Today we bring you perhaps one of our best and most informative interviews with an experimental/noise artist. Thanks of course, to the artist. Opening Performance Orchestra may be the finest experimental/noise act to come out of the Czech Republic. Discogs states: “The group follows the path of 20th-century avant-garde composers and of Japanese noise music, and is based on so-called “fraction music” and the slogan “no melody, no rhythm, no harmony.” Opening Performance Orchestra is a study in textures and dynamics. Their latest release is a beautiful 2xLP gatefold album: The Noise of Art on SubRosa Records. We are grateful to Opening Performance Orchestra for the interview.
Could you please introduce all the members of Opening Performance Orchestra and tell us about the meaning behind the name?
Opening Performance Orchestra was formed in Prague in 2006. It is made up of seven members, who have known each other since the 1980s. Prior to the ensemble’s foundation, we held private events, some of which would serve as the basis for our later public productions. In 2006, our private performances became public events. At the time, we also defined fraction music, the nucleus of our musical and non-musical activities. In addition to our own pieces, we have also performed works by composers we listened to in the past.
The new release is the beautiful gate-fold LP, The Noise of Art. How did you get Blixa Bargeld to perform the narration on it?
A number of guests have participated in our recordings and live performances alike. They include the Czech poet and performer Pavel Zajíček, the founder of the Czech underground band DG 307, who undertook the role of narrator of texts by Luigi Russolo, William Seward Burroughs and Ladislav Klíma. We made a joint programme with Milan Knížák and his Broken Music, which we coupled with our digital version, Re:Broken Music. Our Chess Show project was joined by the piano virtuoso and performer Reinhold Friedl, with whom we performed John Cage’s pieces. We also gave a concert in Prague with Luciano Chessa, who played the intonarumori and recited Futurist poetry.
When it comes to Blixa Bargeld, the key figure of Die Einstürzende Neubauten, we found his close relationship with industrial music and his unique vocal qualities ideal for the title piece of our album The Noise of Art. Upon our invitation, in the autumn of 2017, he came to Prague and recorded his vocal part at the studio. Moreover, Blixa allowed us to perform his composition The Mantovani Machine Part 3 – Gas for three intonarumori, which in February 2018 we recorded according to his instructions.
What are your thoughts regarding this part of the text, “Noise has the power to bring us back to life”?
Even though Luigi Russolo wrote the manifesto The Art of Noises more than a century ago, its ideas are still valid nowadays. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Italian Futurists were misunderstood and spurned. Their endeavour to expand classical music’s acoustic range with the noises brought about by the social development and technical progress, and their inclusion in compositions, or creation of a symphony featuring everyday ambient noises and bustle, came to nought. When we look at the contemporary noise scene, the technical means are different, especially as a result of the accession of digital technologies, but audiences are as yet to embrace noise music. Nevertheless, the cited sentence still holds true – in the 21st century, noise continues to reveal new sound fields, shifting the limits of human perception.
The first track, The Noise of Art, has an interesting organic feel, but almost like a manipulated drone, changing speeds. Can you talk about that track and the composition process?
The Noise of Art is not only the piece after which the album has been titled, it is also pivotal in terms of lyrics and music. “In antiquity, life was all silence” – is how Luigi Russolo characterised the past in the introduction to his manifesto The Art of Noises. The situation changed with the advent of new machines at the beginning of the 20th century. The Italian Futurist attempted to reflect the ongoing changes in music, in all types of art, as well as all the parts of human life. The Noise of Art for three intonarumori and narrator was recorded from three enharmonic score parts we had created ourselves, supplemented with selected excerpts from Russolo’s manifesto. The recording was not subsequently processed nor edited in any way in the studio. Accordingly, the sonic areas are the result of natural interference between three intonarumori – ululatore, stropicciatore and crepitatore. Similar is the case of all the other tracks featured on the album The Noise of Art.
What are the non-musical and musical influences of Opening Performance Orchestra?
