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The open approach of Jiri Kaderabek.


Composer Jiri Kaderabek is an essentially creative man of many talents, wide interests and the unusual ability to keep aiming beyond himself. Never content to stick with what he has achieved, he is more willing than most to keep striking out into uncharted territory. It may be a bit of a cliche to say that someone is one of those young composers about whom we shall definitely be hearing a lot more. But I am certain that in Jiri Kaderabek's case, it is fully justified.

Tell us something about the path that took you from your first "opus" pieces to your interests today.

First and foremost, I don't feel I really have any opus pieces. On the contrary, I'm still waiting for something like that to come, and for my music to be in perfect accord with my idea of my music. That idea is itself developing, of course, but some parts of it stay the same. It's impossible to describe it in detail in words, but I can say that it includes the perfect application and mutual harmony of elements taken from music of different genres and non-musical sounds, freedom from dependency on overly explicit formal arrangement of a piece (parts, blocks, sections), and emancipation from a certain "concert" form of composition, possibly even the purely musical form.

Could you be a little more specific about your ideas--the adoption of elements from different genres could mean all kinds of things, as could an attempt to go beyond the format of the standard concert. What does it mean in your case?

From childhood I've had a quite intense active interest in art, and in writing play and film scripts, and I even sometimes got as far as realising some of these projects with friends. As time went by, my work narrowed down to music of its own accord, which suits me best and it's probably my strongest side. But for all that, the idea of a more comprehensive approach has essentially stayed with me, and in my head I automatically work with music in a graphic way, using the methods of film editing and being very concerned with the dramatic or rather the psychological side of music--as if the different elements of a piece were characters on the stage. So using elements from music of different genres, whether in the form of direct quotes or in the form of particular principles and techniques, is just a further expansion and refinement of this "open" approach, just like the use of all kinds of non-musical sounds, directly or indirectly--in this case mainly through spectral analysis. In my mind's eye I often sec my pieces as polygons with internal side mirrors that make it possible to look at each side again and again but always from a different perspective. This is not just about purely musical relationships, but also about everything that is happening on the podium at a concert, i.e. the theatrical element too. Often when composing I quite spontaneously integrate certain theatrical, eccentric aspects into my music and it isn't unusual for me to make certain art objects related to the compositions when I'm in process of writing them--but the art objects I keep to myself.


Keeping for a moment to the field of autonomous, let's say "art" music, is there any level (technological, aesthetic, conceptual, philosophical ...) that on the contrary doesn't tempt you or interest you?

I think, or at least I hope, that at the moment I don't need to define myself in an a priori negative way as against any other approach. In the past I've found too often that such definitions have in fact only meant a rejection of my own creative direction--an uncompromising look in the mirror. In 2005 when I was on a scholarship in Paris, I saw Andy Warhol's paintings in the Centre Pompidou, and they struck me as a matter of empty gesture just for effect, probably all the more so because of the great contrast with the music at the IRCAM concerts several floors below, although even at that point I was finding something sterile and as if it were canned. Four months ago, in the Palazzo Reale in Milan, I encountered some Warhol works again and just gazed at them open-mouthed. This time I felt exactly what I was actually trying to capture in my compositions. Otherwise I can say that generally I'm not tempted or interested by what I've already tried out and what I have already been through enough, i.e. the purely intuitive, spontaneous method of composing in particular. But even that may only mean that this approach is waiting for me in the future!


Without going into too much technical detail, could you tell us about the not entirely intuitive and not entirely spontaneous methods that your last answer implies?

If we leave aside the use of modality and dodecaphonic rows in my earlier pieces, which I abandoned quite quickly, this primarily refers to using computers in the creative process. From my first contact with computers (which was, by the way, quite belated, only eight years ago), I felt that here was something that interested me a lot. What appealed to me most were chance processes, the possibility of easy and precise permutations, and the exact connection of detail with the whole structure of a piece. Initially, I carried out these operations exclusively using notation programmes, simply because I didn't know anything else. But back then, I also registered an unfortunate change in my entire way of musical thinking--my compositions started to show the traditional disfiguring signs of music written on computer without a sufficient awareness of the problems and possibilities. I started to think again about the real nature of my musical ideas and about what I really wanted from the computer. Then I sorted the problems out, or at least I think so. Some years later quite a different chapter opened, thanks to my interest in IRCAM, and close exploration of concrete technologies and pieces that exploit them. IRCAM software allowed me to start using much more sophisticated methods to do all the mathematical operations, and to some extent to integrate heterogeneous elements of style or genre (especially when the integration is not explicit, but for example just a matter of a melodic or dynamic outline, mode of developing a theme and soon). I then became very excited by computer spectral analysis and the possibility of applying its results in compositions. I felt that now I had a real chance to build on my lifelong interest in non-musical, natural sounds and even in a certain sense on the music of Leos Janacek. That sounds a bit presumptuous, I know, but up to that time the question of how to absorb the legacy of a man who was my first and probably still greatest model as a composer was something that stuck to me like a tick.

