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Faster than Time

img  Tobias
So what is it that makes Johannes Maria Staud’s music special? In the liner notes to Staud’s debut album (“Berenice. Lied vom Verschwinden”), Carsten Fastner points to the simultaneous use of Avantgarde techniques and emotionality. Four years later, on the occasion of the composer’s second disc (“Apeiron”) Durs Grünbein calls it the “Goosebump-effect”. The Vienese himself, whom I talk to in one of his few and short moments of rest, puts it down to staying true to himself in the face of external expectations and the seductive pull of fame and fortune: “As long as composers write for themselves, a piece is honest, when they begin to write for a wider audience it turns out hollow and the soups gets sour.”

Extra-musical Influences
Johannes Maria Staud is fine, but one can expect him to be just a little tired as well. He has just finished a piece for 2 pianos and orchestra 10 days ago, well ahead of its premiere, but with the deadline constantly looming on the horizon. It is one of four new scores on his list of projects until early Summer of 2009, which also includes a piece for String Quartet and Orchestra. Another is still only called “Work for Orchestra”. Inspiration, to Staud, comes in the moment and can not be planned.

“I usually start with a sketch of a few notes, with an extra-musical influence, with a vague imagination of how a piece could be”, he says of hiw approach to composing, “This is always a very challenging and intriguing moment, and always a very different one.” These extra-musical influences make it equally intruguing to read about Staud’s motivations in the booklet to the abovementioned CDs, both of which have been published on the excusite Kairos label, also based in Austria.

No need to compromise
“A map is not a territory” (2001) for example, is the result of an inner debate with himself on whether or not there are any differences between the score and the actual performance. The sound of the word “Polygon” (2002) always succeded in getting him in a special mood while working on the piece by the same title. “Black Moon” (1998) harks back to a Louis Malle movie, while “Apeiron” and “Peras” (2004/2005) used the ancient bipolarity between the infinite and the determinate for music, which, as Staud tentatively puts it, “possibly tries to create the impression – at least for the time of its resounding – of being faster in creating new lives and forms than time is in destroying them.”

Staud draws in questions from potentially anywhere, on whose fertile ground he errects his music in a process of personal understanding and of errecting fields the listener can roam in search of answers. The old tonality-debate has no place here: “The question is wrong and completely out of date, the relationship between Harmony and Dissonance is music.” Consequently, he refers to his style of composing as “inventing”.

Very organically, his music therefore does not need to compromise itself to reach an audience, yet it requires no formal education to appreciate it – mainly, because “development”, in the hands of Staud, has a playful character to it and sees him juxtapose his motives and play them against each other, sparking creative flames while he’s at it.

“Polygon”, on the one hand, which secured him first place at the International Rostrum for Composers, creates the impression of vastness through cleverly placed micro-elements. On the other hand, the first movement of “A Map is not the Territory” does follow up on its opening theme, but it is not so much what happens note-wise, which is of interest. Rather, the pattern changes periodically as it wanders through different instruments and instrumental sections, while the breath of the orchestra gradually and gently flows out into silence.

Good art vs. Grandiose Intentions

Maybe it is the fact that he is not dreaming about a plan to conquer the world all the time (“Good art doesn’t emerge with grandiose intentions”, he says) which makes the impact of his music even stronger: “Apeiron” was recorded by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonics, an accolade for any young composer. Which, however, did not prevent Staud from insisting on long-time musical companions like Marino Formenti to appear on the album as well.

Emerging from a subdued opening, this twenty minute work is prismically diverse, reinventing itself almost from scratch each moment, while managing to weave a red thread all the same. Passages of near-silence and shimmering textural beauty take turns with powerful cresendi and long glistening tonal threads culminate in percussive explosions.

Drama and Dramaturgy
Johannes Maria Staud does hold an interest in the timbral aspects of his music (how could a composer not have one?), which manifests itself in the reoccuring use of the innards of the piano as enormous reverberation catalysts. Influences from spheres outside of academic circles have also made it into his pieces, such as the sample-character of some of the violin-parts in “A map is not the Territory” or the bulldozer-groove which suddenly errupts from the void in “Apeiron” around the eight and a half-minute mark.

But what really differentiates him is the decided sense of drama and dramaturgy which runs through his tracks. What Fastner identified as “emotion” and Grünbein as “goosebumps” results from an intuitive evolutionary process, which creates real sensations inside the listener, because it eschews succumbing to predictable patterns. “I don’t chose, the piece or the idea of the piece wants something from me”, Staud says and it doesn’t sound esoteric at all. In fact, it sounds like the perfect explanation why his music is special.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Kairos Records
Homepage: Universal Edition

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