Life Art Music Writing

Salon at home

Last Sunday, my roommate and I started a salon series at home. Organizing stuff in New York is difficult, as things get intense and overdue, and you can always have as many troubles in work as in personal life. Luckily, a bunch of supportive friends and art enthusiasts never give up occasions where they can get drunk and shout out their love for the city, while the city becomes more irresistibly charming because of them.

The first salon was much simpler than what we had envisioned due to the limited time we had for planning as well as the doubt for the feasibility. The only performers we had for the music part were me and my roommate's laptop (on which a recorded live performance was played). Artist Michael Hafftka showed up in his casual denim shirt with a humongous amount of energy to be poured out from his creative mind. Throughout the salon, Michael went through all the facets of his creative process, from how to start a painting, how to pin down a title (in which his lovely wife Yonat Hafftka playes a big part) to how to interact with the viewers, he successfully left an impression of a Santa Claus... No, a mature artist who has a great positive vibe and as well as total control of his art world (which is that you cannot control...). As a music lover, he also shared his immediate reaction after hearing me perform the "Piano Sonata 1. X. 1905" by Leos Janacek as a game to compare the historical context of an artwork and the audience's emotional reaction. (Here I am sharing a great recording recommended by the intelligent and elegant pianist Lisa Yui.) When it came to music, we were so lucky to have had Lisa in presence as her broad knowledge made a much-appreciated contribution to the discussion. She could just call in Beethoven and Chopin when we dealt with subjects such as giving a title or to communicate the creators' intentions, and she would tell us what these giants in the classical music world would say about them. We had so many wonderful people in our apartment, and most of them came to hear my roommate Shiuan Chang's wonderfully unique composition. As the composer stated himself, he preferred not to give away the title before playing the recording because he believed "a direct personal contact with the artwork" would be the most genuine way of appreciating art. All these discussion led us to explore other media in the art world. We turned to the inspiring photographer Masahito Ono for his point of view, as he later recalled, "I don't consider any of my work original since all the materials and elements I use already exist." That suites perfectly for a pianist dealing with a musical score, and our discussion paused there, with me finishing the salon by performing Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy. We are all wanderers on the path of pursuing the art, aren't we?


Milton Babbitt's Demonstration on Electronic Music

This is fascinating to look more than a half century back and realize that how much electronic music has gone through. In this video, Milton Babbitt showcased four different ways to either create or manipulate sounds. With each one, he played excerpts from the following works.

Pre-recorded Sound: "Of Wood and Brass" by Vladimir Ussachevsky.

Electronic Oscillation: "Electronic Study No. 2" by Mario Davidovsky

Computer-generated: "Mudgett, Monologues for a Mass Murderer" by James Randall

Synthesizer: "Vision and Prayer" by Milton Babbitt

Babbitt is extremely eloquent and clear-minded. He gave concise descriptions of each means, showed enthusiasm about the works to be played and answered the host's questions with wittiness and conviction. One of the host's question is a real problem, as he involuntarily relate the electronic sound to science-fiction film soundtracks. It is similar to people who relate classical music to bedtime music and serial music to emotionless creation. In short, it is a kind of prejudice. One does need to eliminate any pre-existing connotations if he or she wants to be able to understand or perceive something new. With the "bad habits of oneself' no one can embrace any changes, not to mention appreciate them.

However, Babbitt mentioned that composers who turned to electronic music were not interested in the new sound, but the possibilities electronic music could provide, to which I have a different point of view, as I was largely drown to electronic music by the sound per se. I remember when I heard Luigi Nono's "Contrappunto dialettico alla mente" the first time, how my ears opened up to a whole new sound world that is simply parallel to the acoustic music. I agree that the sound world is fundamentally enabled by the possibilities a computer can provide, but I also believe that more and more composers are now aware and conscious of creating their own sound, which is self-explanatory by listening to different electronic music composers.

Another point of interest is how computers and synthesizers looked back then. If I did not hear him talking about them while the images were shown, I would not be able to recognize them as something I could just click on on my desktop and start working with. My respect to the punch cards.


The art of music is so complicated.

Recently, I have been thinking about consistency a lot. I wrote in an article that:

"After all, music is a kind of performance art. The key to a contagious performance is about focusing on it and believing in it. People may talk about the skills, but I value the consistency more. By saying that, I mean I care about the logic and sincerity behind the interpretation more than the skills. One may be skillful enough to imitate masters' interpretations, but that is just cliche, which cannot persuade me."

The same thoughts occurred when I was dealing with a new composition. I have always asked myself: "Why do I sometimes feel unsatisfied when learning a  travesty?" It is hard to say. Is it because I have a higher musical taste? Bullshit. What about the soul of a work? Not even thought of it. Then I discovered something, something really on the surface...

There are two things I cannot bear with when they are not consistent. One is the direction, the other is the dimension. Direction, meaning the flow of the music, which of course is flowing in a piece of music. However, the flow can be any kinds, any forms of flows. It can be smooth, arched, abrupt, segmented, arbitrary... Any kinds! But it is disturbing when a piece, especially a short piece of music is not flowing consistently. Dimension can include the density, harmony, technique or sonority, which are all very intuitional for a performer. It is okay when learning a difficult piece of music, but it is not okay when there is a bar that is physically impossible while the next bar contains a single note. The activities of music are like living beings, which have to be organic.

