7. February 2017

The dramaturgy depends on the intelligence of the performer

Florentin Ginot speaks with Vinko Globokar

You are writing a new piece for Ensemble Musikfabrik entitled Les Soliloques décortiqués (Soliloquies dissected), which will be premiered in March 2017 through the ensemble’s WDR concert series in Cologne.  Please tell me about the piece!
I chose the title, because all 16 musicians are soloists. Each plays a solo, one after the other, while the 15 members of the rest of the group – changing accordingly after each solo – dissect what the soloist plays: pitches, rhythms, dynamics, morphology of the sounds, etc. At the age of 82, I’ve seriously decided to substantially stretch the limits of my experience once again – I’m working on a doctorate through the VAE program (Validation des Acquis de l’Expérience). One of the requirements is to write a new piece in comparison with all of my previous works. Over the course of my life, I have written 180 different pieces for all possible combinations of instruments. I attacked Soliloques therefore from a very didactic perspective, so that I could explain everything that I wrote. I also restricted myself to purely musical parameters: I excluded any form of theater, instrumental technique or politics, although those things always subliminally resonate in my music, due to the fact that the other 180 pieces dealt exactly with these themes. I’ve known the musicians of Ensemble Musikfabrik since the early days of the ensemble 25 years ago – although not everyone in the current line-up. While composing, I went after the limits of instrumental possibilities…

You often speak of the “extension of instrumental possibilities” – do you use this approach in Soliloques?
That more or less belongs to my concept of music: I’ve never written two pieces from the same point of departure. When I compose a piece, I decide which theme I want to address, and then wrap up my thoughts on the subject when I’m finished. And although a concrete idea is always at the starting point, I never know in which direction a piece will evolve…

In addition to your new piece, our March concert program will also include music by Luciano Berio, who was not only your teacher, but also composed for you.
My story with Berio began when I was 30 years old. Although I had studied for 4 years with René Leibowitz, who was a passionate advocate of modernism, I was aware that I understood nothing of the musical language of the post-war period which had brought such fundamental changes! We became friends when Berio wrote the Sequenza V for trombone for me, and I asked him to give me lessons in Berlin. We didn’t speak much about music, but rather more about Ethnology, Claude Lévi-Strauss, politics, etc. …all topics outside of music. That’s exactly when and why I realized that creative ideas arise from life itself and not out of aesthetics. After the war, a generation of composers all in their 20’s invented experimental music: Stockhausen, Boulez, Ligeti, Berio, Nono, Pousseur. The art they created was rude because they didn’t care about the audience.

With regards to being rude nowadays…
It no longer happens! Starting in the 1980s the press began to speak of globalization, a purely economic issue about getting everyone on the same track. Ten years earlier, the arts had already started to isolate themselves, that is to say, the people were gradually turning into absolute individualists. Artists do interesting things nowadays, one in Finland and another in Australia, but one no longer speaks of a movement: they are creative people, but isolated from each other.  They represent an individualistic countermovement, and in most works money, clichés and good behavior play a role. At 82, I have the impression that I’m alone. But happy! (laughs)

You are an instrumentalist, improviser and composer – how did you develop your own creative universe and your relationship with the performers?
In chronological order: I was born in France, in a mining area. From the age of six I learned piano and tambura, a Slovenian guitar, from a Slovenian teacher who traveled from one mine to another. When I was 13 years old, my family moved to Yugoslavia after the mine was closed. There I started trombone. Under Tito, every 20 year old had to join the military for a year or two. There was at that time a fantastic radio broadcasting big band, and when two of the musicians had to join the military, I replaced them – I was 17. After the war, an American spy ship based in the Adriatic Sea broadcast anti-Soviet propaganda, and between 11 pm and midnight, there was a program about the experimental jazz of the 1950s and 1960s. So we knew all of the biggest bands inside and out: Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Count Basie! When I got a scholarship to study in Paris three years later, I immediately started playing in jazz clubs. And until I was 30, I wrote music for big bands. I only started to compose at the age of 30.

You have a lot of experience with improvisation – what do you leave to the freedom of the interpreter in your compositions?
When I write, I specify absolutely everything! I allow no freedoms in my composed pieces, there is not an iota of improvisation. If I take up my trombone and improvise with others, then I am on equal footing, I don’t have the final say. But I am absolutely allergic to controlled improvisation. Sometimes things in the notation which are not actually possible. Writing and defining things that can’t be done psychologically influences the performers in a different way.

To what extent does the musician carry the scenic dramaturgy in your music?
The dramaturgy depends on the intelligence of the performer. In a piece using a strictly defined notation, an intelligent instrumentalist can make a fantastic performance, but the same piece can also be a disaster – depending on the comprehension the musician. One example is my work for a percussionist, ?Corporel, the story of a person exploring their body using gestures. How do you implement this? I’m not a percussionist, I’ve no idea how to do it. It depends on the intelligence of the performer: What kind of person are they, what type of education do they have, where do they come from?

Does it also depend on what the musician projects towards the audience – what they present and get in return as feedback?
I don’t care about the audience. That’s why I cringe at solo improvisation, because those who improvise alone, without outside stimulation, can only divulge what they already know, so there are no surprises. For me, the public is always behind a glass wall. The performance of the musician also depends on their intelligence. The glass wall exists in any case, whether the audience likes the performance or not. I’m simply on a stage, because I wish to express my innermost thoughts.

Oktober 31, 2016