • Mun

    It’s not a cliché but a very difficult question.

  • Oh

    We don’t need a monumental definition. I think that the basic attitude of an artist should be that they don’t easily make fixed definitions or become buried in a certain thought, and that they never stop doubting. It’s like how performers maintain a constant state of “sats”1 where they can move anywhere and at any moment on the stage. At the same time, however, it’s hard to develop thoughts without assuming or defining anything as something.

    I call it music when ‘sound’ is intertwined into a series of ‘relational’ structures in ‘time.’ The more elaborate the relations, the closer it becomes to music, and the simpler the relations, the closer it becomes to sound.

  • Mun

    I’m not too far off from there. As a composer whose main language is Western classical music, it’s difficult to imagine music without structure of relations.

  • Oh

    I know how the idea that ‘relation,’ ‘logic’ or ‘composition’ in music can limit the range of music unnecessarily. However, sound becomes music for me only when the relations between the sounds are perceived. I tend to observe the inherent relations not only in music but in any art form. I’m curious as to the interesting associations between ‘thought and thought,’ ‘thought and expression,’ and ‘expression and expression’ conceived in art. The reason I make and appreciate art is because I want to ‘read and write’ these specifically organized relations.

  • Mun

    In the sense that ‘sound’ cannot be visible, it’s a material that can seem difficult for both the person who makes the sound and the person who hears it. However, from the point of view that ‘music is composition,’ music is a language where ideas aren’t hidden behind analogies or symbols but are transparently revealed. However, in contemporary music, where personal style prevails over a universal principle, it’s often difficult to figure out such relations just by listening to sounds without a musical score.

  • Oh

    The legibility of a work is affected by how fluent the listener is in the language through which the work is articulated. Diverse languages often tend to be tangled up in contemporary artworks, and it’s hard to expect the reader to be fluent in all these languages. However, we can’t describe the work in a language that is used in order to merely facilitate the reader’s understanding of the work, nor can we reject the fluent use of such a language. It’s the artist’s duty to become fluent in the language of their choice, at times subverting the fluent articulations to make it new again. On the other hand, not knowing a specific language doesn’t mean that it’s completely impossible to understand it. I think that regardless of the language, it essentially relates to the senses.

    As much as the languages of art are diverse, there are numerous ways to make connections between these multiple languages, and also between morphemes in one language, in the making of art. However, I’m not really interested in coincidental relations. I do at times feel that such coincidences can be beautiful. If I happen to witness the moment two ducks floating in a canal turn their heads exactly at the same time at the same angle and speed, or see three staff members at a concert winding up audio cables bend down at the same time, I would definitely stop what I was doing or thinking and seriously watch such spectacles. These kinds of exquisite coincidences activate the suspicion that a certain intention is predetermined and hidden. Such coincidences seem fascinating, because they lie at a boundary where it’s difficult to distinguish whether they’re coincidental or intentional. In other words, it’s because of the strange relations formed between chance and intention.

  • Mun

    I can definitely recognize a beautiful sound that doesn’t form any relationship with other sounds. However, I don’t know if that should be called music. Sound can be beautiful by itself, and music can be beautiful by itself. The superiority between sound and music cannot be established, nor is there a need to do so.

  • Oh

    The relationship between composed sounds is determined according to their arrangement in ‘time,’ and ultimately determines the structure of time. Therefore, time itself seems to vanish when relationality is removed from music. Time in music can be seen in either vertical or horizontal axes. Vertical time is close to the moment and horizontal time is closer to the flow. It seems that the question as to ‘how it sounds’ or feels, in other words, is more important in vertical time, and the question as to ‘how it’s composed’ or can be made sense of, in other words, is more important in horizontal time. If we were to express music as time only, one could equate vertical time to the material and horizontal time to the composition.

  • Mun

    While the way in which material is horizontally organized is deemed more crucial than the material itself within the realm of tonal music, material seems to have become more significant after the 20th century.

  • Oh

    Although, I heard that when making thorough criticisms of music (such as when deciding the finalist of music awards), decisions are based on composition from examination of the score. Then doesn’t this mean that the horizontal composition of time is still considered important?

  • Mun

    Excellency in horizontal composition has become the norm. In certain aspects, there are difficulties in coming up with horizontal compositions that are any more groundbreaking. Horizontality seems to be a matter of perfection, while verticality, a matter of originality. Whether horizontal or vertical, it basically relates to a matter of sound.

  • Oh

    The idea that relational structure is a prerequisite for music has been received with skepticism for a long time already. However, the idea that sound is a requirement for music doesn’t seem to be doubted at all. Is there really no need to question whether sound is a prerequisite for music?

    Susanne K. Langer: “Music makes time audible.”2

    At the same time,

    John Cage: “Silence is also sound.”

    Through the word ‘silence,’ Cage doubted both ‘relationality’ and ‘sound’ in music. Here, one might be able to say that he denied relationality to a certain extent, but not sound. He just called forth another sound that nobody paid attention to.

    What is sound? It occurs when the physical matter moves and vibrates the medium. However, just as one can see an image in their mind through memory or imagination without the stimulation of external light, it’s also possible for one to hear a sound that has not been produced physically, through their thought. Or there are times when one is certainly listening to sounds but is not aware of the fact that they’re listening. The question “what is sound?” ultimately leads to questioning “what does it mean to hear?” If we can assume that sounds form relationships and organize structures in time and space, I think that we can hear such sounds even if they don’t occur physically, and even consider them to be music.

  • Mun

    I’m not sure if it’s possible for there to be music without any physical occurrence of sound, but I’m reminded of a couple of works by Mark Andre or Salvatore Sciarrino where some parts are intentionally played in very low volume. But those works are not particularly concerned with inaudible sound. The sound naturally becomes faint as a result of a specific extended technique. However, the low volume of the sound requires a more delicate technical attention to be paid during the performance. In fact, I once saw a concert where a similar style of music was being played by a colleague composer, and I felt embarrassed because I couldn't really hear the sound due to technical carelessness.

  • Oh

    That reminds me of the clichéd expression “this performance didn't do justice to the great music” This statement seems to mean that the musical work has already been completed and exists before the performance. What is the end point in musical composition? The score? Or the idea, the composition of music that is indicated by the score? Or the performance of the score? Or the recording of the performance, captured so as to make the performance timeless?

  • Mun

    It’s difficult to choose one of those as the final outcome of musical composition but one thing that’s for sure is that music is not complete before it is performed.

  • Oh

    The score cannot fully capture 100% of the thoughts of the composer, and the performance cannot fulfill 100% of the score. If neither the thought nor the score can be the end point before it is performed, and if performance differs from the score, and if the score cannot be the same as the composer’s thoughts, then doesn’t that mean that the end point of music is forever deferred?

  • Mun

    Nevertheless, composers believe that they can create music that has been precisely ‘determined’3 through reason and imagination.

  • Oh

    Performers also conjure musical perfection while performing. A great performance can be realized in a state where the performer’s body is dominated by the perfect music drawn out in their mind. This seems possible when the body is completely proficient in the music to the degree that there is no need for the efforts to check or remember the score. Unlike classical music, contemporary music is usually played with the performer reading the score on the stage. I heard that playing a score by memory is a trend that began surprisingly quite recently (at the end of the 19th century) and is no longer popular anymore. I wonder if you, as a composer, desire for the performer to play your music by memory.

  • Mun

    It’s not realistic to expect the musician to memorize the music because most contemporary music is very complex. I think it’s possible to give a terrific performance without memorizing the music. I don’t feel the need to demand that the performers play by memory.

  • Oh

    I am curious about what the maximum potential can be. As a former musician, I remember there being a definite difference between playing music with the score memorized and without. It’s difficult for me to imagine the performers playing with scores in the performances that I have created. It may sound contradictory, but I find that the most beautiful sight one can witness at a performance is when the performer is immersed in a state of heightened awareness, just before they have reached perfection. To research why this state seems so beautiful and how such state can be reached, I have been exploring ideas such as ‘incomplete score,’ ‘imperfect memorization,’ ‘unfinished,’ and ‘not knowing.’ This experiment, which seemingly refutes perfection, works ironically only when it aspires for perfection. The performer who knows exactly what must be performed through hundreds of rehearsals is in a state that’s definitely freer. However, freedom is nothing more than a stopover on the way towards completeness. The performer, having been proficient in the work, can finally go beyond that, whether through keen observation, prescience, or new decisions. In this process, freedom embraces insecurity again. Anxiety becomes exquisite eventually when it is supported by such accumulated layers of stability. Even if mistakes occur, they’re meaningful in themselves.

