Wandelweiser’s Ascetic Intimacies

In this paper, I offer preliminary reflections on an ongoing ethnographic project on the Wandelweiser experimental music community. I conducted preliminary research in Düsseldorf, Germany where I attended the Klangraum events at a small art gallery in the Bilk neighborhood of the city. Antoine Beuger, manager of the publishing and recording outlets of Wandelweiser, curated a week-long gathering of musicians and theater artists affiliated with the collective who were invited to present new work. Though usually dispersed across several countries (Germany, Switzerland, Canada, the U.S., the U.K. et al.), Klangraum provided an unusual time of close physical proximity and social intimacy which materialized a collective otherwise maintained by digital contact and performance of members’ work. While in Düsseldorf, I had long conversations with members of the collective and began to sketch out the aesthetic and political philosophy that grounds the group’s sensibility. I was struck by Beuger’s insistence that it was friendship, more than any other attribute, that holds the group together. This grounding in intimacy gives Wandelweiser its distinct character as a collective, not—Beuger insisted—the corporatist character of a network.

My study of Wandelweiser’s politics of friendship proceeds from an analysis of repeated performances of Stefan Thut’s text piece along for performers and musicians. The emergent community of old friends and new, temporary, collaborators created a palpable sense of ascetic intimacy through productions of nearly-inaudible sound. This reduced situation of performance and listening serves as the precondition for a transformative intersubjective encounter.

 

Ryan Dohoney is a musicologist and historian who writes on U.S. and European modernism and experimental music. He holds degrees from Columbia University (Ph.D.) and Rice University (B.Mus). He is assistant professor of musicology in the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University and affiliated faculty with the programs in Critical Theory and Gender and Sexuality Studies. His work explores the music of Morton Feldman, Julius Eastman, and Wandelweiser, along with topics in music philosophy. He is wrapping up his first monograph, Saved by Abstraction: Morton Feldman, Dominique de Menil, and the Rothko Chapel which has been supported by a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies and grants from the American Philosophical Society and the Paul Sacher Foundation.