16. October 2018

Linkage!: contagion, mutation, cloud

Justin Hoke has written contagion, mutation, cloud (2018), the new piece for our fourth Linkage! phase. On October 27 in WDR Funkhaus am Wallrafplatz, students of Gemeinschaftsgrundschule Zwirnerstraße will give its first premiere with our musicians from Ensemble Musikfabrik.

You have been commissioned to write a piece for the new project Linkage!. What is the main difference of this commission compared to others?

In many ways, this project was not a great departure from the concepts I wrestle with in all my work. Nuance, minute variations. How a thing evolves—quietly, without our noticing—until it becomes something else. The impossibility of communication and connection. Moments of density, moments of scarcity. Of course the main challenge was finding a way to distill these ideas into a simple form, accessible to professionals and non-professionals alike, but the basic ideas remain the same.

The only requirement was, the composition has to be „spielBar“ (playable), so it can be performed by pupils without prior instrumental knowledge. How is your piece „spielBar“?

I admit to being obsessed with detail. Indeed I often feel a composition has not been fully interpreted until the details are all accounted for. That said,
relinquishing control over that kind of granularity, as is necessary for a project such as this, is an opportunity to find that same level of richness in other areas. In contagion, mutation, cloud, sounds—chosen by the participants—are generated by a leader (or leaders), and these sounds are imitated in succession by the entire group, so that the gestures are passed around the room. Participants are asked to focus on their neighbors and mimic them as closely as possible. The decisions a single individual makes can affect the outcome immensely. In this way, the piece is ultimately an exercise in careful listening: an act in which anyone can participate.

Please tell us something about the creative process: How did you approach the piece? What was especially challenging?

Notation—how a sound is rendered visually, what affect the notation has on a performer—is generally the first place I start when composing, and this project was no different. I wanted the participants to engage with a visual object, just as trained musicians would. How, then, to create a notation that has a very limited number of elements and is easily graspable, that is not strict in how it must be interpreted, but that also has the same richness of interpretation as other notated music does? Often, in order to understand the shape of a composition, I being with a “map”: a visual distillation of the architecture of the piece, but lacking many important details. Normally the finished composition would be built up from this map. However, the cyclical map in contagion, mutation, cloud is a complete visual object, even though the interpreter has considerable freedom in how she decides to “read” it. The participants can engage with this map in a variety of ways depending on their experience: a notation both precise and open-ended.

contagion, mutation, cloud is the title of your piece that students of Bertolt-Brecht-Gesamtschule will premiere on October 27 at our concert „Musikfabrik im WDR 68 – Dark Paradise“. What does the title tell us about the composition?

I am primarily a visual person. More than sound, I tend to think in images above all else. The title—those three mellifluous words—are visualizations of the experience of the piece. Sounds flow through the group like a virus through a body; as they do, they inevitably evolve, shift, mutate; clouds at times thick and heavy and black, other times thin enough to blow away, all but invisible.