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Peter Ablinger:
WEISS



For me, "weiß" (white) may be the most seductive word of all. I´ve dedicated the most pieces to it, and not just the ones with "weiß" in the title. Add to this the fact that there is also such a thing as white Noise [weißes Rauschen], and that this is for once not just another metaphor borrowed from some other sensory region (typically optics), but-color terminology aside-an originally acoustic expression. With Noise, I have something which does not involve transference from the get-go-already something of a small miracle when it comes to the relation between music and talking about music. In a reversal of the norm, Noise has been dragged into everyday speech by information theory, and can refer to anything redundant, contingent, impossible or difficult to communicate.

Noise is called "white" if all its frequencies are equally strong. In this respect, there is indeed a parallel to light. But only as long as I am primed to imagine this Noise, this Everything, as LOUD. In any other case, the comparison is lost. The definition, "all frequencies equally strong" says nothing about volume (energy), so white Noise is still white Noise when it´s very soft; and it would be mathematically correct to say that the same applies if it is infinitely soft, if there is an absence of all energy, which, in terms of light, would correspond to black.

Whether black or white, Noise´s density, amorphousness, and coloristic names (we also talk about pink Noise and brown Noise) make the comparison between noise and surface seem all but inevitable. Thus transference rears its head yet again: this time retroactively.

Back Transfer:

In the first version of Weiss/weisslich 7 (1994), Noise is left in its organic, undesigned, undeveloped, unlimited state. At the same time, I was sketching the piece Quadrat [Square] for a single loudspeaker, which consisted of exactly four minutes of white Noise. This should, of course, have been the better translation of a white square-better, because (loud) Noise, with its capacity for absorption and for masking quiet background noises (stomach grumbles, etc.), is somehow more silent than silence; and because, unlike Cage's 4´33", it refers directly back to Malevich's original without Rauschenberg´s intermediary translation. But however much speculation is involved in this consideration, the real question is: how long does Noise need to be in order to become a square? Or, more technically speaking, is there a compulsory relationship between bandwidth (spectrum) and duration? Is there an obligatory measure of duration? What is a square in music? One might further speculate that, if the spectrum is white and therefore infinite, the duration must also be infinite. But I´ve never found anyone who could confirm this; on the contrary, most people would tend to associate the long duration of recorded Noise with some sort of extended rectangle. I always meant to pursue this further: I wanted to play Noise for different friends and colleagues, and ask them how long it needed to sound in order to be perceived as a square. The individual pieces of the resulting series would then be called: Square for Klaus Lang, Square for Maria de Alvear, Square for Daniel Rothman, Square for Jürg Frey, Square for Alvin Lucier, Square for Makiko Nishikaze.

I learned from Gösta Neuwirth (who learned this in turn from Heimito von Doderer) that problems are never solved on the same level at which one first encounters them. A few months later, this problem was solved in realizing that it wasn´t a problem at all. As I started to transfer my ideas about sonic density to instruments in late 1994, as the density and sound quality of the moment usurped the place of process and structural change, as color replaced time as the dominant focus, the fundamental revaluation of the spectrum revealed a possible equation with respect to time (IEAOV: Instruments and Electro-acoustic site-specific densification, 1995-present).

And with that, there seems suddenly to be only the barest shade of difference between painting and music. When set out to find a methodical way of restructuring my ideas, I had my first successes in the visual sphere. I started taking photos with long exposure times and a moving camera. Concrete objects disappeared for the sake of their pure coloristic value, and any aspect of any object could reappear anywhere in the picture. I considered the resulting photo series to be music-one could say it was in the tradition of Dieter Schnebel´s visible music, or more aptly that of Roman Haubenstock-Ramati's graphic scores, which were not intended for performance but are, so to speak, entirely self-sufficient.

(below is the notebook entry in which I plotted out these intentions):
Sketch for:
IEAOV,
Homage to the Square,
1995-99

Homage to the Square.

