PATRICK FRANK AND THE problem of music

C9C3lbEXkAEvlejMax Erwin at Music and Literature:

Patrick Frank is a composer, project designer, and cultural theorist based in Zurich who is the creator and CEO of VoiceRepublic, an online platform and archive of international performances and lectures. He is among a generation of composers in the Teutonosphere who are grappling with the death throes of the material-teleological narrative of New Music. In the briefest, most telescoped terms: the avant-garde after Cage and Lachenmann incorporated increasingly alien sound materials into composition—first extended techniques, then sound production from non-instrumental sources—until a point was reached where any source of sound could be interpolated into a composition and be recognized as “music”—or rather, could be recognized as such by a consensus of New Music audiences. Thus, according to this teleology, the conquest of sonic material (a process described in such precisely conquistadorial terms at least since Webern’s writings) had exhausted itself; there are no “new” sounds left to bend to the will of musical logos. Indeed, at one of Lachenmann’s lectures at the 2014 Darmstadt courses, he spoke of this material conquest in the guise of an orange: what do you do after you have consumed the inside of the fruit? Do you eat the peel? What next?

“What next?” has, of course, always been a fraught question among artistic avant-gardes. But Frank and his peers find themselves at a particularly intimidating moment in aesthetic history, where the conditions of “newness” are themselves in question. From the birth of polyphony, the material-teleological narrative of Western art music has been relatively straightforward—church modes to musica ficta to tonality to chromaticism to serialism to noise…—and so now that any aural material is axiomatically also musical material, the foundational myth of musical progress no longer works.

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