Octavian Nemescu


November 22, 2020

Octavian Nemescu was born in 1940, in Pascani (Romania). Through many years, from his youth, Nemescu contributed determinedly to the development of the avant-garde in Romanian music. He is representing the second and last generation of its kind (the generation of the 70's), which launched a new avant-garde, who has as main goal not the negation of the tradition (as previous generation did) but the recovery of the origins, of the PRIMORDIALITY existent at the fundament of all musical traditions, in the spirit of an innovative recovery and with the desire of coming to a new artistic universality. This generation may be considered also as the first one to have an aspiration of postmodern character.

Octavian Nemescu and his colleagues launched the spectral current in Romanian music (Illuminations for orchestra, 1967), with an orientation towards the usage of the "ison" (drone). This current was animated by Corneliu Cezar, since 1965. Another current launched by Nemescu and his colleagues was the archetypal one (Concentric, 1969), based on the aesthetics of essentialisation. Alongside Corneliu Dan Georgescu, Nemescu studied, theorized and used the archetypal ideas applied to music. Next Nemescu was interested in the problems of the open opera, of the conceptualism (practicing the diagrammatic conceptualism), of ambiental music (with ecologist traits, in collaboration with artist Wanda Mihuleac), of procesual (transformational) music, alongside Lucian Metianu, of ritual music ("Combinations in circles", 1965, "Will the King die!?", "Suggestions", "Memorial" 1968).

He made projects with ritualic personalities, on large surfaces both in space and in time, with the goal of liberating the performing act of the spectacular context of a concert hall and to permit the performance of music in the energetic entourage of the nature, of Cosmos. In some works of Nemescu there can be observed processes of dilatation or condensation of the Time and Space (of the sounds), with the result of a fluid, elastic, energetic and non-repetitive musical discourse, in constant change and innovation, with a large-scale usage of the phonic territory. In other works, the state of dilatation and of condensation coexists in a polyphonic way, in a complex, luxuriant and baroque artistic language.

All those together forms the total archetype, applied to all parameters. In his music Nemescu transforms various cadenzas and intervals in their archetypal (cultural) hypostasis. He uses modes made of all the types of triads of the European tradition: major, minor, diminished and augmented, symbolizing both cultural and psychological archetypes: joy, sorrow, fragility of the anxiety and dilated conscience. His music evolves across some cadenzas, some beginnings, endings and intervals. He wrote "Performances for an instance" in 1974, dealing with the art work in implosive, condensed, absorbed or re-absorbed state, with the "flattering" of time and space, forming a "black hole".

In 2017, at the second edition of the Outernational festival, which took place in Bucharest, we invited Romanian musician and composer Octavian Nemescu at an artist talk hosted by Andrei Tănăsescu. These are some fragments of the transcription and translation into English:

"At the time when liberalization started to manifest, Romanian ideas started to emerge in the Romanian musical context, which is the only context I am going to talk about since I am only entitled to talk about literature or arts, though, there has been an aesthetic solidarity between musicians, composers and writers and visual artists. One of these ideas was ecology, which was just emerging everywhere. Thus, a new aesthetic appeared, visual artists that were no longer called painters or sculptors, but installation artists, who created installations placed in nature, on the fields, on the edge of a forest, on a lake and us musicians, I being one of them, also wanted to create music in the middle of nature. We used to say "Take down the concert halls !", we were very radical, "Take down the institutionalised art galleries and museums!", all of these barracks that came with Renaissance, and return to ancient rituals where magic was most important and this magical dimension primed.

We would place our artworks in the middle of nature in order for them to become charged with this natural energy of the surrounding places, and thus we grew closer to having this shamanic, ritual-like aura. Another movement of the time, present in all of the arts, a very important one, which emerged from the Romanian territory, was the archetypal one. What does an archetype mean, for defining it I found Plato, who was the first to speak of such a thing. He said that archetypes are the essences and permanence of the world. He used to say that we live, while we are in this body, in a cave, watching a dance of the shadows that is happening outside the cave. Well, those realities are the real ones, the essence and permanence of things, not the shadows that we can see and feel using our senses, in this cave.

And we discovered another thing, that the one who first applied this archetypal aesthetic was none other than Brâncuși. His sculpted heads, the flying birds, did not use any concrete symbols such as birds, like a crow or a stork. It is the essence of all bird flights. This is why, in the case of the human heads, there was only the essence of a human head, beyond any gender or race.”

Nemescu wrote symphonic music, coral, chamber, electro-acoustic, ambiental music, meta-music, imaginary music, collective & individual rituals that require not only hearing but also the other senses: visual, olfactive, gustatory and tactile. The timing of this rituals starts from seconds and evolves to minutes, hours, days, weeks, month, decades and centuries.

His music was performed in many important cultural centers in Europe, Asia and in the US. Some of his works are recorded, recently, on 10 CDs. There are also many CDs (edited in Romania or in other European countries) where pieces by Nemescu may be found alongside other major contemporary works.

*foto: Mihai Benea

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*This article is part of the project Music & Conversations in the Attic, co-financed by AFCN.


  • Octavian Nemescu

    Concentric (1969) (Radio România) (1998)

  • Octavian Nemescu

    Spectacle Pour Un Instant (1974) (Edition Modern) (1996)

  • Octavian Nemescu

    Spectacle Pour Une Instance (1974) (Edition Modern) (1996)

  • Octavian Nemescu

    Gradeatia (Electrecord) (1984)

  • Octavian Nemescu

    Metabizantinirico (1984) (Electrecord) (1991)

  • Octavian Nemescu

    Sonatu(h)r (1986) (Electrecord) (1991)

  • Octavian Nemescu

    IN PAR (1988) (Edition Modern) (1996)

  • Octavian Nemescu

    Eui Or Eruimii For 2 O'clock Pm (2007) (Niklas Records) (2012)

  • Octavian Nemescu

    Combinations in Circles (1965) (Attacsa) (1992)

  • Octavian Nemescu & Contraste Ensemble

    Negantidiadua Pour 2 Heures Du Matin (1995)

  • Octavian Nemescu

    Centrifuga (for piano and tape) (1986)

  • Octavian Nemescu

    Trison (for magnetic tape) ( Electrecord) (1992)

Contributed By

Dragoș Rusu

Co-founder and co-editor in chief of The Attic and allround music adventurer.

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