Variationen über ein altes Thema

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Instrumentation: 4 speakers with megaphones
Duration: 9 minutes
First performance: Scholarship holders of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Berlin, 4th June 2011 (partly)
Students of the Högskola för scen och musik Göteborg, Göteborg, 17th November 2012 (completely)

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Variationen über ein altes Thema is my reaction on a seminar in which I took part in the organisation of an art exhibition together with fellow scholarship holders of the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. The general topic of this exhibition was arts and politics. Apart from the concrete organisation a lot of profound discussions about the relationship of arts and politics emerged, especially about the question in which way political attitudes can be transformed into artistic expression. One of the more extreme viewpoints in this discussion was that every work of art must incorporate a political statement, and if this is disputed by the artist he himself states the political content through this denial – stating that he disapproves of any political commitment.

This attitude obviously led to some intense debates, as it implies a lot of problematic connotations. Like some of the other artists present at this seminar I – being an artist who is not laying any political intentions my compositions – felt rather affected by this assumption. This feeling of being offended however soon converted into something else: I felt challenged to prove this approach wrong.

I believe that if art shall be political, its connotation has to be tangible in the artwork itself, visible not only through long and complicated explanations by the artist but at least in some way present to a ingenuous recipient. My idea for the piece that I was going to write was therefore to create a music which itself carries no political content by reconstructing an apparently political text in such a way, that its meaning – and therefore even its attitude – is completely dissolved in sound. Only further explanation of its genesis shall reveal the deeper meaning.

The musical realisation of this rather abstract idea began by choosing a suitable setting: By choosing four speakers with megaphones I intentionally created a rather paradox situation: The piece, seeming completely unpolitical to the listener, is performed by musicians that use the most politically entailed instrument: the megaphone. The text that is spoken is taken from a babylonian inscription ca. 1000 B.C. and states that today’s youth is corrupt and that the babylonian civilisation will end because of its juveniles. Despite its banality its tenor is even today uttered very often, making it a suitable text for my composition: I did not want to take a text from politics of the day, nor did I want to use something that is completely irrelevant today.

The beginning of Variationen über ein altes Thema resembles the theme, in a sense that here the text appears as an entity. Various techniques are however used to make the actual words inaudible, using the text as a quarry for sounds. In the course of the piece variations of the “theme” follow, in which on composition technique from the beginning after the other is explored more in detail.

Due to the ideas that are the origin of this piece it is desirable that this information is not given in advance. However, this text could be read to the audience after the performance.