IANCU DUMITRESCU: Acousmatic Provoker

presented in Monk Mink Pink Punk #7

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Interview by GILLES PEYRET and SERGE LEROY, Paris 1995
Translated from the French by Josh Ronsen, June-September 1999
Corrected and updated by Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram, August-September 1999
Original text (in French).

GILLES PEYRET: Iancu Dumitrescu, what do you fear?
IANCU DUMITRESCU: The fear... I always fear something...The fear, if I had courage to say it, it is my own definition... But why this question?
Peyet: I wondered: "What manner does a person like him have? Is he courageous, cowardly, horrible..." From where comes your courage to tell the truth?
Dumitrescu: Well, if I had to answer something about me with courage, I would say it to you in the manner of Ionesco... I would say to you that I am... horrible!

Iancu Dumitrescu

But is it my music that horrified you so much to pronounce this word?

Peyet: I still have a "hard" question, between those which I prepared for you: in a time when so many others do not create anything new, how do you defy the moment and come to a perspective which implies—as I see it—a discussion of the inner foundations of music? On what is based your reasoning?
Dumitrescu: To answer the first question, and maybe also to escape, to obviate a true answer, I would say that it is always... the fear. I felt the need to survive, and I found, thus, the only possible formula. Confrontation. Some "courageous" people that I knew almost by chance in life, acknowledged me in connection with their prowess: "listening, I did that only because they cornered me terribly. I did not have any possible escape."

Me too. I did not have a choice. During my youth, daring to give lessons of courage to others, I was also obliged to assume the risk...

Peyet: What was the risk?
Dumitrescu: Of going myself, with my own means, to the discovery of a proper evolution, an assumed path... with the risk to find—or not—the truth, in my way, without too many reassuring successes. I cannot tell you if that was difficult or not. It was only very problematic. I was always on the point of breaking my neck. Each time I appeared with my music and my ideas, I risked a scandal, and this continues even today. Nothing was too easy for me, and at the same time nothing... too difficult. All these reactions which were stacked up against me, stimulated me, in a certain direction. As the conformists, the malevolent ones, put sticks in my wheels, I found energy, eagerness to resist. Or to survive...
Peyet: But which was your motivation to continue this manner? I would like to know.
Dumitrescu: I did not have the choice. To be sure, I knew something, maybe enough to find an alternative eventually. But a diffuse inertia, impossible to explain, blocked me, thus reducing any possibility of movement.
Peyet: Therefore all this that you have made would be the product of the medium, of arising situations? Where is your contribution in this case?
Dumitrescu: I don't have any contribution! I'd only collect energies. That was sufficient for me...
SERGE LEROY: But nevertheless, what was the artistic medium in which you developed?
Dumitrescu: To tell the truth, the artistic life had been taken with a true enthusiasm during the years of my studies, which were not very easy years... This enthusiasm would continue in the years to follow, between '62 - '64 until about '75...

The new music had the powerful attraction of a forbidden fruit, the bait of a true drug in Romania of those years. Everyone wanted to be the most informed, more modern than possible, personal, strange... I'm still astonished to think what vital energy had started and would be displayed.

Lastly, to look at it again from a historical point of view, the entirety of Romanian culture crossed, in those years, a beneficial, profitable time. Me as well, like all of my generation of composers, of which I can quote at once names like Costin Miereanu, Horatio Radulescu, Octav Nemescu, Costin Cazaban, and well as others...

Everything starts to become more clear and continues to be like this since my adolescence.

One retakes the severed connections, retakes the forgotten cultural traditions, in a frenzy of discoveries. The impact with modernity had occurred long before, in the years around the Second World War.

It was a period in which Romanian culture had found its step near that of the European, not in a mimetic attempt, but in a creative, authentic effort. It is the period of premature Dada, the absurdity in the writings of the fabulous Urmuz, of Tzara, the extraordinary heritage of Brāncusi, the appearance of the personalities like Ionesco, Eliade [Mircea Eliade worked at the University of Chicago and taught I. Culianu. He wrote many books detailing religious life, as well as stories of magical realism. -ed.], Cioran, Lupasco, who were already true artists, entirely accomplished thinkers when they had left the country... And the remainder of the artists and thinkers who had remained [in Romania], like Constantin Noica, and also others, expressionist painters, like Victor Brauner, the symbolist sculptors, like Paciurea...

Cioran, Ionesco, Eliade

We were full of energy in those years to remake a contact broken brutally by the years of Stalinist idiotization...

The music of Stockhausen, Boulez, Nono, Messiaen, Berio, circulated clandestinely, being prohibited, from one hand to another, by copies of tapes which had become almost unlistenable. But imagination continues to hear what, in fact, did not exist any more. The spirit of modernism, of new worlds being beyond these deformed sounds, raucous, grating...

Lastly, it is our small history, and I do not know if that can interest anybody today...

