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ISCM WORLD MUSIC DAYS '97 SEOUL
A half-fulfilled motto
A premiere, and a step further away from Eurocentrism: for the first time in the history of the ISCM, the World Music Days (WMD) were held in Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea. Furthermore, this was also only the second time that they had been held in the "Far East", after taking place in Hong Kong in 1988. We are looking forward to Japan in a couple of years' time
At the end of September 1997, the economic skies over Korea were still clear and sunny. As Soo Sung Lee, the country's former prime minister, organiser and patron of the WMD, reassured us (financially too), backed up by the minister of culture and sport, the president of the Korean Culture and Arts Foundation and the mayor of Seoul, there was no reason to fear for the smooth organisation of this event. All the more so since an army of charming Korean ladies, swift, quiet and pretty, mastered all the everyday organisational problems, under the guidance of their "helmsman" Won Sik Lim.
The Korean organisers chose a theme for the WMD which, though not new, was actually a very fruitful one: "Human Voice in Music". However, the successful implementation of the many facets of this theme can probably be achieved only by a festival whose artistic directors are made entirely responsible for the programme. For its part, the ISCM has, in the past, always fallen back on its statutes, under which it is primarily an international jury that is responsible for selecting the pieces to be performed. For this reason the Korean organisers were confronted with a whole host of works, many of which were selected on the basis of questionable criteria. It certainly cost some effort to try and balance out the entire programme by the addition of the organisers' own ingredients. It goes without saying that the opportunity was taken to present a number of Korean composers during the WMD.
The result was that almost half of the general theme had to be abandoned. Thirty-seven pieces of variously arranged vocal music compared with 32 instrumental (electronic) pieces (not including special events). The manifold relations between text and music, word and voice were only partially explored, including categories in which the human voice in whatever form it is articulated is used in a disguised, or even alien or non-semantic manner. After the event it is no longer important, and thus unnecessary to determine whether this was due to a lack of suitable entries, whether the jury attached too little importance to the general theme, or whether the organisers - their hands tied in their choice of programmes - were unable to provide the missing elements. The fact of the matter is that, presumably in the interests of keeping the pluralistic peace, programmes, composers and pieces slipped into the WMD that would at best have been suited as projects for freshly graduated students.
But let us overlook these aspects of the WMD and focus instead on the more positive ingredients of the ISCM week in Seoul. Let us mention instead those works that merited discussion, many of them very impressive, and also the acceptable "hits" which the jury scored. (The life of a juror these days is full of pitfalls, so a wrong decision is nothing out of the ordinary.) It does not seem to make sense to list all 23 events chronologically, pointing out their most impressive and architecturally interesting venues, particularly as some concerts appeared to have been thrown together on an ad hoc basis. In keeping with the motto, we have therefore given priority to the Human Voice in Music, going on to mention several instrumental examples. The symposium on the theme is not included, since the delegates had no opportunity of attending it due to the Annual General Meeting. (The concerts on 3 October are also not mentio- ned, since the authors of this report were obliged to leave Seoul early.)
In Europe, at any rate, vocal music using language is historically the oldest form of music, though today it has also developed furthest away from its original ritual and spiritual functions. If one takes advantage of it, it is thus a treasure-trove of compositional innovation. The third a cappella choral concert documented several approaches to this subject. "On the eye of the 2nd year" by Orlando J. Garcai (Cuba / USA), written on the second anniversary of the death of Morton Feldman, offers a wide variety of soft tones produced by whispering, speaking and singing against the background of a well balanced tutti sound. However, the Korean composer Nahm-Hee Chung is quite trendy in demanding a wide range of articulation together with advanced singing techniques in "gopdeginun gara" for six female voices. And in "Noche oscura" the Canadian Jos. Evangelista develops a very differentiated choral movement in his interplay of compression and transparency (jury selection = js). The interpretations were of a high quality. (Penderecki could be heard in another choral concert. We have dispensed with any characterisation of the well-known composers whose work was featured in other concerts, such as Ferneyhough, Kagel and Schnittke, since their compositions represented an inoffensive, though nevertheless welcome addition to the WMD.)
In the category of vocal solo with orchestra or instruments, it is particularly worth mentioning the Swede Karin Rehnqvist. The regionally oriented vocal part in "Sols ngen" (js) gives the piece a personal touch, though this is less true of the decorative, scale-like orchestral part. James Rolfe's (Canada) "FÆ.tes de la Faim et Plainte" (js) was comparatively free of clich. s, exhibiting polyrhythm and a rather sparse diction. "Tre Voci" (js) by Arne Nordheim (Norway), based on texts by Petrarca, Bruno and Ungaretti, is in the fine tradition of a lyrical, melodic setting, with a touch of pathos. A more interesting use of the voice - at times hyperactive - is found in "DeCom", a dramatic piece for baritone and percussion with non-semantic linguistic sounds by the Swiss Christoph Neidh"fer at the Korean Music Museum. Without any intervention from the jury, this evening, sponsored by "Pro Helvetia", gave a well rounded impression, together with "Assonance VII", a subtle percussion piece by Michael Jarrell (Austria) and excellently interpreted works by Kurt g and Xenakis.
