Michał Libera, Daniel Muzyczuk
THE FALL OF RECORDING
with Gaudenz Badrutt, Alicja Bielawska, Bożenna Biskupska, Alessandro Bosetti, Johnny Chang, Bryan Eubanks, Emilio Gordoa, Jonas Kocher, Daniel Koniusz, Gerard Lebik, Michał Libera, Xavier Lopez, Mike Majkowski, Daniel Muzyczuk, Keith Rowe, Radek Szlaga, Valerio Tricoli
“I don’t want to die. I want to live”. Several notes placed neatly on musical staff, quite catchy lyrics, you may say, and short introduction from a composer, forms altogether almost a song. But the song written down on 26th of Febraury 1903 by a Czech composer Leoš Janáček in his notebook bears a different authorship than his own; he himself was nothing more but a recording device for an unintentional song of his dying daughter, Olga. These were her last words, and a last melody, uttered in bed just before she passed away; almost a swan song addressed to her father sitting by the bed but also to a man obsessed by the everyday passing of melodies of the world we live in. Words, noises, screams, animals and doors, hundreds of different birds and dogs and finally also his dying daughter found their ways to form short songs in his notebooks via the language of music notation. So do we know the final expression of his daughter? It’s all there, on the staff. Perhaps a song, and if so, definitely of swan kind, a document or a memoir but also an emblem of the entire myth of recording media – a song made of dying and about dying or in other words: a recorded song about recording.
The myth – or history, if you like – of recording is full of dead bodies, not unlike Olga. There is this anonymous screaming girl in the wriggling lines on paper captured by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s phonoautograph. There is Adolf Hitler emerging from noises on magnetic tapes in the collection of Electronic Voice Phenomena founding figure, Friedrich Jürgenson. There is an unknown Salvadoran soldier at this very moment being buried by his son and accompanied by the little boy’s lament in the field recordings of Bob Ostertag. There are sounds of countless people who were not able to recognize their voices while listening to them played back from the wax cylinders. Not to mention the entire 27-Club on tapes, vinyls and CDs, on your computer in mp3 format or whatever else you want to keep them in, perhaps, there is also someone you actually knew, someone whose voice you heard live, your grandfather or his aunt, captured on reel-to-reel or magnetic tape, perhaps you have heard those tapes, or perhaps you didn’t, perhaps never came across them in this amorphic grand archive of recorded sounds spreading out from Library of Congress to rundown attics and computers all over the planet.
The entire history of this myth of recording, from its earliest beginnings until now, is oscillating around and preoccupied with death. The whole discourse developed around it, is a discourse about death. Some say, the dead bodies in the recordings has deprived us of the real experience of music. They say, we will never again be able to hear a live sound without it being haunted by the very possibility of being recorded. A bit like eavesdropping and bugs – there is no more innocence and disappearing in live speech. The others say, the dead bodies democratized and globalized music and our hearing. We know Beethoven’s music even if we have never visited philharmony. We know how Javanese gamelan sounds like without going to Indonesia. But whatever the range is, from fear of the dead to a sort of Halloween celebration, the myth’s main presumption is that the recorded sounds are irreducibly dead, taken out of their live context and deprived of their original setting. This is what happened in 19th Century. A fundamental and irreversible change in music and hearing caused by recording.
There is one element missing in this myth or perhaps one corpse which is never there. It is the corpse of the recording itself. This lack is crucial to the very foundation of the myth. If recording changed the music so drastically and irreversibly it is because the death of recording itself has never been thought of or imagined. If we believe the recording has changed everything, we do so because we believe it arrived for good, it will stay and never die.
Now think differently for a moment. Think of recording not as a mythical feature but rather a historical incident, maybe even a side effect. A phenomena which origins can be traced back in time, with has its own genealogy, its own attack and peak, decay, sustain and release. Think of now, think of early 21st century as the beginning of its last phase – not decay; release. Think of recording as a historical phenomena which did not arrive to stay with humans forever but a moment in time, actually a pretty short moment, which is now about to fade away. Think of it as a short chapter in the whole history of sound and hearing. Think differently and imagine recording coming to an end. Soon, we will not need it anymore. Already now, we are flooded with archives, redundant and overwhelming, a clueless problem rather than salvation. Already for some we are misinformed by these archives of recordings, our history is not getting and more understandable and clear, our knowledge of the once-alive people and situations is not closer to us because of the dead media.