Peyet: Towards what is the music directed today?
Dumitrescu: There is no complete answer, as you would like it. I have the defect not to be able to reduce things, they always appear too complex to me. All that I can say, the music does not stop. It must always move, evolve. It cannot stop or turn back. If that were understood, the world would be more flexible, less confined to old reflexes. It would be more reconciling towards certain things, truly marvelous, for which there is no hearing.

In Taoism, the most edifying example would be the movement of water. Water infiltrates insidiously. Nothing can be opposed to it. It takes the shape of the ground, it curves in the valleys...

I have this vision: that musical thought should advance this manner, not stiff-jointed. Without ostentation, but ceaselessly. Things should not be forced.

Me, for example, I leave destiny to its will. I am probably the most inactive man who can exist. My ideal would be the remote contemplation of life. I am for seclusion... All disturbs me. I am never content. When I see my colleagues, so strong with their limits, so poor, I start to be afraid of it...

After having finished working on a piece—which never satisfies me—I leave all to the will of this spontaneous Taoist unfolding. Each thing has its time...

Peyet: You and Ana-Maria [Avram] are often in Paris. You travel much. Sometimes I imagine you suspended between Romania and France, in the search of something untraceable... I would be tempted to ask you: are you an adventurer or a nomad?
Dumitrescu: As you say... a nomad. I believe that I am only a nomad.

I am able to explain myself only in perpetually migrating position. To travel is the only manner of finding myself in others. It is a search of self in others... Some twenty years ago [1975], I lived all the agitations of modern music without being able to circulate. I was frozen in Romania. I had arrived at a paradoxical situation. Wanting at no price to remain provincial—it was almost an obsession—I was inclined to exaggerate. I imagined, in isolation, the most strange and hermetic musical combinations.

Although very informed, I could not define myself in an esthetic. I did not know exactly where I found myself. I always thought of being far from the requirements of European modernism, which terrorized me. My only safety, I saw in the increasingly modern, original effort to be. When, by chance, I started to travel, I found myself again without a reference mark. I did not understand anything, I couldn't speak with anyone. The world was different from what I had imagined. I did not find any link between Darmstadt, Amsterdam or Paris and my music. Time needed to pass, for me to review that I was not behind, but that I had found a place... in parallel, and that I had left the world in a remote position.

Obviously now I am wiser. I have more courage to wait. I know, by proper experience, that artistic evolution is extremely complicated, that sometimes, being "advanced for one's time" can appear... dramatic. I know that the provincial still threatens me everywhere. If that were possible, I would like to prolong this situation endlessly, to be everywhere and nowhere. Moreover, I am persuaded that the sluggishness of the modern age is also related to a terrible sedentariness, which is the opposite of nomadism!

Peyet: In discussion with you, for the moment all that you say appears clear to me, but later remains mysterious. Why do you take refuge in abstract metaphors, with not easily definable details?
Dumitrescu: Perhaps you are right, but the difference which dissociates my music from that of others does not lie in things so simple to isolate. The difficulty appears to come from the differences that belong to the spirit of the music.

I adopt another attitude towards the sound, another mental projection...

You can comprehend nothing about this music, absolutely nothing, without understanding its reasoning. Of course, things can be transmitted directly, intuitively, without any theoretical argument, because it is art.

Peyet: You would have, to make us enter your world, make it more transparent. Therefore: do you regard your music as being avant-garde?
Dumitrescu: Not absolutely. I think that it is, in any case, new. But with roots (because everything has them!) in a very old sense of musical practice, which was lost with the passage of time.

My approach implies many ancestral, primitive sources. All that is archaic, elementary, magic, today finds the value of an acute modernism.

My music has, I think, an amount of illuminated primitivism, like style in the visual arts. For me, the return to primary sources was the only reasonable possibility, profoundly positive, to come out of the extraordinary blocking which even today constrains and corners the composer. How is it possible to advance? What is left to do after all is exhausted?

In a sense, I escaped from this clenching, but the problem remains insoluble... To give birth to a new language, it cannot remain a thing to be solved only on paper. It is not only an abstract question of intellect. A new language, a new technique must carry a charge of new expression. Otherwise, it does not represent anything. The world, as you see it, was diverted from positivist thought—only scientific, omnipresent—because one observed its limits.

Peyet: Do you claim a tradition for yourself?
Dumitrescu: If by tradition you mean something which obliges, something constraining, to respect without hesitation, a form of intolerance, no.

If on the other hand, we refer to something alive, which would be abandoned, forgotten, which could be found, while keeping our acquired freedom, such a manner of re-sizing things appears to me of great relevance.

I indeed felt the nostalgia of origins. I am tasked to constantly enrich my knowledge of rituals, magic, sometimes barbaric, of telluric worlds... The music should return to that!

