Outwork
John Zorn
Deconstruction
John Cage
J-S Bach
Education










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Intermezzo

[1] Intermezzo. The name of 'my composition', the name of my proposal for deconstructive teaching material. Someone asked me why I chose this title. I did not know what to answer because I really did not know the answer. Perhaps I chose it unconsciously. Perhaps the title chose itself. Anyway, I started to think about it. Intermezzo. An interlude. Coming from the Latin intermedius, that which is between. Or coming from intermissio, a break in continuity, a temporary or spatial cessation, an intermission, a pause. That was initially, and for quite awhile, the intention of this part on music education: to be an intermission, a pause between the other parts. An excursion. A wandering. A non-necessary interruption of the main story. A short text intervening between the main parts of this dissertation. Maybe some kind of ornamentation, i.e., what is only an adjunct, and not an intrinsic constituent in the complete presentation of the project; what comes 'besides' or 'outside' the work itself. A par-ergon or an hors d'oeuvre. Gradually, however, as the thoughts and texts expanded, they penetrated the essential parts of the dissertation, and started to become a full part of it. But the subject of this part is still quite different from the parts in which deconstruction in music is articulated. So this part is no longer outside the main parts because it is a main part itself but, on the other hand, not really of the same kind. Perhaps one could say, it is in-between the ergon and the par-ergon. An in-between. An intermezzo.

[2] I realize that I took this issue, this problem of inside and outside, this undecidability, with me while working on 'my composition'. That is why Intermezzo might be a proper name for this 'work', although the word is loaded, loaded with a music historical heritage, loaded with often pejorative connotations. The term 'intermezzo' was used during the 18th century for comic interludes sung between the acts or scenes of an opera seria, literally the serious work, with subjects often taken from Greek or Roman ancient history and mythology. Intermezzi were meant to reconcile the public with the demanding music of the opera seria. Usually they had simple harmonies, homophonic accompaniments, a general melodiousness and a symmetrical phrase structure. Could we not say that intermezzi were a kind of parerga, musical interludes besides or between the principal work? Could we not say that an intermezzo had the structure of a supplement, that which is added afterwards to an already complete whole? (But just how complete is this whole when you need a supplement?)
Since the early 19th century, the term has been used for movements or sections as well, generally within larger works. Here too, however, the name has some negative undertones or overtones. A contemporary of Haydn described his instrumental music as follows: '[Haydn] has likewise movements which are sportive, folatres, and even grotesque, for the sake of variety; but they are only the entre-mets, or rather intermezzi, between the serious business of his other movements'. Robert Schumann calls the middle section of the scherzo in the opus 11 sonata, an intermezzo with the addition 'alla burla ma pomposo', to be played in a burlesque manner. And in the operatic scores and theatre music of the 19th and 20th centuries, intermezzi may simply function as points of relaxation within a score with which they often have no musical or dramatic connection. Although less serious, less prominent, the supplement or parergon has entered the work as a more or less inextricable part of it.
More important is the change of position the intermezzi held throughout history. The 18th century practice of separating completely the subject matter and dramatis personae of the opera seria and those of the intermezzo, so as to permit the latter's performance with a variety of serious works, made independent intermezzi possible. In the 19th century, Schumann and Brahms composed numerous independent intermezzi. An independent intermezzo. What does that mean? A piece of music that is situated in-between, a time-span or space coming between (inter-medium, inter meaning 'between', medius meaning 'in the middle'). But between what? The serious parts, the main parts, the parts around which everything revolves, the works itself, have disappeared. What remains is the supplement, the addition, the non-necessary addition. The supplement has substituted for the main work. The supplement has become the main work. The parergon has become the ergon. The intermezzo no longer designates a localizable relation between two 'banks', but a transversal movement that swept one and the other away (cf. Deleuze and Guattari, p.25).

