Their interference is actually their realization: Manfred Werder & Andrew C. Smith

Manfred Werder in conversation with Andrew C. Smith, December 3, 2019

Get tickets to Manfred Werder’s performance in Santa Cruz on Feb. 8, 2019.

Manfred Werder’s ongoing work 20160

A: I’d like to talk a little bit about some of your recent work, particularly these two series of works [to be performed in Santa Cruz on Feb. 8, 2019], 20170 and 20160. It struck me earlier that one of them, you literally carry around with all the time to performances, and the other is one you don’t keep with you, but you distribute to other people. Is 20160 still an ongoing project?

M: Both are ongoing, and it’s because at least since these two works, I work with the idea that if I found a certain support — let’s say ­­in the paper or material — that this would define the work itself. And then I would work on it until I don’t have any more of this material. And so in 20160 it’s this paper roll. It’s baking paper that I found in a kitchen, and I cut into three slices, each 10cm x 22m. So, I have three of these rolls, each 22m, which is very long. Now, I’ve written three years and I’m almost done with the first roll. But the idea is that it’s all unplanned; I was just looking for support for language, and was experimenting with other things, and then I found a roll, and only later then I realized the potential, because I was trying to involve books with paper. So at the end I found this roll, and I began to write, and it’s ongoing because my project now is that I want to write on these three rolls, which might take me maybe 10 years or so.

The other work, 20170, is a stack of old paper that I found in a flea market, and I will just use all this paper, and then it’s done — I’m almost done with that piece. It’s maybe 400 sheets of paper. I thought the materiality and the form of the paper would give me certain ideas of what to write, or how to use it in public or in private, in the process of writing. And your remark is great, because what is so important for me in 20160, is that it’s something I can’t edit, because I insert it into the machine, and then I begin to write, and insert a bit of space, then I keep writing. So in a certain way the object is very, very, small. I can have it in my pocket. I can carry in my pocket the whole work of three years, without being able to edit it.

A: But it’s interesting to me that you can always go back and look at some previous element of it. And you can look at some previous instance, whereas in 20170, if you’re mailing these sheets to people constantly, you really can’t go back. At the very least, it’s not in your pocket with everything else; you have to intentionally go back to it.

M: Yes, I mean, I send it in a certain way. Some of them, I sent originals away, but then I stopped again because it’s somehow tricky to send, because in some places they did not arrive because of the post. Then at the end, I thought, I love these sentences on my desk. And of course I re-transcribe the same quotation sometimes, and so sometimes I just send one sentence by physical mail to somebody, and then maybe half a year later I come back to this book, to this thought, and then I rewrite this fragment. Maybe in another language, or the same language, maybe cut slightly differently. So I still have most of them, but some I don’t have anymore because I gave them away. I know who has these works, but I don’t see these people much because they live far apart. 1

But it’s true, on first view, it was just the idea that I can’t edit [20160], and I have it all on me, and if I want to show it I have to open the roll. Which, I do it in performance, and I’ll do it in Santa Cruz, and so the audience can see it. But usually if I meet people, with four hands, we can roll it this way. Which is a beautiful encounter, to say — how can we share the score now? 2

Usually we’ve all made it by PDF, and since a few years I stopped putting my scores on the internet. You must have known UploadDownloadPerform, this platform by Adam Overton?

A: Yes.

M: My scores were up there, and once the site went down, so I just thought, it’s maybe a good idea now to just wait and see what we can do. So some of the scores are somewhere on the internet, but for all these more recent scores, since maybe 2014 or 2015, basically very few people know it because it’s only here in physical versions. Some I scanned, so I sent you one, but I scan very few scores. [It’s important] just to think, what’s the way to present [the work], or to make it visible? And then after a few years of course we change our ideas, and I saw how important it is to have a physical encounter, and to share the works in another way.

