Nicolaus A. Huber’s Clash Music


Sounding Now 2018
A Festival of Contemporary Musical Practices
Sunday, 22 April 2018 @ 5pm
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory

Contributed by Kong Tze Shiuan

Born in Passau on 15th December 1939, Nicolaus A. Huber studied composition under Gunter Bialas in Munich. He then started working under Josef Anton Riedl in the Siemens Studio for electronic music, where he was introduced to methods of musical experimentation which involved pushing performers to their limit to reveal their inner humanity, especially in his solo works such as Darabukka (1976). Huber then studied with Stockhausen, and more significantly in 1967 with Luigi Nono, who motivated Huber to delve deeper into psychology and learn more about human reactions to different sounds and rhythms. In 1974, he started teaching composition in the Folkwang Institute in Essen until his retirement in 2003.

Throughout his life, Huber explored many different methods of composition, but starting in 1976 he focused exclusively on compositions based on rhythmic sequences. He developed his “conceptual rhythm compositions” to introduce diverse cultural references into his music, and to strip sound away from pitch and harmony, allowing for a new dimension of musical expression. Also, he felt that his audience should be part of the music as well, and that both composer and audience can learn from each other. With this ideology, Huber conceived many works including Clash Music from 1988.

Encompassing driving rhythmic figurations and brash percussive sounds, Clash Music is a composition for a pair of crash cymbals with a duration of approximately 4 minutes. Performers can choose to use either Turkish or Chinese cymbals. The Turkish cymbals are thinner and produce a lighter sound, whereas the Chinese cymbals have upturned edges and produce a darker sound with a larger spectrum of overtones. The work was originally conceived for a single pair of cymbals, but it can be also played by a larger group of 2-20 players. Huber states that the piece is not categorised as purely instrumental, but also as theatrical music because of the endless possibilities to realise it. Even though the notation of the score is standard and the intent of the composer is clear, there are many aleatoric elements included in its realisation. Huber stated that the actions of the performers, such as the different ways to create sound from the cymbals, give the piece a more lively and playful quality. He has encouraged the performers to be creative and give their own interpretive input when playing the piece without compromising on the rhythmic and sound content of the work.

As the piece unfolds, listeners are greeted with a plethora of different sonic timbres coming from a single instrument, created by various specified dynamics and playing methods–include crashing the cymbals together and scraping them against each other or another surface. (This explains why most of the performers either kneel on the ground or stand behind a table when playing this piece.) It is interesting for a listener to hear how Huber creates so much depth and fullness of sound just by varying the playing techniques of a single instrument. Another amusing point to note is that Huber himself has said that this work is suitable for unusual performance venues due to its simple structure, and it can be spontaneously performed wherever a table can be found.

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