Stefan Thut: “I do something in such a way that allows others to do something as well”


Swiss composer and cellist Stefan Thut is interested in processes and scores that invite both performers and listeners to delve into a world. Through his compositions he provides relatively determined systems in order to develop a praxis. In addition to instruments applied in traditional ways, he also uses everyday materials as components in his work. As an
interpreter he has been performing music by his fellow and affiliated composers of Edition Wandelweiser. Interview about his recent album entitled among, the working method behind it; about the act of listening; various release formats; and about his everyday life during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Nine questions, nine answers with Stefan Thut.

 

– The sleeve note of among, written by you, concludes with a strong punch line that goes like “Here it is not a matter of tuning to each other (as it is the case in a majority of music practices) but noticing among each other in playing some tones: an actual model for a co-existence”. How could musical performing or composing practices serve as an ideal example for social conjunction, or as you had put it: co-existence?

Stefan Thut: “To put it simply: I do something in such a way that allows others to do something as well. However, this music practice here still deals with sound and therefore affects the listening situation of the other or others. By doing the practice of tuning, I imagine pursuing it only to that extent of not disturbing the others in their doings. Compareable to a library with visitors sitting in a room and reading silently. But here everyone’s readings are audible because it involves sound, precisely periodical sound waves. However it is uncommon to not listen or tune to the pitches played by the others. It is definitely about leaving room for the others and keeping some awareness towards them. All the players stay with the same kind of inner activity but there are no dependencies between the players which means that the single players solely focus on their doings. Each flower blossoms because of the nature of that flower and its corresponding habitat. So in this work here the three unfold their tones individually. Independence or co-existence in music practices is something I have pursued in various ways, for instance with three players recording separately without knowing when the others play (drei, 1-21, ewr1308). This work fundamentally questions the notion of interplay which is regarded as a basic musical behavior.”

Photo: Anja Kruysse

– The players of the recorded piece are relatively young musicians: Félicie Bazelaire, Léo Dupleix and Fredrik Rasten are all still in their thirties. How did this particular group of players come into being?

Stefan Thut: “This reflects my ongoing interest in musicians devoted to distinct musical practices. It also has to do with the fact that communities around Wandelweiser are ever changing and enlarging with new intersections appearing. In this project, the musicians from Paris and Berlin met for the first time. At first I heard about their works through audio and video documents, also through programs at Klangraum Düsseldorf, and then soon we performed together in Paris and Berlin in projects involving Taku Sugimoto. Generally, I am not looking for particularly younger players than myself. Still I see an advantage of getting to know young artists often being full of spontaneity and curiosity. It is a wonderful pleasure for me to have these exceptional musicians appearing together in this project here.”

– The piece is composed for three string instruments and sine waves. As I understand, the instruments are not in a regular horizontal relation, but there is a certain cause-and-effect affiliation between the electronic and acoustic sounds. Can you explain how the composition, and the relation between the players work?

Stefan Thut: “The player of the sine waves deals with some sort of tuning fork of three pitches, making always one pitch available per string player. The respective sine wave is played back over the resonant body of the instrument for the player to listen to from as close as possible. Doing so the vibration can be even felt by the body of the player. The sine wave is needed in order to tune the additional pitches in harmonic relations. Indeed the player of sine wave acts as a kind of conductor to initiate the overall process of each part of the piece. There is no intended direct interaction between the players nevertheless the group is recognisable as one slowly breathing organism. The relation between the players is kept together by a distant triadic harmonic situation which is not needed to be realized instantaneously.”

– Listening to your recordings, I always feel that the physical space, the room or the environment certainly plays part in the overall realization. Among was recorded at Säulenhalle Landhaus in Solothurn that – regardless its function, that I am not aware of at all – is a beautiful and roomy space. How did the physical room itself influence the recording session and its end result?

Stefan Thut: “The space is located in the heart of the old town in Solothurn near the river and it is rather permeable to exterior sounds, other than a hermetically closed up concert space or a professional recording studio. Its first purpose is not to perform music in front of an audience. When I started my series in that hall back in 2007, I was on the lookout for a neutral space in terms of its purpose, a location which was not already ‘occupied’ by presenting music publicly. By doing the present recording we could not have known what to expect regarding environmental sounds. For me there was a memorable moment when a motor boat passed adding a slow glissando in the low register. This particular layer is almost indistinguishable from the actually performed sounds by the four of us. That sound also hit what you call the roomy character of the space – I am glad to hear this feature comes through.”

