I listen to this music in a hotel room in Knoxville, Tennessee, on a walk in Central Park in New York in March, on a plane on the way to Paris at the beginning of April, and at my father’s desk at Easter 2017. It is music written by my friend Eivind Buene, music that has followed me for the last ten years, which through its structure indicates that both the past and the present exist here and now. It is music of which I remember both the sound and the history of its creation.
“Garland’s slow introductions are like hearing music presented as a memory, a minute’s silence for something that is past, before one plunges into the ecstasy of the moment,” says Eivind himself. I listen to the work Garland (For Matthew Locke) in Central Park on my way to the Jewish Museum in New York, where I was to view an exhibition of contemporary art connected to Walter Benjamin’s Passagenwerk (Arcades Project) At the entrance to the exhibition it says, “In the fields with which we are concerned, knowledge only comes in lightning flashes. The text is the long roll of thunder that follows”.
Walter Benjamin’s work is characterised both by its complexity and accessibility. Passagenwerk is not a book in the traditional sense, but a huge collection of sketches, notes, quotations, reflections and commentaries. It is a frank and often self-contradictory project, without either a linear narrative or ideoalogical structure. An attempt to uncover subtle, but nevertheless deep relationships and contradictions under the surface of the earth. Benjamin’s form was the allegory and montage.
In Don de Lillo’s novel The Body Artist, we meet the main character Lauren Hartke, an artist who uses her body to interpret events and situations we all recognise through our corporal memory, but of which we are seldom conscious. In the same way Eivind wished to take a fragment from our mutual memory of musical history and use it in a still-life, where the actual object is only vaguely present, through underlying twisting and gesturing analogies.
When the andante from Mozart’s piano concerto no.17 suddenly appears at the end of Stilleben, it is perceived as a consequence of connections that have not been clear until then.
(from the Greek ‘scraped away again’) handwriting (on skin, parchment) where the original writing has been removed to make room for new.
The basis of Palimpsest from 2004 is an excerpt from a piano part from one of Eivind’s earlier works. “I could not remember exactly how that part went, something that perhaps was the reason why it attracted me as a structure in itself.”
“I make one image, though ‘make’ is not the right word; I let, perhaps, an image be made emotionally in me & then apply it to what intellectual and critical forces I possess; let it breed another; let that image contradict the first, make, of the third image bred out of the other two, a fourth contradictory image, and let them all, within my imposed formal limits, conflict”. (Dylan Thomas)
The art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929) is said to have given his significant family inheritance to his youngest brother on condition that he promised to buy all the books Aby wanted in perpetuity. He had built an enormous book collection right from his 20s, but, inspired by studies in Renaissance painting in Florence and Strasbourg, wanted to have a library that went outside traditional disciplines and categories. He called the library his “Denkraum” (thinking space) and considered it a “problem library” rather than a collection of books, where the differences between a dedication to knowledge and aesthetic output is wiped away.
In Warburg’s problem library, sense arises from compatibility. Throughout his life Warburg kept his library alive by organising and constantly rearranging the collection on the principle of “the law of the good neighbour’s rule”: the idea that books by their titles – where every single work is complemented by its neighbours on the shelf – open pathways into the fundamental strengths in the mind and history of mankind.
A piece of music can be like a library, as in Palimpsest, where the overlaying of structures gives a feeling of weightlessness and the work’s own logic becomes its own “Denkraum”. Music can adapt to new and unexpected connections, move between the unknown and the known, as when original material breaks through the cascade of sound in Garland (For Matthew Locke), or when Wagner becomes a centre of rotation in Langsam und Schmachtend.
The texts in Passagenwerk are, in many cases, linked to Paris and the urban development in the city between the wars, especially in the new shopping arcades of glass and iron that Benjamin saw as a juxtaposition of past and future, where Gothic cathedrals meet modern constructions and materials. Utopian labyrinths where one could wander around at random and where new ideas arose and connections were gradually revealed as one strolled through the arcades.
Inside the Jewish Museum, Charlemagne Palestine has created an installation in the room next to the Benjamin exhibition. “Barmitzvah in Meshuga Land” consists of a room full of toy animals and a meditative sound track, which becomes the backcloth to everything in the exhibition, because the leakage of sound between the rooms is total.
I remember a concert that did not take place. It is the middle of July at the end of the 1990s. Eiyvind and I are in a cabin in Østfold, reading in a local newspaper that there was to be a concert in Onsøy Church on Saturday morning with vocal music by Guillaume de Machaut. We set out on a red-hot summer day; one of the singers was supposed to be our friend and composer colleague Bendik Hagerup, and we were full of expectation. But there was no concert, not even a note that it had been cancelled. Instead we sat for a while outside the church, in silence and oppressive heat. The sound of insects and an occasional passing car on a major road a little way away.
Langsam und Schmachtend is a dream about classical music, and Richard Wagner’s tempo markings from the prelude to the opera Tristan and Isolde.
Eiyvind says, “I am preoccupied by the symphony orchestra as an archive of cultural history; as a place where we can experience the past’s way of listening, playing and not least ways of feeling. But one does not need to treat the orchestra exclusively as a sound-museum: as a composer I try to activate historic musical material and use it as impulses for ways to see the world in our own time, a present characterised by a chaotic tangling of past, present and future and of constant discussions between hope, melancholy and resignation”.
A short way away from the present 4-meter-high bust that is Karl Marx’s monument in Highgate Cemetery in London, one finds a rather worn-out headstone that says that Marx is buried there. The stone marks Marx’s first burial place, before it was decided by the British Communist Party in 1954 to move it. The work ‘Stone Deaf’ by Milena Bonilla consists of an impression of the grave-stone and a video that shows ants and other insects creeping in and out of the cracks that have appeared in the stone.
Eiyvind and I talked together about this publication for the first time in August 2016 in Darmstadt. Later that autumn both Eiyvind and I lost our fathers – the same night. Two men who had never met one another, but were linked through their sons’ friendship, died the same night, more or less at the same time, each in his own place, of the same illness.
When Ingmar Bergman had to describe his own films, he often spoke of music. Of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Scarlatti, Schumann. Music is a continuing dialogue between past, present and future. The nature of listening is to connect the past with the future through the moment. To listen is to open oneself to new impressions, insights and knowledge. In this lies music’s limitless and utopian potential.