The square didn't-and still won't-let me out of its grasp. One of the IEAOV pieces, which I still haven't managed to bring to an end, despite multiple performances, is called IEAOV: Homage to the Square, after the eponymous series of more than 1000 paintings by Bauhaus painter Josef Albers. I've examined twelve of these in great detail, on numerous visits to the Berlin "Kupferstichkabinett." [The Berlin Museum of Prints and Drawings]
The confusion of the eyes when viewing Albers' paintings leads us to the ambivalence between image and non-image; to the complex relationship between image and beholder, between the real, present object and its subjective or culturally encoded perception. In the Byzantine period, in Cistercian orders and Muslim cultures, this ambivalence translated into a ban on icons (images). In 20th century abstract art, particularly with monochromatic and color field painting, this thematic was revived in the difference between that which is really, physically there-canvas, color application, the flesh-and-blood museumgoer-and the unreal, unquantifiable phenomenon which transpires between these two: image and beholder. While composing Verkündigung, I was not yet thinking about Barnett Newman or Yves Klein, but about Jackson Pollock. I associated the piece's instrumental structures and techniques with his "dripping" technique: it was possible to precisely control the general gesture or direction of movement, but not the way it would manifest itself in detail. Throughout my work on Verkündigung, I sat in front of what was once a white wall, now stained. I observed my observation of the wall, how I would constantly combine the stains into different constellations and interpret these as figures or designs. Something similar happens when we stand in front of a waterfall: if we don't just stay in our own thoughts, but really listen in, we start to hear melodies in the Noise of the waterfall. Our brain seems utterly incapable of hearing or perceiving nothing. Faced with nothing (or simply too little information), it always creates something. Ultimately, this is precisely the mode of "transference" that determines our life (our art) far more than anything else. All metaphors (transferences) are themselves metaphors for the interpretive bustle of the mind, for the permanent creation of a reality that keeps us functional. The name of the Weiss/weisslich cycle does not just indicate the fine differentiation of one white from another white; it also refers to the difference between white and the perception of white. In the piece which gave the series its name (later called Weiss/weisslich 3), the subject of transference is expressed in perhaps the most immediate, direct, and simple ways in all my work: once again, I stood in front of a painting and thought of music. This time it was 1990 in the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. It was one of those huge exhibitions, I've forgotten the theme, but I remember I had just started walking through, having entered from the last room. And there I stood in front of a painting made up only of vertical, light gray stripes, no more than two different shades of gray, alternating with complete regularity. It wasn't so much that I looked at the painting as that it looked at me, watching me sink into my thoughts for a while and then suddenly ditch the exhibition to go home and sketch a piece. The piece consisted of nothing more than a repeated, regular alternation between 40 seconds of silence and 40 seconds of near-silence. It wasn't until many years later that I finally found out it had been a painting by Agnes Martin.

Light plays a decisive role in the development of all these concepts related to "Noise," "white," "densification," "surface": the observation of natural light and the study of light effects in the arts of past eras. Below is a note from 1991, after a visit to the Cathedral of Brno: As in other related notes, this is not about analyzing another artistic discipline. Rather, what is negotiated in visual terms here is, in fact, already a profoundly complex musical concept (Grisailles, 1991-3, Der Regen, das Glas, das Lachen, 1994). Incidentally, on a subsequent visit to Brno, I realized that the sanctuary of the cathedral had no colored stained-glass windows at all.

Of all the many impressions or influences which have affected the concept of surface or flatness in my work, I will mention only those few which do not pertain to art or culture, but are nonetheless the most fundamental and immediate for me (though they may be less discursively inclined): wind in different grasses and trees, the sound of rainfall, the beginning drizzle, the color of the sky (Weiss/weisslich 18, 1992, 96, Regenstück [Rain piece], 1993, et al.) I remember once crying out to an evening sky, whose colors were morphing from blue to green to orange and purple, that this was precisely my musical goal. If I haven't reached this goal by now, I've probably come closer than anyone else. Feldman thought that what he was doing had to do with surface, with flatness. Compared to Stockhausen, maybe. But compared to IEAOV or even certain Noise pieces, Feldman is still working graphically. One could say that he placed his sounds in two-dimensional space, in the sense that the sounds exist on the same level and not at different spatial depths. The IEAOV surfaces still have depth, whereas my Noise pieces dispose of their own depth in the moment they rid themselves of characteristic foreground forms. Space is transcended, enveloped, but no longer represented or recreated. Rain, the Noise of a waterfall, and other events outside music history, as well as non-sounding arts like painting, awakened me to the need for a total absence of structure, for a flatness which can only be associated with light. It's really not about the surface of painting, as Feldman thought. Feldman's flatness is that of fabric. It's never the flatness of a monochromatic panel.

Structurelessness, redundancy, contingency, skirting the margins of what is communicable as art-all this can come off as "reductionist" or "minimalist." Or sometimes its opposite (maximalist?). Something like "style" is much too superficial for me. A hat you can put on and take off. In any case, there is truly no minimalist dogma in my work. The highest law of artistic minimalism is that a thing (a sound, etc.) can only be itself and nothing else. Maybe it's the Alpine hills, the Celtic strain in me, I don't know, but the best reaction such a thought can elicit from me is a sympathetic smirk.
translation: Meaghan Burke



full text:

METAPHORS 1983-2004, in: "Peter Ablinger, Von Bockel-Verlag, 2019


See also the documenations on:

Weiss/Weisslich 12, Churches of the Mark Brandenburg

Weiss/weisslich 15, 5 Rooms, Coloured Silence

Weiss/Weisslich 18, Trees Noise

Weiss/Weisslich 24, Churches of St.Lambrecht

Weiss/Weisslich 26, Sketches for an Arboretum

Weiss/Weisslich 30, Reed in Pots, Wind

Rauschen / White Noise


Texte und Überlegungen von (mit) Peter Ablinger zum Thema Rauschen:

RAUSCHEN/HYPOTHESEN, 1991-95

DER WASSERFALL, 1/1993, ein Gespräch mit Karl-Heinz Dicht

RAUSCHEN/STICHWORTE, (1990,)1995

WEISS/WEISSLICH 18, 11/1999

SCHNEE (2), 12/1999


Schwarz / Black:

Black Series

Schwarzes Rauschen/ Black Noise

"Weiss ist schön"




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impressum \ this page was created by Aljoscha Hofmann \  last edited 18.08.2002 CET