An Optoacoustic Performance of Contemporary Music, inspired by László Moholy-Nagy
With the participation of László Gőz (trombone, sea-shell), György Kurtág jr. (synthesizers, computer), Miklós Lukács (cimbalom) and Szabolcs Kerestes (visualisation).
Programming for the optoacoustic alphabet and animation by Binaura Collective (Budapest).
May 20, 2017
Bing Theater of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tickets are available at www.lacma.org
New York performance TBA
Timed to coincide with the exhibition Future Present, the most comprehensive Moholy-Nagy exhibition ever presented in North America – currently on show at LACMA, this performance investigates the legacy of Moholy-Nagy and the spirit of avant-garde and its relevance for late modern and contemporary experimental music.
This unique, rare concert presents an overview of the Hungarian electronic classical music scene that carried the torch of experimentation and innovation in the repressive decades of state socialism in the 1960s and 1970s, building a spiritual bridge between Moholy-Nagy's avant-garde experimentalism and the freedom for artistic self-expression brought about by regime change and the end of socialism in 1989. The musical performance event Moment's Notice is also an instance of artists from various universes of contemporary music coming together to create something extraordinary, in the spirit of John Cage's definition, that exists only in the here and now. Each performance is unique yet they are united by the desire to create a link between Moholy-Nagy's ideas and legacy, the electroacoustic revolution in music of the Cold War era that miraculously transcended the Iron Curtain and the contemporary music they are creating on stage during each performance.
Accordingly, Moment's Notice is an amalgamation of visual arts, including an optoacoustic sign language projected to the audience, the presentation of five electroacoustic pieces by Hungarian composers and four improvisations by the three musical collaborators, trombonist László Gőz, electronic sound artist György Kurtág jr. and cimbalom extraordinaire Miklós Lukács. The trio is thus made up of three radically different artists, whose joint efforts represent a special meeting of contemporary artistic sensibilities. Gőz is a stalwart of Hungarian neo-avant-garde music, a great jazz trombone player teaming up with Kurtág, a new music composer and researcher at SCRIME LabRi at Bordeaux University, as well as crossover sensation Lukács, whose groundbreaking work spanning two decades has opened vast new experimental and contemporary musical horizons for the cimbalom (hammered dulcimer), a traditional folk instrument.
The audiences are welcomed to the event by György Ligeti's Artikulation, composed in 1958 in Cologne, then the epicenter of the emergent German electroacoustic movement, accompanied by a projection of graphic artist Rainer Wehinger's 1970 "visualized sheet music" for the piece. Moving on, the musicians launch into an improvisation, departing from Ligeti's piece as the projection shifts to a live optoacoustic visualization: the notes and sounds from the stage are translated into optical signs in real time, conjuring up the visual universe of László Moholy-Nagy. This duality of the visual and the acoustic is upheld throughout the performance, as composed pieces are accompanied by animated sequences and improvisations by real-time animation with the aid of a computer program developed for this performance.
Moholy-Nagy was a pioneer in experimenting with a diverse set of media, from drawing, photo collages and paintings to sculptures, photograms and moving images. Observing this wide set of activity led to an interesting collection of his works. Experimentations started with shapes, colors and compositions that defined Moholy’s works, and continued with combining these elements based on the most typical colors used in a subjectively pre-selected picture set. After creating the color extraction, movements and methods, such as noise were introduced into the creative flow. During the process of sketching and doodling came along the basic idea: a three dimensional space, where each sound from each musician has an affect on the space or adds some visual element to the scene.
The Visual Scene
Each instrument has different visual characteristics and as the sounds are building up, a three dimensional sculpture is emerging simultaneously. Besides the blocks of the sculpture, the sound of the wind instruments gained an extra feature: depending on the intensity of their sound when they are played, the camera of the whole scene is moved around setting the composition in motion.
Sounds & Analysis
The music consists of three individual tracks played live by the three musicians. A multichannel external sound card handles all the incoming audio channels with the Binaura custom software. The system predicts which tone the musician is playing at the moment, and it selects the corresponding visual set of shapes, based on the predicted class. Noisy, cracking sounds produce different visuals compared to clean, harmonic ones in the scene.
