Paul's Sound Installation for the Boulez Auditorium

Paul Brody is developing the Webern Sound Installation which will be at featured at the Open House at the Boulez Center where Barenboim is the artistic director.  It's for the Barenboim Foundation (but he is not working directly with Mr. Barenboim.)  Below is a description of the project.

Webern Sound Installation  by Paul Brody

In truth the prison, into which we doom 

Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me, 

In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound 

Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground. 


The Webern Sound Installation focuses on the concept of borders and space in relation to Webern’s life and music:Borders in terms of how Webern experienced the radical shifting of musical styles in the early 20th century as well as the shattering of socio-political boundary lines of Europe through the two world wars. Space in terms of how Webern spent the last 20 years of his life dedicated to the small stretch of the twelve tone row. One can think of the row as a kind of sonic home.

Three playful sound installation compositions will loop in a small room chosen for the event. (Because the idea of having a sound installation is fairly last minute, we might choose two from the three.)

  1. Twelve Tones Through Berlin & Beyond

One of Webern’s quintessential rows is from the Concerto for Nine Instruments, Op. 24. It will be given to a variety of musicians and groups in Berlin and elsewhere, along with a few simple 12 tone rules.

The musicians and groups will vary in culture and style. I will record them playing the tone row only once, and for not longer than 30 seconds. The recordings will be lined up together with a bit of sound design to create a unified feeling if needed. Thus the 12 tones will permeate borders both physical and cultural.

This is Webernesk in another way: Webern was also considered a sonic painter or Klangfarbe composer. Glenn Gould describes Webern’s use of alternating dynamic levels and instrumental timbres…pitch level around which the oblique shapes…

2. Teppichtibet-Tibetteppich -Webern

The second sound installation piece will focus on the idea that Webern’s compositions often focused on the momentrather than the extensive narration of development that the romanic composers so rigorously explored. I will be meeting a Webern expert at the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung to help pick a twelve word phrase from Webern’s letters. (Weber wrote some very emotionally charged texts.)

One possible phrase which Webern wrote to the poet Else Lasker-Schule. It might work for this perpose. Notice that the phrase is twelve words and uses a the 12 tone technic of mirroring!:

am liebsten den ganzen „Teppichtibet“ mit sammt dem „Tibetteppich“ am Schädel hauen

Using 12 tone-like rules applied to syntax and grammar, I will create variations on the sentence. It will be a playful kind of 12 tone Stille Post, which also has the feeling of crossing boundaries.

The sentences will be recorded and I will compose music with the voice-melodies. Between the sentences will be a sound design based on sampled fragments, textures, motifs, rhythms in Webern’s works.

3. Webern has the gift of reducing a novel to a sigh -Glenn Gould paraphrases Schoenberg

Quotes about Webern will be recorded and I will create short voice-melody compositions based on the recordings of the people. For example, Schoenberg said, Webern has the gift of reducing a novel to a sigh. The mini sound installation composition that incorporates this sentence will use the voice melody and rhythm of the speaker saying each phrase and also make musical references to the klangfarbe techniques. The compositions will reference Webern in there brevity and by further exploring tonality, and texture.

Visual aspect of the Webern Sound Installation

The installation will use twelve colored breathing lights scattered around the small room. By breathing I mean they will not be stagnant but be programmed to fade in and out very lightly, almost undetectability. This will add atmosphere to the room.

Maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Europe from different eras will be projected on the walls.