Dynamics. Statics. Statics versus dynamics. Dynamics with statics. Statics besides dynamics. Their mutual changes: fights, camouflages, interplays, interferences. What is dynamistatics? Reality, at core, is dual. It is impossible to say what came first: time or space, wave or quantum, relations or objects? From the very beginning there is ambiguity—division but also copresence. Motion and motionlessness, drive and halt, predictability and unpredictability are different emanations of music. They cause commotion but also confusion. We shall sense this in moments when the nature of perceived impressions is not clear. Dynamistatics is our proposed name for such states of dual ambiguity. Duality needs not be exposed: statics itself and dynamics itself may become dynamistatics, through us.
Hold what is mobile, hold the music (“Beautiful moment, do not pass away!”)—that is one of composers’ dreams, as vain as poets’ musings on “painting with words” or sculptors’ about “moving sculptures.” Visual artists are annoyed with the inertia of their matter while conversely, music makers and listeners are puzzled by the freedom of sounds coming and going. Memory grasps music and puts it into imagination as an object prone to any analysis or emotion. Through repetition, we get an ersatz of still time.
“Static music” is one of the terms once applied to what is now called minimal music. Related terms include still music, pulse music, repetitive, meditative, phase music, new simplicity, pattern music, trance music. Those descriptors referred to the essential approach of composers (focusing on a chosen textural element) or the unusual impressions by listeners: of time being held, pure duration, and motionlessness. In brief, staticity. At the extreme of ascetic orientation, composers use emptiness (silences), a single note, a single timbre, a single interval, motif, or rhythm, offering the barest staticity. The listener then falls into a state of stimulus deficit (sensory deprivation). Formerly, in the intermediate period between the avantgarde and postmodernism, this created uproars in the audience and performers were ousted from the stage. Today, statics has become familiar, even in many homes, and triggers dynamic protests no more.
Minimal music is a good example of statics that self- dynamises itself. A stable sound object needs not serve purely meditative, trance-like, therapeutic, or relaxation purposes.
If you resist the hypnotising oscillation of the permanent returns and focus your attention on the musical “accompaniment without melody,” unexpectedly a richness of musical changes is revealed. These changes are latent in micropolyphonies (Ligeti), predictable sequences (Tom Johnson), suspensions (Ruley), phase shiftings (Reich), melolines (Krauze), fixed pitches (Scelsi), single tones (Rudziński) permutations (David Lang), pattern repetitions (Kutavičius), spectral harmony (Hykes), additive rhythms (Glass), hoquetus imitations (Andriessen), echoing (Sikorski), mictrotones (La Monte Young), aksak metres and rhythms (John McLaughlin). The effect of minimal textures likens music to natural phenomena: forests, fires, waves, rain, meadows, or clouds, which are the same yet different— dynamistatic.
Moreover, our hearing begins to generate, within the oscillating textural grid, its own objectively nonexistent melic and metrorhythmic figures. The subjectively perceived state of dynamistatics can induce sound illusions and hallucinations. This can also happen to performers, which is why minimal music is played by specialised ensembles, usually directed by composers themselves. This is not only due to stamina and physical prowess: mechanical repetitivity and the insistence of long sequences can contribute to losing orientation. We can freely switch between those two ways of listening— perceiving statics or dynamics—or rather, states of focus and tiredness will switch us. The most interesting situations happen when you simultaneously grasp contrasting qualities. In those cases, a dynamistatic state of vibrating suspension is created, engendering a loss of perceptive equilibrium (the labyrinth responsible for vertigo is a part of the ear).
For physicists, dynamics is a division of mechanics, which also includes statics and kinetics. In visual arts, dynamics is introduced by diagonal directions, while statics by vertical and horizontal lines. In music, the word “dynamics” indicates loudness. Dreams of the preeminent power of sounds have been embodied over centuries by Stentors, symphonies of a thousand, Jericho trumpets, glass-shattering bel canto, monstrous organs, and later, electronic loudspeakers. Yet the dynamic of a musical narrative is a different thing. It cannot be measured in phons, sones, or decibels via a technical device. It is about the perceived intensity of a musical process. In some cases, such as Górecki and Glass, this is not contradictory with the requirement of maximum loudness.
Perceived dynamics is a derivative of differentiation. The larger the distance between sound qualities, the higher the tension. A general silence after a massive fortissimo does not eliminate tension but on the contrary, increases it. Conversely, Haydn’s “kettledrum stroke” introduces a static quality to the musical narrative. Laminar flow is a stabilising agent, while turbulences energise the sound plot. Dynamics’ foe is stabilising repetition. And so the hell with repetition! That was the main slogan of the second avantgarde, professed in Poland by Bogusław Schaeffer in his technical recommendations to “differentiate material” and aesthetical ones to “never say the same twice.”