[3] Intermezzo. Strange word. 'Inter' means 'between'. But 'mezzo' also signifies 'between'; for example, in 'mezzosoprano', the voice between the soprano and the alto, the voice halfway (mezzo) between the soprano and the alto. What about 'my' Intermezzo? Let's say Intermezzo is halfway between composed and improvised music, halfway between (post)modern jazz and (post)modern chamber music, halfway between free and conventional jazz. Halfway, however, is by no means a median. It does not mean going from one thing to the other and back again. It is a transversal movement in which the two ends are never touched; the music never coincides with either one of the two poles. Intermezzo is like a hymen: it is a fusion that abolishes contraries, but also the membrane that keeps them separate. But why not listen to it first? Here are three versions of it, two played by two professional Dutch musicians, trumpet-player Eric Vloeimans and cello-player Ernst Reijseger, [Intermezzo Track 2, Intermezzo Track 17] the third one played by an amateur jazzband, with which I worked at the Rotterdam School of Music (SKVR). [ Intermezzo Track 3]. So two things will already be clear. First, that Intermezzo is not written for a previously determined ensemble: the number of musicians and the choice of instruments are open. Second, that Intermezzo changes form with every performance.

[4] Intermezzo consists of eight different motifs (inspired by (mainstream) jazz music) and (verbal) elucidation. First, the composed musical fragments are proposed to the musicians. The motifs can be played in any desired order. The choice and order of the fragments, as well as any possible repetition of them, are left to the discretion of the musicians themselves. (If the ensemble is large, if the musicians are unexperienced, or if the musicians have not worked together many times previously, it might be practical to appoint a prompter.) It is not compulsory to play all the motifs in one version of Intermezzo. The motifs can either be played after or on top of each other. This is possible because all the phrases (except one) share the same single harmony. Improvisation can or may enter the work and seduce it into new directions.
The above instructions can have one or more of the following effects. (a) The principal theme and the sub- and accompanying themes are no longer evident beforehand. This can change even within one version of Intermezzo. (b) The binary opposite and hierarchical relationship between solo instruments and accompanying instruments become less clear. More so than in traditional jazz music, their function can change within one performance. (c) Beginning and closing off are arbitrary to a great extent. There is no apparant opening theme that is repeated near the end in order to close the circle, as is in jazz standards. In theory, the composition can be expanded infinitely. (d) The use of only one chord or harmony subverts the compelling linearity of the classical II-V-I progression found in traditional jazz music. Viewed in this way, Intermezzo knows no development. (According to The New Grove Dictionary of Music, the 18th century intermezzo's poetry differs from that of opera seria, mainly in its greater irregularity, its loosely woven plot, and its quasi-improvisatory dialogue. Furthermore, they frequently had a disjunct vocal line and a constant repetition of short phrases.)

[5] Intermezzo is not a linear composition, but rather an associative network, a rhizomatic composing and performing that opens up several directions, an infinite web of possible routes. I could call it unstable music. Where stable music is aimed at laying down certainty and permanence (for example, in musical notation), unstable music is transient, fleeting, intangible, and playful. The result is impossible to predict. (In A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari write about a deterritorialized sound block without a point of origin, an always different diagonal (technique, creation) running between the harmonic vertical and the melodic horizon since it is always and already in the middle of a line.) Intermezzo is in a constant state of evolution, a constant becoming, never solidified, never definitely fixed. This means that every version is a premiere, a voyage with an unknown destination. For the musician, this means that it is primarily the process of exploration, the constant exploration of musical space, and not the product, that is precious. I would like to emphasize the process of creation over the finished art object. Intermezzo is meant to set out on a voyage of exploration that has no end, and thus, no goal. The musician might not know where (s)he is going until (s)he gets there. The outline of the project only emerges with any clarity as (s)he progresses with it (cf. Small, p.218 and p.227).

[6] I need a short break here. A temporary interruption (intermitto). An intermezzo. And I fill it with a modest remark about the word 'composition'. Each time I write the word composition in relation to Intermezzo, I have to use quotation marks in order to make clear that Intermezzo is a composition (I've put together several fragments), and at the same time, it is not. ('In general, the term 'composition' is applied only when people engaged in making music consider themselves to be following a detailed and specific scenario created by someone acting in a capacity quite distinct from that of the performers themselves'. Or 'Composition is the action or act of disposing or arranging in due order the parts of a work of art'. Both quotes from two different dictionaries don't really apply to Intermezzo.) I can only refer to composition in the sense of acknowledging the inadequacy of the term. Using the term composition, however, seems both impossible and unavoidable. An aporia. But using the quotation marks means dropping the taken-for-granted assumptions about it. To call Intermezzo a 'composition' (But what does it mean to call something a 'composition'? How can I call it a 'composition'? How to pronounce the quotation marks?) means calling it a space-between, the space between category and reality. Categorial schemas and institutionalized discourses try to channel these non-classifiable remainders into authorized categorical meanings: it is either this or that. The praxis I'm opting for, would consist of honoring and nurturing, acknowledging, inhabiting, and speaking from the space between category and reality. It is the space which puts these classification systems into question, which challenges and changes them. The space between category and reality presents me with, puts me in the presence of, the other in all its particularity. The space-between is as such an ethical space, a space of the specific encounter with others and otherness (cf. Finn, 1996, p.166-177). And this space-between questions, in the same movement, the possessive pronoun. 'My' 'composition'. Intermezzo only exists when other musicians appropriate it, fill it in and (with that) transform it. I am no longer in control of 'my' 'composition'. I no longer own it. It is not 'my' 'composition' (cf. The Signature of John Zorn) .

