Klarenz Barlow: „Von der Klangprägung zur klingenden Münze“ (1998)

Im Jahr 1998 muss Klarenz Barlow sehr zornig gewesen sein auf die Welt der Neuen Musik. Einerseits ätzte er in diesem Radio-Feature, andererseits existiert ein nicht minder giftiger satirischer Essay aus dem gleichen Jahr, der dem geneigten Leser der Weltsicht hiermit präsentiert sei (Quelle):

50 years of the Avantgarde: From Sound Coinage To A Sound Minting


Chapter XVII

Three Quality Attributes of Four Generations in Five Decades

by Prof. Barlomew Clarifier

For the last fifty years, the term „Avantgarde“ has enjoyed a hitherto unusually frequent usage in parts of the world. It was decided to systematically investigate the phenomenon of „avantgardicity“ as applied to the artistic produce of a given chronogeographical region and to find out the underlying criteria, if any. This paper is a condensed report on the results obtained.

Initial research suggested that the parameters relevant to the evaluation of avantgardicity are in the main sociosophical and physiofiscal. At the present time, most authorities are agreed on the constitution of the latter type, only grudgingly admitting the former, of which one parameter, here called „quality“ and formerly widely applied, has in more recent times been held to be ethicomythical and thus undebatable. This parameter seems to the present writer to be nonetheless indispensible and indeed it will be shown why, when and by whom its relevance has been questioned.

As a prerequisite to the application of this parameter my co-researchers and I found it expedient to break it down as a working hypothesis into three attributes: mastery, originality and integrity. According to the dictionary,

  • „mastery“ is a measure of skill and/or expertise,
  • „originality“ is a measure of innovation and/or invention, and
  • „integrity“ that of honesty and/or altruism, here examining whether the work in question is apparently intended as a contribution to the region’s resident culture or rather to the author’s eminence and/or affluence

To each of these attributes an evaluation scale ranging from zero to five was allocated; the product of the three empirically determined values was found to render a reasonable estimate of the quality involved. For instance the 1975 novel Ethnic Trapeze by the author Plutos Plutophilos manifested high originality (4.2), middling mastery (3.1) and low integrity (1.8); the product 4.2×3.1×1.8 = 23.436 revealed a low overall quality rating. By contrast, the Third Symphomanic Ode by the 19th Century composer Ton Vanderliefde revealed via an originality of 4.7, a mastery of 4.8 and an integrity of 4.4 a quality level of 99.264, just missing the threshold 100, above which the descriptor „great“ and the title „masterwork“ becomes applicable. In tests, the maximum attainable value 125 (=5x5x5) was never reached though many of the cases analyzed came close.

This chapter reports briefly on the application of this „MOI“ test (named after the three attributes) by an appointed jury to a large body of music works, 8.237 in number, chosen according to the following three criteria they were

  1. composed in the geographic region here called „E“ by
  2. composers born between 1918 and 1977, inclusive, and have
  3. been registered by performing rights societies as „Serious (i.e. implicitly and ostensibly non-commercial) Music“. The results, rounded off to the nearest whole numbers 0 to 5 and graphically plotted with the year of completion on the y-axis, the composers‘ age at that time on the x-axis and can be seen in Fig. l with the mastery component shown as a left-slanting line (\), a right-slanting one (/) standing for originality and and a vertical one (|) for integrity – the longer the line, the higher the component value.


Fig.l exhibits four surprisingly distinct diagonal bands, outlined by separating lines. The lowest, corresponding to the generation of composers born between 1918-32 is fairly dark at bottom left, indicating high values for originality and integrity in their twenties, gradually gaining in mastery in their forties and losing somewhat in all three attributes in later life. The next band, that of composers born from 1933-47 shows a similar development, though a little less distinct; this band ends at the top at the fifties and early sixties age group with a quality rating a bit higher that that of their contemporary predecessors. The third band, of composers born from 1948-62, differs startlingly in shade from the lower two – all attribute values are seen here to reach the diagramme’s minimum, especially those of integrity (vertical lines). The fourth band, the very slightly darker triangle at top left, corresponds to composers born from 1963-77, not extending beyond the age of thirty-five.

We here attempt, somewhat daringly, to explain the clear definition of these four bands in the light of a psychosocial examination of the different conditions in which the four named composer generations worked:

The military defeat in 1945 of reactionary forces in the said region E who had effectively sought to repress original artistic activity, led to the arisal of the first generation (b.’18-32) of composers, who combined boldly innovative (high integrity value!) with original, previously suppressed ideas. Supported (in the name of cultural restitution) in the realisation of their visions, this generation rose to immediate fame, in the shadow of which the second generation (b.’33-47) was to grow up – this generation was eased through direct personal contact with their dominant predecessors (and indeed many of the former served as assistants of the latter) into a contrasting degree of modesty, however without having a significant effect on their quality. The third generation (b.’48-62), personally witnessing the public grandeur (and relative fiscal security) of the first and the modest nature of the second, opted to imitate the former of the two in the hope of acquiring a degree of fame and wealth. However, since this motivation lay more in a socioeconomic than an artistic field, quality was here of understandably peripheral relevance and consequentially of significantly lower value. Furthermore (as reported by the present writer elsewhere in this book), the first generation had in the meantime shifted its main interest from innovation to the cultvation and extension of its accumulated wealth, supported in this by the iologically still extant restitutional cultural authorities, whose pristine efforts to comprehend the new thinking had exhausted most of their creative energy and closed them to further innovation. The third generation could optimally profit in its artistic irrelevance from this fact. The second generation, daunted by these developments, had sought fiscal shelter in academic institutions (preferring the sale of their knowledge to that of their works), thus enabling a sporadically creative dialogue with the fourth generation (b.’63-77).

