[Michel Waisvisz]





Excerpt from:

Volker Krefeld, The Hand in The Web: An Interview mit Michel Waisvisz.
In: Computer Music Journal Vol. 14, No. 2, Summer 1990, 28-33, hier: 28/29



Krefeld: What do you consider yourself in the first place: an inventor of musical instruments, a composer, or a performer?


Waisvisz: A composer – a composer of timbres. Due to the state of technological developments in the current era, I am a composer using electronic means because of their differentiated and refined control over timbre. ‘The current era’ has lasted 36 years. I was four when I started playing with my father’s shortwave receivers. In my view, the term ‘electronic music composer’ implies being a performer as well; you cannot sit behind a desk and write electronic timbral music without hearing it. Aside from this, serialism has taken many of us away from composing by ear. I think that a composer has to be able to make immediate compositional decisions based on actual perception of sound rather than making decisions derived from a formal structure that – as happened in serialism – tends to drift away from our pure musical needs. Composers must go back on the stage and listen and think; they must work and perform where the music actually reigns.

With respect to the inventor role, I consider the creation of a specific electronic music instrument as being part of the compositional process due to the high modular flexible setup of MIDI instruments – and especially the possibility of assembling MIDI controllers out of a toolbox, as developed at STEIM. The way a sound is created and controlled has such an influence on its musical character that one can say that the method of translating the performer’s gesture into sound is part of the compositional method. Composing a piece implies building special instruments to perform it as well. The inventor role is thus an integral part of composing. Your question suggests divisions that don’t exist for me; I cannot see a personal involvement in the technical functionality of the instruments and performance as separate from the work of composing, so simply consider me as composer.


Krefeld: The instruments you have developed over the years – the Tape-puller, the Crackle synthesizer, The Hands, the MIDI-conductor and your current work on the Web – all work in real-time and all create a direct and continuously sensed contact with the electronic circuits. Don’t you think that computers are more precise and reliable music performers than humans; some say one can even add the human touch to their programs?


Waisvisz: I see the hand as a part of the brain, not as a lower instrument of the brain. Of course, you can see a hand as transmitter and sensor, but in the consciousness of the performance, the hand is the brain. You can’t say that its precision is surpassed or even equalled by computers because we simply don’t know what we control in detail when we play an instrument. Every instrumentalist can tell you that in the instrumental learning proces, there are hours of meticulous motoric memorization of timing and intonation, but the thing called music finally comes out as something on top of that. I don’t think this notion is something metaphysical or a romantic vagueness. I think that the slight aberrations from the score – sometimes considered errors – contain crucial micro-information that gives music its life. (…) Instead of musing on whether a computer is precise, reliable, or capable of invoking the human touch in music, you should focus on the notion of effort. Effort is something abstract in a computer but a human performer radiates the psychological and physical effort through every move. The creation of an electronic music instrument shouldn’t just be the quest for ergonomic efficiency. You can go on making things technically easier, faster, and more logical, but over the years I have come to the conclusion that this doesn’t improve the musical quality of the instrument. I’m afraid it’s true one has to suffer a bit while playing; the physical effort you make is what is perceived by listeners as the cause and manifestation of the musical tension of the work. (…) Basically, however, it is a fight with the instrument – (…) – that luckily most of the time exceeds the formal structures into the occurrence of this wise and vibrating ghost that we call real live music.”