Antoine Beuger – s’approcher s’éloigner s’absenter – The acceptance and awareness of silence. (music review)

The Wandelweiser collective is a group of composers who produce scores of minimalist writing that is often based on signs or texts within the context of a leading silence. Wandelweiser  was founded in 1992 by Dutch-born flautist Antoine Beuger and German violinist Burkhard Schlothauer. Since its beginnings others have since joined, but s’approacher s’eloigner s’absenter (loosely translated “approach, away, absent”) is a musician’s composition for three players and faithful interpreters of the collective: Barry Chabala on guitar, Dominic Lash on bass and Ben Owen electronics. This performance was the first at the two-week long AMPLIFY:stones festival that took place at The Stone in New York during the first half of September, 2011.


The score for this piece is 30 pages long, and each page has a grid upon which “the number of “filled” spaces varies from two to nine. The spaces contain either “S”, “D” or are blank. Beuger codes “S” as “a sound similar to a sound you are hearing/you heard (or played) before” and “D” as “a sound different from a sound you are hearing/you heard (or played) before”. Sounds should be both “very quiet” and “not really short to very long”.” (See Brian Olewnick’s blog post from Just Outside for a lovely description of how all of this works. The quote I’ve added here is from that post.)


The idea is that the musicians and the composer form a partnership, that together form an open invitation to the listener. The musicians are free to move in and out within the score as they please, but he relationship the listener has when the work has been recorded, as s’approacher s’eloigner s’absenter has been, is one of frozen score. Sometimes as a listener I try to inject myself into the room, to see the musicians and imagine the work done live. When the recording exists, I can only do that a few times, before I get to know the disc too well to include the improv experience. After that, my listening becomes more collaborative, in that I consciously include the sound around me, incorporated into the score. For this reason, it might be rather nice to have a copy of the score with the notes – though thirty pages!  Not sure how we can all manage such a thing. Sometimes the listener can be thought of as a dead recipient or an after-the-fact mystery that may or may not be continuing to engage with the work, and this is a bit of a shame.

When I listen to recorded music like this, there is no audience for my contribution, that is the sounds that surround me and that I make that contribute to the performance are heard only by me. I have no way of impacting the performers in a score that includes my sounds.  The audience sounds that have been recorded are simply part of the performance.  Therefore, in my first couple of listenings, where I can retain my role as listener, I never become the interactive listener, because I am projecting myself into the concert and listening with complete passivity. It is only after several listens, and my own intention to become part of the performance, that I start to hear my own and my environments contributative sounds. In this action, I become both a contributing performer and the only listener, allowing for a circular receptivity within my own experience.


For Antoine Berger, silence is a disruption, where for Cage silence is something that is to be included. Berger sees it as similar to a cutting off, an interruption or a death of sorts. In this case, this lovely piece of music is a call for the allowance of the kind of listening I mentioned above, a listening that recognizes the small starts and finishes and their relationship to silence as if it were the end of something. When the electronic sound of Ben Owen finishes at 10:42, I am left with the overwhelming, consuming disruption and awareness / immersion in the silence of the surrounds recorded and those of my own situation until 11:44 when Dominc Lash’s Double Bass comes in to relive me from the “petit mort” of silence. I exist in the very moment when symbols with no meaning count for more than ideas and culturally mediated symbols. Lingering sounds form clusters of meaning rather than a “history of ideas”, punctuated by the cuttings off and restarts of silence.

For this reason, owning a copy of a disc of this high quality is just as important as playing it live and the act of recording it.

s’approacher s’eloigner s’absenter is available through Erstwhile Records.