marc aurel edition
2CD Box set
MA 20043

Happiness and Unhappiness in Every Day

Release Notes by Rainer Nonnenmann

The beginnings of electro acoustic music after the Second World War were overshadowed by the fundamental debate between electronic music and musique concrète that took place in the studios of Cologne and Paris by the leading composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer. Today this factional dispute is long since history, and composers naturally use both approaches and their possible combinations. Already in 1956 Stockhausen included the singing and speaking sounds of a boy’s voice, after the model of his French antipode, in his early electronic masterpiece Gesang der Jünglinge (“Song of the Youths”), and in 1960 in Kontakte (“Contacts”) he fused electronic sounds with live and electronically processed piano and percussion sounds.
            Mark Polscher, too, couples the relative unfamiliarity of the electronic world of sound with the comparable awareness of natural and human sounds, manufacturing and civilization noises, as well as the sounds of various materials, everyday objects, and traditional musical instruments. In that he processes the recordings of concrete sounds, sometimes beyond all recognition, and creates pure electronic sounds that likewise conjure up associations of the media- and technology-dominated living environment, he forms all possible transitions between alienation and mere reproduction, or rather between “abstract” sonorities and “concrete” everyday sounds, that lead the listener to extra-musical contexts. Decisive is, however, that Polscher understands electronics and concrete sounds not merely as something ancillary, but rather as a means of achieving an interaction in which the electronic sounds also neutralize the everyday context of the concrete sounds and, conversely, the concrete sounds sometimes auratically and associatively charge the electronic sounds to such an extent that they too begin to speak.

Polscher’s most recent and hitherto most extensive work is Anakoluth. The electroacoustic composition has a duration of an hour and three-quarters and is divided into four “zones” with a total of twenty-five “areas.” Written in 2005 and 2006, it was reworked and remixed several times up to 2009. Already the first area, Bonjour Madame, of the first zone, It Ain’t Me, exposes the multilayeredness of this music with the signal-like theme of gently fading sampled bell sounds produced by an analogue synthesizer, which recur a number of times in the further course of the piece as a central structural figure of the whole work. Additionally, there are aggressively buzzing impulses that are initially experienced as distortion, but soon show themselves to be a rhythmical parallel voice to the three bell tracks. The bell samples find their timbral concretion in recordings of real bells toward the end of the section. Thus, the actual origins of the sounds are revealed retroactively and at the same time the initial contrast is widened to a multidimensional heterophony. The music branches out into complex textures in which the listener often has to follow five, six, or more layers, both individually as well as alternately relating to one another, as a polyphonic whole.
            In Anakoluth, Polscher strives for a material and formal unity in the multiplicity, without smoothing out the individuality of the many by means of a strict structuring of the individual. The composer has a predilection for highly contrasting compilations. In area three, A Cold Spell around June 11, he places over a funk-like, twitching bass the sounds bubbling water, rubberlike purring, the distant rattling of a machine, the plaintive bleating of sheep, as well as scattered flute tones that in the following section expand into a metallically breathy melody of which it can hardly be said whether it comes from a flute, an organ, or a soft female voice. The music radiates expanse and tranquility, and is nevertheless subject to continuous changes, tensions, and alternations.
            By means of acoustical depth offset of the events, Polscher provides for the clearest possible differentiation of the material layers so that their polyphony can still be heard even through the greatest density. Moreover, dynamic and spatial gradations suggest different audio and association spaces. Thus, not only are impressions of changing acoustics and echo durations created, but at the same time also impressions of spaces and entire landscapes through which the events move now near and distant, now fast and slow. Many passages are great audio movies! Polscher takes advantage of his experience as a composer of film and theater music, where it is likewise a question of fashioning characteristic moods, situations, and spaces by acoustic means. Thus, in Anakoluth the listener at times imagines himself in the cramped interior of a dry cookie jar, then again hovering freely in the huge worship space of a Gothic cathedral flooded by light and sound.

The combination of electronic and concrete sounds is a part of Polscher’s extended understanding of material and music. For him, practically everything can become music: booming slot machines, the jingling of pinball and gaming machines, blaring pop radio stations, the barking of dogs, steps in the snow, the clattering of tools.... Nevertheless, his universalistic conception of music has nothing to do with the radically expanded understanding of music of a John Cage, who only had to open the windows of his New York apartment to hear the intruding noise of the large city as music. Instead of declaring as music the whole of that which just coincidentally happens, Polscher makes a consciously determined selection. It is precisely because he favors a very broad tonal spectrum that he deems it best to establish a clear limitation for each piece and each individual section, and keeps in mind the cultural and often enough also the sounds’ extra-musical context of use. In that he electronically processes the concrete sounds, sends them through loops, bundles them into layers, and assembles them into exciting textures, they can also be heard as pure music in spite of their still translucent everyday-worldly origins.
            In Anakoluth, Polscher plays with the sounds and their origins a real game of hide-and-seek with masking and uncovering, veiling and disclosing. With a kind of “sound morphing” he allows one parameter to mutate into another in order to twist a sound out of an entirely different sound and lets it glide back again to its point of departure. At the end of the first area, Asunder, of the third zone, And So They Come, he has a subway train roll through the tonal image. The wheels rattling over the gaps in the rails and the metallic buzzing of the overhead lines fit into the rhythmical pulsation of the booming techno sounds with bass woofs and exhilarated high-tension crackle, and simultaneously reveal the concrete origins of these timbres. The main layer of the third area, Strait is the Gate and the Road is Hard, of the same zone is made up of squeaky sounds like those of gym shoes, as if one were listening to a basketball player practicing dribbling exercises without a ball. Area five, The Fair Waste , of the fourth zone, Oneness, presents, amidst cold machine and electronic sounds, a short, half-blurred fragment of a country song as if the listener is experiencing a hallucination or sensory disorder. And the second area, We Neither Reap nor Store Away in Barns, of the same zone suggests, with rhythmical series of starting electric motors, the image of a somewhat sluggish and cumbersome dancing robot. Hidden, hardly perceptible in the techno number, are speech and breathing sounds of a woman. Man and machine camouflage each other mutually into hissing, sighing androids.

