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Kulenty quotes

Some texts by Hanna Kulenty about her music and her technique.

M U S I Q U E    S U R R E A L I S T I Q U E

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have been exploring the phenomenon of time in music for many years. Why in music?  Because I’ve been educated as a musician, but also because, in my opinion, music is the most perfect language of expressing time, the so-called “time” – expressing it in the most appropriate way.
Let me put it this way: The art that I’m engaged in is a search for the metaphysical. Through controlling and taming the phenomenon of time I seek to purify both the soul – through catharsis, and the body – through emotions.

Art, for me, is the imitation of nature, or the interpretation of nature, if you prefer that term: imitation of the glissando of a plane flying by; imitation of the wind’s glissando weaving through the rhythmically resonating branches in tree crowns; interpretation of birdsong or of songs of dolphins, whales, bees, frogs, crickets and even people – in the fullness of their perfection. Art is perfection in a noble imitation of nature. Art is perfection in a respectful interpretation of nature. That’s why we have two words relating to each other in each langugage: “art” stems from  “artificial” in English, “sztuka” from “sztuczny” in Polish, “Kunst” from “künstlich” in German, and so forth.

Not long ago, I watched a shower of shooting stars. They were falling to the north-west at intervals of several minutes (in my time perception), and they were flying much faster than airplanes that were passing each other in the sky and creating, together with the shooting stars, a mystical counterpoint: airplanes of this world, here and now, and stars, out-of-this world, shining billions of years ago, the light of which is finally reaching me here and now. Mystic Nature. Cosmos. Each thing in its own time.
What I do is collect these different times, I watch them and embrace them in my consciousness, sub-consciousness and super-consciousness. We could say, as well, sur-consciousness. Then, I attempt to record my emotions and experiences of time in notes on music paper. While doing so, I slow down or accelerate Nature.

And here is another conclusion that I would like to share with you, a conclusion that is not only expressed in this brief note, but primarily arises from my music, including music that has already been written and music that will be created soon and will continue to unveil ever new aspects of the Mystic Secret.
Art means slowing down or accelerating the time of Nature. It means cancelling the reality of the time of nature, cancelling the reality of nature, cancelling the reality of time.  Making them all unreal. This is the kind of art I want to engage in while composing my music. 

Another subject worthy of reflection today is my musical sur-realism that I intend to present in my next work. I recently called my music not only the “spacetime polyphony” but also “musique surrelistique” – it sounds lovely in French, doesn’t it?  Why? Because I’m a composer that consciously connects and will continue to connect individual musical elements in such a way as to specifically change their time spans and temporal contexts. For instance, I may stretch a melody in such a way that a seeming lack of contact with this melody would be perceived by our sub-consciousness, or I may accelerate this melody in such a way that there is no room for any reflection at all, only for our supra-consciousness to guess the hidden narrative structure of this melody. In this way I change the quality and structure of time of these musical elements. Thus, I change their status, or their “state of being.” Recently, someone called me a composer of “states” and my music “music of the states.” Of course, this term refers to emotional states; they are emotional and distinct, even if they are unified.

I am a musical surrealist, not a sur-conventionalist, because I do not research or bury myself in conventions – neither in principle nor for the sake of compositional techniques. I only touch upon conventions briefly, if, of course, I feel a need for such a gesture. I am a musical surrealist precisely because I pass on to my listeners the emotional states and gestures that might accompany a given convention. I do not have to use these conventions, though. I am far more interested in the direct imitation and transformation of nature, not in the imitation of someone else’s imitation that is I am not interested in conventions.
Emotional gestures designed to move and touch listeners have been known since music came into being and this is what fascinates me. I’m interested in making these gestures less real, in cancelling their reality in my own way. It is of secondary importance to me that these elements also belong to a convention, such as a “human” melody. I do not play with conventional elements of the Baroque style. I play with the emotional states and energies that may accompany the Baroque style. I am not afraid of emotion. There are people ashamed of emotions, I really do not understand why… Music is also – or above all – emotion! Is it not true?
And this exactly is the kind of music that I want to write.   

Ladies and Gentlemen, I prefer to move my listeners, touch and inspire their emotions, instead of boring them. Now, I will undertake yet another attempt of moving and emotionally stimulating my audience with my musical surrealism submerged in the polyphony of spacetime.

  [Hanna Kulenty, October 2016]
Click here for the original Polish version   

Kulenty on her technique

An arch is simply a structure of a defined emotional course, of a defined climate, containing a climax. At the same time, an arch does not have to follow a classical course - from the introductory phase, through the climax up to the last sounds. It may begin at any place, for example from the climax. I like to write very much as if the work began from the middle, from the climax. Only later does everything fall into an order in which every arch has its own length, develops in its own way, and not at all simultaneously. This is exactly how both of my symphonies are constructed. [...] A polyphony of arches is an overlapping of several arches, combined in such a way that the work as a whole will have the form of an arch. I also try to arrange the climaxes of particular arches in succession one after another, so that something like a permanent climax is formed.
I was consciously exploring these techniques in Sesto right after the performance of Ad unum. It was extremely important that I could hear my music, and because of this I wrote Sesto, Quarto, Quinto and Arci. However, later those arches of mine got into my blood and I stopped thinking about them. I simply sit down and write. Actually, already Ad unum was created from the beginning to the end without anything crossed out. The only change was that I rewrote the pencil version in ink. Today I write right away in ink. I am sure of what I do, of what I hear. Just in case, though, I begin writing a work by notating all arches on a card. I simply write about the whole work in words. But once a work exists, I don’t change it.
  [Kulenty on her technique, PWM brochure, 1990]

A note on ‘Trigon’

Trigon consist of three arches. The first one is formed by piano and orchestra chords, the second one - by a variety of glissandi in strings, harp and percussion, while the third arch is a spectrum of low bass sounds (percussion and bassoon, which are gradually accompanied by more and more instruments). Each arch has its own development. The climax of the first one has been shaped by a swift sequence of chords, which subsequently fade away. The first arch ends at the top point of the second one: the glissandi culminate in a heterophonic quick movement. The third arch begins at the highest point of the second arch, its entry is “flat” or “horizontal” in spatial terms; thus it does not overlap with the second arch, but rather branches out from it.
   [Kulenty, note on ‘Trigon’, Warsaw Autumn 1992]

A note on ‘Trumpet Concerto’

I composed Trumpet Concerto with the awareness of my recent discovery of different time dimensions. I use this discovery in a new technique that I call the Polyphony of Time Dimensions, which is related to my old technique, the Polyphony of Arcs. To make it simple: time in any dimension (time in a line, time in a square, time in a cube, etc.) goes in a circle! It certainly does not go in a line, that is why the name of Arcs is not valid anymore (an arc is in fact a line). In the Concerto I combine the Polyphony of Time Dimensions with another technique of mine, called European Trance Music (my second compositional technique which I developed in the last few years, trying to let time be experienced in a different, meditative way). Combining these two techniques results not only in the creation of a strong form, but also in bringing the listeners inside the music, regardless of the direction from which they approach it.
The piece includes recognizable melodic and rhythmic elements that originate from the same basic material but are played in different tempi. The increasing tempi appear in the work as a sort of Perpetuum Mobile, and, therefore, also in the form of a circle. I am not afraid to occasionally use a traditional, classical form, or rather to use ‘classical’ sounding elements, because the form itself is not determined only by the sounds of the elements, but also by how I put them together. That is why in this particular composition I was very much inspired by the music from the Balkans. Besides using my techniques I wanted to have pure joy in writing it.
 [Kulenty, note on ‘Trumpet Concerto’, December 2005]