|roland dahinden | composer – performer|
Similarity in difference - difference in similarity
A craggy, chalkstone landscape, shimmering silver in the sunlight: that's Silberen, a mountain landscape near the Pragel pass, between the Muota and Klön valleys, ancient and primeval; a place where even the archaic seems new. Up there, far from any galleries, the landscape artist Richard Long has set his stones. As he often does, he has placed rocks next to and in between precipices, and they stay there as long as time allows. For once, he hasn't even arranged them into a circle, as he usually does. This intervention is hardly noticeable in the landscape, and yet on closer inspection it looks as if it has been put there by human hands - similar to the dolmen fields in Bretagne or the stone circles on the British Isles, which may have served as an example. Often in Long's work, the circle - sometimes interpreted as magical - seems like a frame within which, however, an unstructured collection arranges itself almost freely. This is a nonchalant congregation of stones - not a hint of the noble simplicity of earlier sacred sites. In the circle there is a concentration of openness.
Such things cannot be illustrated with music, and they can hardly be reconstructed in strict processes. At any rate, that isn't what Roland Dahinden does with his piece for piano and string quartet, which is simply named 'silberen'. And yet, music does the same: it sets notes into a temporally clearly encircled frame. Thus Richard Long's work on the mountain can help the understanding of the work. In any case, it becomes clear after a few notes only that this is not dramatic or otherwise goal-directed music. Neither does it make any glaring contrasts. The dynamics are kept within the piano range - for as long as three quarters of an hour. The sounds are 'white' - tonally, they lead nowhere - and the rhythm is dissolved (and not stemmed, as one might take it). There are no themes, not even motifs, but only sounds. We're in a space that's more familiar from the music of American composers such as John Cage and Morton Feldman; but that association, too, doesn't get one very far.
The music, one might say, revolves. But even that sounds too organised and schematic. Still, in a barely obvious, rather subterranean, way the sounds are connected to each other. Individual pitches, even chords, appear several times within a movement, but are then again shifted in the context, in the harmony, so that the picture changes. Thus fragile changes of timbre occur. It's as though one were looking at the same thing from a different side - be it transferred to the concrete Silberen, the chalky base or the collection of rocks. Chords make the impression of stones lined up behind each other in one's field of vision; individual stones appear sometimes higher, sometimes lower. But maybe that, too, is too much association.
The piece is structured into 21 movements, and for once the expression is more appropriate in its 'motion' reading. Every time in a different instrumental combination, the tonal material is highlighted from a different side, as if one were walking - in a circle? - around a sculpture. Every movement is clearly delineated and yet internally open, characterised by the instruments: the piano, setting its tones with the echo of the open pedal; and the quartet, which is able to modulate its sounds. The strings create an interior to the wide sound space of the piano. The uniquely soft, matte-silvery light of their sounds changes occasionally in the colours of flageolet, sul ponticello, and every now and then, in the transition to a poco vibrato, there is even a flash of a last bit of romantic espressivo.
For, as quiet as this music might at first seem, it is full of change, sometimes even subtly restless within. It doesn't develop schematically - in that, too, it is open. It is far removed from the navel gazing of the pseudo-meditative, it doesn't contemplatively milk the moment, but, unstoppably, the sculpture turns before our ears. And the music doesn't sink into melancholia. Often enough, one is surprised by the onset of the next note and spirited away by a sound modulation. These changes often occur not only quickly, but also irregularly. The ear isn't given the chance to come to rest, it continually circles around the sounds and occupies a different auditory angle with every movement.
However, one does well not to cling to this image too much. Similar to other works of Dahinden's, which are even more closely connected to visual works of art, the sound is on a level of its own, independent, even if it was created for a specific occasion. Nothing dictates to the music. It has its own logic. For this, I pick the following remark of Cézanne's out of the wealth of available quotes: "There is a logic of colour, parbleu, the painter must obey it, not the logic of the brain. If he loses himself to that, he's lost. He must lose himself to the eyes. Painting is a lens, the content of our art lies primarily in that which our eyes think."
In a beautiful manner, this sentence describes something that happens in the second piece on this CD - music that also refers to visual art: "lichtweiss". The Austrian artist Inge Dick is obsessed with monochromes. In series of pictures she traces 'bleu du ciel' or "Ein Tages Licht Weiss" ('a day light white'), the colour permutations of 13th June 1996, captured in Polaroids taken between 5:07h and 20:52h. In the same way, she has created a series of totally white pictures, which, at first glance, show nothing but an incredibly nuanced white surface. Apart from that, they don't at first yield anything else. It takes prolonged observation and, above all, light, before out of this white a yellowish, bluish or greenish shadow or tinge reveals itself, which is incredibly subtle, but lends depth to the picture.
For that, too, there is no equivalent musical process. And still, the listener experiences the subtlest colouring in Roland Dahinden's "lichtweiss" for solo vibraphone. Each piece builds on a fine difference: I and III on the difference in attack between hard and soft mallets, II on the difference between the bowed and struck sounds, IV on that between a loud and a very quiet layer. This differentiation in tone leads to a gradation of sounds in the space. But that's only the surface arrangement. What happens beyond that can be shown nicely with the second piece. Over a space of four-and-a-half minutes, a harmonically homogeneous sound world unfolds. The bowed notes move between e' and f'. These two pitches can also be found among the struck notes. Below that is set an f sharp, above, alternating d''/d'' sharp and higher still c'''/c''' sharp. This method stretches out, over two octaves with seven notes, a sound space of sevenths that seems to rest in itself. When after barely four-and-a-half minutes first a g' sharp, and immediately after a g'' get added to the mix, the effect is as subtle as it is drastic. Very rapidly, in what follows, the tonal edifice falls into disorder without however seeming restless or even unstable. It becomes apparent at the end that the basic axes remain, even though the harmonic colour spectrum has expanded and shifted slightly.
Similar processes can also be observed in the other movements, although the word 'process' has the wrong connotations. The method is neither crudely calculated, nor does the result arise from a creeping minimalistic process. The harmonic expansions are as unspectacular as they are surprising. In "lichtweiss I", there are several such moments, in which a harmonic field (from a distance reminiscent of a Webernian sound constellation) that has been found and 'settled' moves on and expands. Rarely does it seem so significant that harmonics in music are related to space. All of this happens with a minimal expenditure of energy and yet achieves an enormous effect. The power of the 'stranger', the intruding note, is immediately diverted by the ear and incorporated into the harmonic field - and thus the game can begin anew.
"lichtweiss III" is more complex in structure and yet it is as immediately accessible (at least after the experience of listening to the first two pieces). Finally, the last piece takes a different approach and uncovers yet another facet of colouring sounds. Sounds (chords or series of notes) produced with hard and loud attack are modulated in that they are repeated at the volume of the reverberation. In this way, single harmony-internal notes are put in relief, sometimes even through octaves. Here, too, 'strange' notes are inserted, which diverge from the tonic, thus stick out and softly tinge them. The auditory experience becomes a listening out for individual elements. In this, there is no method, no logic of the brain, parbleu. In the context of Inge Dick's work, art scholar Reinhold Misselbeck quotes a few lines from the late medieval theologian and poet Alanus ab Insulis; they describe aspects of "lichtweiss" too: "As long as it doesn't distance itself from the one, unity changes. As long as it concentrates in the one, the change is unified. Similarity turns into difference, difference into similarity. But simplicity never crosses its own boundaries."