Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram on Music Resistance

Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram on Music Resistance

September 8, 2015

Written by:

Victor Stutz

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This is music from hell

The sight of so many innocent faces at the last Iancu Dumitrescu concert in Bucharest was a surprise. What was not at all surprising, was seeing them leave the room and hearing the reason afterwards: ”this is music from hell”. We then listened to the Hyperion Ensemble with guests from Israel and Stephen O’Malley, conducted by Iancu and Ana-Maria Avram. The finale was a devastating first-audition piece by Iancu Dumitrescu. The interview was held in two rounds, the first one (on the night before the concert) when Simona Mantarlian and us were in Iancu Dumitrescu’s living-room.

We went afterwards to the kitchen for a glass of wine with Ana-Maria Avram and O’Malley. We chattered for a short while about O’Malley’s knowledge and the people he got next to. A muddle of people and notions. I had the chance to ask AMA about space’s account in music, the magnitude of the concert hall. Her exposé was abruptly interrupted by Iancu Dumitrescu, who kicked us out because the people had to eat and rest; they had a concert the next day.
Any kind of music has an existence of its own, a personal evolution, determined by sound itself, not by an outer instance. To this end, I find it natural that fleeting “classical” form, in relation to a stylistic time frame, is nothing but obsolete.

Music Resistance

Victor Stütz: I heard someone talking about how he used to attend your concerts after 1985: The HyperionEnsemble “experimented” music with an empty room at The Athené with heaters at their feet so they didn’t get “culturebite”… I myself was trembling in the front row, alongside two old men… And we were embarrassed to even blow our noses! That was “resistance” by culture in its entire splendor!

What is the difference between “resistance” to communism and the absence of freedom at the time and the “resistance” that should be manifested nowadays? Are they similar in intensity? How does it feel to be underground?

Iancu Dumitrescu & Ana-Maria Avram: Even back then there was resistance through culture. It worked too. The room was far from empty during Hyperion concerts, even if in the winter the audience shivered. Whoever told the story, may have had mixed memories.

It was quite the contrary, “before” at the “new music” concerts, the rooms were overcrowded, even if the publicity was far from appropriate. One or two posters at The Athené, at Sala Palatului, at Conservator…and that’s it.

Don’t think that the concert halls were packed with experimental music connoisseurs. The fact that this music wasn’t necessarily “pleasing” to the regime, not that it was overtly forbidden- therefore a different form of underground – made people express their individual protest by attending these concerts.

There are social and demographic causes of why it didn’t go on afterwards. Many of the cultivated people left this world or left the country, the young generations of music students are less and less interested in the experiment, and they indulge in comfortable conformism. The essence of this was to clear things out. It was proof that the musical experiment cannot become mainstream.


After the Athené concert this winter I heard you talking about the composer’s union and copyrights. Could you tell us what that was about?

This really isn’t the question to ask us. It’s plain information that does not imply a personal point of view. Look it up on the internet. We have an opinion in this regard though. Before the soviet conquest, the Romanian Composers’ Society (founded by artists such as Enescu, Silvesti, Rogalski, among others) was an exclusively professional organization, a guild.

In the western society, the authors (composers) community’s main task is collecting the rights. In short: the music stamp, the literature stamp as well, a percentage of disc sales, of broadcasting. Of which there are, of course, “des retombées”, sums that are distributed to the cultural act, concerts, festivals, pensions, social coverings. In the communist countries there’s always been confusion between these forms of functioning.

This led to 1. If the “Union Committee” didn’t find you pleasing and said NO, the music was to be forbidden, you couldn’t perform anywhere in the country. The committee was obviously a censorship forum whose members (the ones that might still be alive) are invariably the same. Otherwise, this was an indispensable ritual. Union member or not, you had to be approved on so as to perform in a public concert.

On the other hand, the same committee used to approve on big spending [worth hundreds and thousands of lei (n.r. Romanian currency)]. Not to mention that on the Radio, on prime-time broadcast, a 4 minute song – a piece of aesthetic and patriotic exaltation was rewarded with about half of a teacher’s salary. In other words, it was quite profitable to be an “official” composer in those days, don’t you think?

Edition Modern

How is Edition Modern functioning? Do you produce other music than your own? Who does the recordings?

Edition Modern is centered on our music. But we produce other music too, the one we believe in or the one we wish to promote. We don’t get to do as much as we want to though. The record label is in fact in London. But the Edition Modern Collection is absolutely independent (we were never satisfied with other producers’ final sound achievements, and Edition Modern’s existence is actually based on this apparently simple thing). All that is sound, from recordings to mastering is our work.

A wish to experiment

How do you choose the instrumentalists you work with? What qualities must they hold and how do you work with them? Is the Sergiu Celibidache phenomenological approach necessary?