  • Mun

    In my music, it would be hard to find meaning from sounds that aren’t made if they are supposed to be made.

  • Oh

    Can we say that the action of musicians is goal-oriented towards such perfection? In addition, that in composing music, the composer’s detailed imagination, thorough plan, and elaborate notation are as important as that? However, performances or any endeavors carried out by humans, cannot flow exactly as ‘determined.’ I try my best to predict and prepare, but I never even dream of my work being completed the way I want it to be. You said performance is essential in order for music to be established, however doesn't it mean that “indeterminacy” is innate in music as long as performance, or in other words, human beings take part in music?

  • Mun

    “Nevertheless, composers believe that they can create music that has been precisely ‘determined’ through reason and imagination.”

  • Oh

    When determinacy and indeterminacy are interweaved to a point where it’s difficult to distinguish their boundaries, composers seem to call it determinacy, while I call it indeterminacy. It’s like looking at a glass half-filled with water, and saying that it’s half-full or half-empty.

    Now, let’s talk about the person who reads the decisions of the composer. What does it mean to listen to music? I think that we can appreciate music properly when we can read relationships between sounds, which often demands the listener to listen to the whole piece. It’s difficult to say that one cannot see the whole through a portion, but it’s also difficult to say that one has read all the relationships without having seen the whole.

    Hyeonjoon Cho: “It’s important to see the whole when reading time-based art, because it is necessary not only to capture instantaneous moments, but also to re-synthesize the moments that have been seen. During listening, it is easy to miss the whole because you focus on the instant. The more the structure of the work is weaved sophisticatedly, the more crucial it is to see the whole.”4

    Judith Dunn: “A dance disappears as you see it.”5

    Music also disappears as you hear it. Experiencing works that disappear the moment they’re seen or heard, relies on memory. And it’s more difficult to remember what is heard than what is seen. Regardless of how much has been seen, heard, or remembered, the audience weaves a connection between what’s already been seen and what is currently being seen, and what’s already been heard and what’s presently being heard. Basically, it’s a relationship between information of the past and that of the present.

    Jidon Jeong: “In text, time is information. Legibility (which is basically the time experienced by the audience) tends to be determined depending on how the level of information is controlled. Text with a high quantity of information makes time slow. A high quantity of information doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a lot of content included.

    Claude Shannon: 'As the degree of disorder increases, the quantity of information grows.'

    Jeong: Simply put, the quantity of information increases when there is no consistency in the subject, idea, or composition of the writing, or when it doesn’t follow universal regulations. At the same time, time slows. In order for time to go faster, one can write a well-ordered and predictable text as opposed to text that lacks content.

    Norbert Wiener: 'Information is order.'

    Jeong: On the contrary,

    Shannon: 'The more well-ordered the text, the the less information it contains.'

    Jeong: Because no new content is being produced in order. Order is a tool invented for convenience and speed.”6

  • Oh

    On the other hand, in time-based art where the audience cannot control the running-time and progress themselves, well-ordered information can make time feel slower. Time flows slowly when one becomes lost in the state of disorder (it is believed) and cannot read the relationships between information. Time flows quickly when one starts to read these relations. And time slows down again the moment one concludes that there are no more new connections to make. In Accumulation (1971) by Trisha Brown, movements are repeated in sequence. Another movement is added on one by one after a set number of repetitions, proliferating the sequence. And this simple composition principle remains, in effect, unchanged from the beginning to the end. When I first saw this work a long time ago, I thought that it was highly readable and slow in speed. But perhaps speed is nothing more than a mere illusion in time-based art. Shouldn’t we doubt that there is nothing more to process? Aren’t we ignoring countless pieces of information that must be read, not even recognizing them?

  • Mun

    Audible information, in particular, is more difficult to read than visible information. But if we listen to music while thinking about its structure, we can discover a bit more. Although many forms have been studied and devised over a long period of time, the structural framework of music composed in the traditions of Western music seems to come down to the ABA structure.

  • Oh

    More simply put, ABA is a structure where tension rises and falls. The five basic frameworks that compose tension are rise or fall, rise-fall, fall-rise, and consistency without rise nor fall. The detailed structure in time-based art is a matter of how to entwine these five basic frameworks. Also, no matter how complexly-weaved the detailed structure is in a work, it ultimately applies to one of these five basic frameworks when seen objectively. With this simplification, it might sound disappointing that the structure of time doesn't seem like a big deal. On the one hand, it also sounds like good news that reading the structures is not so difficult. How do you usually organize the structure of music?

  • Mun

    It depends on the case, but it seems that I have a more interesting outcome when I first collect a number of independent materials that are not naturally connected with one another, then tightly weave a network of relationships between those materials.

  • Oh

    I often create a relationship first then find specific materials. We are about to compose music with ‘sounds that are difficult to hear or not produced,’ but the materials are not specified yet. Before selecting the materials, I formed relationships between them: ‘sound that doesn’t exist,’ ‘sound not made but assumed to exist,’ ‘sound inferred from other sounds,’ ‘sound that’s made but is difficult to hear,’ and ‘sound that is difficult to hear for multiple reasons combined.’ I look forward to seeing which materials will be chosen, what music can be created, and how the first question that opens up the conversation will bring about other intriguing questions, in the process as we develop these five relationships.

  • Absentee 1. David, “Sound that doesn’t exist”

  • Oh

    When I thought about music made of sound that’s difficult to hear, ‘silence’ came to mind first. In my film works, performers who are seemingly sitting still appear frequently. However, no one is ever really just sitting still. Most of the figures in my work are trained dancers, and they are performing an elaborately composed score in the highest state of awareness. Just like ‘dancing’ something barely visible, I thought that performing silence that is barely audible would also be possible.

  • Mun

    John Cage’s 4’33’’ automatically comes to my mind when I think of music and silence together.

  • Oh

    The silence in 4’33’’ has a similarity with the silence that I’m thinking of in the sense that it recognizes ‘noise’ as a sound material for music. However, it is also directed differently, in terms of ‘coincidence’ being used as a method of composition. I think that even silence can be meticulously composed beforehand by the composer.

  • Mun

    Does ‘composing silence’ mean composing with rests?

  • Oh

    I don’t think we must use rests, but that could certainly be a possibility. A rest signifies a time without sound, and is highly legible as a sign.

  • Mun

    The score is a system to record sounds. In a score filled only with rests, sounds that needs to be made in a performance are absent. In other words, the output value of the sounds that are to be produced in a performance remains the same from the beginning to the end, regardless of how they are composed. It’s technically possible to compose only with rests, but it’s hard to find the meaning of such composition in terms of the score and sounds.

  • Oh

    It is different from the perspective of the performer. In a piece composed only with rests, the act of reading the composition yet not making any sound becomes the performance itself. Reading the composition means that one recognizes the senses of flowing, rupturing, sustaining, connecting, slowing down and speeding up. Even if there are no sounds to produce, the state of the body definitely perpetuates changes from the beginning to the end. According to the sensational flow, the performer will breathe or make minute movements; right then, sounds will be produced as a consequence. These sounds differ from accidentally produced noise. They’re closer to sounds that are naturally constructed through repeated body gestures in the rehearsal process. They’re like sounds accumulated in the body of the performer. The composition of the music is also reflected there. Then, are these sounds just simply noises or musical material?

  • Mun

    One of the important things when drawing a score is economy. There may be various ways of notating the same sound, but the ground rule is that the most concise method is selected. The length of silence indicated in a single measure in a 4/4 time signature is the same, whether it’s drawn as four quarter rests, two half rests, or one whole rest. In this case, the whole rest would normally be chosen as the most economic.

  • Oh

    To the performer, one single whole rest and sixteen tightly squeezed 16th rests can be read differently. The body that takes in the information would also respond differently.

    Minhee Park: “If written on a staff (that is Western notations), it would be difficult to play Hwangjong even if I figure that the composer would have intended it to be Hwangjong.”7

    How you write determines the meaning. This means that even subtle differences in notation can affect the psychological and physical response in the performer, and eventually change the sounds played. Shouldn’t we question whether we’re losing anything while pursuing economy in scores?

  • Mun

    Then how about composing with notes rather than rests, then playing them without making any sound?

