• Eivind Buene
  • Blue Mountain (2014)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • 2(afl.pic)2(ca).2(ebcl.bcl).1+cbn/2200/2perc/hp.pf/str
  • 2 actors
  • 35 min

Programme Note

Commissioned by the Ultima festival and The Danish National Chamber Orchestra.

Presentation at "Unfolding the process – Artistic Research in Context" 18.11.2015
Blue Mountain
for two actors and orchestra

Introduction

Blue Mountain is not part of any formal research project, but I continue to investigate aspects of performance situations that I addressed in my artistic research Again and Again and Again, carried out here at NMH and concluded a couple of years ago. I also imagine it as a starting point of a new process where I investigate relations between text and music. It might lead to more formal artistic research, it will definetly lead to more works.

It is a piece for two actors and orchestra, somewhere between radio play and orchestral theatre. It draws on a tradition of music with spoken words – Melodrama – that has come to life in works of composers like Lachenmann, Neuwirth and Sørensen in collaboration with authors. A significant difference in Blue Mountain is that I have developed text and music simultaneously, roles that traditionally are parsed to different artists. In a fit of hubris I also assumed the role of the stage director, thus taking a position closer to the cinematographic notion of the auteur.

A key challenge has been to make the text an intrinsic part of the performance situation, and the music something more than mere accompaniment to narration. How can music and words be not only equal partners, but yield a new species of music/text? I'll come to my take on this, but first I want to show you an exerpt of the piece. It is 35 minutes long, and I'll start with the first six minutes. The situation is one actor sitting on stage with the orchestra. After a minute, the second actor comes to join her; they sit on the same kind of chairs as the audience, and we understand that they are in fact part of the audience. When their conversation begins, they start recouping a shared past. I'll play you the audio, with the text translated into english.


Creative challenges

What challenges does the conflation of different roles – the writer and the composer –present? The first challenge is that you lose the dialectic play, the friction, between two seperate imaginations trying to work together towards a common goal. You lose the possibility of the gaze of the other, and the open-endedness of not being sure if you actually imagine the same result. But the flipside of this coin is that a singular vision, encompassing both words and music, can yield results where the two are more intimately intertwined. Especially since notated music is an art form not easily conveyed to others until it is actually heard.

I still needed the outsider's gaze on this project, and I discussed the manuscript with both a film director (Joachim Trier) and a stage director (Kai Johnsen). This process also revealed how much easier it is to edit and discuss text than music. Writers are indeed priviliged over composers when it comes to a true editorial process. This is one of the reasons I chose the montage as the main musical form. I wanted the music to be diegetic, that it belonged to the same place and scene as the actors, so I worked with fragments from historical music that could trigger responses and memories from a shared past in the two protagonists. But I treat my own music very much the same way, when I combine new music, written for the project, with fragements from my earlier pieces, precisely in order to be able to work it in an editorial way, knowing the musical fragments intimately beforehand

In the working situation I found myself going in and out of the roles as composer and writer – always switching between different lines of thought. When working with music, the words seemed far away, almost unimportant, and working with the words, music quickly receeded to being a background. I found it extremely difficult to be in both roles simultaneously. To counter this, I worked very consciously with correspondences between words and music. The text always comes back to moments where it points to the music. The music always continues the conversation by other means. The most obvious example is the use of the word 'Listen!', where the male character direct the womans attention to the music, and also, by proxy, the audiences attention.

I also utilize the two characters main features: He symbolizes music, being an amateur pianist and music lover, and she is an academic in literature, specializing in modernist poetry. She even recites a couple of poems of Tor Ulven during the course of the piece. I wanted to shape the conversation in a way that feels like psychological truth, but also a symbolic exchange between words and music. Creatively, this allows for all kinds of interesting perspectives. How can I build correspondances between Ulvens poetry and Mahler's second symphony, which they discuss? How can a memory of Bergs Violin Conerto be superposed on Ich bin Der Welt Abhanden Gekommen? There are many of these correspondences and mutations, where meaning commutes from words to music and back, throughout the piece. This has been my main method in avoiding that music becomes mere background for the spoken drama.

There are two different narrative strategies shaping words and music. The Text is linear. The music is circular. The music is always returning to the same point, to the initial motive of ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. Sometimes as full quotes, sometimes as a fragment. I'll play the opening bar of the song.

This is my main material for the musical composition. The basic components of a bass harp beat and a rising figure of a semitone. It also works as a trigging device, where I by free (and sometimes delirious) association let it point me toward other works of the orchestral canon. For instance, to the opening of Debussy's La Mer, or Ravel's La Valse, or the slow movement of Brahms' second piano concerto. Some of them share musical features with the Mahler-fragment, some are chosen from my inner archive of musical moments that have inscribed temselves on my own life. I let these choices influence the music, for instance turning the conversation towards the male characters past as pianist during a twisted Brahms-quote, or just by putting the word 'waltz' in the female characters mouth in connection with the Ravel-quote.

The text follows a different strategy. It is divided in 14 brief dialogues, where the shared past of the two protagonists are graually unveiled. The central conflict is revealed in retrospect, as they tell eachother stories, recount and re-evaluate shared experiences. This is a classical dramatic devise where our experience of the now, of the relation between the characters, are changing – sometimes incremental, sometimes in turning points.


"Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" - Text and narrative

There's no time to recount the whole story playing out in this piece. But I can say that a key feature of Blue Mountain is how Friedrich Rückert's lyrics to the Mahler song has informed the text. This song is inscribed both in the orchestral fabric, the situation of orchestral performance and, choices of historical quotes, and, indeed in the story being narrated.


Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,
Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben,
Sie hat so lange nichts von mir vernommen,
Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben!

Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen,
Ob sie mich für gestorben hält,
Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen,
Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt.

Ich bin gestorben dem Weltgetümmel,
Und ruh' in einem stillen Gebiet!
Ich leb' allein in meinem Himmel,
In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied!

I am lost to the world
with which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing from me for so long
that it may very well believe that I am dead!

It is of no consequence to me
Whether it thinks me dead;
I cannot deny it,
for I really am dead to the world.

I am dead to the world's tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song!


This text was the narrative starting point, in that I imagined the protagonist of the song, set on stage, involved in a conversation that allows us to understand what lies behind his song. Of course, this is not explicit, it is a starting point for my imagination, creating two charcters from our own time, meeting up at an orchestral concert.

Rückert's text is a ghostly symbolical outline of a mind that has left this world. Is it a suicide note? a death wish? an ode to art? There is certainly a theme of death, that becomes central in Blue Mountain. In the last turning point, just before the end, the male character has gone off stage, and the woman tells a story that reveals the fact that he is dead. So when he comes back he sits down, not by her side, but at the piano. She is talking to the ampty chair, probably the truth about the situation, and he is answering from the piano.


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