multimedia installation

4-channel video, 12 channel-audio, 12 mirrors mounted on microphone stands

concept & realisation:
Raphaël Belfiore 

technical support:
Micha Seidenberg, Claudio Pavan

29.09.2020, ZHdK-Kaskadenhalle, Zürich

embedded works:
Peter Ablinger, A Letter from Schönberg / George Brecht, Motor Vehicle Sundown (Event) / John Cage, 4’33’’ / John Cage, Rozart Mix / Tom Johnson, The Chord Catalogue / Yves Klein, Symphonie Monotone-Silence / Johannes Kreidler, Fremdarbeit / György Ligeti, Poème Symphonique  / Alvin Lucier, Music for Solo Performer / Christian Marclay, Graffiti Composition / Pauline Oliveros, "The Tuning Meditation" / Steve Reich, Pendulum Music / James Tenney, Maximusic / Jennifer Walshe, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS / Christian Wolff, Stones / LaMonte Young, Composition 1960 #7

Sub Specie is a multimedia installation conceived as a set of personal "concert stations" consisting of a mirror and a loudspeaker. Screens are placed at each corner of the space. They broadcast in a loop sets of texts about "traditional" conceptual music pieces, of which they seek to convey a certain "essence" through texts of three types:

- the scores of the works in question when they are verbal, or their descriptions by their creators when their prescriptions/notations exist in other forms.

- additional remarks by composers justifying or rationalizing their creations.

- testimonials or analytical remarks made by third parties about the works.

Information concerning the texts is transmitted under three competing aspects of a (admittedly broad) definition of the musical work: "what it is", "what it means" and "what is perceived and/or understood".

Each group of texts is "recited" through a specific loudspeaker. However, instead of being transmitted by reproductions of the human voice, the spoken texts articulate, via a vocoder, a sound specific to each work: the totality of the frequencies played simultaneously from one of its recordings — a version of the document without duration. The spectator is then able to represent, albeit in an approximate way, the works not only thanks to the different information transmitted through screens and mirrors, but also thanks to their sonic profile.

However, the texts presented are only readable clearly through the mirrors, which perform different functions. They serve as a meeting point between the metaphorical and literal aspects of the work and materialize its abstract structure: The origin of various types of content is transmitted through a medium decoding and allowing only an isolated fraction of what is presented to be perceived.

The title of the installation is a reference to the pair of philosophical expressions (notably developed in Spinoza's Ethics): "sub specie æternitatis" (under the angle / form / aspect of eternity) and "sub specie durationis" (under the angle / form / aspect of duration) which refer to different ways of perceiving the actuality of a thing: on the one hand in a universal and eternal sense, independent of contingent spatial and temporal conditions, and on the other by considering the latter, adopting a more "internal" perspective on situations.

In Sub specie I am interested in the implications of this alternative in music. A musical work can be considered as universal, timeless and ideal, as well as a particular, taking into account the whole situation around the occurrences of a work. The question of documentation then arises, i.e., what sould or can be conveyed of what music "really" is.

Here, conceptual music is used as a borderline case because the status of the work’s essence is unclear. For example, in contrast to an occurence of free improvisation, of which it seems that nothing of its essence can be expressed in words, conceptual or verbal works have the particularity of being perhaps only ideas (as opposed to feelings or intuitions) that have sonic consequences. What is "the music" might then be transmitted without traditional sonic documentation.

However, this is not an unambiguous conclusion, as can be seen in many of the testimonials included in the installation. It is quite clear that the "situation" itself remains as non-transmissible as before. Rather, it is a question of its relevance. In any case, the traditional approach to documentation seems in both cases insufficient and misleading. Sub specie is an attempt to transmit only what is "really" transmissible, to demonstrate "medial responsibility" in the one case (conceptual music) where it seems to be possible.

upcoming:       25.04.2023, Dampfzentrale, Bern / Project with Ensemble Proton               26.06.2023, Gare du Nord, Basel / Project with Ensemble Proton                –