  • Oh

    That also raises the same question as to whether it is a whole rest or quarter rests. Reading a rest and reading a note are absolutely different actions for me. While notes make me focus on ‘target,’ ‘goal,’ and ‘action,’ rest makes me think of ‘space,’ ‘gap,’ and ‘unit.’ It’s analogous to how we perceive a scene, whether it’s seen as figures and objects, or as a space. Depending on how one looks, the difference could be enormous or subtle.

  • Mun

    Composers and performers stand on different perspectives, but I can understand that of performers. I’m getting ideas for this work little by little, thinking about using rests to compose a space. I can start by envisioning a sketch of the space with time signatures and metronome numbers.

  • Oh

    Even if the beat and tempo are set to a metronome number, a soloist can play in relatively free time. However, this is not the case for performers in ensembles. The performers must share the flow of time while performing. They usually listen to each other and tune into the flow of time. However, how would that be if they were performing silence together? They would have to newly devise a type of sign to share the sense of time. This means that the performers add onto the music something that’s not indicated on the score. It’s actually a common practice for performers to write down their own personal interpretations or thoughts on the music and update it to their very own music. When I rented the sheet music of Julia Wolfe’s Lick (1994) a few years ago, it already had pencil markings written on it by another performer. While reading the score and interpreting the music, I suddenly realized that I was taking in the faint pencil lines drawn in by someone I didn’t even know as a part of the music itself. Since accepting the pencil lines, it was hard to tell if I had agreed to the notes in pencil, or if I had just blindly accepted them like the duckling that thinks that the first thing it sees is its mother. If a memo written on the score affects how the music is interpreted, would that score be damaged?

    Albersen Verhuur B.V.: “Charge will be made for any missing or defaced material. This includes marking in biro, colored pen, highlighter pen or the obliteration of text or music.”8

    Does the damage on the score caused by the performer’s writing affect the music? At least, not in the music where silence is played by multiple performers. The pencil lines here become a sign to share silence. The signs exchanged by the performers change sounds that didn’t exist into sounds that do exist. The more exquisite the sound that’s constructed, the more vigorously the performers exchange signs. The essence of music can be more closely reached with more pencil lines drawn on the music.

  • Mun

    It seems that it’d be important to carefully plan beforehand musical mechanisms that can expedite the exchanges of signs at the stage of composition.

  • Oh

    I assume that the performers would exchange signs more proactively at points where the sense of freedom and constraint cross, such as when the pulse vanishes then appears, and when they come in and out of synch with other performers. In this piece, performance ultimately signifies the gesture of reading the pulse and sharing it. In that sense, no matter for which instrument this piece is composed, the actual instrument that’s played would be the performer’s body itself.

  • Absentee 2. Anne, “Sound not made but assumed to exist”

  • Oh

    A Sit (2014) captures the choreographer Lyon Eun Kwon sitting on a chair and ‘marking’9 a dance. While the dance is perfectly enacted in the mind of the choreographer, what becomes visually manifest are the movements that lie peripheral to the dance, more specifically, the traces of habits deeply embedded in the body while rehearsing and the kinesthetic responses that occur instantaneously and unconsciously. One dance is divided into two layers, producing two completely different movements simultaneously. I assumed that between the two layers, the peripheral movements – visible as imperfections on the choreographer’s body, constituted the final stage of this dance. And the perfect dance that is taking place in her mind was choreographed from the very beginning, based on the premise that it would be performed only by its marking, or in other words, on the premise that it would never be danced for real. After producing this work, I was always curious about music with a similar principle. When I decided to make music with inaudible sound, I thought that I would finally have the opportunity to make ‘music that will not be played’ from a conventional point of view.

  • Mun

    Does that mean it would eventually be performed in a nonconventional perspective?

  • Oh

    I think that depends on what you think performance is. In A Sit, so called, the process and the outcome seem inverted. However, depending on how one defines the process and the outcome, one could also say that nothing has been inverted. In the same way, if one can deviate from the thought that music is played and thus music is heard only when sound is physically produced, the position of not performing but simultaneously ‘performing’ can be assumed.

    “In the film Amadeus, there’s a scene where Salieri looks at Mozart’s unreleased music score and imagines the music. Intoxicated by the beauty of the sounds he hears in his mind, he drops the score from his hands.”10

    If this actually happened, we can guess that Salieri has imagined the music quite vividly in his mind. Dropping the music might seem like an exaggerated direction one might see in a movie, but it’s not only in movies where music is heard just by looking at the music score.

  • Mun

    The ability to vividly listen to sound as if it were real is an important basic skill that musicians should have. There aren’t many composers who have the luxury of listening to the physical sounds of their music as they’re composing it. They imagine the music in their mind, complete it, and listen to their hypothetical compositions at the first rehearsal, usually a few days before the premiere performance. Not only the composer, but also the performers, can only listen to instruments other than their own in their imagination before the very first rehearsal. Despite this, they’re rehearsed enough to be able to play together at the first rehearsal. If a conductor were needed for the piece, she or he would have attended the rehearsal after having analyzed and interpreted the music by listening to it only in their head and not with their ears.

  • Oh

    Even in cases where the work has already been performed before, performers first imagine the ideal sounds in their head then try to reproduce these sounds. This isn’t only at the rehearsal stage. Performers listen to the sound before they make it even at the moment of performing it. In that sense, performing is listening. Meanwhile, is the music that Salieri heard in his head performed? If one ‘hears’ music that closely without actual sounds being produced, then couldn’t we say that the music has been ‘performed’ in whatever way? If so, listening becomes performing, in this case.

  • Mun

    Despite this, is it possible for a third person to listen to the music that has been heard and played in the mind of another?

  • Oh

    We might be pushing it, but I don’t want to conclude that it’s impossible. The information of the music will be delivered, albeit limitedly, through the body of the performer.

  • Mun

    Do you mean it is ‘music to see,’ rather than to hear?

  • Oh

    I guess you can say that. Listening to music begins with sensing sound, but ultimately, in the conventions of Western music, listening is reading. It involves getting to know the materials first, recognizing how such materials unfold, then grasping the structure built in the total running time. To give an extreme example, in ‘ear training,’11 if one hears a sound and can copy that tone with her or his voice but cannot write that tone as the exact correct note, it wouldn’t be ‘listening.’ In other words, to a musician, listening doesn’t only mean sensing sound with the ear; it means to decode information from that sound. In that context, we can say that it’s difficult to arrive at a state of reading music meaningfully with only very limited materials, such as subtle facial expressions and movements of the performer. On the other hand, when contemporary music is being played, and despite the fact that all information is being provided in a transparent manner through sounds, it is still questionable how much of that information is actually being read.

  • Mun

    “In contemporary music where personal style prevails over a universal principle, it’s often difficult to figure out such relations just by listening to sounds without a musical score.”

  • Oh

    Contemporary music pieces are not played often, and finding their score is not particularly easy. So, can we be sure that contemporary music is properly being read while being heard? Actually, I have also been doubting whether even classical music is being properly being read while being listened to. I sometimes meet people who say that they know and love Beethoven’s Appassionata. Here, what does it mean to know Appassionata, and what is the reason that they love this music? Can we be certain that they all accomplished at ‘structural listening’, and listening to Appassionata this way? When we listen to music, exactly how clearly are we reading the information? If information is not decoded, should we say that no music was heard?

    Meanwhile, what does it mean to decipher information? Is it indeed possible to read the information in the score just as intended by the composer, if the performer closely analyzes the score? If the deciphered information comes down to one single correct answer, there should also be just one result of interpreting the music, and the performed sounds should also always be the same. However, music is played in countlessly different ways, depending on who actually plays it. The fact that information can be decoded differently depending on who reads it means that information can be read in a way that the reader wishes to read. The music can become something so much more, or something so much less than the original intention.

    If one could say that music can be heard only by remembering a part of the sound, feeling a certain sensibility, or audibly sensing the vibrations produced by playing, even though they didn’t accomplish ‘structurally listening’ to the music, one must not simply conclude that “music cannot be heard just by observing the body of the performer.” This is even more so, if listening to music means reading it. The physical response of the performer imagining sounds of a piece of music cannot be unrelated to the composition of the music. The physical response can work as information for reading the music. Obviously, this information is very hard to read. But what can be read is a matter of how much you are willing to read, after all. What’s more important than ‘structural listening’12 could be ‘proactive listening.’ If one is ready to listen to the sound,

    Chulki Hong: “We can listen before it sounds,”13

    Or perhaps we can even hear when it never sounds.