You will have to somehow find a way of parting company with Janacek ...

However much it always causes smiles, especially among Janacek performers who stress the rawness, authenticity and strong emotionality of his music, I insist on seeing Janacek as one of the predecessors of the so-called spectral music. His way of treating sound (in the context of the customs of the time, obviously), his unerring feeling for its inception, course and ending, which is evident above all in his later orchestral and operatic works, shows that he had a strong interest in sound and acoustics and had superb analytical abilities. This is also clear from some of the legendary unplayable passages in his parts, which in my view imitate natural sounds or are at least strongly inspired by them--take a look at some of his commentaries such as, "play it like the wind!" I don't want to get into hypotheses over "what would Janacek have done if he had had today's technical resources?", but I do believe that one can achieve a certain meaningful continuity by using these resources together with the principles of Janacek's creative ideals. Obviously mere adoption of the characteristic marks or techniques of his music can't lead to any good results but just to repeating what already exists and in perfect form.

We have touched on something that is very debatable in my view. Isn't this "mimetic" approach peculiar to some spectral music concepts (I mean the analysis of recorded sounds and their instrumental re-synthesis) really just sophisticated kitsch? Isn't it like painting a sunset from a holiday snap?

For me at the moment, it's a way of creating natural-sounding harmonies, even if they are sometimes quite complex, using microtones and making the combination of electronics with live instruments convincing (both elements can have the same origin and one can work with them in the same way). In any case, here we are talking about methods--whether a piece is, in the end, good as a whole is a question of something quite different, but your sensitive, anti-romantic ear definitely wouldn't want to hear it. By the way, painting a sunset from a holiday snap doesn't necessarily mean anything low-quality, in my book.


It seems to me us if what is going on here is an attempt to find some objective rationalisation for something I believe is purely aesthetic, a matter of style--I'm referring to that "naturalness" (figurative or literal) of harmonies. Even more, some moral criteria seem to be being introduced here--the notion implies the existence of some "unnatural" harmonies that then have negative ethical connotations. What makes a harmony "natural" in your ears, what does it mean and what is its value? Could you give a few examples of the kinds of sound you use in the role of "model" and what happens to them in your music?

It is a fact that the harmonies derived from spectral analysis sound familiar, and actually consonant. If you listen to Le Partage des Eaux by Tristan Murail, for example, where the technology of spectral analysis and re-synthesis of sounds from nature is exploited richly and almost exclusively, you just cannot deny these qualities--among others, obviously. But that doesn't imply any general criterion of value! After all, nobody is going to reproach Louis Andriessen for his dissonances and criticise the "unnaturalness" of his harmonies ...

As far as my most recent pieces are concerned, what is behind them is an idea, usually non-musical or at the least not musical in the sense of concrete notes, within which I look for, or in some cases make of my own, a certain sound recording. In Coltrascension, for instance, I used an extract from Coltrane's free-jazz album Ascension, and in Basic Prague the bustle from places in the Old Town disfigured by the tourist business. In the case of La Riemersione di Venezia I teamed up the sounds of water with the concluding aria from Monteverdi's opera The Coronation of Poppea, and so this was actually a combination of the two approaches from the pieces I mentioned before. The score emerges on the basis of the selected "objects" from these sound sources and their spectral analysis. Some objects at the same time become parts of the piece in the form of samples or sound tracks, subsequently trimmed of certain frequencies of their spectrum so that the note material from the spectral analysis can augment or accentuate them, or sometimes form a certain counterpoint to them. As I suggested in a previous answer, what is important is that in work on the piece itself the two elements should be completely equal in status and be fully subjected to what the form itself requires, in other words--intuition. Nonetheless, currently my recent encounter with pop-art has set my thinking about abandoning spectral analysis and the whole "artificial" remainder of my composition up to now, including only those "objects".

Would the objects nonetheless be transcribed for normal musical instruments? What is your attitude to purely electro-acoustic music?

From both active and passive experience, I must say that purely electro-acoustic music doesn't fully satisfy me. It's not a problem of sound, because for example the amplification of live acoustic instruments at concerts often doesn't bother me so much (with a certain type of music). It's simply the absence of the human element--the unrepeatable and immediate interpretation and the actual presence of players on the podium, i.e. the theatrical element. What is more, as a composer I like working with performers, and I get a lot of pleasure from the phase when the piece is changing under pressure of their own imaginations and a compromise is emerging (of course that only applies with performance by good players, since otherwise the process of rehearsal can get to be a travesty of the composer's idea--which is especially a problem in the case of a premiere where this idea is still being formed). So those "objects" would be once again a combination of live instruments with electronics, but all this is really just in the embryonic stage for the moment.