The paradox of contradictory dynamics of maximal change was revealed when serialism exploded in the 1950s. Works drastically opposed in intention turned out to be surprisingly similar in perception. What was striking was not only a lack of diversity in the musical narrative but also a close affinity between different works. Mimetisation even reached the opposite of serialism: aleatory music. The play of guessing what technique—determinism or nondeterminism—the current work followed was one of the attractions of avantgarde concerts.
Maximal continuous differentiation of nearly all parameters proved lethal for serialism. Schaeffer himself pointed out the importance of the “perceptive parameter,” and warned: “Extending the sound material is directly contradictory with the possibility of its structural presentation.” The upsetting divergence between the dynamising intention of ubiquitous “events” and an auditively unified result was quickly noticed by composers. Already in Kontra-Punkte, Stockhausen imposed his own model of formal change, while in Structures, Boulez synchronised the unpredictability of punctualism. Not only the dynamics of sounds but also that of modern music’s development have changed—formerly one-directional, it now has become subject to postmodern dispersal. Means of expression devised to stun and upset transcend perceptive assimilation in hybrid intermedia genres, making them easy to subjectively immobilise. In that musical ADHD, the concentration of musical and extramusical excess quickly transforms into perceptive blur. “New complexity” music full of maximal change dynamic can lead to indifference.
The dynamic staticity of sound is well illustrated by the genre of “noise music.” The “noise” here does not refer only to loudness; the objective is to reach an extreme, multidirectional intensity. The synergy of electroacoustic power, atonal textures, nontone timbre, ambiophonic space, and macrochronic duration blends into a critical mass of sonic maximalism. Lovers of air jets’ roar at takeoff, people addicted to the rumble of underground trains (like Sally from Cabaret), rave and techno partygoers, phonophiles pumping up the volume of their hi-fis—all have recived an artistic counteroffer of “composed noise” for the last hundred years.
Noise music is gauged at a purely sensual way of perception. Not only in aural terms: to immerse oneself in condensed loudness encourages synaesthetic impulses of the sight and even the touch. This is known to anyone who has consumed a higher dose of low beats. On the other hand, the sense of hearing, bombed with a full frequency spectrum of nontone noise (let alone atonality), paradoxically becomes less important. Sensual, somatic impressions dominate over expression. Noise music moves the body, not the heart.
The mind can also be moved. A musical process slow enough to allow observation (and not only perception) of a directional sound process, gives a rare sense of satisfaction. We know intellectual speculation can generate strong emotion, as shown by the guy who ran naked yelling “Eureka!” At this year’s Warsaw Autumn, intellectually stimulating dynamistatics of linear figures will be provided notably by the geometrical sounds of Alvin Lucier’s Slices and Phill Niblock’s Baobab. Another work by Niblock, The Movement of People Working, may serve as an example of dynamistatics in noise music. Here, the genre’s full, extremely loud spectrum of harmonics is visually extended via a movie projection on two screens. The paradox of static dynamics manifests itself on many levels. Maximum saturation and loudness dynamises the music while the stability of long durations immobilises it. Yet a consistent level of loudness also generates stability, which, opposed to the dynamic of an “extremely active harmonic motion” (I am quoting the 2011 Warsaw Autumn liner notes), achieves the same dynamistatics effect but with inverted poles. Moreover, the static of ordinary work movements being screened clashes with the dynamic, abstract noise timbre. But the contrary is also true: vision dynamises time with a rhythmisation of movement, reducing sound to a static background. Amongst these numerous configurations, only one can be perceived at a time. As with the Necker cube or Wittgenstein’s “duck–rabbit,” you cannot have both at the same time. But we can switch between modes of antagonistic states, or else our body, with its biological rhythm of phases of attention and tiredness, will make us switch; or the composer will. Can someone still argue that object music is boring?
Noise music was relatively quickly borrowed by popular culture (there even exists “joyful noise” and “sweet noise”). In art music, there is a great deal of fascinating noise music and beautiful postserial music, its beauty available to listeners prone to intensifying tensions. When rest is needed, you can always switch to static mode.
Both staticising and dynamising music over long units of time makes it uniform. The work becomes an object. Object music is a growing phenomenon both in composers’ output and in the concert repertoire. Many works offer little beyond duration and a conglomerate of sounds. They appear as textural blocks for different ensembles, with or without electronics, in long or very long durations. Flat dynamisation leaves an under— or oversaturated content as quite the only perceivable phenomenon. Object works are simply that: stable, stolid, static.
There are many composers who have no wish to control listeners’ minds or emotions. There is also a growing group of listeners who would rather not be drawn into narrative plots or refined forms; who look for works that make no demands of them. The conceptual premises of object music may vary but the result is essentially a single category: monolith, monument, monotexture.
