Kulturmessias: Patrick Frank and the Roads to Freedom (by Max Erwin, english)

May 21, 2017

Text by Mac Erwin about Patrick Frank’s art.

Patrick Frank and the Roads to Freedom


1. Overview

I first encountered Patrick Frank giving a lecture at the 2014 Darmstadt summer courses with the provocative title “Rede zur Lage der Nation” (roughly: “State of the Union Address”). It was in many ways an unrepresentative introduction to Frank—relatively light on theory and more focused on personal experience—but it was infused with his characteristic sense of urgency and imperative. Frank is nothing if not committed, and while he has little of the proselytizer in him—his presentations are overflowing with more citations than invective—his unusually direct style of address combined with the sheer breadth of his knowledge made a fundamental impression on me in a way that music, let alone theory, very rarely does. I have followed his work ever since.

Patrick Frank is a composer, project designer, and cultural theorist based in Zurich who is the creator and CEO of VoiceRepublic, an online platform and archive of international performances and lectures. He is among a generation of composers in the Teutonosphere who are grappling with the death throes of the material-teleological narrative of New Music. In the briefest, most telescoped terms: the avant-garde after Cage and Lachenmann incorporated increasingly alien sound materials into composition—first extended techniques, then sound production from non-instrumental sources—until a point was reached where any source of sound could be interpolated into a composition and be recognized as “music”—or rather, could be recognized as such by a consensus of New Music audiences. Thus, according to this teleology, the conquest of sonic material (a process described in such precisely conquistadorial terms at least since Webern’s writings) had exhausted itself; there are no “new” sounds left to bend to the will of musical logos. Indeed, at one of Lachenmann’s lectures at the 2014 Darmstadt courses, he spoke of this material conquest in the guise of an orange: what do you do after you have consumed the inside of the fruit? Do you eat the peel? What next?

“What next?” has, of course, always been a fraught question among artistic avant-gardes. But Frank and his peers find themselves at a particularly intimidating moment in aesthetic history, where the conditions of “newness” are themselves in question. From the birth of polyphony, the material-teleological narrative of Western art music has been relatively straightforward—church modes to musica ficta to tonality to chromaticism to serialism to noise…—and so now that any aural material is axiomatically also musical material, the foundational myth of musical progress no longer works.

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