But let us move on to more fertile terrain. Everything from fragmentary, non-semantic, electronically manipulated use of the voice to "scenic concert" could be found in the other evening sponsored by "Pro Helvetia". In a soundly crafted programme, "Corps & Corps" by George Aperghis (France), a solo scene with drum, language and wine glass, was fascinating thanks to its skilful interpretation by Matthias Wrsch. Giorgio Tedde (Italy) contributed to the phonetic material of "Morite" with live electronics. In "Voice Control" (js), Thomas Kessler (Switzerland) demonstrated his feeling for abstraction with sparing use of live electronics. The USA (Fund for U.S. Artists at International Festivals) supported a chamber music concert at which Jon Deak's (USA) "Lady Chatterley's Dream" revealed a tendency towards the scenic. The musicians spoke in turn, breathing rhythmically, shaping the course of the piece by a fixed glance choreography, and there was no shortage of drastic (even pompous) passages. "Landscapes of the Soul" (js) by Maria Berquet (Germany) was more of an installation than a scenic concert. Movement, dance, pantomime, with a multi-cultural touch, also many different voice and speech techniques, and a story line "from darkness into light" which did not always comfortably accommodate the musical elements. "Layers for a Transparent Orgasm" (js) by Arthur Kampela (Brazil) clearly illustrated the attitudes of this gesticulative and humoristically accentuated scenic concert (greetings from Kagel and Ligeti). The brilliant solo horn player Graziela Bortz articulated sung notes, syllables and noises through her mouthpiece, adapted in each case to the timbre of her instrument. (Perhaps this piece should have been coupled with Deak's "Lady Chatterley".)
The quasi documentary tape recorder piece "Secas las pilas de todos los timbres" by Coriun Aharonian (Uruguay) also used symbolically laden language in its collage-like structure (mixture of city noises, folkloric fade-ins). Another tape recorder piece, "Grains of Voices" (js) by Ake Parmerud (Sweden), resembles a linguistic world trip though there was too little differentiation in the mixing of the recorded voices, resulting in something of a pur. e.
It is also worth mentioning "Andamento" (js) by Liviu Danceanu (Romania), an instrumental trio with regional colouring blended with vocal particles. John Cage's timeless contemplative "Music for Five" with a vocal line including speech rounds out the theme "Human Voice in Music".
It was chamber music that scored in the instrumental sector. The finely-grained "Treibstoff" (js) by Carola Bauckholt (Germany) reflected a remarkably imaginative sound. In "Anatomia Tractal de los Angeles" (js), Tom s Marco (Spain) developed a delicate web and energetically penetrating structures from serial roots, contrasting these elements with one another. The very young Yugoslav Tatyana Tanya Milosevic composed "The Lights of Betelgeuse or the Secret of a Red Giant" (js), a fluctuating piece of music divided into two primary colours, at times sounding as if it were behind a veil of stars. In "Birds Bells" (js), the Dane Bent Sorenson succeeded in creating a restrained, balanced sound in keeping with the title of the piece. The percussion piece "Neumes" (js) by Enrique Raxach (Netherlands) offered a fascinating overlay of rhythmic patterns.
The contributions of electronic music were very disappointing, with the exception of "Scratches" (js) by the Finn Jukka Ruohom. ki, who developed his basic material intelligently and consistently.
In the opening orchestral concert, the violin concerto no. 3 by Isang Yun was played in memoriam. This largely quiet, ornamentally developed work is of flexible facture and is continually dominated by a solo, often virtuoso violin. After a concise, energetic start, the piano concerto (js) by the Dane Per Norg rd lost substance due to its industriousness and narrative extension. The second orchestral concerto, consisting of two pieces and an endless piece of electronic music played from tape was preposterous and best forgotten.
Among the many participants we got to know a number of Korean artists whose standard would justify another encounter. These included Dongsuk Kang (violin), Jyong Rhee (kayagum), the S. Vocalissimo ensemble, Chee-Young Park (conductor), the Seoul Motet Choir, and, at another level, the percussionists at the open-air children's performance, which gave an insight into Korea's regimented musical tuition. On the other hand, it should not have been necessary to engage ensembles who were not capable of mastering the tasks in hand.
The opening ceremony of the WMD in Seoul took place shortly after heavy rain on the terraces of the imposing Seoul Arts Centre. It was broadcast by television and radio in the presence of leading lights from the world of politics, culture and high society. The Salzburg ensemble "Klangmobile" provided the electronically controlled mobile music mounted on moving tricycles: this was warmly applauded by the audience. And because there also had to be some installations, Robin Minard also honoured the WMD in Korea with one of his sound installations before he travelled to Europe (including Donaueschingen). "Silent Music" was a striking change in an all too noisy world.
A wide variety of impressions, as you see, though few of the host country itself, since the delegates were scarcely able to leave the concert halls and conference rooms. An excursion to the television tower was literally the high spot of the event. And even the hamburgers taste no different in Seoul. On the other hand, Korean cuisine offers delicious specialities, provided you have or take enough time for them. Our hosts gave us perfectly fitted out briefcases as a souvenir and reminder of the event. These were an ideal place to stash away ginseng tea on the way home, for instance, and of course the programme booklet, which regrettably contained many flaws and was partly illegible for us since parts were printed only in Korean. But who is capable of bringing such a festival to its predetermined close
LOTHAR KNESSL, GERD Ka.HR (Austrian Section)
translation by Andrew Smith