The Chronicle

So: you make a film about the importance of seeing music being played, featuring pieces that have a strong visual component (by Stravinsky, Ligeti, Lutoslawski and Finnissy). Then you release a CD soundtrack of that film. In other words, this is a CD of music that’s meant to be seen being played, that accompanies a film showing how this works. Hmm. Label Metier are nothing if not optimistic.

The project was based on a quote from Stravinsky: “I said somewhere that it was not enough to hear music, but that it must also be seen. An experienced eye follows and judges, sometimes unconsciously, the performer’s least gesture. Music does not move in the abstract.”

Music is multi-media, Igor might have said had he not died in 1971 (the same year as Intel released the world’s first microprocessor). The sleeve notes outline the ways in which music is visual ranging from the straightforward — the musicians moving to play, and communicating — to Gyorgy Ligeti’s trick of forcing each player to turn the page in sequence while plucking. Stravinsky wrote in some odd fingerings and bowings. Ligeti used silence. And of course, there’s the option of allowing the players space to improvise or play different things, to emphasise their physical presence.

So, by definition, the pieces are quirky, the film a way of engaging listeners who would normally find the music a little trying. Without the film the CD is a collection of rather angular pieces, sometimes harsh though sometimes playful. It’s all very modern.

In the Stravinsky quote above he had a go at “the ill-breeding of those grimacers who too often take it upon themselves to deliver the ‘inner meaning’ of music” but hopefully he would forgive us this: this week we were also listening Vyacheslav Artyomov’s work which is equally modern, but totally different.

This CD by the Kreutzer Quartet seems to be on a micro scale, focussing on the small differences, Artyomov’s more on the macro. Kreutzer Quartet are looking at insects through a microscope, Artyomov at Betelegeuse through a telescope.

Stravinsky’s Pieces’ (1914), is described as anti-chamber music, the string quartet playing separate pieces. The opener Danse is one the CD’s more playful sections, the third piece Cantique seeing the instruments more together, but also more ominous.

Witold Luoslawski sees each musician playing without knowing what the others are doing; music on a “need to know” basis. This is aleatoric music, music that incorporates chance into the creation.

Ligeti’s tricks were mentioned above but he also uses rapid changes in the music to produce visual changes.

The closing piece is Michael Finnissy’s Second String Quartet sees players “activated” (and presumably turned off), at times wandering away from the other players.

It’s engaging on headphones, so if you like modern music and want to be challenged give it a go. If you want nothing more than a nice bit of Mozart, maybe not.

—Jeremy Condliffe