We ourselves bring the phenomenological approach in theory and practice. Of course theoretical knowledge isn’t a must. Music is not something rational - to quote Celibidache. As you have seen, Hyperion musicians have different backgrounds: George Enescu philharmonic players along with musicians from the alternative scene, super-sight-readers and classical and contemporary score devourers and natural born “listeners”. Clearly, the “listeners” themselves gradually learn to read scores, because this music is mainly written music. The prerequisite is to be open, spontaneous, inventive, musicality, refinement, playing technique and the desire to experiment…

Unexpected Music

I read one of your interviews on “composition” and “fast composition”. What are your objections on free improv? Do you listen to free improve music? What other “unexpected” music do you recommend?

Of course we listen. How could we object to improv? Defining and differentiating doesn’t mean excluding. Fast composition can mean a lot of things. It is either a piece that is perfectly known to the ensemble you’re addressing (somewhat similar to the baroque ciphered bass), either mapping the composition’s journey, where details posses a certain degree of improve, confined within foreclosed “idiom”. Nevertheless, it is always a piece addressing the initiated- very close contributors, and not foreign orchestras. In a nutshell, I would now recommend a radical composer (ultra radical), born in the same year as George Enescu, Edgar Varese. Listen to whatever you can find by Edgar Varese. Hyperprism, Ionisation, but Deserts, Ameriques, Octandre out of all. Anyway, his complete work fills up 2 CDs. Trust us, you’ll be surprised.

What do you consider to be more influential, folklore or classical music? Why do you think that drums and bass are so important in modern music?

It depends. It depends on what you understand by influential, and to which aspect of one or the other we refer to. Traditional music is certainly an inspiration, either when we speak of Romanian Folklore (although the term can generate confusion, I find traditional music more appropriate) Indian, Tibetan, and Pigmy music…

The enlivening aspects are orality, non-dilution, the importance given to the sonic coloring, melodic freedom and perkiness, the genuineness of tonal structure as natural resonance. The musical experiment is not an invention of the 20th century, but an attitude that pushed music to new edges, to dramatic changes. Drums and bass … it depends in what genres. You can’t say that’s new. There’s black music that’s nothing but drums. You might find this funny, but in a classical symphony, the conductor is in fact … the timpanist.

Electronic Instruments

Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana Maria Avram
Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana Maria Avram
I read you were claiming that “music is evolving”. What is it heading to? What will the “future listener” listen to?

Future music, however that might be.

Is evolution connected to electronic instruments? Do you prefer the old ones, the new ones or your own inventions? How important is technique?

Hoooo hooo… one at a time, please!

Yes, we hope that a live electronic will become subtler, more flexible and more technically performing at the same time than what we have today. But things in this area are evolving so fast that it’s not a concern any longer, we prefer instead “sonic alchemy”, an alloy of electronic and instrumental sound, acousmatic in its profound and metaphorical sense. Technique? It counts too little, even if we enjoy its progress at all times. A creator will always find his tools, inventing and perfecting them. He will make the best out of technique to disclose unexpected potential.
Iancu Dumitrescu
Iancu Dumitrescu

Objective vs Subjective

Is the deconstruction of automatic classical structures you practice linked to postmodernism?

That is not what it’s about. Any kind of music has an existence of its own, a personal evolution, determined by sound itself, not by an outer instance. To this end, I find it natural that fleeting “classical” form, in relation to a stylistic time frame, is nothing but obsolete.

To whom is your music addressed? Does it call on the intellect or could it be listened to as primarily hedonistic? How important is it to theoretically follow it with your mind? What amount of musical knowledge must the listener posses?

[no answer]

There are two concepts you have been using: “musical metaphor” and “absence of subjectivity”. How are they connected?

You think that a metaphor is necessarily subjective? That’s not true. A linguistic metaphor, for instance, is just an expression that joins notions in an unexpected manner. The purpose is to reveal a new meaning that is not found in the dictionary. It’s simple. It happens in music as well. What does it have to do with the objective-subjective splitting?

Listening to Schönberg or Webern was important in your evolutionary process? What could a composer draw impact from listening to? What new composers do you find earnest?

All truly radical composers are even dead, still alive or have lived centuries ago. For example, Gesualdo da Venosa in the 16th century, Beethoven’s piano sonatas and string quartets, Debussy, the great inventor and classical form blaster, not to forget about Varese, Stockhausen (especially before the 80’s), Xenakis, but Nono, Grisey, Marc André, Radulescu, La Monte Young, Iani Christou as well… these are a few big names, but the list could go on and on.

translated from Romanian by Mioara Mihai
About the Author

Victor Stutz

Sound adventurer and music selector from Bucharest, currently based in Barcelona, with a background in anthropology.

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