Wandelweiser is the name of an informal network of twenty or so experimental-minded composers who share an interest in slow music, quiet music, spare music, fragile music. The word might be translated as “signpost of change” or “sage of change.” It brings to mind a vaguely Romantic image of solitary figures meandering along circuitous paths. The composers live in Switzerland, Germany, New York, and California, among other places, and are seldom all seen together. Most of them take inspiration from John Cage; they understand his legendary work “4?33?,” in which the performer remains silent, not as a conceptual conundrum but as a practical point of departure. Eva-Maria Houben, a mainstay of the group, has written, “Music may exist ‘between’: between appearance and disappearance, between sound and silence, as something ‘nearly nothing.’ “
There’s some fascinating stuff in this music. I have several recordings by Jakob Ullman, which I can only describe as anti-music. It’s played and recorded at a volume almost too low to hear, and it’s slow-motion music. I bought this box set, which has some very interesting long works. I made the following note about Ullman’s music last year:
“Music generally has a narrative. A piece of music starts someplace, travels along a path, and arrives at a destination. Jakob Ullmann’s music is nothing like that at all. It is more like a work of art, a painting or sculpture. It sets a mood, a tone, an atmosphere that continues for a certain length of time. At the end of the piece, you have stopped experiencing that piece of art. There is no attempt to make any sort of narrative statement, to have any sort of musical resolution. In these works, the composer is creating a sort of sound painting.”
Also, read my interview with R. Andrew Lee, who has recorded some Wandelweiser music.