Comments on Clarence Barlows paper ‘Musical Innovation and the Changing Role of Studios and Festivals’ by Lars Petter Hagen

Warsaw 25.09.10

For me it is, in one way, quite simple: Musical innovation is dependent on change. Which means that accepting change as a permanent situation is therefore a necessity, for anyone dealing with contemporary music. To me, as a festival director and composer, the most interesting consequence of the technological development that Clarence Barlow has shown us in his paper, is that the power structures within the music business is changing. And the biggest revolution is that the definition of quality is more democratic. Suddenly it is extremely clear that one cannot discuss quality without also discussing context.

The practical consequences of this is that the hegemonic position of late-modernism in international contemporary music falls. And at the same time large music institutions, whether it be opera houses or copyright bureaus, are challenged by the underground. It is interesting times – because it is hard to overview the situation. It is important to stretch that this does not mean that the time for large institutions is over, or that late-modernist music doesn’t exist. It simply means that the situation is more chaotic and dynamic and that we to a much bigger extent have to relate to parallel musical universes. We don’t have to like it, but on he other hand, we can’t pretend that everything is still the way it used to be.

I like to call this a modulation in power (I prefer modulation before revolution). A lot of people feel threatened by this modulation in power influence, for good reasons, there are problematic aspects of this development. But a situation as open as this also contains fantastic possibilities. And it is up to us to explore them.

This year the theme for the Ultima festival was Craftsmanship and one of the directions we explored was the Do It Yourself (DIY) aesthetic that has been going on for while in the art music field. As musicians, we talk often and gladly about craftsmanship, whether it be number of rehearsal hours or studies in counterpoint. But in the complex musical reality of contemporary music today, the concept of craftsmanship has various meanings in different aesthetic paradigms.

The DIY attitude in music is often linked to punk and other sub-cultural forms of expression, and to art movements like Futurism, Dadaism and Fluxus. At the moment, it looks like this attitude is finding its way back into the traditionally more academic field of contemporary music, maybe as a result of technological developments freeing the production and distribution of music from institutional and/or commercial middlemen and opening up the definition of quality in an interesting way.

It is now very clear that the term contemporary music is as diverse as contemporary art or contemporary theatre. Contemporary Music is not about style or technique or format. For me it is about attitude, critical investigation. It is about challenging tradition and challenging convention so the music can develop even further. One of Mr. Barlows interesting questions were: “Why were concerts deemed necessary in the past and do the reasons still hold?” It is existential, isn’t it? The subtext is huge, because the underlying question is: why do we need art? Which is complicated (though highly interesting).

My honest answer would be that I don’t think that the reasons for why we need concerts has changed significantly from the past. And that is why it is so important that we continue to move and do not get self-content and lazy in an overall comfortable contemporary music environment. We know this as composers: If you say the same as someone else did 100 years ago it doesn’t mean the same today. History and context adds meaning. If you want to tell someone that you love them in a sincere way, you need to avoid the worst clichés. Because if you unaware of them, the context will change your message – and it will get very embarrassing. 100 years ago atonality in itself was considered critical and challenging. Today it is not. So we have to continue develop, and since we don’t know what the future will bring it is crucial to be extremely open.

I consider my main task as a festival director for the Ultima-festival, to showcase the diversity in the work of today’s musicians and composers, simply because it is the sum of their artistic practises that defines and constantly re-defines the term “contemporary music”. An interesting development is that more and more composers and musicians tend to work site- and media specific. The moment everything seems possible in terms of technology, institutional infrastructure and level of performers, the composers seek limitation elsewhere.

A festival is a limitation. It is a context, a format, an arena for investigation and discourse. It is about establishing and breaking rules and therefore it is crucial to be very clear about what the festivals curatorial practise is. I provide a framework and develop the festival in collaboration with the artists. And at the moment the artist could be described as rhizomatic —a web or chain of cultural producers crisscrossing countries and continents, intersecting with, affecting, and influencing one another. Deleuze and Guattari, anticipating these developments thirty years ago, wrote: “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other and must be.”