by Jos Kunst, Joep Straesser and Jan Vriend (1975)
The LP Composers' voice DAVS 7475/3 consists of the pieces: Jos Kunst & Jan Vriend: Elements of logic; Jos Kunst: No time; Jan Vriend: Huantan; Joep Straesser: Ramasasiri. I have only made available the texts of which Jos Kunst is (co)author, namely: the general introduction (this text), the comments to Elements of logic (Dutch, English), and the comments to No time (Dutch, English)
With thanks to Joep Straesser and Jan Vriend for their permission to include this text.
Play this record until it is worn out
(Text on the sleeve of the LP Composers' voice DAVS 7475/3)
People are all the time in contact with each other and with things around them, using all kinds of 'languages', such as: speech, making love, movement, gestures, breeding cattle, being active in politics, painting, papering rooms, composing, eating, raising conflicts, etc. Each time there is an interference in the situations which give concrete form to the contact between the individual and his surroundings, including his fellow-men. In this light, in fact, any form of behaviour is as natural as eating and drinking. With all these activities we produce our identities: We are what we do. (Consequently nobody is a priori a Jew or a Hungarian.)
On the one hand someone, in pursuing his profession, is engaged in its specific reality, he tries to adjust to it, but also to bend things to his will: he tries to come to terms with them. On the other hand he contacts people to learn from them if these terms are workable. We might say that we are continuously making propositions — decent and indecent ones — to each other. Consequently music is no neutral entertainment for people who are not prepared to risk the confrontation with their own reality.
There are realities in various degrees of complexity. If the aim is to make a given reality comprehensible (to ourselves and others), then it is important not to simplify this reality on a large scale, for by doing so we would deceive ourselves and those whom we intend to confront with it. Music is a way of thinking about and dealing with a specific kind of reality; a reality providing potential alternatives from which choices have (or have not) been made, situations in which decisions have (or have not) been made, processes which have (or have not) been interfered with: music is thus analogous to any form of thought. And this very analogy lays the composer's responsibility at his door, rooted as it is in the unity of thought of every individual, whatever subject he may be dealing with. He tackles musical problems in the same way as he would, for example, political ones.
The composers of the works presented on this record claim that their music, although it will easily be called 'difficult', is meant for everybody and not for a select audience. This in contrast with the view that music for the millions should be easy on the ear. People who — for obvious reasons — keep recommending such so-called simplicity seem to ignore that this self-same 'simplicity' usually degenerates into a systematic paralysis of the intellectual capacity and the imaginative faculty of both composer and audience. It seems of minor importance that the supposed comprehensibility and simplicity involve in almost all cases impoverishment of the material and its treatment.
Is this music really so difficult? Is a Beethoven symphony not as comprehensible and as natural as the present-day consumption of and trade in music seems to prove? It is, and it is not. Music is as difficult, or as easy, as one wants it to be. For some people procreation is a matter of course, just as gravity; for others it has many aspects. For some a Beethoven symphony forms a pleasant atmosphere to doze off, for others, however, it brings about a complete change in their lives and thoughts. For one a sound is a tone you can whistle, for an other it is a tone produced by a clarinet, low, loud, non vibrato, continuous, with a dominating third harmonic, long, produced with difficulty, full of potential energy, of limited duration, easy to localize, different from an oboe, recalling memories, carrying far, nasty, frightening. The latter can use it for any purpose. According to his aim to elucidate or to try out one or more aspects, he can invent a music meeting these aspects, showing them in operation, creating a reality in which they function as specific realities.
In most cases 'difficult' does not mean anything else than acknowledging the possibility of simultaneousness in one phenomenon: it consists, or may consist, of a whole network of relations (meanings). That is why 'difficult' is not imaginary in this sense. Consequently it is an unforgivable underestimation to assume a priori that any individual (or a group of individuals) is not capable to understand what we claim to understand. In other words, if indeed society is a class society, then people who are supposed to belong to the lowest classes, should at least have weapons at their disposal of which they are now deprived deliberately, instead of saddling them with products which are mere sops and which give the impression that those people are stupid and can only live with substitutes. This art, pretended to be of and for the 'millions', or the 'proletarians', will only confirm the imbecile's role which has been forced upon them. The lower classes should, on the contrary, seize the best things their oppressors have appropriated and they should get the opportunity to expose the abuse of these things. This means that Rembrandt, Beethoven, Aristotle, Einstein and others are not to remain where they are, that is with the elite, but that they wilI have to be removed from their present-day places, in view of their potential contribution to the mental armament and the mobilisation of the oppressed as soon as their prestige producing character is replaced by a principle of utility.
Science, technology, art: it is high time we should consider what we can do with it.
This also forms the difference between our starting-point and the 'difficult' musics of the fifties. They had pretensions in a technological sense: they raised a purely technological problem (for example the integration of rhythm in a serial arrangement of pitches) which they solved or not. But they left the musical effect of the composition as a whole to chance, or, in better case, to the intuition of the composer. Considering the exact workings of that intuition was out of the question.
Consequently an armament was developed which may be applied to any purpose: as 'neutral' as technocracy always presents itself.
It is time to consider the aims and possibilities of this armament. It should not be rejected, but accepted, used, spread, and, in addition, its possible social relevances should be borne in mind constantly. It is necessary that everybody should be armed and at the same time should learn to use his arms consciously and purposefully, which can be achieved by criticizing and being criticized continuously. Now is the time for establishing a permanent learning situation, centered upon music as a tool.
For that purpose it is necessary to reveal production techniques, to indicate the effects aimed at and to create experimental situations with them. This publication intends to be such an experiment. Therefore: text, score and record. Therefore likewise: no personality cult. This belongs to a stage in musical tradition which we should have abandoned by now, because it pictures the composer as a kind of magician. Let us once and for all do away with the conception of the composer as possessor and guardian of his personal secret, in favour of musical potential considered as something that can be propagated widely.
Therefore no photographs of the composers, picturing them somewhere outdoors or busy at their magic drawing-tables, and no biographies, but their addresses: