Click here to [close]

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

echtzeit@30: An outsider’s perspective of echtzeitmusik

Outside ausland.  ausland © tic / Friedel Kantaut
By Keith Prosk

I don’t remember when I first came across the term echtzeitmusik. I do remember the first recordings that I heard associated with it were Matthias Müller’s solo trombone and George Lewis & Splitter Orchester’s Creative Construction Set™. I found the cover design and solo instrumentation of the former alluring and then upon listening that its quiet, airy explorations opened new avenues to my ears in a similar way as another concurrent interest in Michel Doneda’s Anatomie des clefs from Potlatch, one of the labels that has been an advocate for this kind of music. In the latter, from another advocate in the Mikroton label, I found a network of musicians with analogous approaches across instrumentation to check out. But what is echtzeitmusik?

If anything I hope this week demonstrates the diversity of who and what might be associated with the term and likewise the diversity of the term’s meaning and utility to the practitioners associated with it but here I’ll offer an outsider’s perspective. It tends towards quieter dynamics but rarely contains hyperbolic silence. It often involves traditional western instruments though sometimes in electroacoustic scenarios and more often than not played with extended techniques. That’s where a common footprint in the sound result probably ends. It might find close cousins in other ‘reductionist’ terms like wandelweiser, onkyo, and lowercase though often the mechanisms and sound results associated with these terms are noticeably different. A context that it does seem to share with these other terms comes in its meaning, real-time music, which I interpret as a heightened awareness of music as an unfolding in relation to the contingencies of its time or, whether improvised, composed, or any blend of them, an environment in which performers listen to the sound they’ve sounded and respond to it. Finally, and in what is perhaps the central aspect, it is a Berlin-based network of people, many if not most of whom at any given time happen to be expatriates, that has so far existed in some form since the fall of the Berlin Wall and often works collectively (though trickily enough I would not lump in, say, the folks associated with the Berlin-based Harmonic Space Orchestra despite many similarities and overlap, perhaps because that group has a singular interest in just or rational intonation that is not necessarily shared among those associated with echtzeitmusik).

In its breadth the usefulness of the term is questionable, but there seems to be something distinguishable among its fuzzy lines and in that way it might be like jazz, something recognized rather than defined. And of likely interest to our readers is its common use of western traditional instruments in real-time responsiveness that might be heard as improvisation or something like it in even its more composed contexts. Indeed recordings from many players associated with the term frequently appear on the blog, from Burkhard Beins to Werner Dafeldecker to Axel Dörner to Robin Hayward to Magda Mayas to Olaf Rupp to Michael Thieke to Biliana Voutchkova to too many others to reasonably list. To a degree, we are always celebrating what might be called echtzeitmusik but for a few days we are using the 10th anniversary of the book, echtzeitmusik berlin: self-defining a scene , and the 20th anniversary of the website,, as an excuse to shine some special attention on it.


Stef said...

To all the reviewers of the Echtzeit interviews and articles. I learned a lot. Great piece of work, and very insightful.