Music-Theater Piece, 1991
Intona is the counterpart of the work Three Ideophones. If in Three Ideophones the loudspeaker has the stage, in Intona, it is the microphone that is given a chance to express itself.
In music, microphones are normally used for reproductive ends, i.e., to record music as faithfully as possible. But there is also an alternative use, a more subversive one, stemming from the 1960s, when musicians ripped the stable, fixed microphone from its stand and mobilized it. Pop musicians did this during concerts, but so did composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen, who made a number of microphones move like jet planes according to preset, plotted routes across the surface of a gigantic tom-tom. His intention was to create a new, “open” kind of music by submitting the movements of the microphones to compositional laws, thereby making them part of the whole compositional plan, not as a special effect but as musical instruments. The “microphonist” became an “instrumentalist.”
If there were a kind of Beaufort scale for measuring a microphone’s degree of mobility and expressing it in values 1 to 10, 1 would stand for perfect immobility and stability, and 10 for extreme mobility or even total incorporeality. Numbers 1 and 2 on this scale would be reserved for recording the classical repertoire in all its splendor and glory. Above chamber music ensembles and symphony orchestras, the most sensitive microphones hang like so many motionless leaves on a tree. From this position, they can pick up the slightest sound made by an ensemble and save it for posterity. The mobility of these microphones should ideally tend towards zero.
Modern composers like David Tudor, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage would score a 5, 6 or 7. Pop musicians, with their mobile electric guitars and microphones, despite their roughness, stall at just 4. The challenge Intona takes up is to bring the remaining numbers 8, 9 and 10 into the picture. One must realize that at a mobility factor of 10, a microphone will dissolve entirely and disappear into the void. This occurs in Intona, not only as a result of brute implosive or explosive violence – there’s no art in that – but in the intention of playing the microphone as expertly as possible.
The Compositional Plan
During the performance of Intona, the player crosses the stage from one microphone to another, according to a route planned in advance. In fact, this route is the composition of the piece. Since microphones are relatively small, the operation field for each microphone is not much larger than a table. The player strolls from table to table, leaving a trail of destroyed microphones behind him. For each operation, the microphone in question is connected to a powerful sound installation. The microphones receive no acoustic anesthesia: the audience is privy from minute to minute to the “patient’s” cries and screeches at top volume, even during its death throes. The player ends the show by burning two large, bare loudspeakers, through which the microphones have thus far vented their protests against the way they have been played. For the player to reach the highest level on the scale of mobility and materiality –10 – the speakers, too, must go.
The name Intona is derived from Intonarumori. These were 1920s sound machines designed by the Italian Futurists. “Intona” means something like “he/she tunes” in Italian. This refers to the art of matching tones to one another in pitch: one tone seeks the other until they chime. Intonarumori are musical instruments that can be tuned to noise. This seems an impossible wish, but that was exactly what the Futurists were after: the name Intonarumori expressed the desire to emancipate noise into a form of music, an instrumental noise that would allow itself to be tuned. The futurists’ noise instruments were hardly capable of anything in a musical and acoustic sense, except for producing notorious provocative performances as part of a traditional ensemble with a real conductor.
Music causes the air to vibrate. Microphones are designed to pick up these vibrations from the air and are therefore equipped with a paper-thin membrane. This ultra-thin skin is suspended freely in the air and moves along with the musical vibrations. A magnet and a coil are mounted behind it, and an electrical equivalent of the music is obtained. This electrical equivalent, however, is not spatial, like music, but one-dimensional. The music is reduced to a single electric current that flows through the one-dimensional, equally thin wire of the coil. Only through reducing space to a zero-dimensional point – the diameter of the wire – does it become possible to disconnect the sound from its source. Since the sound no longer has a substantial quality, it can be multiplied and distributed all over the world through phonograph records, radio transmitters and such. The trade in this “product” is called the “music industry,” and it has its downside. According to Raaymakers, the presence of microphones in our society has caused an excess of passively reproduced sound and a dearth of autonomous music composed and produced using electronic means. The latter is authentic, rather than being a slavish rendering of primary music.
The Microphone Expresses Itself
Intona’s intention is to discover what the microphone thinks about this, and whether it has its own voice and can speak, sing, play and communicate without waiting for our permission first. In order to find out, a direct approach to the microphone is sought, and it is literally entered. The way to achieve this is to pierce straight through its membrane – its most fragile and vulnerable part – and literally getting behind it. Through this maneuver, not only the microphone’s position but also its function vis-à-vis the world is turned around 180 degrees.
Since no one knows – or wants to know – the best method for effecting this approach, a few techniques are tried and listed. In mechanics, a number of elementary basic actions have long been distinguished and categorized. A tool can be periodically moved back and forth or in a circular motion, and this can be done once or several times, deeply or superficially, with or without heat or fire, with or without water or chemicals, etc. Another distinction is that between letting a certain action slowly or acutely affect the object being acted on. Thus, a microphone can be ground, sawed, milled, drilled, smashed, twisted, shot away or swung around. And then there is the element of fire: microphones can be burned with a blowtorch. Or water can be used: microphones can be immersed, cooked or steamed. And there is air: microphones can be blasted with compressed air that blows their membranes shut. One can also treat them with chemicals to make them dissolve or explode, etc. All these actions are carried out on a purely practical level but ultimately lead to a form of unadulterated musicmaking. The “player” of the microphones is more of a musician, in the sense of a performer, than a lab technician or a surgeon.
[Text from Dick Raaymakers: A Monograph]
Intona by Dick Raaymakers (1992) from V2_ on Vimeo.
Live registration of Intona, V2_ 's Hertogenbosch, October 1992