  • Mun

    It almost makes no sense, but it’s also hard to deny.

  • Oh

    In that context, why don’t we assume ‘visible music’ as one a very difficult form of music to read. The performer ‘performs’ the music by elaborately imagining it, and the audience ‘listens’ to the music by reading the subtle physical changes that occur while the performer imagines the music.

  • Mun

    It would be challenging, but an interesting attempt.

  • Oh

    The clearer the physical changes are in the performer, the better read the music is. Therefore, when composing this music, it’s important to find the strategy to draw out active physical responses while the performer imagines the music.

  • Mun

    The first thing that comes to mind is musical change, like fortissimo immediately followed by pianissimo, or going from the lowest note to the highest one all of a sudden.

  • Oh

    That’s possible. Just thinking about the moment of rapid change in dynamics and tonal range already triggers my body to move.

  • Mun

    This ultimately means that there’s a lot that can be musically interpreted.

  • Oh

    What else? While working on Etude ABCD (2018), I observed how the physical response of the performer changed subtly depending on what the performer saw in their imagination. The performer’s pupils, eyelids, and movements in their forehead changed, according to what they saw in their mind, whether it was landscape or movement, whether it was other people or themselves, or whether it was images that has been already drawn in their memory or new images being drawn. In the same way, a composition with extremely diverse characteristics of information that the performer must imagine might induce more diverse physical responses.

    Pianists usually perform sitting down. However, in Fantasy14, the pianist suddenly stands up at some point. Here, although the act of sitting and standing up may not directly have a part in making sound, it’s definitely a part of the action for the performance. We can’t say that it’s irrelevant to the structure of the music. What if we expanded a bit further, and included all actions that accompany the performance, such as looking at the score, or walking out onto the stage, as part of the performance itself? Wouldn’t the physical reaction be different, when we imagine the sound or imagine actions?

  • Oh

    In Fantasy, not only pressing on the keys but other actions like inserting paper under the strings or pouring ping pong balls on the strings are also part of the performance. I speculate that the imagination of pressing the keys and the imagination of pouring the ping pong balls would also induce other physical responses. In the new work, what would it be like to naturally expand the instrument and ways of playing by coordinating the piano with objects? It would be a strategy to induce different kinesthetic responses as a result of familiar and unfamiliar ways of playing the instrument, rather than different shapes and movements.

  • Mun

    It sounds like a great idea. For me also, it would be more interesting to compose by dealing with noise, sounds played in conventional ways, and sounds produced through extended technique all as the same materials.

  • Oh

    It would be nice to also have instruments that wouldn’t be awkward alongside the piano.

  • Mun

    How about the music score?

  • Oh

    Good idea. However, why don’t we expand it to a book, because sheet music can be limited in its size, number of pages, and binding method. The actions made by graphic designers when they handle books sometimes look like choreographed movements. They turn a book here and there to look at its size and thickness, pass it from one hand to another to gauge its weight, run through the pages or bounce at the edges of the paper, or create friction to predict the weight of the paper, and slightly roll the paper to see its grain. They look up and down the book spine, observing how it has been bound and how carefully it has been done. The sounds made in these movements fascinate me. Flipping the pages sounds different depending on whether the surface of the paper is rough, smooth, or glossy. The sound changes, not only because of the type of the paper but the weight of it. All decisions made in book-making also determine the sounds made when picking up the book, putting it down, and turning and flipping its pages.

  • Mun

    The sounds created by paper would also be an interesting musical material.

  • Oh

    Taking a step further from the musical change, attitude change, change in method of playing, and change in the instrument, perhaps the change in space can also be a measure for leading diverse physical responses of the performer.

  • Mun

    Does that mean using the space on and off the stage?

  • Oh

    We can certainly consider that, but I was thinking of space in a slightly larger context.

    Oh: “A few years ago, I saw the choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s early work Fase at a theater. De Keersmaeker herself performed along with another young dancer. The young dancer was performing without any facial expressions. It’s an expression we can often see when the dancer is in the illusion assumed on the stage. Normally called ‘infinite focus,’ this expression is closer to a gaze that happens in a state where one is looking at everything rather than looking at one specific thing. It’s as if a wall exists between the audience and the performers, and so the audience is not seen by the dancer, nor do they exist for the dancer. The audience who looks at the performer with such expressionlessness also imagines that world in illusion and attempts to enter that illusion. However, De Keersmaeker’s expression seemed different. It was as if she was looking at something that existed in the theater, and her focus was alive. It made me recognize not only that world of illusion but also the actual space time of ‘here and now’ where I sat. Following that focus, I quickly moved through between illusion and ‘here and now,’ and felt a sense of expansive space.”15

  • Mun

    Throughout the performance, the performer does not make the sounds as intended by the score (as in the traditional way), regardless of the interpretation, posture, technique, instrument, and space that’s composed. Then how about in the rehearsal? In the rehearsal, can the performer make the sound as in the score and hear it?

  • Oh

    Wouldn’t imagining sounds that have never actually been heard be better in bringing out physical responses? The question of the extent to which it can allow the performer to freely imagine might be the essence of composing this work.

  • Absentee 3. Kevin, “Sounds inferred from other sounds”

  • Oh

    In visual language, the concept of positive and negative is something practical. They are used as formative materials, for example, positive shapes are at times recognized through negative shapes, or tension is built by adjusting blank space. How about sound? Is there such a thing as negative sound?

  • Mun

    It’s not easy to even imagine it.

  • Oh

    If there is such a thing as negative sound, whatever it is, I think it would be a sound that is not physically produced. However, it must be a sound that can be heard indirectly by the positive sound that’s physically produced. As difficult as it is to imagine the sound that is inaudible yet can be heard, it might be easier to start the conversation about it in connection to something that is visible. A piano, for example. If the sound that’s made by pressing a key is a positive sound, the sound that’s not made because no keys are pressed would be the negative sound.

  • Mun

    If the positive sounds were a melody, negative sounds would be all the tones that are not used in the melody. If these notes resonated all at once in the negative territory, the sound would be close to a cluster. Suddenly, I’m reminded of two music pieces that use the cluster as their main material: György Ligeti’s Atmospheres (1961) and Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960). The two pieces were both composed at around the same time and are acoustically comparable.

  • Oh

    Although they were composed with similar materials and ideas and thus produce similar acoustics, they give off disparate impressions. Looking at the musical scores, I can see how the two composers’ attitudes are clearly different. While Ligeti uses traditional musical staff, Penderecki uses graphic notation overall (although he uses the musical staff in parts). Could the method of writing have had an impact on the music?

  • Mun

    While more expressive sounds of Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima may have come from the motive (that can be presumed by the title) behind its composition, one can assume that the form of writing the composition definitely had an impact on the way it is conducted and played. It’s obviously hard to conclude what comes first: chicken or egg. Going back to the cluster, it may be possible to make music with clusters. However, I am not sure how technically possible it would be for the listener to listen to inaudible clusters by construing it through the imagination, or vice versa, distinguishing inaudible sounds from audible clusters and then listening to it by imagining it.

  • Oh

    Then, what if instruments with a narrow range of tones were used? If we selected the toy piano that John Cage used, the number of keys would be limited to about two octaves.

  • Mun

    Or what if we shift the focus altogether? For example, in a sequence of tonally cohesive chords, we can assume that a dissonant chord becomes the negative sound of a consonant chord, and a consonant chord becomes the negative sound of a dissonant chord.

  • Oh

    It’s interesting to conceptually extract the idea of ‘negative’ using a musical system. In the same way, it seems possible to apply the idea of positive and negative to the concept of the foreground and the background. In the classical sense, it would be like playing only the accompaniment (background), while listening to the melody (foreground) only by imagining it.