About the musicians
László Gőz, Hungarian jazz and contemporary classical artist, professor of music and producer is a well-known studio musician and has contributed to over a hundred albums. In 1996 he founded Budapest Music Center - Hungarian Music Information Center, then in 1998 BMC Records, which has released about a hundred Hungarian contemporary, jazz, and classical albums up to now. In 2003 László Gőz was awarded with the Gold Cross of Merit of the Republic of Hungary for his work in the field of contemporary Hungarian music. As a musician, his collaborations have included work with Steve Reich, Petr Kotik, Alvin Curran, Chris Newman, Jiggs Wigham and Carl Fontana.
György Kurtág jr. studied music in Hungary, before joining the team of the Centre Européen de Recherche Musicale in Metz in 1980. He went on to collaborate with Maurizio Kagel, Péter Eötvös and Sylvano Bussotti, as well as participating in the American tour of Pierre Boulez’s Repons while working on music theory and theories of musical movement, as well as innovation in instrument design. With Daniel Kientzy (saxophone) and Frank Royan Le Mee (vocalist) he founded the ensemble Comité des Fêtes. With György Kurtág Sr. he composed the standout Zwiegespräch for "electronic hybrid" string quartet and synthesizer, as well as film scores and a score of diverse pieces while also researching composition. A regular participant at major international festivals, he also remains in the vanguard of innovative musicological research.
Miklós Lukács is one of the best-known cimbalom players today. His unique style is inspired by contemporary classical music, jazz and folk music from his native Hungary and the Balkans. In 2006, he started his own project, the Lukács Miklós Quintet, and has also composed music for plays, chamber orchestra, solo pieces and concertos for cimbalom. He has performed with musicians including Charles Lloyd, Archie Shepp, Chris Potter, Steve Coleman, Herbie Mann, Uri Caine, Chico Freeman, among others. Lukács has performed as a soloist with several renowned orchestras (Orhestre de la Suisse Romande, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, RAI National Symphony Orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, the ORF Symphony Orchestra, etc.). His playing is distinguished by a keen sense of musical structure and exploring novel options of playing the cimbalom, making it into a diverse instrument of contemporary music.
About Moment’s Notice
Electroacoustic music and the vision of László Moholy Nagy
Contemporary artists will attest to how technology and the composer's mind are in eternal competition, while also affecting each other. Electroacoustic music drove home the point of (re)learning to think about the note as a physical phenomenon open to analysis. This of course means that digital processing is a procedure that has always been close to the driving forces and core ideas in the genre. Visualization of physical properties through a digital translation process is only a step away from them. Offering an optoacoustic experience, visualized electronic music represents an artistic attempt at speaking in multiple, mutually interpretive languages at the same time, offering an ongoing pluralistic reflection in the course of the performance.
As electroacoustic music evolved from being purely recorded music on tape to being both a mixture of live performance and recorded music, this trend has held ample opportunities for modulations through computers and other equipment, as well as for music that can be visualized, creating a performance space where the representation of the artist happens in an audiovisual continuum that is internally and immanently responsive to the impulses that it generates. The universe of sounds has also been expanded in the process: natural and artificial sounds can coexist in various montage arrangements, while also being transformed, through the inclusion of speakers (acousmatic music) and other modulating processes.
All of this represents, in a way, a realization of Moholy-Nagy's early ideas about a new total music of the future in more ways than one. Moholy, following the ideas of his Bruitist and De Stijl contemporaries in an essay originally published in Der Sturm, where the opening up the musical universe toward electroacoustic production and the broadening of the universe of musical signs was discussed in equal measure, and with visionary foresight, sketched out a possibility for a new, "universal" music.
In today’s musical experimentations, research around amplifier tubes opening new vistas towards the generation of acoustic phenomena holds a central position. Italian Bruitists attempted to construct new instruments emitting novel sounds. With the amplifier tube, a universal instrument capable of generating any kind of acoustic phenomenon, these efforts reach their apogee. The possibilities inherent in these developments, however, by no means exhaust the potential of transformational processes in music. I refer here to the wonderful piece by P. Mondrian in De Stijl – The new form in music and the Italian bruitists – which provides an analysis of the principles of novel methods to shape sounds.
There, he writes „Music will develop not through the enrichment, the refinement or amplification of sounds, but through overcoming the oppositional pairings of the particular and the universal, of the natural and the spiritual – since all formulation should really aim at creating a balance for the human being.” To this he adds: „Nature’s noises are the outcome of a permanent and synchronic amalgamation process. Old music created ruptures in this amalgamation and permanence, shaped sounds out of noises and organized these into harmonious sequences. New music, in order to become universal, needs to create a new order, the order of sounds and non-sounds (or noises)." ... Instruments must be constructed so as to make it possible to interrupt immediately any resonance. For this, we require new technologies and new instruments. ... These demands, inasmuch as they represent an exterior precondition, will be fulfilled by the reliance on amplifier tubes. My goals to reshape music in the same field take a different direction while closely aligning themselves with Mondrian's train of thought. In what follows, I bypass a discussion of the grounds for a novel system of generating sounds and will focus on the possibility of realizing such a goal with the help of a novel instrument.