When writing chamber or solo pieces do you in some way consider the difficulty of what you are composing for the performer, or do you rely on the idea that (almost) anything can be played if the will is there?

Mostly I know or at least have some idea of the capabilities or special preferences of the performers that I am composing for, and so I respect them or deliberately go just a little beyond them. Sometimes I consult with performers while I'm still composing the piece. Otherwise when I'm composing I'm usually surrounded by musical instruments and I test out my concrete demands on them myself. That doesn't mean I know how to play every instrument, but I try to master at least the basics of most of them and to get a practical sense of their techniques. On strings, for example, I try out difficult fingerings and work out in my mind whether a passage would be playable at high tempo. Apart from that, the instruments themselves inspire me when I am just messing about clumsily improvising or testing their sound possibilities.


I'm interested in your views on another dimension of the problem. Notation is among other things the way that a composer communicates with the performer. But often with chamber scoring (not to speak of big ensembles), the individual parts by themselves seem haphazard and nonsensical. Maybe in the end the meaning crystallises in the effect of the whole, but on first sight musicians often find parts depressing. Do you have a problem with this? Do you try to address it in any way?

I don't do anything about it and I think that it's to a large extent a traditional Czech pseudo-problem--the idea that everything that looks exaggeratedly complicated, difficult, or even worse eccentric, extrovert and jumps about a lot is suspect and ought to be avoided. In the performing conditions here one sometimes has a tendency to spare players and be "considerate'. I try not to give in to this conformism, because from my point of view that would mean the end of the idea and point of my role. Even here I expect performers to commit themselves to a piece to the full, just as I do. What's more, I often find that in rehearsal the difficult part not only acquires meaning as part of the whole piece, but that it gradually stops being difficult!

Currently you are studying for a doctorate at the Music Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. What does the doctoral programme for composers involve? Tell us about your "projects".

Above all I'm working on my dissertation. Its provisional title is "Open Composition--unlimited possibilities of inspiration with the help of computer". This means that I'm looking at the field of computer-assisted composition mainly as an instrument for processing data from spectral analysis and as a means for the more sophisticated exploitation of music by others (whether in sound or note form) and for work with the graphic representation of musical processes (graphs, curves). The dissertation will of course include a composition, but I can't say much about that yet--I'm still waiting to see how the situation turns out over the possibilities of performing it outside the school. It would be a relatively demanding multimedia project and unfortunately the Music Faculty doesn't have the funds to finance it. My doctoral studies also involve teaching at the department; I've created the syllabus for my own course, which once again is closely connected with themes I've been intensively concerned with recently. The teaching follows the syllabus more or less--students have the chance to present their own proposals for using the techniques studied throughout the course and so they define the material in the lessons to a certain extent. One important element is an introduction to the whole field of computer-assisted composition, including listening to key works and practical familiarisation with OpenMusic, which is currently the most frequently used software in the field.

Jiri Kaderabek

(born 1978 in Zlin) studied composition at the Jaroslav Jezek Conservatory in Prague (2002) and the Academy of Perfoming Arts in Prague (2006), where he is currently studying for a doctorate and teaching a course on computer assisted composition. In 2005 he spent three-months on a La Sacem scholarship in Paris, which gave him the chance to get to know the most recent composing technologies and applications. Since then he has regularly taken part in IRCAM workshops in Paris as well as in other courses and had private consultations (with Marco Stroppa, Tristan Murail, Helmut Oehring, Lasse Thoresen, Stefano Gervasoni, Adriano Guarnieri, Jeff Beer, Marek Kopalent, Martin Smolka and others). In 2008-2009, he is also an Erasmus student at the Royal Conservatoire in the Hague, the Netherlands. He has won several prizes in the Generation composing competition, has been nominated for the Gideon Klein Prize (2006) and was awarded the Czech Radio Prize (2006) and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague Dean ' s Prize (2006). He works with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Hradec Kralove Philharmonic, the Teplice North Bohemian Philharmonic, the Bohuslav Martinu Zlin Philharmonic, the National Theatre in Prague, the Slovak Philharmonic Choir and chamber music ensembles such as the Rainbow Quartet, Ensemble Martinu, Ensemble MoEns, Ensemble Calliopee and Ensemble Intrasonus. Some of his works have been recorded and published by the Czech Radio and the Gold Branch Music. He writes also film and stage music.
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Author:Bakla, Petr
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:4EXCZ
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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