The man who excites hardly can judge upon what he is doing…
It is late Saturday night, and we have spent many hours over the last few days in a white room making noises on a very, very large tam-tam. We will spend many more hours doing the same over the days to come. I had initially approached Stockhausen’s landmark work Mikrophonie I with an image of myself as a micronaut, an explorer tunneling deep into the inner resonances of the work’s single instrument, the tam-tam. But the division of labor is such that I now realize that in my role as the player who excites the tam-tam I am something more like a test subject in this particular experiment. The player next to me, the microphonist, “probes the surface of the tam-tam with the microphone, as a doctor probes a body with a stethoscope.” Further afield, and therefore operating from a position of objective observation, two additional players utilize filters and potentiometers to analyze, comment upon, and correct our actions. Meanwhile, my counterpart and I are busy carrying out a set of actions which are precisely notated, but the actual material of which is only described by the composer in all too human terms: groaning, baying, barking, bellowing, growling, hissing, spitting, cackling, yelling, grunting, howling, wailing, cracking, grating, chattering, scratching, screeching, murmuring, croaking, and so on, mostly in alphabetical order. We have been joking amongst ourselves in rehearsal that perhaps we should all wear white lab coats for the performance, but I am pretty certain that this would really only be appropriate for the engineers at the filters, and maybe the player next to me who will be probing both the tam-tam’s and my behavior for the duration of the work.
-Matthew Gold, Talea percussionist