In his famous essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin diagnosed a ‘loss of aura’ that had become clearly visible on account of the techniques of film, photography and sound recording. It seemed that the authenticity of the ‘original’ work of art had been lost, an ‘original’ in which not just the artist himself had left his traces, but which also – thus claimed Benjamin, along with Proust – had captured the gaze of all its earlier observers.

These reflections are directed primarily towards objects in the fine arts. In music, the relationship of ‘work’ to ‘reproduction’ is different, as for example in the tension between text and interpretation. In music, the supposed loss of aura is to be found rather in the marginalization of the concert; there, the artist and listener encounter each other ‘live’, whereas the listener of recorded sound engages in a lonely act of reception (and even here there can be a further decay of aura, as was proven by the sometimes bitter resistance towards digital recordings shown by lovers of vinyl records).

However, music has long been experimenting with methods in which the means of sound reproduction itself acquires the status of an original document – thus turning the ‘canned’ sound into a magical object. The result is a ‘re-aura-ization’ when the media and products of reproduction become the object and/or the material of the actual works of art. They become this object when pre-produced sounds are channelled into the live performance (as already in Varèse’s Déserts, for example); they become the material when sound recordings are processed or manipulated during the performance – as in the ‘scratching’ of vinyl records by DJs. Here, they are not used ‘as if’ they were an instrument, but actually ‘as’ an instrument.

It is to techniques such as these that Teodora Stepancic (piano) and Martin Lorenz (turntables) refer in their collaborative projects, though they also draw on John Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No. 5, for example. By confronting the traditional keyboard instrument with sound recordings that are altered in multifarious ways, completely new sound effects are created – a result that is also enhanced by Lorenz’s eclectic references to serious and popular music and to classical and jazz. Heavily pedalled piano notes are accorded a large space for the silence in which their echoes vibrate, and into which the crackling and hissing of the LPs percolate.

‘SIGNS – SHAPES’ is the title of the first CD collaboration of these two artists. ‘Shapes’ refers perhaps to the sculptural aspect of their work, to its connections to the visual arts, or to the immediate, tactile processing of the records. But it also refers to the ‘outlines’, the idioms of the music from which they quote. ‘Signs’ refers to a process in which physical notes, produced live, enter into a dialogue with pre-produced notes; it also refers to the signals of musical interaction that the players give each other, and to ‘signal’-like motives that serve to delineate the structure of the music.

Martin Lorenz himself refers to the debate surrounding ‘aura’ and ‘preserved’ music when he informs us that he turns the ‘sound reproducing medium’ itself into an ‘actual object of sound production’. Lorenz prepares the records with a scalpel, sandpaper and adhesive tape, and often applies the needle roughly to the LPs. The place on the record that is played is furthermore varied constantly by moving the needle by hand. Lorenz thereby punctuates the overall sound with amorphous noises: there are shreds of music and clicks when the pickup is lowered onto the record, loud scratches when the pickup is pushed horizontally across the grooves, then hissing and crackling. Incisions in the LP allow him to produce loops, to which the noise of the needle, jumping back, marks an imaginary beat.

Teodora Stepancic plays with subtle control at the piano, making use of the many expressive possibilities that this highly developed instrument offers. Her expressive spectrum ranges from almost impressionistic passages to massive walls of sound and percussive noises inside the grand piano. She develops delicate aural nuances that shimmer through the loud noise of the electronics. The result is a fascinating music full of contrasts, with an ever-changing interplay between its different layers.

Benedikt v. Bernstorff

EAN: 764013844429 6