  • Mun

    Talking about listening to the melody only through imagination reminds me of the second piece in Schumann’s Humoreske, Op. 20 (1839). Schumann organized this piece in three staves and instructed that the middle part be played by,

    Schumann: “inner voice.”16

  • Oh

    The middle staff seems to be a melody made of the significant constituting tones from the upper staff, and each note is arranged slightly out of synch with that in the upper staff. The sound is close to what one would hear if she or he were to hum this music. If the middle staff is played inwardly as suggested by Schumann, the ‘piano melody played offbeat in precise rhythm and exquisite finger movements’ and ‘melody in the mind that’s played on the beat but shakes slightly due to the humming body’ might overlap like heterophony. When I first saw this score, it was hard to understand why Schumann had strongly emphasized the melody by duplicating it in an additional staff and then instructed the players not to play it. However, I think that now maybe I know why. Usually it’s comparatively more difficult to distinguish a melody from the accompaniment in Schumann’s piano pieces than in the pieces written in Haydn or Mozart’s time. Melodies are not only visually unclear on the score, but also they often quickly vanish the moment they emerge, even if we try to trace them through an analysis of the piece. In many cases, notes continuously pour out in high density and speed without constituting a clear melody. But, perhaps Schumann suddenly felt nostalgic for the melody, but still couldn't accept it? Writing a clear melody and instructing it to be played only in the mind seems like his last farewell in an age where melody was important.

    While Humoreske seemingly erases the foreground and leaves only the background in the classical sense, Lick erases the foreground, then converts the background into the foreground. Elements that sound like fills in jazz, rock and funk, develop, reappear, and dissipate, instead of the theme that seems like it will appear soon but doesn't until the end.

  • Mun

    After talking about the erased sound, Francesco Filidei's Erpice (2004) comes to mind. The work makes sounds which seem like they are being physically erased, but of course, such acoustic characteristics are really the result of an experiment on playing technique, rather than a real intention to erase sound.

  • Oh

    While sounds in Erpice give the illusion of sounds being erased, John Cage’s Thirteen Harmonies (1986) actually does erase sounds mercilessly. This music is based on the forty-four choral pieces composed in the colonial period. Using coincidence as a filter, Cage removed quite a number of notes among the ones that constitute the original pieces. As a result, the original music mutated without a trace,

    John Cage: “but the flavor remained.”17

    Erasing sounds or notes to find negative sounds springs from the idea of seeing positive and negative as either ‘present’ or ‘absent,’ ‘on’ or ‘off.’ On the contrary, defining positive and negative as a reflection of consonance and dissonance or foreground and background comes from the point of view that sees these two as contradictory ‘directions.’ In this context, one can say that if a particular melody is positive, then another melody that demonstrates opposing qualities to the first one is negative. If this supposition is valid, the negative sound can be assumed by composing a 'variation' transforming the theme to its opposite state. That assumes that we can still call it a variation, even when the composition does not directly relate to the theme and goes far away in the opposite direction from the theme.

  • Mun

    Since Romanticism, variations began to depart from existing conventions and often moved quite far away from the theme. In figurative variation, which changes the key or rhythm pattern while maintaining the framework of the thematic melody, such as in works by Haydn or Mozart, you can easily recognize the connection between the theme and the variation. Mozart's 12 Variationen über ein französisches Lied "Ah, vous dirai-je, maman”, K. 265 (1778) commonly called the “Little Star Variations” is an excellent example of such work. However, characteristic variations where the key, rhythm, and the composition of the theme are partially taken and varied without constraint, such as in works by Beethoven or Schumann, may sound more like suites rather than variations when listened to according to the standards of classical figurative variations. Beethoven’s 33 Veränderungen über einen Walzer von Diabelli, Op.120 (1819–23) would be the key example of such work. Characteristic variation has developed more radically in the 20th century. Unlike what the title suggests, only the third movement in Anton von Webern’s Variationen für Klavier, Op.27 (1936), makes the variation, and even at that, it's hard to intuit what is the theme and what are the variations.

  • Oh

    Then why don’t we presume negative and positive sounds by varying the musical qualities of the theme into five opposite directions? It might actually be better not to introduce the theme at all. While listening to and performing the variations (positive), the performer and the listener would have to imagine the sound on the opposite side of the audible sound, and infer the theme (negative) as if to solve a puzzle.

  • Mun

    Sounds like a good idea.

  • Oh

    First, we would have to decide which characteristics of the theme should go under the variations. It could be the texture, volume, range, color, and density, which are the crucial elements in deciding a sound. Each of the five variations should focus on one of the five elements, and vary the theme in the opposite direction.

  • Mun

    That sounds reasonable. The only thing is, it might be a quite complex process to control the sounds that are produced from the extremes of these five properties. We could face a situation where we might have to inevitably take on classical sounds.

  • Oh

    What do you mean by classical sounds?

  • Mun

    Particular sounds conjure up a particular era, or style. Of course, it depends, but generally if a sound has thickness, meaning if the sound suggests tonality, it would reflect the period before the 20th century. A large quantity of notes in high density also summons up an age where soloists were encouraged to boast of master techniques. Sometimes, tones with rich reverberation of harmonics alone can remind one of tonal music. I personally favor sounds of the extended technique like music by Helmut Lachenmann, or sounds that are rough, unstable, and close to noise such as Raphaël Cendo’s saturated music.18

  • Oh

    I also recently began to feel drawn to rough sounds like objects scraping against each other. Since some time ago, I started visualizing matter when listening to contemporary music. While there is an intimate relationship between matter and the occurrence, delivery and perception of sound, listening to music didn’t necessarily conjure up images of tangible matter in my mind before. But since the flow of the harmonic series began overlapping and the way we consume music has changed, (that is, rooted in Western European tradition), it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between sound and matter, and what I hear and what I see. In harmonic series, the interval between notes decreases as the tone goes higher; likewise, contemporary music indulges in clashing feeling that occurs when closer notes sound at the same time. The interval has diminished until notes finally touch each other. The compositional tones that used to create a sense of space now produce tactility. This touch is not always tender. Unstable and bumpy sound, which seems ‘non-musical’ yet is ‘musical,’ becomes more accentuated, rather than musical tones where harmonics resonate richly. Closer to noise, this sound demands a new method of vibrating the surface of the instrument. New instruments with bizarre surfaces emerge, as bows, keys, and reeds are coupled up with water glass, paper, and rubber gloves. The sounds that pierce through the bumpy surfaces come together at points that are difficult to put into coordinates, and with their edges rubbing against each other, they occupy and prolong time that can’t easily be defined as a time signature.

    The classical sense isn’t simply limited to sound. The set up itself, where the main figure or leader is on show, whether in the form of a soloist and an orchestra or a conductor and performers, doesn’t seem contemporary for me. When tonal music collapses and the hierarchy between notes is rejected, the attempt to explicitly establish a hierarchy, not only of notes but of any kind seems obsolete. And this also seems to relate, to some extent, to what you mentioned about treating sounds played in traditional ways, sounds produced through extended technique, and noise as equally as possible. I’m also striving to deal with all materials that compose the work equally, and to make sure that one material doesn’t become a background for another. In that sense, I also wish to emphasize that the concept of positive and negative doesn’t signify a certain hierarchy.

  • Mun

    How accurately should the negative sound be inferred? Although a 20th-century variation is varied in such a way as to make it difficult to remind the listener of the theme, it’s at least possible to fathom, through memory, how far it has been changed because the theme is clearly presented at the beginning of the piece. But if the theme is not exposed at all, it means that there is no reference point against which to estimate the level of changes. If a powerful logic is applied to the five temperaments of the theme (similar to making an inverse of the prime form in twelve tone technique) to mechanically create a symmetry, it may be possible to guess the theme to a certain degree. But I don’t think that’d be interesting musically. I don’t favor the method where logic overwhelms the senses like in serialism. However, if a certain logic is not suggested in a situation where the theme doesn’t even appear at all, I’m doubtful as to how possible it would be to guess the theme.

  • Oh

    Should the theme be clearly defined? Isn’t the power of theme in the classical era already something that’s deconstructed? Recently, the theme has been called a main material or a sound material, and this, I think, reflects a change in attitude toward the theme, with such a change of terms. The framework of mythology or superstition remains, although details may change, depending on the person who articulates it. In the same way, the theme of a variation shouldn’t necessarily have a solidly fixed original form. Depending on who’s playing and who’s listening, the theme wanders around the music like a phantom taking on other forms.

  • Absentee 4. Natalie, “Sound that is made but is difficult to hear”

  • Oh

    Performers listen with their heart first, even before the sound, then produce the sound as they’ve heard it in their mind. And the moment they make the sound, they listen again with a keen ear. One usually thinks of the audience first when it comes to listening, but it’s actually the performer who listens a lot more thoroughly and proactively than the audience.

    Oh: “Performing is listening.”

