I guess human beings will always pay attention to anything that moves. Or makes noise. In fact, I paid attention to people doing both for more than an hour at last Tuesday’s Wien Modern offering: the ensemble PHACE playing FACE Dia.De (2019) by Pierluigi Billone, a world premiere.
The complicated title is a play on meanings: Old Italian face meaning light or star, or in English ‒ well ‒ face. And Dia.de meaning dyad: a set of two. I thought I understood the context – some sort of duplicity, maybe even something Janus-faced, perhaps in the musical sense a set of two pitches, but who knows? There are plenty of other conceptual uses of dyads, such as in mathematics or sociology.
The stage was indeed set for pairs – two singers, two percussionists, a cello and a bass, a sax and a trombone, an electric guitar and a grand piano.
Wien Modern goes non-lingual
And the duos did proceed with duets, of a sort: Clattering and clashing, metal screeching on metal, wind whistling past high mountains, distant low flying airplanes, dirt bike glissandos. Even the booming drumming of a female emu in a deep wood – one of the strangest natural sounds I have ever heard. The source: the bodies of the bass and cello being beaten – gently, but horrors, nevertheless beaten – with timpani mallets. Eerie evocative tones indeed.
The new music vocal specialists Anna Clare Hauf and Annette Schönmüller presented some rather fabulous non-lingual virtuosity – gravelly breathing, clucking, teeth gnashing, humming, breast-beating, grunts and groans. I imagine the language was that of the Anthropocene, the earth’s new geological age.
The question remains though: When does noise become music? My curiosity was aroused. My attention did not waver. The organized precision of the sounds lulled me into a meditative state. But the landscape I entered was car crusher combined with jungle. From the bravos at the end, there were clearly fans in the audience. I was not quite up to cheering.