Before, I could send a PDF, and it’s like an invitation to perform. But now I even don’t know if this [20160 and 20170] is something that is supposed to be performed. In the realm of 2005/1, still it was about actualizing the score. But now with all these text fragments, the question of course for me and I guess for other people, also, is what to do with it? Because for me, now, writing on the roll is like actualizing the roll, and is also writing the score itself. So in a certain way, now I see these two aspects coming completely together. Writing the score and performing it is the same.

A: Right, and there’s sort of an inversion there too, where the actual physical score that you end up with is the result of the performance, and it’s not the predecessor to a performance.

M: Right, it’s an inversion, or a complete coincidence. And so — I did not plan all of this. I just tried to think about: what we can do in terms of composition?

Excerpt from Manfred Werder’s work 20170.

A: Obviously you’re out performing, and realizing your work fairly frequently. In these performances, do you see yourself realizing a specific score that you have from the past, or do you see yourself working from this larger compositional project, and this score kind of grows out of and follows this performance practice that you have?

M: Yes, now it’s the second that you mentioned, clearly. Because, let’s say maybe 10 years ago, I would have said I tried to completely separate the realm of performance and the realm of writing, just to make sure there’s no complicated interferences in between. So in practical terms this meant that I wrote a score without thinking what we can do afterward with it. Just to think strictly in terms of composition — just to think, “what is composing?” and then to try and write something of it.

A: Sure, you said that explicitly in the interview with Simon [Reynell, of Another Timbre].

M: Exactly — it was like that, all [composition and performance] separated — but now I feel that all is completely together. In the sense that, through the practice then, I thought, how can I maintain this separation once this logic of functions is broken? That somebody writes something to be performed by someone, in a certain context, by a certain person. Because of course, it became artificial to me to say “Now I have an idea for an activity,” and then I would just like to attribute it, or say, this activity could be that score, or that score, or should be that score. I try to work on this, in that I bring a text together with an activity, and in both, their interference is actually their realization. And this is what I do still now. So, text, and an activity, bring out something new.

But, I want to be honest and say I just do things, and sometimes I don’t know. Because I can use the same activity for many different kinds of scores, and always something new comes out, and this is perfectly fine to me. But it is blurred all so much that now I just would maintain it’s possible to think this way, but there’s no need to think this way. And the consequence is that writing a score is its performance, and it doesn’t need to be performed again. Because at the end it’s all about engaging with something. 3

A: It’s interesting to me that since writing a score is performance, that turns the score itself into documentation, right? It turns the composition itself into the documentation of it. And to me this really connects with this idea of field recording. Basically, the piece that you’re creating is the endpoint of the actual activity, as opposed to the beginning, as in a sequence of instructions.

M: It’s interesting, you said it perfectly, but the question now is, what is documentation? Or is this the perfect word? I try to think about history, so it’s not documentation, but it’s the life or it’s the history of this score. And then of course, I think what could history mean in a certain sense? Because documentation is clearly a term that in my sense, or in my view now, I would be skeptical about. Because documentation alludes to something that documents something that is more original, or more authentic.

If you think again about Foucault, a document is also a part of a history. It’s enunciation, it’s a statement, and the statement is clearly as alive as something we see walking or passing by. And in this sense, if documentation seems to be a minor reality, I would oppose it — I would think we should use another word. I feel like all is just a reality in its own right, and in a plain world. And let’s say something that is documented gives for other people again another aspect of reality — but of course it’s complicated, because so much is now done in terms of documentation, because documentation is the way of communication.

We could think of music history as a history of images of music. Let’s say, if we talk about Beethoven, we don’t talk about Beethoven, but we talk about what Beethoven believed to be, what the epoch made of Beethoven, what we made of Beethoven, what the birth of capitalism in the epoch of Beethoven produced, more or less, of this category: music.

[ Notes, December 10, 2018 ]

1 The initial idea was to exclusively send out the original papers.

2 Whereas, I write 20170 often outdoors while wandering the streets with my portable typewriter.

3 With Roland Barthes we can say, “there is no other time than that of the enunciation and every text is eternally written here and now.”