Computer Music Journal

Some Fragmentary Thoughts about Georg Hajdu’s „Der Sprung“

by Eberhard Hüppe

Like no other genre, the music theater of recent years has been subject to polarization. On the one hand, conventional, institutionalized methods have a tendency to place their mark on all concepts which are open to compromise. On the other hand, intelligent ideas that diverge from normal opera procedures shift the actual events in the opera to the audience by aiming at a static set – which comes close to eliminating the visual scenario. The drama consists of making the audience aware of the dramatic possibilities of its own sense of hearing. In order to achieve this, it is absolutely necessary to embrace the incongruity of hearing and seeing. Stockhausen, Feldman, Nono, Lachenmann and Cage developed concepts for the aesthetic-cognitive problems of the opera genre, which led to widely diverging opinions on dramatizations of cognitive dissonance (please note: not necessarily of the sounds). Internal, culturally determined inconsistencies of perception are the domain of the music theater, of the high-brow avant-garde. This is also the starting point for Georg Hajdu’s opera project „Der Sprung“ (based on a libretto by Thomas Brasch), which premiered – with René Gulikers as the conductor and Georg Hajdu as the „sound director“ – on October 2nd, 1999 in Münster, Germany.

„Der Sprung“ is based on a tragic incident, which took place in 1984 at the University of Cologne: A female student shot and killed a professor of Jewish Studies and seriously wounded another. An investigation of the incident revealed a tragic entanglement of a personal and a national malady. It turned out that the schizophrenic student felt that – because of the German-Jewish history and the Holocaust – it bordered on the criminal for a non-Jewish professor to teach Jewish Studies. She had converted to the Jewish faith and, as a result, felt justified in committing murder.Literature as analysis: Thomas Brasch combines the crime and its genesis, personal notes and information about the student’s environment as a drama of ideas. The result is a tableau of the most diverse elements, and this carries over to the music as well. What is the connection between a jump from a diving board with Mick Jagger, the inhabitants of a terrarium and a woman (!) who has wrapped herself in a prayer shawl? Brasch’s concept makes it necessary for the music to bring the disparate elements together.The use of interactive computer technology, which is a further development of serialism and which controls both the act of composition and the performance situation, necessitates „software of the second degree“ to start the artistic process. Such „software“ can be found in everyday life, but one has to be able to recognize it as such.The point of departure for the music and the libretto stem from an offhand remark made by Brasch: „Writing an opera means having no other way out.“ Hajdu asked Brasch to repeat the sentence on his answering machine. By transforming it into diagram form via sound analyses, by setting a time frame and measuring the sections to determine the structure (dividing it into „slices of time,“ according to Hajdu), the sentence became the structural formula for an eleven-part libretto and a two-act opera (each divided into four scenes) with a prolog, intermezzo and epilog. The student is portrayed by an actress in a speaking role and writes the key sentences of each scene on a blackboard. The opera includes elements of a radio play. Eight female and male singers sing at times solo, at times united as a chorus. They are also linked to the electronic equipment via microphones and headphones. The chamber orchestra, with its 20 musicians, includes – apart from the conventional instrumental formation – three synthesizers and a jazz group. The coordination of the entire group is carried out by a computer.Each scenic moment is clearly defined in terms of its exact episodic content. The horizontally oriented plot has been constructed vertically (simultaneity) in order to make the drama of the heterogeneous events vivid and clear. This is achieved through the use of electronic music. But Hajdu’s musical style, as indicated by his instrumentation, is meant to offer a cross-section of styles. Thus, each scenic moment has its own language of sounds. The „water music“ in the prolog, which deals with the dive from the diving board, uses specific sounds from a swimming pool, which are transformed and heightened by live electronic effects. The text is projected into this sound scape and becomes part of the transformation brought about by the sounds. The sensual result is a static, ornamental and fluctuating music.Hajdu prefers the orchestra for plot-driven scenes with dialog – here the music is very impulsive and full of gestures and elements from traditional genres. The orchestra is also the medium used to depict stylistic transformations, to illustrate the past. For example, in the jazz-rock allusions in a scene of the first act, which deals with the muddled alternatives considered by the protagonist. The „destruction“ of Mick Jagger by throwing away his records (as the result of an imagined affair with him) is already on the level of an intent to kill, which is also motivated by an imaginary relationship with an instructor at the Institute for Jewish Studies. „I can’t get no satisfaction“ has been incorporated into Hajdu’s music. Hajdu is not interested in composing authentic jazz-rock, but in transforming it through the use of serialistic music elements into a strange, synthetic form. The scene that describes the criteria for buying the murder weapon works in a similar fashion. „The weapon should be one from the Middle Ages“ (Act 1, Scene 4) produces echoes of Ars Nova, while fake Klezmer music accompanies the drama of the fake identity in Act 2.Hajdu is working towards a conceptualization of a kind of semantics, which, as Brasch formulated it, is the semantics of observation. For this, different styles of language are necessary. Both postulates trigger music: the observation of an opera’s semantic levels leads the listener to the spoken structural formula on the answering machine, or, to be more precise, to its background noise. A discussion of the complex structure of the intermezzo (chorus and live electronics) would take up too much space here. Various sections with long glissandos, each with a different harmonic structure in a microtonal system, become clearly audible, resulting in something that sounds like spectral music. It could even be described as an extended chorale. The intermezzo can be seen as the musical climax of the opera. The mictrotonal harmonic progression is taken up in a rondo-like scene for solo alto (which demands its lowest register) and live electronics, reflecting on the conditions of speaking another language: in this micro-intervallic environment we hear a resynthesized, tonal sound world which, instead of irritating, has an iridescent effect. There are continually descending sequences of notes in various parts, whose order can not be foreseen, and which could well continue into infinity.Let us summarize: in order to achieve the schizoid structure of a drama of ideas, and to make the structure audible and, as far as possible in concert, visible (for the realization on stage, videos are added), it is necessary to make use of all multimedia capable of producing both integration and dissociation. The form that Hajdu and Brasch have given their drama of ideas requires conceptual, constructivist and deconstructivist methods. While constructivist elements are necessary for the creation of any type of musical structure, the cultural disparity of the event is revealed through the use of deconstructivist methods. The various meanings that exist for the German word „Sprung“ (leap, jump, dive, crack) lead to the opera’s wide spectrum of associations. The disparity of the cultural levels corresponds to the variety of the compositional styles. Hajdu develops a dramatic structure out of various layers of multimedia transformations, which is at the same time equivalent to the structure of the drama of ideas. This is why language and music are intertwined from the very beginning.Thus, we return to the sentence „Writing an opera means having no other way out.“ What this means is that the desire to create an identity that lies somewhere between drama and structure, and that the beginning and end of the route taken will reveal differences, will reveal „leaps“. The leap consists of linking the act of hearing to the events on stage. Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk was the first step in this direction. While his form of Gesamtkunstwerk is inextricably linked with the aesthetic discourse of the industrial revolution, the work of art that relies on multimedia and concepts – referred to by Frederic Jameson – can no longer be explained by the historical notion of Gesamtkunstwerk. The multimedia work of art serves to make perception possible dramaturgically as well as structurally, and it is the active role of perception and consciousness that is the prerequisite to perceive anything besides hallucinations. This is true both in an artistic and a political sense.

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