There are good reasons to think that way. First – there are historical reasons. None of the great inventors of recording media, be it Scott de Martinville, Thomas Edison, Dziga Vertov or Pierre Schaeffer was interested or aiming at saving audio data. Even if all of them are considered godfathers of the new technology. None of them was imagining an archive and none of them wanted to become a librarian. In his diaries from 1948, Pierre Schaeffer, when imagining music concrete, did not start with the idea of recording. The other way around – recording came as an incidental or handy but at the same time disappointing solution to problems otherwise unsolvable. On his way to music concrete, Schaeffer, not unlike his avant garde predecessors, was aiming at a sampler triggering everyday sounds in real time. He called it the most general piano possible. Or noise piano. An instrument which would enable to orchestrate or play or conduct the concrete sounds rather than store them. Technologically speaking – it was impossible in 1948 and only because of that, he came up with a solution of using recorded sounds. To bypass the problem he couldn’t solve. The thing is: we can do it today. We don’t need the tape with recorded sounds.
If we go back to godfathers of recordings, we can see that the recorded sound was usually a mediocre compromise to the ideas they had. Hence, another set of reasons to believe recording will soon come to an end. These are mostly technological reasons. They seem to be both more in line with the initial ideas and completely against the path it took over the last hundred years. We know the speaking pianos of Peter Ablinger; we have the foleys and the vocal ensembles imitating field recordings; we know more literary and sensitive forms of recording of sounds then just capturing them; we now have the extended instrumental techniques and the universal instruments are reachable; we came up with streaming methods and online mixing and we imagined that records can be nothing more but just scores. With all that at hand, it is probably a high time to create an answer to an overwhelming crisis of recordings’ nostalgia, retromania and hauntology of the archives – an ontology of new realism in place of ontology of representation.
Because the myth triggered by Olga Janáček was also connecting one more element to this already rich constellation. The recorded sound became an object that meant more then the singular uttering that was presented just for a handful of ears. The voice became language of another sort, the one that is bringing meaning by the sole possibility of repetition. Thus the world of objects seen by chance by Schaeffer is a place of everlasting meaning and the terrible truth is that for this reason a reduced listening and unintentional ear is impossible. Recording means organizing and saving because the heard sound is worth something, has a potential to be of value. The world opened by this act is a world of signs, that will always bear the guilt of the necessity of having a meaning.
The Fall of Recording is nothing but a cloud of interests, observations and speculations we share with musicians, scholars, critics and curators. It is an ongoing research and a number of conversations, fantasies, ideas on paper, hints for possible music commissions and unresolved paradoxes. This cloud is now reaching its first incarnation at Sanatorium Dźwięku in Sokołowsko with a few (hard to count them, really) concerts and a lecture all aiming at complicating and differentiating the history of recordings cause what else can you do in the final chapter of some accidental phenomena in history?
Alessandro Bosetti will premiere a new take on his Janáček research. Already in his Ars Acustica winning piece “The Notebooks” he was dealing with hundreds of notated speech melodies of a composer who did what we are doing with our recording devices. His’ was a pen and a staff. This recording obsession of his lead to dozen of notebooks kept in Brno which are literary field recordings.
Keith Rowe’s Dry Mountain project originated in Sokołowsko and came into being as a painterly recording device. A short piece of music recorded together with Gerard Lebik served as reference point to four visual artists commissioned to score it. Now four duos will perform the very same piece of four different scores simultaneously, in open air.
Finally Valerio Tricoli’s premiere deals directly with the aforementioned diaries of Schaeffer. Taking his memoir of 1948 as a sort of guideline through a piece, he prepared a hybrid performance using the recorded sounds of Schaeffer – both the sounds he was using in his research and his voice – for and against his methodology of music concrete.