“From Trachila” is a reference to a moment from the novel "The Last World" by Christoph Ransmayr. It tells the story of Cotta, a friend of the Roman poet Ovid. Cotta goes on a trip to Tomis, on the Black Sea, to find his friend in exile. As is well-known, the poet was banished there by the emperor Augustus in 8 AD.
But Ovid remains elusive.
Near Trachila, the last known location of Ovid, Cotta finds eerie traces of his friend in the midst of the jungle.
“From Trachila” delivers a musical report of this.
In this piece, the composer continues his work with acoustic composition as well as with database composition.
This piece makes reference to purely instrumental, non-electronic materials. In the beginning, there is a kind of evolving variation of abstract acoustic properties, spectral envelopes and focal points, registers, complexities, textures, and - in the distance - similarities to phonemes.The concrete orchestration is a calculated result of evaluating instrumental sound databases according to acoustic requirements. The origin of the sound does not matter, nor whether the technique is traditional or experimental, nor whether it is difficult or easy to produce. The only question is whether the sound fulfills the acoustic requirements. It is also an attempt to bring back and remember timbre and texture at a high level. We are looking for an abstract timbre, the right timbre, which we will never find or reach – indeed cannot reach – and as such always remains imperfect.
To this end, Thomas Hummel has developed his own software tools. For many years he has been engaged with the development of instrumental sound databases. The main achievement of this activity is the SWR Experimental Studio database, the virtual orchestra, and its most recent achievement is the conTimbre database, which was created in collaboration with numerous performers of new music.
Visual and acoustic perception
Phenomena of perception psychology are of great importance for the compositional work of Thomas Hummel. He tries to find analogies between visual perception – an image, for instance – and auditory perception. The crucial difference between visual perception of an object and acoustic performance is time.
Auditory perception is always bound to time, but an image exists in totality at any given moment.
A parallel arises out of the phenomenon of attention. Although an image exists simultaneously in all aspects, it is perceived by the viewer in a specific time segment sequentially and only in parts. Attention focuses on one detail at a time, sometimes this one, sometimes that one. And between our attention jumps. Thomas Hummel’s musical material also exists virtually as a whole, corresponding to an image. It consists of concrete textures and acoustic properties.
The overall shape of the music can be seen as a migration of attention that contemplates the material from different perspective, thus gradually opening it up.
The works of recent years are based on a process of formalization of the composer’s temporal perception of, which in essence has to do with the question of memory and forgetting. The point is to address questions to oneself in a very general way:
- While listening to a piece of music, what do I remember and what have I forgotten?
- Remembering by comparing: What do equality, similarity and difference mean to texture, gesture and timbre in a musical sense? Can identical and similar threads be perceived in the realm of timbre, too?
- Are there limits on the comprehensibility of a set? Where do globalized perceptions occur?
- How does attention work?
These questions are answered personally by the composer for he himself. He goes into a sort of auto-analysis and maps out his own psyche, downright quantitatively. The psyche then becomes a function in a way: y=function (x1, x2,...).
Applied to the material in virtual existence, it is an analysis of attention, of remembering and forgetting.
In fact, Thomas Hummel has developed software that is able to simulate such processes of remembering.
In this way, the overall shape is not the sum of individual decisions made compositionally arbitrarily, but rather the result of a simulated process of perception.
The problem of effect
Thomas Hummel recognizes a major problem of contemporary music today in the spread of effects in both instrument-bound as well as in electro-acoustic types of music.
A large proportion of music performed in premieres today relies on the effect of sounds or timbres that are perceived as unusual.
In the field of instrumental music, so-called "musique concrète instrumentale" - a term coined by Lachenmann - is particularly affected.
The genesis of a piece is obviously often modeled on a sorting process of sounds and effects, which come about as the result of looking through a database.
Composers empirically explore instruments or methods of electro-acoustic synthesis.
Sounds perceived as interesting are selected and placed at the beginning of the piece, uninteresting sounds are rejected.
The interesting sound is processed and developed. The perception of such a work is odd. It sounds impressive. It sells sound as a message.
At the same time, it also makes the perception of the piece dependent on whether the sound is perceived as a characteristic message. But, since the history of perception continues to proceed, sounds perceived as subjects gradually become well-known objects. Furthermore, sound presented as a subject reminds listeners that there are enough sounds in our everyday environment which can be a remarkable message and are developed in the self-same environment without a composer having done anything at all.
There are different approaches to dealing with this problem.
In his recently completed piece for seven pianos "Farben der Frühe" (“Colors of Earlyness”), for example, Mathias Spahlinger presses, as he puts it, "...the reset button to just allow the more subtle colorfulness of the black/white/gray-tints that emerge as dependent variables from proportions of pitches, volumes and densities....".
So he dispenses with the entire instrumentarium of special sounds on the piano in favor of playing ordinario. Thomas Hummel's attempt makes reference to instrumental music and endeavors to assess and implement sounds and timbres according to their acoustic properties only.
This includes sounds that in other contexts appear as effects due to their complexity as well as ordinario-sounds that have not become messages due to their being well-known.
"Normal" timbres of an instrument are therefore on equal footing with unusual and distorted ways of playing.
It is not about timbres, which negate the classical timbres of orchestras, being implemented as it is the case in the music of Helmut Lachenmann.
It is simply about assessing timbres acoustically regardless of their tradition in order to use them compositionally.
Holst Sinfonietta Freiburg 2006
Holst Sinfonietta ZKM Karlsruhe 2006
All instruments and the speaker may be replaced by loudspeaker instruments. Hence, it is possible to perform this piece as a mixed instrumental/electronic piece with smaller ensemble setting or with a pure loudspeaker ensemble (sound installation). In case of electronics, minimum 2 loudspeakers.
flute 1 (C-flute with ring finger keys, piccolo)
flute 2 (C-flute with ring finger keys, piccolo, alto flute)
oboe 2 (oboe, english horn)
clarinet 1 (french clarinet in B-flat, in E-flat)
clarinet 2 (french clarinet in B-flat, bass clarinet)
trumpet 1 (B-flat) with Wah-Wah, cup
trumpet 2 (B-flat) with Wah-Wah, metal straight, cup
trombone 1 (tenor) with wahwah, plunger, bassoon reed, wooden straight
trombone 2 (tenor) with plunger, wahwah, whisper
percussion 1: glockenspiel, marimbaphon, tam tam
with two double bass bows
percussion 2: bass drum, vibraphone
accordeon (buttons on either side)
pianoforte (with hard plectrum, triangle beater, soft and hard rubber mallet, claves)
violin 2 (with mute)
viola 1 (with mute and hotel mute)
double bass (5 strings)