(2014) Audiowork. Piece for two violinists and Whispering Wall, 7:55 min.
Violinists: David Bestehorn, Karoline Bestehorn. Composition and arrangement: Albert Raven
A violin is a very specific instrument. Each violin is different, each note unique. A violin often has one or more notes that sound bad, or need a lot of effort to sound good, called Wolf tones. Violinists have a personal relationship with their instrument and with each note: some notes are dearly loved, others can be truly hated. The piece Deduction consists of just one note, played by two violinists. One of them considers this note to be the absolut favorite. The other however hates this note intensely.
Eine Geige ist ein sehr spezifisches Instrument. Jede Geige ist anders, jeder Ton verschieden. Oft hat eine Geige ein oder mehrere Töne, die schlecht klingen oder nur mit sehr viel Mühe gut klingen: sogenannte Wolfstöne. Jeder Violinist hat eine persönliche Beziehung zu seiner Geige und zu jedem Ton: manche Töne werden sehr geliebt, manche aber auch gehasst. Das Stück Deduction besteht aus nur einem Ton. Dieser wird von zwei Violinisten gespielt und ist dabei der absolute Favorit des einen, wird aber von dem anderen zutiefst gehasst.
You wrote a piece for two violin players of almost eight minutes, which only consists of one note. Why would you want to write a one-note piece? Quite frankly because I was curious whether it was possible and what it would sound like. Also it is what I often do with my work, I pick out one of many and take a good look at it.
Out of curiosity? It’s more than that. Because of the vast daily input of sounds and images, our mind decides what we need to be informed of, to prevent us from overload. It acts like a filter. For instance, if there’s a tree in front of your house, you won’t actually see it every time you walk by, you just know it’s there. Only when something about the tree has changed, or if someone chopped it down, you notice it. That’s our brain filtering for us. You don’t actually see the tree, you think it. The same thing happens when you walk: you don’t actually feel your feet walking, you think they do, while you’re busy doing other stuff.
Why is that important to you? When you stop looking at things and trust the mental images your brain provides, there’s a good chance you slowly transfer from the real-world-reality to a reality-in-your-head, and you can end up living in a virtual world of yourself, thinking you know everything, but actually only knowing your own interpretation of the world. That’s a key-theme for me: what reality do I choose to live in, can I change, how do I cope with change, do I hold on or can I let go, and what are the consequences.
How do you integrate that into your work? I like to focus on things to point this out, and to point out that you often don’t see what you think you see, or hear what you think you hear. It changes your perspective. Also, by focussing, you start hearing things that aren’t there.
Like what? Take for instance a hearing test. I know the tones are there and I can hear them, but at some point I’m not sure anymore whether I’ve just heard a very soft or high one or not.
You hear what you think you hear. Exactly. Which is also interesting to me because I have tinnitus, I hear sounds, noises and whispering all day long which I know are not there, but I hear them anyway.
So can you write a one-note piece? By forcing yourself to use only one note, other things become more important, such as harmonics, intonations, vibration, tuning, attack, decay and release, rhythm, and so on. Even though there’s just one note, several together are phrased like you normally would. I asked the violin players to address each note in a certain way, as if the note was part of a normal phrase or melody. They immediately understood this and played it wonderfully.
Does it matter who plays it? Yes, very much, that’s what makes this piece so interesting to me, and what put my original idea in a whole new perspective. That’s what I love about these projects, you start off somewhere and you never know exactly where you end up. Both violin players play at the Berliner Konzerthausorkester at the Gendarmenmarkt. They know each other very well, in fact they are very close. For a one-note piece you have to decide of course which note that one note will be. I had a few ideas, but wanted their input. Besides, a note on a violin is something very personal, the violin itself resonates and interacts with the body of the player. So we tried a few notes and I asked them about their all-time favorite note. They both immediately answered with two totally different notes, but as it turned out one of them loves the D-flat, whereas the other utterly hates that particular note. In the first place because that player’s violin has huge problems with this note -it kicks, vibrates poorly, makes funny noises, it’s an off-note that you sometimes can have on a string instrument, it just won’t sound right. It’s called a Wolftone, which by the way I think is beautiful and opens up a whole new world of possibilities. As the second player started playing the note on the first players violin, you could still see and hear the immense resistance and dislike of that note. So there we were, one note, one of the players loved it deeply, the other one hated it intensely, it sounded beautiful and most base-like, most full, most at ease. We simply had to use this note.
So in a way this note defines the relationship of the two players? Fascinating don’t you think? It unites and divides the two of them. We’ve had fantastic discussions about just this one note. Don’t forget, it takes an enormous amount of time and energy to master an instrument the way they do. Every note is unique and has its own character. You work with it, think about it, talk about it, you develop a kind of relationship with every single one, it becomes some kind of entity. You study for hours to get the intonation right, the phrasing, the sound, and the nuances are incredible. And that’s just one note. That one then gets swallowed up in a piece between all other notes, that is unless you don’t play it right, because then it immediately sticks out.
Did you use both violins? No, just the one without the Wolftone. I wanted the note to sound right.
There’s one note, one violin, two violinists, and what’s a Whispering Wall? This piece is a piece in itself, but I made it for my Whispering Wall, which is a wall that makes sound. It’s a project I’ve been working on for some time now. It actually is a cloud, a virtual collections of sounds, noises, conversations and music. The Whispering Wall logs in into the cloud and lets you hear what is there. I am developing the cloud at the moment and made a prototype of the wall that consists of six units with speakers. This particular piece has six tracks, so each speaker plays its own track, and together they play the piece in a very spacial way.
The Whispering Wall is a playback device for sounds that exist in the virtual cloud? Yes, but it’s more than that. I think of the sounds and conversations in the cloud as sounds and conversations in my head. We all have this voice in our head that speaks to us. When you stand in front of the wall, you can hear a train of thoughts, or music, or sounds, just like the ones in your head.
Is the wall the only way to connect to the cloud? Not necessarily, I’ve made an installation in which the mobile phones of the visitors connect to the cloud. And the units that make up the wall are all individually connected to the cloud. You could take one home with you and listen to it there, or, in case of this piece, take six of them.
This piece was part of the Whispering Wall exposition at the ‘Kultur Tage Buch 2015’ in Berlin, and the Ohrenhoch exposition March 2017.