The heterogeneity and stylistic polyphony of Anakoluth is an expression of Polscher’s checkered career, which took various curves and a number of parallel bypaths. His piece follows an aesthetic of the instant. At the same time, the Greek-Latin title Anakoluth (English: anacoluthon) means as much as “without context” or “incongruous.” In medicine and linguistics, the term describes a manner of speaking in which the speaker constantly obliterates the grammar of a sentence by means of digressions and new beginnings so that the content of that which is said is hardly or not at all to be understood by third parties, although the speaker has only lost himself in terms of the syntactical thread, but not in that of the contents, to which he adheres in his thoughts. Polscher adapts this anacoluthic manner of speaking as the formal principle for his piece of the same name, both in terms of form by means of the apparently illogical succession of different areas as well as through the simultaneity with which the heterogeneous events from different spheres of life and music converge here. The large number of materials leads to compactness and a corresponding anecdotal manner of listening in which each moment appears to relate its own story. Thus, the twenty-five areas of the composition form a kind of bundle of diverse sound and listening situations.
             Simultaneously, for all the discontinuities, there are also continuous developmental lines and cyclical connecting elements. Thus certain iconographical sound elements, such as bells, birds’ twittering, and the barking of dogs, appear in several areas. Many elements are repeated unchanged, verbatim. They create formal cohesion and nevertheless appear in the respective modified context as something else. For example, at the beginning of the second zone are to be heard the rotor noises of four helicopters, which float through warm blossoming synthesizer textures, giving the listener the feeling of flying with a helicopter through changing atmospheres, states of energy, regions of warmth, color layers, and sound and weather conditions until the flight unexpectedly ends on the clattering lathe of a metalworker.
            Contrary to the process referred to in the title of the work, that of inserting or appending seemingly unconnected movement constructions into or onto one another, Polscher’s piece by all means develops something like an epic-symphonic large-scale form. His 105-minute work is the sum and, for the time being, pinnacle of his electronic composition to date. In that he brought together here experiences from nearly forty years of music-making and music hearing, Anakoluth is also a personal sound diary with autobiographical traits. Polscher did not merely combine different stylistics, but rather refashioned for himself the phases of and attitudes toward life that for him were connected with rock, pop, folklore, German “Schlager,” techno, jazz and improvisation in order to make them come alive again for the listener, too. And in contrast to his two last CD releases, the purely electronic composition Automatik from 1999 and the opera Die mechanische Braut (“The Mechanical Bride”) for electroacoustic ensemble from 2002, whose “sectors” or “scenes” he simply numbered consecutively, he has now given the “zones” and “areas” of Anakoluth individual, at times very private titles.

In Anakoluth, Polscher champions a compositional approach that indeed does not dispense with conceptional considerations or material and formal constructions, as shown by the four variants of a central “form” melody upon each of which one of the piece’s four zones is based. Otherwise, however, this music primarily emanates from personal listening and musical experiences that should stand at the forefront for the audience, too. It is Polscher’s central desire to let the listener “re-experience” the music. In fact, the polyphony of Anakoluth acts as the catalyst for spatial, atmospheric, mood-like, and semantic perceptions. The intertextuality, vividness, and association-laden state of the music expands the listening to audio-visual imagination. For that matter, the listener is at the same time also invited to observe the impressions and developments of his own perception while listening. Thus the listener observing himself while listening may discover that listening to music is more than just hearing music. For, just as the term already implies, “perception” always also implies a desire to understand and perceive, for aesthetic classification, lifeworldly orientation, content-related analysis, and, as a result of it, also for something like self-reflective positioning and existential self-placing of the perceiver in his environment. Precisely because we are accosted today, above all by optical stimuli, as telegenic-formed seeing-beings, the worldliness and polyphony of Polscher’s music is able to make us conscious of how intensively and fundamentally we continue to be informed by our acoustic environment, and how much we still perceive the world aurally and move about in it aurally in spite of the flood of images that inundates us every day.
            The bond of the inherently disjointed sound spectrum of Anakoluth acts like a symbol of human life. The anacoluthic formal principle of this sound and aural story is based on the fact that at different phases in his life every human being moves in changing social, cultural, and musical contexts. Although no life planning can take into account everyday fortune and misfortune, all the ups and downs of life nevertheless join together little by little into an anacoluthic whole of a life. In the same manner, Polscher integrates his encounters with different sounds and musical forms. For all the subjectivity of his personal experiences with certain sounds, noises, and musical styles, it at the same time has to do with sounds of the collective memory that in European culture as well as in the German- and English-speaking world has at its command an inter-subjective general meaning, and in this respect can also be similarly experienced or “re-experienced” by other people. Thus, through the perspective of private experiences, Anakoluth likewise becomes a mirror and barometer of public opinion of audible life at the beginning of the twenty-first century.