My proposition is to transform the gramophone from a reproductive instrument into a productive one, by direct inscriptions-engravings onto the disk. No specific preexisting acoustic phenomena are to be copied onto it, but rather sound is to be created directly through the act of engraving.
(Excerpts from "The new form in music: The possibilities of the gramophone". In: Der Sturm, July 1923)
The evolution of electroacoustic music in Hungary
Electroacoustic music as a genre appeared around 1948, largely attributable to the innovations made by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen in Paris and Cologne, respectively. The novel artistic form made its way to Hungary and thus beyond the Iron Curtain about a decade later when Hungarian composer Zoltán Pongrácz received a rare opportunity to study the movement abroad. In this period of early artistic transfer of ideas, the state-owned film production company and the national radio broadcaster of Hungary emerged as the first domestic supporters of transplanting the musical innovations from the "bourgeois" West, with Iván Patachich and János Decsényi the first composers to experiment extensively with electroacoustic music. In 1974, the Hungarian Radio, the national broadcaster offered to composers some of its equipment, including tape recorders, mixers, sinus generators, filters and went on to purchase a Moog synthesizer. The electroacoustic studio was founded in 1975, debuting with a recording by Victor Máté. The rise of the movement was propelled by the first prize awarded to Zoltán Pongrácz at the Bourges international electroacoustic music composition for Mariphonia, a pioneering work. Pongrácz was also instrumental in introducing electroacoustic music to the curriculum of the Academy of Music and other institutions in Hungary, with theoretical classes taking place on campus and practical training in the Radio's studio. By the 1980s, Hungarian electroacoustic music had grown into an international phenomenon, garnering a series of prizes and awards, while becoming a veritable musical movement in the country itself. The studio referred to increasingly as HEAR (Hungarian ElectroAcoustic Research) continued to provide an environment facilitating the process of creation for composers.
Curator for the Guggenheim Museum's Optical Sound event, musicologist and artist Zach Layton reflected on the process in a blog entry composed following his inspirational trip to Budapest. Layton wrote: For the gramophone, Moholy-Nagy proposed the concept of a laboratory research environment where composers could research a “groove script” in order to systematize and catalog the myriad sounds that could be produced by such a method. Through variations in the length, width, and depth of the inscriptions, he suggests that these grooves could produce “new, hitherto nonexistent sounds and tonal relationships.” With these thoughts, the artist anticipated the research of Edgard Varèse, Pierre Schaeffer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and John Cage (particularly Cage’s 1960 Cartridge Music) by decades.
During the 1950s, electronic music production studios located within the infrastructure of European national radio stations provided precisely the type of laboratory research environments that Moholy-Nagy proposed in 1922. The studios most often referenced within the context of a history of European 20th–century experimental music are the WDR studio for electronic music in Cologne, Germany, where Karlheinz Stockhausen carried out his early research; the Paris Radiodiffusion Française studios, where Pierre Schaeffer developed Musique Concrète on magnetic tape; and the RAI Studio of Phonology in Milan, Italy. Rarely, however, does the Electroacoustic Music Studio of HEAR, located in Moholy-Nagy’s native country, receive this kind of attention, despite the important work and research into electronic sound carried out at a time when Hungary was living under Soviet rule.
Detailed musician biographies
László Gőz attended a secondary music school operating under the direction of Zoltán Kodály, where he played the violin for five years. He graduated from the Béla Bartók Conservatory of Music with a degree in jazz and classical music, subsequently from the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music as a trombonist and a teacher of music in 1976. He has been teaching history of music, ear training and jazz improvisation at the jazz department of the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music since 1978.
