Title: Das wassergewordene Kanonbuch
Instrumentation: 2 sopranos, alto, tenor, 2 basses
Duration: 25 min.
Premiere: Musik der Zeit Festival Köln
Performers: Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart
Noli me tangere
Hunc discas morem
Omnia per circuitum
Tenor crescit in duplo
Das wassergewordene Kanonbuch (The turned-to-water book of canons)
1. Noli me tangere (Touch me not)
2. Die Zahlen (The numbers)
3. Hunc discas morem, si vis cantare tenorem: ut iacet attente, cantetur subdiapenthe (Learn the customs, if the tenor is sung: as it stands attentively, sung subdiapenthe)
4. Weissgrau (Whitegrey)
5. Dum tria percurris quatuor valet. Tertius unum subque diapason sed facit alba moras (While three traversed, four counts. Third octave but it makes delays one under a white)
6. Wo? (Where?)
7. Omnia per circuitum (Everything about)
8. Tenor crescit in duplo (Tenor augments in double)
9. Canon in Diapente
10. Cancer eat plenus sed redeat medius (Let the crab go full but return in half)
11. Reverte citius (Go back faster)
12. In gradus undenos descendant multiplicantes, consimilique modo crescent antipodes uno (They descend eleven steps multiplying, and in the same manner they increase in the opposite direction)
13. Scinde vestimenta tua redeundo (Rend your garments in returning)
14. Fuga trium temporum in diapente remissum
15. Pigmeus hic crescat, gigas decrescere debat/Incauda cerebrum, en est mirabile monstrum (Let the pygmy grow here, the giant should decrease/The brain is in the tail, behold the wonderous monster)
16. Canon ad septimam
17. Das Geschriebene (The written)
18. Noctem verterunt in diem/Etrursum post tenbas spero lucem (They have turned night into day, and after darkness I hope for light again)
19. Keine Sandkunst mehr (No sandart anymore)
20. Finis est principium (The end is the beginning)
Das wassergewordene Kanonbuch is a book of 20 canons for six voices composed for the Neue Vocalsolisten in 2016–17 and constitutes an example of the “speculative turn” in music composition that posits possible worlds as a counterpoint to our contemporary understanding of place, where musical lyricism is sensitive to relations between human impact and presence in the more-than-human world. Each canon of this possible world is based upon a puzzle canon (Rätzelkanon) transcribed from the early to late Renaissance period with reference to the poetry of Paul Celan. Das wassergewordene Kanonbuch constitutes part of my opera project Die Geisterinsel and Mirandas Atemwende composed in 2011 and 2015 respectively. Throughout Die Geisterinsel, which is based on Shakespeare’s Tempest (with characters Prospero, Prospero’s daughter Miranda, and Caliban), there is the presence of a Geisterchor, a choir of spirits, who belong to and are part of the island where the Tempest is set. Das wassergewordene Kanonbuch, sung by this same Geisterchor, reveals a history far older than when Prospero arrived, a history of the island’s wilderness whose stewardship and preservation, Miranda feels a responsibility for (which is the topic of the second act Mirandas Atemwende).
Most of the canons in Das wassergewordene Kanonbuch are three-voice Rätselkanons, where three separate voices are forged together into a single line (Miranda quoting Celan: “In Einem will ich drei zusammenschmieden”) that appear and disappear throughout a fairly dense musical texture that is elaborated upon by the six singers of the choir. The textures of Das wassergewordene Kanonbuch emerge from my noise-bearing musical aesthetics that suggest the wilderness of the island, including the spirits and animals of the island, and yet are structured by exact numeric proportions (i.e., proportional canons) as examples of a musica speculativa that points to Proserpo’s “more perfect instruments” of number and proportion. The presence of Rätselkanons refer to J. S. Bach’s own use of them as symbols of the art of alchemy (of which Prospero was a practitioner) where such base metals as lead could be transformed into gold (alluding also to the kind of alchemy through which Celan’s language is “built from ashes”). For Bach, “counterpoint, too, was powerful stuff and to be handled with care” and it is through canonic techniques that the essence of music could be discovered (“canons are the original source from which all kinds of musical works flow”).
The rhythmic and metric proportional structure for Das wassergewordene Kanonbuch was derived from J. H. Prynne’s poem “Pearls That Were” which references Shakespeare’s Tempest (i.e., “Full Fathom Five”) and whose poetry I used for Caliban’s text in Mirandas Atemwende.