[7] Why Intermezzo? Why did I develop teaching material like this? (We have to keep in mind that Intermezzo is first intended as exercise material.) I have the modest pretension that such teaching material as Intermezzo can be a relatively safe way for students to learn to deal with and play with uncertainties because Intermezzo increases musical and social uncertainties - especially compared to the playing of jazz standards - (not only for the students, but for the teacher as well; he loses part of his authority because he does not know, cannot know, the outcomes).
But before I continue, I have to say that it is absolutely not my pretension to claim to be the only one who 'composes' in this way. Freer forms of jazz music that occurred in the 1960's and some 20th century avant-garde music know similar 'structures' or composing processes. That music, however, I can only analyze and study from the outside, and afterwards as a relative outsider. By composing on my own, I experience the process in another way, at a different level; I become a part of it.
Let's say that Intermezzo is a space-between (intermitto is to leave a gap or an interval of space), where certitudes must be abandoned and creativity and change are possible. In addition, working with phrases that can be played in random order after each other or in random quantity on top of each other requires more attention to the contribution and performance of the other(s). Freedom and 'unfreedom' at the same time. Each player is free to choose the motif (s)he wants to play, but in accepting responsibility for the other(s), (s)he is unfree at the same time: what is demanded by the other(s) is a radical generosity, a constant interrogation of oneself, an unremitting orientation towards the uncanny. However, there is a freedom in this unfreedom as well. The other makes me free because (s)he confronts me with a possibility that I could not have chosen without him/her. If the right choice were to show itself to me in its full glory, I would be enslaved, but the right choice is good because it provides me with this opportunity (cf. Blake et al., p.65). Intermezzo, being singular each time, demands to reinvent each time the responsibilities involved in order to respond to the singularity of the event. This is not done by ignoring previously developed concepts, but by going beyond them, to resituate them with no previous guarantee whatsoever of success. Rather than an unproblematized technocratic repetition of and obedience to traditional authority, it is a dialogue with or interrogation of some privileged aspects of certain jazz music. (In this sense, Intermezzo is not only music, but philosophy as well. 'It is the promise of a philosophical event to practically question a social or discursive state that certain people would gain to have naturalized and dehistoricized, by unsettling it or participating in its transformation, and to pose the question of the historicity of these structures', Derrida says in an interview. Is it time to reconsider the borderline between musical praxis and philosophy, between empiricism and theory?)
Intermezzo does not suture a system of rules that can be formalized. It is always an opening. On one hand, in the meaning of a nonclosed system, an opening left to the freedom of the players. And on the other hand, this opening means an advance or an invitation extended to the other(s). This openness involves an understanding that does not merely seek the closure of certainty, but it seeks an openness to new experiences with new and multiple meanings. The aim then becomes 'to accept the possibility of uncertainty and unpredictability whilst recognizing difference and otherness. Here, also, is what education in the postmodern might emphasize' (Usher & Edwards, p.30).

[8] Intermezzo displays a doubleness, an ambiguity. First, the interpretation of the performers is of utmost importance. An openness to the other arises because each musician is conscious of the fact that the choice (s)he made could easily have been another. Second, 'compositions' like Intermezzo show, perhaps more explicitly than many others, that this plurality and heterogeneity of conceivable (performable) versions is made possible by the 'composition' itself, by the 'composition' as text. Heterogeneity manifests itself in the space between text and reader. Intermitto.

Intermezzo on CD