    Then what would happen if the performers had difficulty listening to the sounds they play? Let’s talk about the idea of ‘sounds that are difficult to hear from the perspective of the performers’ rather than that of the audience.

    In the performance Jinan Kang, Yeonwha Kong, Minjung Kim, Sungwan Kim, Kitae Bae, Yeasul Shin, Jinyoung Shin, Sulki & Min, Woosup Sim, Min Oh, Sanghoon Ok, Minsung Lee, Sinsil Lee, Yanghee Lee, Youngwoo Lee, Taehun Lee, Hyewon Lee, Taesoon Jang, Kwangjun Jung, Joseph Fungsang, June Mun Kyung Hahn, Yunkyung Hur, Sungjin Hong, Chosun Hong, 57studio (2018), I had to perform imagining and listening to Lick in my head while simultaneously carrying out tasks for the tech rehearsal. It must’ve been difficult for the audience to read my body because I was carrying out both visible and invisible tasks, but I myself also had a hard time observing and controlling my body precisely. I would continuously miss out on the music the moment I concentrated on my body, or miss out on my body the moment I concentrated on the music.

    How much one hears is related to how much one concentrates on listening. What about demanding that the performer carry out a prior task besides playing the sound so that she or he cannot fully focus on listening, whether it’s with their ears or mind? Conventionally, the performer imagines sound first, then designs the movement that actualizes the imagined sound. Movement is a means for the sound. Flipping this around, I want to set up a situation where sound is made in order to move. As sound is an outcome when the body moves, there’s nothing special about sound being produced by the moving body. What is an interesting question, though, is whether that movement can result in a musically intriguing sound and composition.

  • Mun

    Do you mean choreographing before composition?

  • Oh

    Basically, yes. Music is normally composed based on relationships of sounds that are audible. Doing choreography before composing means that the logic of musical composition comes from outside of the sound. I’ve always questioned if the logic of composing can come from outside of the sound rather than from the sound itself. I realized that it might be possible for the first time through musique concrète.

    Oh: “In the beginning of Pierre Schaeffer’s early work Études aux Chemins De Fer (1948), it sounds like a whistle blows, then the train departs. This composition is highly likely a reflection of the order of events that take place rather than a musical choice. In that case, observation on a specific phenomenon openly intervenes in the musical structure.”19

  • Mun

    There have been attempts to bring in logic of composition from outside of the sound even before Schaeffer. In program music, for instance, the narrative, an element external to music, enters the compositional principle of music in Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique (1831) or Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra (1896). In many lieds by Franz Schubert also, the lyrics and music form an intimate connection, particularly in terms of harmonic progression. When I think of movement as an external element to sound, what comes to mind is the scene in the finale of Maurizio Kagel’s Concert Piece for Timpani and Orchestra (1990–92) where the percussionist rips open the timpani and inserts half of his body in it.

  • Oh

    Among Kagel's works, ‘Repertoire’ in Staatstheater (1971) is a piece that deserves more attention today, I think. It seems to be a composition based on the relationship of form-movement-sound. Relationships are formed sometimes between forms, between movements, and at other times, between sounds. In the sense that form affects movement and movement produces sound, a fascinating relationship that pierces through form, movement, and sound is also observed. It’s something that stretches everywhere from visual art to dance, like a multidisciplinary work that could have been produced today. As visual stimulation is usually stronger than aural stimulation, this work makes you doubtful if this is indeed music at all. But for that reason, I wish to call it music.

  • Mun

    I think the music world at the time thought that works focusing on sound itself were more important than attempts to traverse across genres. Perhaps that hasn’t changed much today.

  • Oh

    Perhaps I can say that the music we will make shares a similar context to ‘Repertoire’ in the sense that movement or what is visible is closely related to the sound of music. However, unlike ‘Repertoire,’ the new work will take movement as a form to intentionally distract the performer from listening to the sound. I hope it doesn't seem offensive to compare that brutal music to ‘Repertoire.’

    It was clear that the choreography must precede the composition, but I was not sure yet where to start. As a warm-up, I made a plan to choose a piece, analyze the movements in performing that piece, then rearrange the notes based on the analysis. The idea was to rearrange the music formatively with vertical and horizontal movements such as the direction of arm movements, as well as the height and distance of the movements.

  • Mun

    What instruments have you considered?

  • Oh

    I thought analyzing the movements in playing the piano would be the easiest, because I’m most familiar with the piano.

  • Mun

    You might want to look at piano works where movement while performing is intriguing, such as IV Sonata per piano (1992) by Salvatore Sciarrino or Toccata (1995) by Francesco Filidei.

  • Oh

    I thought Da Játékok (1973-2017) by György Kurtag would also be interesting to examine in this context.

  • Mun

    Lachenmann’s Güero (1970) concentrates on the sounds produced through extended technique, but extended technique ultimately accompanies unconventional movements.

  • Oh

    I observed Lacheman’s performance in the process of collecting movements. I learned that, while I couldn’t tell what he was like as a composer, as a pianist, he’s a performer with very little movement. It’s definitely pleasing to listen and also see his performance, because of his refined and controlled gestures. But this also made me concerned that the motions demanded by performing on the piano might be simpler than I thought, and led me to conclude that the piano might not be the best instrument for my first attempt to ‘compose through choreography.’ I guess I began to realize that the movements often seen in a piano performance are more the result of personal and subjective motives, rather than related to fundamental productions of sound. Of course, I’m not denying the possibility that what’s personal can be what’s fundamental. But I think that if music is to be composed with choreography, it should work with more universal movements.

  • Mun

    If also taking the extended technique into consideration, we might be able to collect more effective movements from string instruments. The bow can be drawn both vertically and horizontally. Sometimes it can be drawn in circles. Whether the bow is drawn fully or partially is determined by objective factors relating to the length or the path of notes composing the music.

  • Oh

    Good idea. A diverse combination of movements seems possible if we even take the left hand on the finger board into consideration. Movement can seem more exaggerated due to the length of the bow. While there may not be big physical movements in pizzicatos, the visual effect is comparatively bigger than the actual amount of movement involved, thanks to the long bow in the violinist's hand. The violin, which is often played standing up, seems to have more possibility of motions than the cello, which can be played only sitting down. The violin can be played standing up, sitting down, and if needed, while walking. It is not just the movements that make the sound, but a wider range of factors that can influence the choreography, including peripheral movements and a floor plan. However, what’s important in this experiment is that movements only directly related to the pure production of sound should be used as the material for the choreography and eventually for the musical composition. I hope it will finally become music when the movements produce sound flow in order like one long thread, or a dance.

  • Absentee 5. David, Anne, Kevin, Natalie, and Aristide, “Sound that is difficult to hear for multiple reasons combined”

  • Oh

    Aside from how well performers can concentrate on sound, this time I’m curious as to whether it’s possible to compose music that builds an environment where it is physically challenging for the performers to listen. While the previous pieces target the conditions immediately before listening, this music targets and intervenes immediately after listening. Performing music is an act of making sounds, but it’s also an act of listening to that sound before and after it’s made. Musicians listen to the imagined sound before action, and then listen again to the sounds physically produced through their actions. These two steps of listening form a chain reaction and create the performance.

    Oh: “Performing is listening.”

    Therefore, if it’s difficult to recognize what sound a certain action will produce, performances cannot be made. Or at least performers would face a difficult situation where action and feeling are cognitively incongruous. I wonder exactly what difficulties the performers will face, how they can overcome it, and then eventually, in what ways they will choose to hear the sound.

  • Mun

    I think that making it physically difficult for performers to listen to the sounds they themselves have produced is a goal that’s not as easy as one thinks. Performers are people who have been trained for a long time not just to make sounds but also to listen.

  • Oh

    But if they’re distracted with a bigger sound than the sound that they produce, wouldn’t it be possible?

  • Mun

    Even then, performers are already clearly aware of the sounds that they’re about to produce. In addition, the sounds that are being produced by a performer should be physically closer than the sounds that distract the performer. I believe they can hear it no matter what.

  • Oh

    What if very acoustically complex sounds were used? If many sounds were overlapped in a complicated way so that they’re difficult to be distinguished from each other?

  • Mun

    Do you mean clusters?

  • Oh

    That would be one way. We already hypothesized that a big cluster would make it hard for them to listen.