He was a founding member of the new music ensemble Group 180, renowned for its contemporary music concerts and recordings (Group 180: Coming Together ; also with Steve Reich, László Melis, Béla Faragó and other important figures of experimental music in the 1980s). Between 1979 - 1989, as a member of Group 180, he played at several premieres of and in happenings organized around contemporary music pieces. During this period the group played over 400 concerts all over Europe at various music festivals, recording for the Hungarian Radio, the Süddeutscher Rundfunk, the Hessischer Rundfunk, Radio France and the Hungarian Television, in cooperation with musicians like Steve Reich, Petr Kotik, Alvin Curran, Chris Newman, György Szabados, László Vidovszky and others. Gőz was also a founding member of Fodderbasis, a "non-materialistic bulletin" begun in 1988, participating in its projects (Wiener Festwochen - Austria, Music of the Future Festival - Budapest), publications and recording of music for films. In 1989 he founded the group Brass Age, with which he recorded two albums (Brass Age: Brass Tones; Blue in Blue). He is a sought after arranger and solist and has performed as a guest on over 100 albums. His improvisation-based work has been recognized numerous times, including by composers such as György Kurtág and Péter Eötvös, who composed solo pieces or solo parts for Gőz in recent years.
In 1996 he founded Budapest Music Center, an award winning musical development lab and performance center, then in 1998 BMC Records, which has released over 100 Hungarian contemporary, jazz, and classical CD's. Gőz also ranks as one of the foremost authorities on experimental instruments of the avant-garde and neo-avantgarde. In 2003 László Gőz was awarded with the Gold Cross Of Merit Of The Republic Of Hungary for his work in the field of contemporary Hungarian music.
After completing his studies at the Academy of Music in Hungary, György Kurtág, jr. moved to France in 1980 where he joined the team of the Centre Européen de Recherche Musicale in Metz. He simultaneously joined the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, the prime institution in avant-garde and experimental music in France, located in the Centre Pompidou, as composer-researcher. He worked there with Maurizio Kagel, Peter Eötvös and Sylvano Bussotti, inter alia, and also joined Pierre Boulez for his Repons project and tour. He has composed several film scores including that of Goldberg Variations for which he won the best original score award from the french film critics’ association in 1993. In 1996, he readapted the original score of Plan 9 from outer space by Ed Wood, presented as a live performance-screening in Paris.
More recently, Kurtág worked as an academic board member for SCRIME, the experimental music center at the University of Bordeaux, while working with the German association Shadow on a midi-guitar interface project. He is the composer, notably, of several electronic hybrid string works, one in collaboration with György Kurtág, sr. Their collaborative work was premiered at the Luzern music festival in 2000, performed subsequently by the Arditti Quartet and, during the Wiener Festwochen, by the Takács Quartet. His best known solo work, The Continuator Project, has ben programmed in the past decade by over half a dozen internatioanal festivals in France, Austria, Hungary and elsewhere. His recent albums, Kurtagonals (2009) and The Well Tempered Universe: Sounds of Space (2010) with the trio Sc.Art both were received with praise from critics and recognized with a number of awards, including Contemporary Classical Album of the Year for The Well Tempered Universe in Hungary.
Miklós Lukács is one of the best-known virtuoso cimbalom players in the world today. His unique style is inspired by contemporary classical music, jazz and folk music from his native Hungary and the Balkans, and he has transformed this folk instrument into a vehicle for experimentation in contemporary music, broadening its range to previously unthought of proportions. He has performed with musicians including Charles Lloyd, Archie Shepp, Chris Potter, Steve Coleman, Herbie Mann, Uri Caine, Chico Freeman, among others. Lukács has performed as a soloist with several renowned orchestras (Orhestre de la Suisse Romande, the BBC Symphony Orhestra, RAI National Symphony Orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, the ORF Symphony Orchestra, etc.). He has performed at Covent Garden, Royal Albert Hall, the Barbican Center, Carnegie Hall, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and the Opera houses in Lyon and Bordeaux. He has also performed at the Yehudi Menuhin Festival, the Warsaw Autumn Festival, the London Jazz Festival, as well as the jazz festivals of Ljubljana and Cork.
In 2006, he started his own project, the Lukács Miklós Quintet, and has also composed music for plays, chamber orchestra, solo pieces and concertos for cimbalom. Since 2001 Miklós Lukács has been teaching at the Talentum Dance and Music School, and became an instructor and the head of the cimbalom department at Snétberger Music Talent Center in 2011, a special enterprise run by Roma jazz artists to promote emancipation through success in the arts. Awards include the Artisjus Award (2000; 2009) and the Hungarian Award for the Arts (2011). He has performed of late in the United States with great success both as a soloist for Charles Lloyd in his Wild Man Suite (Met Museum and Lincoln Center), as well as a member of the Glass House Orchestra at NYU's Skirball Center in the course of 2015's Kulturfest.