In Peter Ablinger’s work, the listener is often asked to cross the distance between sounds. These types of comparative actions fall into at least three categories. One of these categories is a comparison between two sound sources: a recording and a reproduction. The term Ablinger uses for these reproductions is “phonorealism.” Another type of comparison is between a sonic memory and the sound that is present. I’ll play two examples later that activate specifically musical memories through a process called “verticalization.”

We’ll start, though, with yet another type of distance that is to be traveled, this time in the sonic imagination, between a text and the sounds it suggests. In Weiss/Weisslich 11B, you hear one thing, but your mind’s ear is being directed to a different series of sounds. As Ablinger explains:

Since 1994 a series of scripts have been written for which I would sit for 40 minutes each and write down what I actually hear. I would love to think about this noise protocol as music: one imagines the sound which is actually read. The music arises in the head of each reader or listener. I think “real” music is not too different from that.

So the listener’s work is to imagine the sounds as they unfold in this script. There is no assistance here apart from the descriptions themselves. The speaker is to read the text without expression. Ablinger’s method of capturing a memory becomes the site for your own imagination, constructing these sounds internally as extensions of the sounds that are present in your memory. One of these texts has been translated from German to English. The sounds that were verbally transcribed took place over 40 minutes in October of 2001 on a terrace at the Villa Aurora, near Los Angeles. I’ll read part of it now.

[2:24-4:50 Weiss/Weisslich 11B, excerpt]

Moving on to phonorealism, I’ll play three examples from the second act of City Opera Graz. The first act is “an acoustic topography” of the city, 400 recordings distributed among 36 listening stations, to be heard through headphones. 21 of these recordings are used in the second act, which Ablinger calls “The Orchestra” and describes in this way:

the orchestra as Trojan Horse:
via phonography, procuring the city-recordings the highest possible podium;
orchestra and phonography;
like hand-colored photos;
givenness and handwriting;
the opposition of contingency and culture;
the opposition of continuum (noise, life) and grid (music, perception);
concert situation, collective hearing

This grid can also be understood as pixellation, the reduction of data to a resolution that can be reproduced. Here is one example from the second act, intermezzo 11, called “Record.”

[6:12-6:54 Intermezzo 11, “Record”]

Since the recording and the orchestral rendition of this record are played at the same time, the listener is invited to compare them. There is no question of which is which, but the distance between them becomes the listening space. The listener’s work is to assess the fidelity of the reproduction to the original—but the original is also a reproduction. Ablinger describes the steps in his practice of “phonorealism” in this way:

1) The first step is always an acoustic photograph (“phonograph”). This can be a recording of anything: speech, street noise, music.
2) Time and frequency of the chosen “phonograph” are dissolved into a grid of small “squares” whose format may, for example, be 1 second (time) to 1 second (interval).
3) The resulting grid is the score, which is then to be reproduced in different media: on traditional instruments, computer controlled piano, or in white noise.

Even a digital reproduction, whether audio or visual, can be distinguished from the actual thing it reproduces. When there is a hand-made component to a reproduction, the fineness of the detail and the types of techniques used are brought into question. In Tableau II of Act II, “Endless Cassette,” a message on an answering machine is played six times, and the orchestra also plays their version of the recording, at increasing degrees of resolution.

[8:45-10:57 Tableau II, “Endless-Cassette”]

The final example from this act of City Opera Graz is of a more sustained recording—the sound of passing traffic in a tunnel.

[11:08-12:14 Tableau V, “Plabutsch (Tunnel 2)”]

As I go back and listen to that recording, the removal of distance between the sound of traffic and the sound of an orchestra is causing me to imagine those two forces in the same space. It’s a terrifying image.

We’ll stay with the orchestra for the next set of pieces. Weiss/Weisslich 22 is a set of verticalizations of the complete symphonies of six composers. I won’t get into the details of how it is done—you can read more about that on Ablinger’s site—but each composer’s section lasts for 40 seconds, and then immediately switches to the next. I find myself listening most actively at those points of transition. How is my memory of all the Mozart symphonies I’ve heard different from my memory of all the Beethoven symphonies? Is that reflected in that transition? Yes, it is. Is it my imagination that it is reflected there, or can I point to specific qualities that are different, specific changes in the cumulative presentation of the work? My effort to do that is an act of speculation, and that act of speculation becomes my listening experience. I am tracing the distance between my memory of Mozart’s work and my memory of Beethoven’s work, and also between my memory of each composer’s work and this presentation of them. So here they are, in order: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler

[14:00-18:00 Weiss/Weisslich 22, 1995 version]

Ablinger offers this explanation about the set of pieces called IEAOV:

The basic operation for the IEAOV pieces is allways the “verticalization” or “condensation”: By condensation successive events are transformed into the simultaneity of a spectrum. A succession of sounds as an input (the “palette”) turns into a color of sound as an output.

The Prestudy for IEAOV is described as a “verticalization of all white piano keys,” that is played alongside a very slow upward pitch shift of that same verticalization. Here, there are two types of comparison that are possible. One is between the two verticalizations: the one that is static and the other that is in motion. How are these pitches playing against each other in their frozen and semi-frozen states? The other type of comparison is between your image of the sound of the piano and the actual sound of this piece. No sound is presented here other than the sound of the piano, but I find that it sounds like many other things.

[19:27-48:38 Prestudy for IEAOV]

– Jennie Gottschalk, August 24, 2015

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