This fourth generation – for whom the current developments of the first generation (whose initial splendour had for them either already faded or remained unperceived) were unimpressive, for whom the second generation played more of an advisory than a exemplary role, for whom the third generation in its unsuccessful attempt to abolish the relevance of quality had only led to boredom and chagrin – embarked on a search for new ways of approaching the issue of the continuance of culturally relevant work in an evidently elitist field, traditionally ignored, at best rejected by the broad masses. This questioning approach seems to have caused, as far as the said fourth generation is concerned, a slight increase in the originality and integrity values. Due to its relatively low age at the time of this report, it could be expected that its mastery values, traditionally peaking in the forties age-group (see below), will increase as time goes on.

To end this paper, Fig.2 shows the three attributes as empirical functions of age and year of birth or composition as extracted from Fig.l.



Klarenz Barlow: „Von der Klangprägung zur klingenden Münze“ (1998)

Klarenz Barlow: “TEXT-MUSIC for Piano”, 1971 (Aufführung von 2013)

Jetzt bin ich doch noch auf eine aktuelle Realisierung von Barlows 43 Jahre alter Konzept-Komposition „TEXT-MUSIC“ (künftig: TM) gestoßen (Partitur). Der Pianist performt passenderweise auf einem MIDI-Piano. Leider wird nicht mitgeteilt, welcher Text denn hier vertont wurde. Samuel Beckett? Oder doch Willi Ostermann, wie Barlow in seinem Vortrag 2012 andeutete (allerdings ohne dass der Name fiel)?

Hört man diese Musik, ohne das generierende Konzept zu kennen, denkt man (als erfahrener Neue-Musik-Hörer) natürlich erst mal an Cage und seine 20 Jahre vor TM entstandene „Music of Changes„: Die Klänge stehen recht isoliert und sozusagen a-syntaktisch im Raum, eine musikalische Dramaturgie ist nicht zu erkennen, nicht einmal so etwas wie „Intentionalität“. Die Harmonik changiert zwischen tonal und atonal, ohne dass eine Präferenz für den einen oder anderen Bereich auszumachen ist: romantische Akkorde wechseln sich ab mit dissonanten Clustern. Handelt es sich also um eine Musique d’ameublement im Sinne Erik Saties, gar um eine ästhetisch etwas avanciertere Form von Ambient music, wie sie – etwa um die gleiche Zeit – Brian Eno konzipierte und realisierte?

Nein, nein und nein. TM ist ein komplett auf eigenen Beinen stehendes kompositorisches Sprachspiel im Sinne Wittgensteins, welches, um mal in der Begrifflichkeit des Österreichers zu bleiben, lediglich Familienähnlichkeiten mit den o. a. Arbeiten von SatieCageEno (künftig SCE) aufweist. So bescheiden und fast unansehnlich TM auch daherkommt, so sehr ist sie also reflexivmoderne Kunstmusik im emphatischen Sinn.

Ein auf eine halbe Schreibmaschinenseite passendes kompositorisches Konzept generiert Musik (der Humanist würde von einer „Simulation von Musik“ bzw. von „Pseudo-Musik“ sprechen), die sich jeglicher herkömmlichen musiko-logischen Analyse entzieht, obwohl sie komplett deterministisch ist (d. h., der Zufall ist ausgeschlossen). Und obwohl das Konstruktionsprinzip wie beim frühen Steve Reich offen zutage liegt, ist der klingende Output komplett „hermetisch“, d. h. er erschließt sich nicht beim Hören mehr oder weniger „von selbst“ (wie etwa die Reich’sche Phasenverschiebung) – doch auch, wenn man die Partitur (die letztlich einen Algorithmus-als-Text darstellt) kennt, hört man nichts „heraus“. Was bleibt, sind also die Klänge, ist die Musik – und ich vermute mal, genau das will uns Barlow – in seiner vertrackten Art und Weise – sagen.

Es sind also (mindesten) drei Rezeptionsweisen der TM denkbar:

  1. Man kann „einfach nur die Musik hören“ und sich über ihre Nicht-Intentionalität bzw. „Unberechenbarkeit“ freuen oder ärgern oder abwechselnd beides oder was auch immer (TM als absolute Musik).
  2. Man kann die Musik ein wenig anhören, sich dann in das kompositorische Konzept vertiefen und anschließend nochmals in die Musik – die nun allerdings plötzlich komplett „anders“ klingt, weiß man doch jetzt, dass sich hier niemand im herkömmlichen Sinn „ausdrücken“ wollte (TM als relationale Musik).
  3. Man belässt es bei der Begutachtung der TM-Partitur und interessiert sich nur nebenbei für ihre Realisierung, sprich die Musik (TM als Konzeptmusik).

[Die Begriffskonstellation „absolute Musik / relationale Musik / Konzeptmusik“ habe ich bei Harry Lehmann entlehnt.]

Dennoch haben wir es hier nicht mit der üblichen, im Moment z. B. von Figuren wie Jonathan Meese recht erfolgreich vertretenen „Kunst, die nur ihren eigenen Regeln gehorcht“ oder – noch schlimmer – „Kunst, die sich nur mit ihren eigenen Maßstäben beurteilen lässt“, zu tun, im Gegenteil: Barlows TM befindet sich in einem sehr engen, aber konstruktiven Dialog mit SCE (und sicherlich manch anderen eKomponisten), die Komposition ist also überaus anschlussfähig (im Sinne Luhmanns), und, vor allem, intellektuell komplett transparent.

Chapeau, M. Barleau!

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Klarenz Barlow: “TEXT-MUSIC for Piano”, 1971 (Aufführung von 2013)