Composed object music is not always monoformal. Sound objects can serve as modules for juxtaposed layered flows— this is often the case in the music of young Polish composers. It is a good way to supply aural satisfaction of a new kind. Object models undergo mutations within works. Without melody, harmony, metre, rhythm, and tempo, we are led on an unconscious path of perceptible changes, suspended dynamistatically midway between personal freedom and discrete intentions encoded in the music.
Apart from autonomous static and dynamic entities, the effect of dynamistatics is also achieved by their parallel or consecutive juxtapositions. The archetypal model for the parallel coupling is the drone. A stable pedal note drone can have any foreign element added to it to achieve the dynamistatic effect of the stable—changing ambiguity. An example is La Monte Young’s 31 VII 69 10:26–10:49, where ornamented vocalises climb harmonic partials over a low drone. On the other hand, alternation juxtaposes staticity and dynamicity in succession and contrast. This was the structure of the “surconventional” works of Paweł Szymański and Paweł Mykietyn. Doubly encoded, these compositions deconstruct the code of tradition by fragmenting their quasihistorical material, at the same time constructing the code of modernity via a mathematically determined grid of events over time. The idiom of excess gradually takes over the area of tonal tranquillity, eventually controlling the entire material space. The term’s “convention” thus applies to staticity, while “sur-” is dynamic. This objectual approach had its antecedents. Originally, they were objects in the literal sense, such as the Aeolian harp, choirs of bells, windchimes, or automatophones. The tools for mystical rapture included the static genres of medieval music. A conceptual, empty object only arrived with Cage’s 4’33”. Three-cornered (with precisely specified durations: 0’30”, 2’23”, 1’40”), it appears as a skeletal sculpture or an image that is not only nonfigurative but also has no figures, or content. Due to its formal imperfections, caused by its subdivision into parts, 4’33” may not serve as a model example of a musical monolith. Compact monoforms / objects / installations were only created by Fluxus artists.
Currently, the objectual (timbral) strategy is superseding the structural (intervallic) one in processes of manufacturing sound facts. Electronic and IT technologies redirect our discursive mentality toward holistic approaches. Pierre Schaeffer’s concept of “sound object” has filtered into the subconsciousness of electroacoustic music composers and electronic entertainment producers as a validation of their “utilisation” actions toward their copied materials. The vast resources of the internet become a cosmos of virtual items, including sounds. Entire works, their fragments, single phrases and notes, originals, reworkings and reworked reworkings are stored online, waiting to be copied into objectually designed software on home computers, luring users with the perspective of easily compiling a hit. When, on the other hand, a laptop computer appears on stage as an instrument, it is usually as a bank of ready–made timbral entities, triggered intentionally or interactively.
Even the music of lakes, fields, streets, forests, train stations, mountains, flyovers, valleys, and ports—the natural and civilisational environment—becomes dynamistatic. Suddenly, we discover diversity in the unified chorus of frogs or cicadas, the hum of trees, or the noise of streets. The act of focusing dynamises the audiosphere, which on the whole, is usually static. It is for dynamistatic impulses that it is worth going on recording ecomusic on the ground.
Dynamistatics may be analysed on several levels: styles, techniques, works, forms, or entire eras (the baroque and romanticism are dynamic; medieval and classical music are restrained). But even the simplest musical note of stable pitch and timbre is also the result of dynamic action of its interwoven partials.
Dynamistatics: the paradoxical unity of antagonistic qualities, static and dynamic.
The term “dynamistatics” was already used in a musical work’s title (Tadeusz Wielecki’s Dynamistatic Composition of 2015) but the issue itself, though not always declared, has been present for ages: at least since Plato worried about the disastrous influence of the “drunken” Ionian and Lydian scales on citizens of the perfect state, or the medieval controversy about overly dynamic melodies being detrimental to the religious focus of the faithful. In modern music, ingredients of that opposition appear in the names of works such as Becker’s Stabil instabil, Bussotti’s Mobile–Stabile, Wołek’s Motions, Stases, Salmenhaara’s Information Explosion, Stockhausen’s Invasion–Explosion, or Logothetis’s Explosion and Dynapolis. The dynamistatic oxymoron of “blue silence anxiety” appears in the title of Luigi Nono’s A Pierre. Dell’azzurro silenzio, inquietum.
But it is all up to us—the public. Roman Ingarden (here, one must agree with him) believes that a work of music eventually constitutes itself in the listener. Hence we will determine what is static and what is dynamic. What is dynamistatic, will be suggested to us by our subconsciousness. The result of such processes is not always transparent. The glitter of perceived qualities, just as in the polyvalent figures of Gestalt psychology, favours a perceptive confusion. We should not fear it. We sometimes need states of suspension, dizziness, surprise, sudden plot turns, and detachment from reality. The solution of dynamistatic riddles and paradoxes may not be rationalised. It will appear where music supplies the best identification: in emotion.
Member of Warsaw Autumn Programme Committee