  • Mun

    To make musically meaningful clusters while arriving at the goal of making it physically difficult for the performers to listen would require a tremendous number of instruments or players. Even if there were many instruments, I’m still not convinced that we could build an environment that would overwhelmingly obstruct the performers from hearing in spite of their proximity to their instruments. Instead of using acoustic complexity, how about using musical complexity? Such as in Brian Ferneyhough’s music, for instance? However, no matter how complex the sounds composed, I expect that performers would still hear their own sounds. Or rather, as a composer, I would wish for them to be able to hear them.

  • Oh

    I agree. Performers train themselves to be able to select the sounds that they need to hear among many other sounds. This may not be the perfect example, but I remember practicing in a rehearsal room in my university which wasn’t very soundproof, and although I could hear all the sounds from the other practice rooms around mine, I was able to practice totally unhindered by those sounds. The sounds that we hear have already been edited by the brain. One doesn’t have to be a performer to be able to turn sounds on and off in your head, to some degree. It can be assumed that trained performers have an elaborately developed skill in amplifying sounds that they must hear, and turning off the sounds that they do not wish to hear.

  • Mun

    How about using unconventional tuning? If sounds other than what is conventionally expected are produced, it would definitely be difficult for even trained performers to hear. Hearing is also related to predictability.

  • Oh

    Wouldn’t they be able to hear it in the end if they learn the new tuning system and get used to the new sounds after a couple of rehearsals?

  • Mun

    What if they have absolutely no access to the score or instrument before they perform?

  • Oh

    That means that the performers wouldn’t be able to practice beforehand, and that would be like taking the joy of performing from them. Many liken practice to pain, but I find the joy of performing to be in the rehearsal process. Throwing difficult questions at the performers, but also between you and me is definitely one of the reasons for this project, but there’s a stark difference between giving them difficulty and taking away their pleasure. I wonder if I’m the only one who thinks that practice is pleasure. I’m suddenly curious as to where other performers find their joy of performing.

    Jihye Chang: The joy comes from discovering, developing, and arriving at my goals as a musician.

    Youngwoo Lee: I enjoy getting to know something new. When performing a piece that I have performed before, it’s still pleasing because I get to know the piece even deeper. Getting to know music more is like getting to know myself more. I think performing is a pleasure because it’s ultimately a process of finding myself.

    Oh: Discovering and developing take place in the process of practice for the most part. Eventually, the joy of performing sounds like the joy of practicing.

    Lee: I guess you can put it that way.

    Chang: Although there is definitely joy in performing on the stage and communicating with the audience, I agree that there is immense joy in practicing.20

    I don't want to take away the joy of practicing from the performers. Sight reading as the final form of performance seems to be not an option for us.

    I’m more drawn to the strategy of using simple sounds rather than complex ones. This means that it seems more difficult to the difference between things that are similar than thing that are different. Going back to physical inaudibility, if a sequence that the performer repeats in the performance accumulates like howling echoes, wouldn’t the sense of presence of the part that’s being played live gradually become less apparent?

  • Mun

    It may be difficult to distinguish the layers of already overlapping sounds, but distinguishing existing sounds from new ones that are being generated should be possible.

  • Oh

    If so, then what if exactly the same sounds were overlapped? In an orchestra, a multiple number of violinists play the same notes as if they were one sound. If multiple performers play to make one same sound, then doesn’t that mean that they cannot really hear what they are playing?

  • Mun

    Do you mean to use unison as a strategy?21

  • Oh

    Kind of. Not only unison but also heterophony in parts.

  • Mun

    There aren’t many works composed in heterophony after the 20th century, which could mean that it’s just difficult to compose in heterophony. Julian Anderson’s Khorovod (1994) is an example of an impressive heterophony composed since the 20th century. Although this work begins as a heterophony, it doesn’t sound like one. Some heterophonies by Yoon Isang also sound like a polyphony at first. It seems to be a strategy to construct a conceptual heterophony that doesn't sound heterophonic acoustically.

  • Oh

    Then, couldn’t we also come up with a similar strategy? For example, we could make music for a trio, but which sounds like a duet. More precisely, the composition would instruct two out of the three performers, unfixed as to who and when, to play in unison at all times. The hypothesis is that it may not sound like a unison to the listener, but it will be a unison to the players at times, making it difficult for them to hear.

  • Mun

    That’s a feasible strategy. The only drawback is that when the same sounds are overlapped in unison for no reason, to me that would feel like a sort of waste. I need to be convinced that what’s lost through this waste can be replaced one way or another.

  • Oh

    Couldn’t we think of it as a duet played by three players?

  • Mun

    As long as three performers play it, it cannot be a duet.

  • Oh

    You’re right. Then what about finding a reason for the same sounds to overlap? Or what if they sound like unison at first but are actually not? For example, one player aims for unison and the other rejects it. The player rejecting unison can play subtly higher and lower than the sounds played by the other player, and the player who aims for unison chases after such changes. It would be similar to Steve Reich’s Piano Phase22 in the sense that the two performers interact within set rules as if playing a game. Subtle clashes would occur as the two players interact in this way, compensating for the sense of waste.

  • Mun

    That’s an interesting idea. It may be new conceptually, but ultimately, it may not be so fresh in terms of the sounds produced. Producing microtones centering around one tone reminds me of Giacinto Scelsi. Because the tone is so simple, it would call Scelsi to mind no matter what sound it makes. It would be like starting with the disadvantageous fact that it’s difficult for new sounds to be produced acoustically.

  • Oh

    Then let’s go back to the strategy of complexity again. This time, however, the strategy is not to make the sound or music complex but to complicate the substructure. This means creating music where instrument organization, mode of performance, seating arrangement, and the relationships between players are all complexly mixed up, making it difficult to hear both the sounds that one produces and the sounds produced by others. If there were more than one factor making it difficult to hear, and if those factors had a knock-on effect, it would be a challenge for even a trained musician to listen to all of these sounds no matter how much they wanted to. An ensemble of at least three players would be needed in order to make a situation with physical and psychological inaudibility. There would be sounds that are hardly audible played through thought alone, sounds that are inaudible because they weren’t played at all, sounds that are difficult to hear because they’re played through sounds that are much more limited than those conceived in the score, and sounds that are hard to hear due to visual obstructions. How would it be to create an ensemble which applies new strategies on top of the strategies used for the previous work (Absentee David, Anne, Kevin, and Natalie)?

  • Mun

    That would be interesting. If various strategies were mixed, we could maybe squeeze the strategy of simplicity in there. When we talked about the orchestra before, I remembered an anecdote that a friend of mine told me. He said that when he played a part that repeated boringly without any changes, he momentarily lost his sense of direction. This means that repetition makes it hard to hear.

  • Oh

    It seems to me that it may not be interesting for musicians to play in an orchestra. One wouldn’t be able to interpret the music the way one wanted, and the sounds created probably couldn’t stand out. I assume that the reason why your friend had to repeat a part over and over was because he was playing only part of a whole. The range of decisions granted to a performer seems narrow in an orchestra, not only because of limited interpretation and expression allowed to the individual players, but also because of a sense of becoming reduced to a component.

    Kim Sung-wan (saxophonist): “It feels like the players have become the laborers at an assembly line.”23

  • Mun

    But there’s surely a sense of reward in a group of people coming together and creating spectacular sounds together.

  • Oh

    Speaking of orchestra, what is the exact role of the conductor? I recently saw a documentary film about Valery Gergiev called You Cannot Start Without Me: Valery Gergiev, Maestro (2009). I suddenly realized that the conductor on the stage, to exaggerate a little, is similar in concept to how the director is always present on the stage or the screen. I felt a bit lost in thought while watching the film.

  • Mun

    Conductors interpret music, lead rehearsals, and listen to the sounds from the outside.

    Yeasul Shin: “Conductors also play the role of a moderator who gathers the opinions of the musicians at the rehearsals.”24

    There are times when conductors are needed, even in ensembles because the rhythm in contemporary music has become so complex to the point of being difficult to play. At such times, conductors organize the flow of time. I think that it’s best if musicians can make their own music, if possible. However, in a large organization like an orchestra, it’s difficult to keep the sound balanced without a conductor. Someone who can listen to the whole sound on the outside is needed.

  • Oh

    Can’t the composer listen for them instead?

  • Mun

    For music that is widely recognized as a masterpiece and played frequently, there’s a higher possibility that the composer is already dead. Even if the composer was alive, she or he usually doesn’t direct the rehearsals and performances in detail her or himself (as long as they don’t conduct). There may be composers who do. However, I try to write down everything about the work on the score beforehand.

