• Eivind Buene
  • Lessons in Darkness (2017)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • 1(afl).0+ca.1(Ebcl.cbcl).0+cbn/1111/perc/pf.epf.syn/str
  • 21 min

Programme Note

I started working on the piece in mid winter 2017, a time of not much optimism. Winter in the north offers a few hours of daylight and long nights to contemplate both the political darkness encompassing us and a certain personal darkness after attending too many funerals the last year. The title alludes to the baroque tradition of evening songs on the lamentations of Jeremiah. There are no quotes, no referencing. But there is an awareness of those who have given us lessons in darkness. Alfred Deller, voicing Couperin with unbearable fragility. Or Céline, who wrote that we know nothing of the true history of mankind; all that is interesting takes place in the dark. Maybe he's right. We are not interested in darkness itself, but what it hides. That is what scares us. What is it that we don't know about ourselves?

Music has always dealt with the unknown. Composing notated music is reaching into the dark, searching for sound in silence. It is an act of faith, of utopian belief; hopes for the future inscribed on the present. In this sense, composing harbours negation and affirmation by the same token. Even music of despair will offer proposals, if only by its expression of sheer human energy. An ensemble is a proposal of collectivity: collective action, collective effort, collective expression. It is not about obliterating individualism, but always negotiating the relationships between the individual and the collective. And the potential to bring together seemingly incompatible entities, to let different systems of thought and sound rub against each other.

What started out as a study of darkness also became an opportunity to investigate matters of collectivity, in collaboration with Ensemble Musikfabrik. And the process triggered some of my basic fascinations: The friction between complexity and simplicity; the sound of certain 'period instruments' like the Fender Rhodes and the Moog synthesizer; the balancing act between strict organization and inherent chaos; the meeting between stasis and ekstasis. And the sound of different systems colliding: tempered vs. just intonation; mechanical time vs. embodied time; oscillators vs. strings and reeds.

The work is in three movements, three lessons, played attacca. The first lesson deals with the friction between the individual and the collective. There might be a 'theme' but there is no development, only accumulation, intensification and repetition. A plainsong lament lost in the shadows of other voices. The second lesson deals with darkness in a musical sense, through the lower regions of the ensemble: double bass, contrabassoon, double bass clarinet and the deep registers of the brass instruments. The third lesson works with simultaneous musics where the ensemble self-organize into smaller units and ultimately converge in some provisional, shaky concord.

A piece of music eventually solidifies in that process of poignant beauty when the work becomes a physical fact of the concert hall. But as I write this, the music is still fantastically unheard. There is no style, there is only the exploration. Every piece is searching for a point of contact with the world. Every piece that doesn't change the world is a failure. So we fail again. And not even better. For in that failure lays infinite possibilities. We listen to the dark night, and that is when we learn.

Eivind Buene


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