As I have said, members of Opening Performance Orchestra have known each other for more than three decades. All our past encounters were somehow related to music and listening to it. The range of our interest has been extensive indeed, yet we have always had a special penchant for marginal things, which at the time were often neglected. In some of our recordings and at concerts, we have returned to our favourites, paid tribute to them and extended our thanks – Chess Show (John Cage), BROKEN REBROKEN (Milan Knížák), MERZOPO (Masami Akita), Fraction Elements (Hiroshi Hasegawa), Distant Eavedrops (musique concrete). Our non-musical inspirations include all the aspects of everyday life, which, to a lesser or greater extent, are reflected in the fruits of our activities.
You have some interesting words in regard to silence at the end of one of the texts. You say “Silence is not the absence of sound.” Tell me more about the idea, if you don’t mind.
Absolute silence does not exist in the physical world. We are even surrounded by sound in a sound-proof environment, as John Cage described his visit to an aneochic chamber, in which he heard two sounds – one very high, generated by our nervous system in operation, and one low, emanated by blood in circulation. Accordingly, Cage’s 4’33”, dubbed “silent piece”, is not actually silent, since naturally emerging noises and clatters become part of it. The listeners thus become part of the piece, participating – often unconsciously – it in its final form.
In this respect, noise music goes even further, as it erases the difference between the composer, performer and listener. The audience is compelled to enter the noise structure and actively work with it, so as to be able to contain and experience it.
Your notes include a 23-point “manifesto” on Futurist work. The final point states, “There is a Futurist within each and every one of us”. You also claim that “A Futurist work goes against all traditions”. Do you think that everyone has a natural desire to rebel and go against tradition even though some never do? Also, if a Futurist work goes against all traditions, how is “a Futurist work socially engaged”, as you say?
The album The Noise of Art comes with three original texts. The art historian Monika Švec Sybolová’s “How to Recognise a Futurist Work” is a reflection on the early 20th-century Futurist manifestos. The visual artist and musician Milan Knížák, also a member of the Fluxus movement, contributed the essay “On contemporary classical music”, paying attention to non-musical elements and the development of avant-garde music over the past few decades. In his article, titled “The golden-voice throat, or sound must be seen”, the philosopher Petr Rezek ponders on sound and noise in music and answers the question of how the intonarumori work and who, or what, produces their sound.
The quoted sentence is in the text written by Monika Švec Sybolová. She said: “European culture and thinking concentrate on the future, constantly working the idea of change and transformation, the itch to pull down, transcend something, either with the aim to destroy or create. Therefore, we conjecture that at some time every one of us feels the urge to burn bridges and create a new, better world. A Futurist work really does go against all traditions. Yet when you go against traditions and rules, the creation of a new world gives rise to new norms and conventions. And even though the Futurists ignited an anarchist revolution in art, something from the old world had remained. They did not dispute art itself, paintings, sculpture, words. That was done by the whole 20th century.”
The first track on side C is based on a poem by Fred Mopert. Who is he and what was it about the poem Neue Horizonte that inspired you?
Fred Möpert is a Berlin-based musician, composer and writer, with whom we have been friends for a long time. When he presented the notion of his Neue Horizonte for two intonarumori, theremin and narrator, we were happy to include in in the album The Noise of Art. In 1975, Fred wrote a poem of the same name. As he himself put it, at the time he discovered electro-acoustic music, which opened to him new horizons. On the album, he narrates the poem in the original German.
Regarding the topic of noise as a form of art, I have often argued that many reasons why people listen to noise revolve around dynamics … abrasive vs. delicate, loud vs. quiet, wall vs. cut-up, dense vs. minimal. What are your thoughts on this and what do you care to add?
We deem noise to be synonymous with absolute freedom of creation and listening. For centuries, music was shaped by composers and performers, while audiences were mere passive recipients. On the other hand, noise directly attacks listeners and expects them to create their own world themselves. We have termed our noise activities f”raction music.” Our typical instruments are laptops, with the sphere of action being the digital world, or its reverse side – decomposition and destruction of sound by digital means.