– How would you describe the ideal conditions for listening back to the recording of among that we have just released? Are there criteria that a composer could wish for at the home listeners’ end?

Stefan Thut: “In my opinion the modes of how to listen to recordings, or how to listen at all, is a very personal thing. From my experience I can only say that it varies to a great deal. There are many situations about where, when and how to listen to recordings. It could be letting playback recordings while taking a shower or listening attentively in late evening hours when the world has become quiet, and everything in between the two extremes. In other words, I cannot and I do not want to give advices how to listen to a recording because I find it is up to the listener how to ‘perform the recording’.”

Photo: Anja Kruysse

– You have compositions, mostly written in 2016, 2017 and 2018, with an obvious similarity in their titles: about, along, amidst, among, apart, around, away and so on. The instrumentation is always different, but is there a link in terms of composing method or conceptual idea that ties these pieces together?

Stefan Thut: “The titles of those composiitons reflect my fascination for prepostions. Obviously, there are many that begin with the letter a. I began to explore those more closely. Each time the word is taken out of context without a noun following the preposition. So in some way there is an immediate silence following that word which creates – I hope – imagination for the reader or listener before the work has even come to a start. My decision might have been influenced by the Jefim Golyshev’s manifesto called aismus*, published in Germany in the early twenties of the past century. This came to my mind again after you asked me where my obvious focus on those a-words came from. Everything we know or have known – because already forgotten – seems to play a certain role in our doings. With every work, the title alludes to a basic feature of the omposition: in among it is nothing more than the situation of doing something, almost for oneself, while others also pursue that activity. By doing this piece we happen to be among others. We are not alone, but we are not necessarily bound to each other in the sense of following a previously constructed plan to be fulfilled.”

– You have an ongoing collaboration with Taku Sugimoto which I find extremely beautiful, and not only on a musical, but also on a human level. The bond between you two is definitely perceptible to me through your recordings you have done together. Do you have new or old material coming out in the future; and are there certain plans for further in-person collaborations together in any context?

Stefan Thut: “Yes, it is a persistent and continous dialogue and exchange with Taku. The recent publication atama on Zhu Wenbo’s label Zoomin Night documents our last encounters in both Japan and Switzerland from 2019. At the moment, I cannot say anything about when and where we will meet again – it will hopefully be during a more sound era after we will have found out what kind of activities will be the ones making sense.”

– Recently, you offered me a tape release that I gently refused as I am not particularly fond of the medium. I know about at least three tape releases with your works on, and I would be interested in your relation to different physical media. Most of your works are on the edge of audibility, I presume it really makes a difference on which format we are listening to your compositions coming from the more silent end. What is your preferred medium, and what differences do you see between releasing music nowadays on vinyl, tape, compact disc, or in digital format?

Stefan Thut: “I have already missed former formats when CDs started to become the predominant medium for sound in the nineties. I always enjoyed the moment full of expectation when turning the vinyl or the tape. The project I mentioned above was very interesting to release on tape because a tape consists of two sides. It is split in two halfs. Since the project consists of two versions of the same piece, it was suitable to assign one version to each side. The format of the tape enabled us to take apart again of what has been mixed before for the digital release which is composed of both versions. Of course the medium of the CD is very practial as such also in terms of length available. And with digital formats we are confronted with the possibility of making very-very long recordings accessible. And now in the current world of media for young people CDs, not to speak of tapes and vinyls, do almost no longer seem to be of any interest. Luckily, there are exceptions: a lot of small communities still cultivate formats from the past century.”

– In the end, a bit more personal question: what are your present musical and non-musical activities during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic when everyone is facing severe lockdowns, curfews and quarantines?

Stefan Thut: “In this exceptional time of staying at home for a lot of time I take it as a chance to reflect upon my doings and praxes, such as the idea of the concert which is performing in front of people. When playing at home, I do not need caring about an audience. It is impossible to get into this state of wanting to show something to someone. My doings are bound to that one moment in time and that place where I happen to live. And by going for walks in the outside I became aware of a lot of uniquenesses on various levels.”

* physiologus.de/a/aism.htm

László Juhász
October 2020