Dreiklang (1977)

TITLE: Dreiklang
AUTHOR: Dieter Schnebel
YEAR: 1977
MEDIUM: music / broadcasting

Nam June Paik, the South Corean musician and media artist, noted, in 1964, a short concept:

«Play the Great Fugue by Ludwig van Beethoven with the first violin on the moon, the second violin on the earth, alto on venus and cello on mars.»

Howsoever this galactic chamber music (an oxymoron in itself) may have sounded – a few years later, 1973, a slightly smaller version was played, between Germany and Sweden: The two organ parts of «Minimum Maximum», a composition by the German composer Hans Otte, were played in Stockholm and in Bremen respectively, simultaneously merged by the means of the Swedish Broadcast Company. It is probably the first networked live performance – although the piece is a quite conventional one and does not really react to the at that time complex setting. A few years later, 1977, Dieter Schnebel, a German composer much influenced by the aesthetics of John Cage, achieved another attempt, this time with three instrumental ensembles in three different cities spread out over Europe playing three independent, but coordinated pieces:

  • Rhythmen (aus Schulmusik) for a pop music band was played Studio 2 Sveriges Radio Stockholm,
  • B-Dur-Quintett (b flat major quintet) for a classical mixed string-wind-ensemble in Paris, Auditorium Maison de la France, and
  • Handwerke-Blaswerke for archaic and exotic instruments Sendesaal (broadcasting hall) Radio Bremen.

Schnebel 1

As the diagram of the «high-quality-circuit network for multi-origin concert» might show, the technical display was quite complex: on the one hand, each ensemble was recorded; the recording was then (at the same time) transmitted to the two other studios, accompanying the live-playing ensembles; and thirdly the whole setting was broadcasted in real time to nearly all European broadcasting companies.

A synchronisation of the three ensembles was structured by a time schedule – since the three ensembles play in different styles and since there are no exact cues, a rough planning was enough and latency did not play any important or discernible role in the performance.

Schnebel Bild 2

The original sketch (today in the archives of the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel) shows the synchronisation of the three ensembles. At the three places, there were played three independent compositions (which could also be played without the others): So, in comparison to Hans Ottes Minimum Maximum, it is not just a spatially splayed out performance of an otherwise conventionally composed piece, but it takes the fact of different spaces connected at the same time seriously: It seems obvious that the three spaces are treated in an individual manner, playing with the independence and autonomy of the single spots and pieces on the one hand, on the other with the creation of an overall, merged sound and space with the blending in and out of the different compositional and spatial levels: Independence and interdependence refer to each other in an dialectical way.

What is more, the arrangement of the three musical styles to the three European cities is not completely accidental: The pop band was played in Stockholm and with this in a Scandinavian country which was at the time much more open to popular music formats than in Central Europe; the classical ensemble in Paris may be a comment about the more traditionally orientated music scene in the French capital; and so on.

What understanding of space and place is involved here? It is quite interesting to see that the at the time technically very demanding medial arrangement seems to provoke a backdrop on the more conceptual, compositional level: Dieter Schnebel has developed, since the 1960ies, a quite high level in inclusion of the parameter of space into the compositional techniques and displays, sign of a spatial turn also in the (conventionally more centred on time-based) musical practices.

But in this case of «Dreiklang» («triad» in English), space is much understood in the everyday-understanding of being a sort of container: three separate space-containers filled into a fourth, linked merely by a technical arrangement. Also on the level of perception, there does not happen very much: A listener on the radio has no possibility to see any difference to a conventional broadcasting; and even a listener in one of the concert halls does not suffer much irritation: of course, he or she sees only one ensemble but hears three, but considering our well known cultural techniques of play-back or live-electronics, this is not really a surprising experience. The notion of space therefore seems very abstract: concert halls are everywhere quite the same all over the globe, and it does not make much difference whether they are a few meters away in the same building or on the other side of the globe.

The performance was obviously no success: there is no recording remaining (so unfortunately I can not give you an impression), but witnesses report, that neither the quality of the performance itself nor the sound projection in the single locations nor the mixing of the overall broadcast worked well: There were problems with feedback, with synchronization, with balance. So it is quite interesting to see that a less medially mediated version of the piece «Dreiklang» had some success later on: the three single pieces can also be played in one big space or in acoustically attached spaces at the same time with the audience moving through the soundscape resulting from the three ensembles playing at the same moment. In this case, the listener is not only a bystander of the filling in of space (by the sound engineers in the radio version), but he is himself producing his individual piece and space by positioning himself in the overall setup and having by this his own listening perspectives.