Christian Utz

Time-Space-Experience in Works for Solo Cello by Xenakis, Lachenmann, and Ferneyhough. A Performance-Sensitive Approach to Morphosyntactic Musical Analysis

My “morphosyntactic” approach to the analysis of post-tonal music, informed by empirical and historical research on musical morphology and syntax and the notions of emancipated sound and perception in post-tonal musical contexts (Utz 2012, 2013), is based on a contextual application of Auditory Scene Analysis (Bregman 1990) and the idea of a “performative analysis” (Cook 1999) to post-tonal repertoire. In this context-sensitive understanding of musical experience, meaning arises from music-specific constellations of sonic time-space-events. This methodology does not render “stable” meanings but rather “possibilities” in a field of tension set up by score, performers, performing traditions and constantly changing technical and cognitive preliminaries.

The present paper aims to expand this understanding of musical meaning by integrating performative dimensions systematically, connecting particularly to my more recent research into the temporal qualities of musical perception (Utz 2014). The paper complements a morphosyntactic view of sound structure with a comparison of different recordings of key pieces in the repertoire of solo cello music since the 1950s (Xenakis, Nomos Alpha; Lachenmann, Pression; Ferneyhough, Time and Motion Study II) by (1) interpreting software-based collections of performance data, and by (2) interviews with performers on their conception of time and tempo in these pieces. The analyses propose three different categories of time-space-conceptualization: a non-temporal, mathematically construed architectonics (Xenakis), an evocation of sonic presence and its repeated disruption (Lachenmann), and a continuous loss of auratic presence and gestural intensity through eroding and sabotage (Ferneyhough). The performance-related data and interviews are confronted with these conceptualisations, presumably challenging their validity and corroborating the space of “informed intuition” (Rink 2002, 36) even in the performance of these highly prescriptively notated scores. In conclusion, a short dialogue with Ellen Fallowfield will discuss how such time-space-images might constructively interact with a performer’s experience and intuition during the study of this repertoire.