Preparing Atopy. A lecture in 6 parts. Part six: The High Window
THE HIGH WINDOW
Imagine you’re in a dark room with a steep wall that is between you and the outside. In this wall there are hundreds of windows, small, large, wide and narrow ones. If you had a ladder at your disposal, which of these windows would you choose?
I would choose the highest window. I would climb on the highest step of the ladder and choose the perhaps even smallest but highest, the highest of all windows to look outside. Because this window has one decisive advantage: not only can I look quite far from this window, more so than from each of the other windows, I can also look at all the other windows below me from above. I get the best of both worlds – the windows below me and the world outside.
This is my idea of Atopical music that I try to describe here. This music has no definable place. It is not framed, therefore it cannot be sorted or filed. This may hurt its marketing appeal, but if in the history of culture marketing appeal had been the main focus, or that something can immediately understood by the greatest number of people, defined by the lowest common denominator – we wouldn’t have gotten very far indeed. The music of atopy needs the wild space of freedom. This freedom is also defined by being liberated from the demands of superficial and quick success.
But Atopical music also doesn’t commit the mistake of confusing unintelligibility with profoundness. It might be incomprehensible at first for some, because the things it speaks of are difficult. But it wants to be comprehensible in the end. Also Schopenhauer, Hegel and Einstein wanted to be comprehensible, but you can’t understand them immediately. Life itself can’t be understood completely, nor love, so if we talk about life or love it becomes quite difficult. But still: we live. And we love.
Atopical music has no place and therefore it has no style. It is styleless. But lack of style is the most radical act possible, because to ignore styles also means ignoring the borders of style.
Atopical music is above all styles, therefore it can amalgamate them and search for truth in everything: the banal, the refined, the silly, the kitschy. Where there is no kitsch there is no truth, but where there is truth, kitsch becomes something else, something more interesting. This is the reason why we like Chopin.
Atopical Music look at all styles, at all windows. It might be its own secret style, but it doesn’t brag about it, because it not only looks down but also ahead. Atopical Music always strives to be – at every moment – THE SUM OF ALL MUSIC. Atopical Music knows that this sum can never be achieved or expressed, as there can always appear new windows below it, offering a new and unexpected view. Atopical Music is curious and follows this view without prejudice. It discovers without evaluating. There is ALWAYS time for evaluation later on.
In so far Atopical Music acts like a lover who looks at the object of his love again and again. In its gaze there is no big or little sister, but an infinite number of sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, children. This is a good recipe against boredom, like everyone with family knows.
Frank Zappa called his first band “Mothers of Invention”. I always liked this name. But the real world, and the themes of the real world, are the biggest mother of invention. The mother of all mothers of invention.
Let us talk about the possibilities of Atopical Music, if we should decide to write such music. I have already made this decision a long time ago, but I didn’t realize that I had made it at the time.
Atopical Music should not be confused with a supermarket of styles, like is often said about postmodernism in a negative way. Atopical music doesn’t steal ideas, it serves ideas instead. This is what I mean with authenticity. Therefore Atopical Music can never be arbitrary, if it succeeds. It can only be incredibly varied, much more varied than the many, many genre musics in their little genre music prisons.
Elvis Presley has never sung a song by Elliott Carter. Elliott Carter would have never written a song for Elvis Presley. I think both of them were missing something.
Atopical Music sounds like a pop song by Elliott Carter. Atopical Music is hopelessly unconventional and doesn’t create new conventions. Atopical Music doesn’t give a damn if something is tonal, atonal, polytonal or spectral. It doesn’t care if something is melodic, consonant, dissonant, harmonic, disharmonic etc. because all these are only terms that are used to create exceptions that create the walls of little style prisons and only prove the ineptness of the ones inside it. Why should one style be better than other styles? The only answer to this is to have no style at all. The only answer to this is total Atopia, which is also a Utopia, because the freedom of which I speak is really very, very rare, precious like a rare flower that has to be protected.
Atopical Music doesn’t try to get buddy-buddy with you, it doesn’t submit to the cheapest and most superficial taste to make a quick buck. Atopical Music doesn’t lie and doesn’t make it easy for itself. Atopical Music doesn’t want to sound nice but strives for the possibility of beauty. This is a big difference.
Atopical Music is not Eric Whitacre.
Atopical Music is seeks authenticity.
Authenticity is a rare beast – it usually cannot be described with words, one can only note its absence, with Justin Bieber for example. But if it is there we all know it.
The 9th Symphony by Beethoven is authentic, this is why it survives the many musical terror acts that try to destroy it. It is authentic because Beethoven wanted more than to represent any kind of style, to be famous or to be admired. The 9th symphony tells us something about humanity, as simple as that.
Of course it is impossible to write an endless number of 9th Symphonies, it would be unbearable. But I’m sure that our world of distractions has more room for content and larger than life visions, more than cynics want us to believe. It’s not necessary to represent but to expose something. This is the one single and holy task for every artist: to expose the suffering of each age, that only this particular age is suffering from. This has been said by Kurt Schwitters and it is one of my favorite sayings.
I have talked about the ladder with which we can reach the highest window. The ladder of Atopical Music is musical notation. With musical notation – which is still quite young and at its beginnings – we can write down things that we want to keep. With musical notation we can travel into all musical countries. Musical notation is not the opposite of improvisation, it is an enrichment of improvisation. Because with notation I can not only improvise with tones but also with ideas.
With musical notation Bela Bartok could preserve the folk music of his Hungarian home. With musical notation Olivier Messiaen could research the chant of birds. Both of them weren’t perfect in their attempts, but total perfection always was the main enemy of imagination. This is why Atopical Music never wants to be a perfect product. It doesn’t want to be a product at all, but the poetical sketch of a search, that – in many stages – perhaps has a tiny little chance to find a snippet of truth. Which is always better than never searching for truth at all. Only this is authentic.
Finally I must say: I have no idea how Atopical Music should sound. If I knew how it should sound I would immediately stop composing. But I absolutely know how it does NOT sound. It is neither the music of haughty experts or of screaming vandals. But it is also not the middle way of least resistance and maximum security. There never is any security.
Like I said: Atopical Music is the possibility of a sum of all music. This is the music I want to write, and I would dare to hope that you would like to listen to such music.
Seek the utmost in artistic freedom. Release the freedom of your thoughts. There is music in this space.
And this music is atopical.