  • Oh

    In solo or ensemble, once the sheet music has passed to the players, it is up to them how to interpret it. In particular, it seems that the more the classics are played, the more freedom is allowed to the performer. I can be mesmerized rather than disappointed when listening to the recording of Goldberg Variations BWV 988 that is played twice as slow as the performance 30 years ago by the same pianist. Or I feel the need to encourage a student who half-listens to her teacher when the teacher tells her to “refrain from playing a Bach like it’s a Brahms”25. Of course, this is my personal thought, but the fascination in listening to music lies in indulging the interpretations that change with the player or with the performance if played by the same player. Studying and interpreting music has been one of the main tasks of performers, as much as performing it. They often make up the programs themselves in recitals. In a way, they have been taking the role of music critics and curators, which is often overlooked. However, if the performance grows to the scale of an orchestra, the autonomy of performers becomes limited. As the scale increases, it becomes difficult to draw together the opinions of the players that have increased accordingly or to objectively listen to the enormous sound from the inside. And there, conductors have a role to play. However, Gergiev’s line in the film (as well as the title of the film),

    Valery Gergiev: “You cannot start without me,”26

    this fancy statement can imply that the conductor does not allow the performers even the slightest moment of freedom. All of a sudden, the concept of conductor becomes unfamiliar, and at the same time, the impulse to delve deeper into what a conductor is grows stronger. In that sense, I hope we can invite a conductor for the last piece that we will compose so that I can observe the conductor while working on the piece.

  • Mun

    But it’s extremely rare for there to be a conductor in an ensemble of three or four players.

  • Oh

    You said the necessity of a conductor in an ensemble depends on the musical need. Then, couldn’t we compose an ensemble that requires a conductor?

    Rigidly speaking, conductors are also performers in that they perform on the stage. I would like the conductor to operate as one of the performers in this work. The act of conducting is a series of motional signs that are individual to each conductor, but also universally accepted. Signs are carefully choreographed in advance. And this choreography denotes the performers’ actions; always a step ahead. In that sense, it’s inherently one-sided. Conducting is a series of the most splendid actions taken on the stage, yet is not a subject for reading and appreciation. In this respect, it is an empty movement. Conducting is such a strange and fascinating act of performance. Xavier le Roy has employed conducting as the main subject matter in Le Sacre du Printemps (2007), where movements of conducting were translated into fictional dance. Can’t we shake up the idea of conducting in a more fundamental manner? Is it possible to create a situation where neither the conductor nor the performer can be unilateral?

    In the moment of playing, a conductor literally,

    Hong: “listens before it sounds.”27

    Performers also listen before it sounds, but conductors are a step ahead, and listen to it even before the performers do. When conductors signal the sound they have listened to in advance inside their head to performers, the performers begin to listen to that sound in their mind. And the performers make the sound. The conductor then hears the sound that is made as a result. The sounds that are heard in their ears have a tremendous effect on how the sounds, which have not yet been made, should be heard. All of these processes form a chain reaction. Therefore, if the conductor has difficulty listening to the resulting sounds or has difficulty sending signs to the performers, it would also be difficult to listen to the sound before it’s made. Moreover, in this situation, I assume that it would be difficult for the conductor to stay ahead of the performers at all times. Perhaps such an environment where the conductor can’t always stay ahead could be a clue towards subverting the unilateral flow in a performance to a bilateral one. This assumption ultimately signifies that what’s most important in composing this music would be “relations before the sound” rather than “relations between the sound.”

1 Sats is a term coined by Eugenio Barba of the Danish theater company Odin Company. It refers to the state of readiness to move in any direction. The term is sometimes translated as “pre-expression” in Korean. A more tangible illustration of Sats would include something like crouching before taking a leap, breathing prior to speaking, and flexing the fingers prior to pressing a key.” Min Oh, Jinan Kang, Yeonwha Kong, Minjung Kim, Sungwan Kim, Kitae Bae, Yeasul Shin, Jinyoung Shin, Sulki & Min, Woosup Sim, Min Oh, Sanghoon Ok, Minsung Lee, Sinsil Lee, Yanghee Lee, Youngwoo Lee, Taehun Lee, Hyewon Lee, Taesoon Jang, Kwangjun Jung, Joseph Fungsang, June Moon Kyung Hahn, Yunkyung Hur, Sungjin Hong, Chosun Hong, 57studio, (Suwon: Specter Press, 2019), n.p.

2 Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953), p110.

3 Concept countering John Cage’s idea of indeterminacy.

4 Adapted from an experimental project Asynchronous Synchrony: Conversation between Min Oh and Hyeongjun Cho (2020).

5 Judith Dunn, “We Don’t Talk about It. We Engage in It,” in The Vision of Modern Dance, ed. Jean Morrison, Naoi Mindlin, and Charles H. Woodford, 2nd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Books, 1979; 2nd ed. 1998), p152.

6 Comments by the novelist Jidon Jeong, Claude Shannon, Norbert Wiener are taken from the experimental project Asynchronous Synchrony: Conversation between Min Oh and Jidon Jeong (2020) and adapted for this text.

7 Adapted from comments by Minhee Park, vocalist and artist in episode 19 in the podcast Dying Message of New Music. Hwangjong is the first note in the 12 notes in East Asian music.

8 According to article 17 in the contract received from Albersen Verhuur .B.V., the Dutch publisher in charge of Lick, pencil markings are not considered damage to the score. However, if it’s a score that cannot be purchased, photocopied, or if it requires too much care to erase the pencil markings due to the risk of erasing the notes on the score, the pencil lines can be practically seen as having defaced the material.

9 A way of rehearsing which carries out dance in the most economic form.

10 Adapted from Min Oh, Score by Score (Seoul Suwon: Workroom Specter, 2017), p6

11 A way of practicing in music education, ear training involves listening to a tone, melody, harmony or a short piece of music, then writing it in exact note and rhythm onto a staff.

12 One of the eight types of listening defined by Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno. Structural listening refers to grasping the logic and structure of music through listening. This usually refers to the way musicians listen to music.

13 Adapted from the title Listen before it sounds (2016), a work by the experimental musician Chulki Hong.

14 Composed by Seokmin Mun in 2018, this work was composed after exploring the extended technique for piano.

15 Adapted from “Round Table: The Creators Who Are Seeking New Forms of Performance―Ye-song Ra, Minhee Park, Seungbin Bae, Ji Soo Shin, Min Oh, Eunhee Cho, Hye-In Seong, Yeasul Shin”, Korean Contemporary Composers and Compositions Vol. 15 (2019), p25.

16 Innere stimme in Germany. Instructions for the second movement in Robert Schumann’s Humoreske, Op.20.

17 Adapted from John Cage’s quote from Peter Dickinson, “John Cage Thirteen Harmonies,” Gramophone, https://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/john-cage-thirteen-harmonies.

18 Saturation means “excess” in acoustics. Saturation music is where the timbre, density, volume and movement in music has reached a state of excess.

19 Adapted from Yeasul Shin, Music beyond Sound: Conversation with Min Oh (2018)

20 Adapted from conversations with pianists Jihye Chang and Youngwoo Lee, respectively on March 2nd and March 19th, 2019.

21 Unison is when many instruments play the same melody at the same time.

22 In Piano Phase, two performers play together and repeat a twelve note melody. One of the players play in a fixed speed like a metronome, while the other player listens to the other players and gradually applies phasing.

23 Min Oh, Jinan Kang, Yeonwha Kong, Minjung Kim, Sungwan Kim, Kitae Bae, Yeasul Shin, Jinyoung Shin, Sulki & Min, Woosup Sim, Min Oh, Sanghoon Ok, Minsung Lee, Sinsil Lee, Yanghee Lee, Youngwoo Lee, Taehun Lee, Hyewon Lee, Taesoon Jang, Kwangjun Jung, Joseph Fungsang, June Mun Kyung Hahn, Yunkyung Hur, Sungjin Hong, Chosun Hong, 57studio, (Suwon: Specter Press, 2019), n.p.

24 Adapted from conversations with music critic Yeasul Shin on April 6th, 2020.

25 Adapted from Min Oh, Score by Score (Seoul Suwon: Workroom Specter, 2017), p45.

26 You Cannot Start Without Me: Valery Gergiev, Maestro (2009).

27 Chulki Hong, Listen Before It Sounds. The title has been adapted.