Moreover, we regard noise as linking up to the ideas and actions, which the Futurists began pursuing in the early 20th century and which we can today continue to evolve using contemporary technologies. Our concerts featuring the intonarumori and the recording of The Noise of Art were encounters with the infancy of avant-garde in music and an intellectual return to the historical roots of the music that ushered in the accession of noise to art.
Talking about your previous releases for a moment, you did a split with the legendary Hiroshi Hasegawa and also one with Merzbow. How did these happen and can you talk about these releases?
Hiroshi Hasegawa is a distinctive figure of Japanese noise music. We first met him in 2008 at a noise festival in Prague. Over the next few years, we invited Hiroshi and his project Astro, created in tandem with Hiroko Hasegawa, to several events held within our Noise Zone concert platform. In 2017, upon Hiroshi’s invitation, we gave a concert in Tokyo. The album Fraction Elements is an exemplary collaborative project – the first track is Hiroshi’s, the middle one is the result of our treatment of his work, while the final, digital piece is the outcome of our work.
When it comes to Masami Akita, we first met him in 2007 at the Wroclaw Industrial Festival. In 2012, we gave a joint concert in Prague. In the winter of 2017, we came up with the proposal to make the album MERZOPO together. Masami selected four acoustic pieces, Futuamote Part 1 and 2, and Yasugibushi Part 1 and 2, for the first CD, while the second CD features the studio-adapted versions of Fraction Elements and Fraction Music XII, which we had performed live at concerts in Tokyo and Prague.
Why do you think that the vinyl and cassette formats have become so popular within the noise culture?
In the 1980s, cassettes were a welcome and cheap format that allowed, in small quantities and at one’s own expense, to disseminate radical music, which at the time had no chance of being released in any other way. The cassettes’ significant technical limitations and gradual degradation of their quality when repeatedly played, was even something that could be made use in noise music for specific purposes. This also holds true today, when cassettes are again popular, albeit being liker a fetish for collectors.
Of late, vinyl has enjoyed a great renaissance, even though in the late 1990s its days seemed to be numbered. In our opinion, the technical and audio merits of digital media are beyond dispute. As regards vinyl records, they are, just like cassettes, primarily the subject of collectors’ passion, but they also involve aesthetic and experience aspects.
What further plans do you have for 2019 and maybe 2020?
This year, we are scheduled to appear at the Hradby Samoty (Walls of Solitude) festival of experimental audio-visual arts within a joint programme with Guldur, titled fraction & drums, and the Ostrava Days of contemporary classical music, within the music marathon The Long Night: 18 hours – 1080 minutes. In the autumn, Milan Knížák and we will premiere the piece BROKEN REBROKEN in Prague. Concerning recordings, we have been concurrently working on several projects. If everything goes smoothly, we will soon present fraction music in new, surprising connections.
Where can people find you on the net and buy your work?
Our activities are documented on www.o-p-o.cz. The albums we have released by ourselves include cycles Fraction Music and Spring Ceremony, issued in unlimited, numbered editions. We have established re-set records and re-set production.
Some of our titles have been released on standard labels, such as Sub Rosa (BROKEN REBROKEN, MERZOPO, The Noise of Art), Psych KG (Fraction Elements) and Drone Records (Creeping Waves). Samples of our recordings released by ourselves are available on our website, the albums released on labels are on sale in the form of physical media, on the Bandcamp app (Sub Rosa), as well as on Tidal, iTunes and Spotify.
A couple of phrases on discogs appear to describe your work. They are “fraction music” and “no melody, no rhythm, no harmony.” Talk a bit about these phrases and what they mean to OPO.
The term “fraction music” is succinctly and precisely defined in the subtitle – “no melody – no rhythm – no harmony.” Everything else is open to the listener’s imagination and venture. We set up a mirror, affording each and every recipient the opportunity to approach the situation in his/her own way – either to embrace the sonic result and create their own view and acoustic universe, or remain untouched. Everything in our work oscillates around the theme of “non-musical” sounds, with a view to extending the sound field by digitally remade specific sounds and noises. And fraction music is a digital contribution to this theme, whereby it is not necessary to build physical instruments and carry out intricate operations in halls with digital technology, with small and high-performance computers attaining the desired outcome.
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