Iancu Dumitrescu has for a long time been at the edge of an avant-garde that treats its source material not as form/content or sign but phenomenon, eluding the sculptural particularities of both the spectralists and the concréte composers while adapting several of their most important contributions (from the earlier, in systematic analysis; from the latter, the endless possibilities of an electronically masked sound matter; together, a sort of science of sounds) to a framework that makes the universe speak. It is not so much a precise method but a series of intuitions that grant a paradoxical aura of objectivity to sounds, since it abandons the artistic assumptions underlying a ‘mastery of nature’ (in the way music is ‘built’) as well as the most traditional claims to meaning we are all familiar with, providing, in this way, an approach that aims for the understanding of music as a self-generative process, a momentary act of creation born from the most fundamental conditions of existence.
Dumitrescu started developing these ideas in the 1970s after studying with fellow Romanian, philosopher and conductor Sergiu Celibidache, who tried to focus phenomenology into music as technological aid in the search for a point in the timeline from which to jump out of the 20th century, from which to flow out of the force of modernism. This crossing with philosophy allowed Dumitrescu to conceive of an aural experience where every reference – cultural, scientific, etc. – is let down, which is to say unfulfilled by the will to listen in order to apprehend the essence being portrayed by sounds in a much more intuitive, ‘pure’ manner. Music, under these terms, comes to embody more perfectly that extra-linguistic remainder inherent to any attempt at establishing a full equivalence between world and concept: for every compass, for every sign there is a ‘something’ that resists collapsing into its system of relations.
“I believe that in music”, says the composer, “there is an enormous proportion of this mysterious remainder. It would not have any value differently. Its value lies only in the fact of bringing to consciousness something not being otherwise able to be thought.” Sound, then, is the appearance of this cosmic indivisibility, with music functioning as the articulation of a counter-reduction of experience, an expansion of the mind and body into the time and space previously only accessible to the mystic. Such an idea rides upon the contradictory use of machines in electro-acoustics and (amplified) instruments, at first denying a logical resolution (and also hinting at several other tensions in the composer’s theories) to the problem of a mediated pretension to the un-mediated. However, perhaps it would also be interesting to conceive of such mediations as bodily extensions, as the forceful opening of the infinite to the presence of a short, fragile life: like a spacecraft or the mystic’s name (a geographical reference, the only channel still left open to the here and now, to a life not yet gripped by a certain deadly transcendence), these tools are the means with which dreams can be realized, an immediacy that nullifies a transition into the ghostly, a set of devices that, in embodying the possible, point our eyes and ears towards the impossible.
The impossible becomes better grounded, perhaps, when associated with the composer’s ‘acousmatic provocations’ and his characterization of his music as ‘primitive’. First, the masking of sources enables the listener to confront the sound in itself, breaking whatever communication his or her cultural background demands of it, firmly positioning him or her in the now, in a moment that attempts to activate full consciousness of the present as it continually escapes. It is precisely in this ellipsis where the impossible is glimpsed, maybe even lived, as a cosmic encounter with everything that lies beyond any and all confines, an eminently mythical burst of metaphorical universality where all meanings shift and coincide, a place where dream-time faintly denies the atomizing acts of reflection.
“Pierres Sacrées” (“Sacred Stones”) and “Hazard and Tectonics” exemplify this ‘primitive’ ideal as an earthly, long-duration knowledge that cannot be rationalized. The first, composed between 1989 and 1991, flows with amplified noises that grow and diminish, punctuating the illusory silence that follows their every strike. If paid close attention, every sound morphs into each other, droning in unexpected paths that only sometimes converge to make a small, ephemeral totality. If the name of the piece is any indication, there is a highlighting at work here, one that imbues this morphing with significance in terms of it leading to something that is quite unintelligible, a metaphorical quality that whispers the void in every utterance. Every sound echoes harshly into dozens of directions, sometimes coming back to clash with what is being created, blasting its masked referents (a prepared piano, metallic plates, and other unspecified objects) into deeply chaotic silences, remnants of noises that appear huge in their traversing of (a very short and yet seemingly neverending) time: to follow a sound to its completion would imply a complete sacrifice of self, the mystic’s denial of his or her name, the refusal of the spacecraft’s crew to return home. “Hazard and Tectonics”, which is much more recent (2013), makes for a perfect continuation of the power of the sacred stones, grinding the limits of hearing to dust in its computerized processing of sounds yet-to-be-heard, not because they are from the future but because they are essential to a reality that remains to be perceived. The ‘primitive’ consists, in all these electronic noises that hint at the incomprehensible, of the age-old question of the music of the spheres, of the inhuman, incredible gutturality of the universe as it unfolds before our too-trained ears.
As with many an artistic excursion, all those theoretical bits (as tense and often incompatible as they are) are not only worthy but necessary to have in mind when listening to music like this, if at least for the value of an enjoyment of the kind that only exists in the practice of the experimental. Dumitrescu’s work is already difficult without them, and while his myriad savant-like connections of concepts do make for very interesting music, they can also make for some fine reading. If you’re interested in the contemporary avant-garde at all, you will surely give this album a listen… or five. (David Murrieta)