Peyet: Do you imagine the music like a very rational play... or rather in affinity with the irrational.
Dumitrescu: What is rational or irrational in music? In life? The result of a composition always remains valid in itself. It does not reorganize anything, does not copy anything, it does not have any other reality than that of sound.

I do not believe too much in mathematical and physical principles applied to music. Their realities are too remote. But it should be said, concerning writing, notation (and that worried me for a long time) a certain arithmetic is certainly necessary. Otherwise the things are insoluble. But sound logic is intrinsic. The laws of construction come from the interior, of the initial sound material.

Therefore I must recognize the irrational in music, the source of mystery, interest...

Peyet: You studied music at the Conservatoire of Bucharest: piano, harmony, counterpoint, writing. What remains of all that?
Dumitrescu: Enough. Though, as you suppose, what remains contradicts rather than confirms... What does remain? How to say... it is the reduction to the essence. The practice of throwing the ballast... I would not say the discipline, but rather a certain ethic, a moral fiber which gives you courage to launch out in the unknown...

In this way, there is the emotion, there are a thousand questions... An assumed danger. Without this first load, the risk would be much more difficult to assume! But school does not teach you how to preserve spontaneousness, the pulsation of life. I succeeded in keeping the mystery in composition... Thereafter, combustion, significance, spirituality, these are things that nothing or no one can transmit to you...

Peyet: When I listen to Xenakis, I appreciated this only rather late, a certain rigidity comes to my attention. I am always obliged to note an abstract mental structure...
Dumitrescu: A competence in mathematics, but also in philosophy. In his own way, Xenakis was welcome among musicians. It is true that coming from architecture and mathematics, his appearance was not in conformity with the standard. But that brought a certain intellectual prestige. Composers do not completely refuse intellect. Xenakis also has impressive results. His talent, resulting from the world of the ancient tragedy that he has in his genetic matrix, strikes us when we listen to his works.
Peyet: Some think that his music is depressive, exaggeratedly tended, or inexpressive...
Dumitrescu: I also smelled the dead ends of modernism... I sought to avoid—and partially I believe to have succeeded—certain interpenetrations. But there is also about something which belongs to the accents of time...

My music is rather a exaltation in the Dionysian sense of the word. By Dionysian I do not mean vulgar, but initiatory, an euphoria which is used to traverse a path on the basis of the material towards its transcendence. I would like to draw your attention to a prosodic process, like forms of speech. A new form in music.

I ask the music to create a shock.

All that was thus constituted in my music, in a hermeneutic identity of Orphism... Music, such a nostalgic adventure towards a lost paradise. Form in the most traditional sense, is the voyage towards this paradise...

But to return to Xenakis and mathematical principles applied to music... Xenakis is an exemplary case. Why? Because he succeeds in both cases. I repeat it. Why exemplary? Because another, less endowed or less experienced, could believe that the use of mathematics in music is really what is good. But this is false! Completely false! What value can the principle of compression of gases have, the second law of thermodynamics, according to which Xenakis organized his sound masses, since he—and not one of his musical critics, who are all incompetent, in music as in science—wrote that he modifies all the results in a proportion of at least thirty percent? [i.e. Xenakis uses the mathematical results as source material, not as music. -ed.] And that for an arbitrary aesthetic pleasure. What can I deduce then? How for him, mathematics is not a net of protection for acrobats launching out in a mortal jump, crutches! It is a thing which is appropriate to alleviate the existential anxiety, which haunts all true artists in front of an initial blank page. It is totally false to strictly apply principles holding of a logic external to music. As I already said, music refuses all "programmatism," that it is literate, linguistic etc... the music is born and grows by an internal law!

For Wittgenstein, the essence of the world is logical, since it can be expressed and translated by logic. By logical forms, therefore. In fact, the world can only be roughly approximate, because Wittgenstein recognizes part of reality which cannot be translated, reduced to that; a remainder which cannot be expressed, but only shown, and by a way which one can only remain silent. What remains, it is the field of the mystic. I believe that music has an enormous proportion of this mysterious remainder. It would not have any value if it were different. Its value lies only in the fact of bringing to consciousness something not being otherwise able to be thought. It brings nuances to us, modulations of thought which do not have an equivalent.

You see, for example, a Bruckner symphony expresses states of heart not existing elsewhere, at least with this intensity. No experience exists for that apart from the music. It comes with an untranslatable spectrum, it brings the unsoundable, inexpressible... It is a major irreduction!

To return to Xenakis, what he did was valid, but not the application of mathematical structures to music, but the tragic shimmering which impregnates his music, which is calculated or not, with more a feeling of absolute necessity. This is at least what I find impressive... Will others succeed in building another music on the second law of thermodynamics, with the same force as Xenakis? I doubt it.

Peyet: The music is a dialogue with nothingness...
Dumitrescu: Yes, an ontological adventure counters nothingness...

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