The direction is horizontal, while the dimension is vertical. It is almost like talking about counterpoint and harmony now. I gotta stop here.





兩年前在義大利短暫逗留後,這是我第二次來到歐洲。一年一度的琉森夏季音樂節在琉森湖畔舉行,而學院音樂節也在此期間展開。來自各地的音樂學生們齊聚一堂,在為期三個星期的音樂節內進行高度密集的排練及演出。此學院音樂節由享譽盛名的當代作曲家及指揮家布列茲(Pierre Boulez)創辦,主要專注於現當代的樂團及室內樂團曲目,并由Ensemble InterContemporain (EIC) 的音樂家們進行指導。同爲布列茲創辦的EIC是一群由當代音樂好手組成的大型室內樂團,堪稱當代樂團的鼻祖。今年受邀的指揮家除了EIC的現任音樂總監品撤(Matthias Pintscher)外,還包括柏林愛樂的音樂總監西蒙拉特(Simon Rattle)以及霍利格(Heinz Holliger)。受邀作曲家有陳銀淑(Unsuk Chin)和施陶德(Johannes Maria Staud),音樂家則有女高音漢尼根(Barbara Hannigen)、小提琴家五嶋綠(Midori)等。









靈敏則體現在了他與作曲家的交涉上。 在雛型差不多完成後,他便開始詢問作曲家的意見。然而,作曲家多看見的是結果。這時就考驗指揮的洞悉力了!理所當然,西蒙拉特不費餘力地把作曲家的每一個期許化為了具體的指示,並且都有效地達到了作曲家的要求。這也讓一位銅管樂的朋友讚歎:「最奇怪的指示卻也是最準確的方法。」


我在聽他排練另外一首曲子時便堅信 :他在這裡不僅擔任著指揮的身份,並還擔起了音樂教育者的身份。在面對這一群由各地聚集起來的音樂學子時,他或許也在潛意識裡有著教育者的期許?雖然他的指示總是簡單明瞭(又準確),但每一句話彷彿都可以寫下來並貼在琴房的牆上,成為往後在學習時的指南針。


他對於表演時的動作也進行了表態。他說:「如果觀眾能看到(音型)的話,它也比較大聲,比較好。 」此話的意思是,重要的音樂內容應該可以用動作表現出來,像是單簧管在獨奏時把樂器舉起來,或是演奏銅鈸時舉在空中讓聲音揚起那種動作。他接著模仿低音提琴手們在演奏極響顫音時幾乎要把頭顱搖掉的動作。「除了頭這樣動。」

















而拉亨曼對他那些幾近炫技的複雜記譜法卻有著精準的控制。不像約翰凱奇(John Cage),拉亨曼並不把所需要的材料都清楚地列在譜的前頁。研究其分譜時,我和我的指導老師維沙爾(Sebastine Vichard)總像是在玩尋寶遊戲一般。「需要一隻銅拔啊!」我們總在排練時這樣驚呼。但拉亨曼對於所有的指示都瞭如指掌:當他示範起來,就像鋼琴家坐下來示範音階一般。


維沙爾(Sebastien Vichard)

2012年,我第一次彈布列茲。布列茲的音樂是我陷入現代音樂狂熱症的主因,尤其是他的第二鋼琴奏鳴曲。而我的第一首布列茲也絕對是和其奏鳴曲相同份量的大師之作:「樂句(Sur Incises)」。這首曲子的配器很特殊:它借鑒了「三(trinity)」的概念,使用了三台鋼琴、三把豎琴和三組打擊樂。而當時學習時所聽的錄音,便是EIC的詮釋。當然,維沙爾也作為EIC的一份子演出了許多次這首曲子。他也在「布列茲的一課」裡擔當其中一個鋼琴家。其作品改編自布列茲自己的鋼琴獨奏曲「樂句(Incises)」,原為一鋼琴比賽邀約的指定曲。在YouTube上也有維沙爾演奏的鋼琴獨奏版本



我們在排練貝里奧(Luciano Berio)Tempi Concertati時,讓人不解的事便發生了。貝里奧的曲子出名的困難,他終其一生所創作的「模進(Sequenza)」系列是分別給不同樂器的炫技作品,也是他探索各個樂器可能性的成果。在這樣的作品前,維沙爾竟然視著譜給我們示範了起來。我驚訝地問:「你彈過這首曲子嗎?」「沒有。」他聳聳肩,又給另一個鋼琴做示範。的確,就算彈過這首曲子,也不可能練過兩個鋼琴的部分。對於他強大的視譜能力,我感到驚嘆不已。他笑著說:「這是練出來的。」盡管如此,那樣的視譜能力還是令人望塵莫及。








 我、維沙爾、Hazel Beh(另一位鋼琴學生)

我、維沙爾、Hazel Beh(另一位鋼琴學生)