2011/1 by Manfred Werder

7 Aug

I read on the internet that Manfred Werder would be performing a composition on Tuesdays throughout May at the rose garden in Weinbergspark at noon. It’s hard to get me out of the house by noon these days, but this park is just down the street and I’ve been intrigued about the music of the Wandelweiser collective, of which Werder is a member, for a few years now. I hadn’t heard any of it until coming to Berlin–noone is performing this music in Denver, and I’d been too poor and unwilling to track down recordings. Common interests of the collective, so I understood, were dealing with certain implications of John Cage’s music, areas that he had opened up in which they saw room to explore. The use of quiet, sparse sounds, often approaching silence; the use of silence; the impact of environmental sounds on the performance or the listener’s perception of the performance.

All sounds pretty cool, if you’re me, or like me. I saw a couple performances of music by Antoine Beuger, another Wandelweiser dude, at a bar in Neukoëlln a few months ago. I’ll talk more about those someday, but I liked them and wanted to hear more.

So I get out of bed kind of hastily a little after 11. It looks a little cold out–the early summer feeling has given way to more crisp, spring-like weather. I put on a sweater and my hat and walk out the door, a little late. But I’m not sure what to expect. Werder is known for compositions whose scores consist of only a quotation from a book, maybe a couple lines of a poem, with no further explanation. How would this be realized in the park? What should I look for to know I’m at the gig? We call this place the drug park because it’s one of several in Berlin you can walk through, make eye contact with a shifty-looking dude, and buy grass or other things. It feels a little weird going there and looking around, trying to find instead a concert.

The rose bushes are still bare of flowers, but I’m definitely in the rose garden now. A couple benches down, three teenaged girls are talking, smoking cigarettes, hanging out. In front of me sits a man who I’m pretty sure is Manfred Werder. He’s wearing slacks and a sweater in muted colors, with bright blue sneakers and a yellow scarf. He’s holding something–eventually I figure out it’s a tuning fork. Every once in awhile he strikes the tuning fork and holds it up to his ear. I strain to listen, but sit too far away for it to be audible. Instead I hear birds calling to each other, flitting around sometimes. A truck passes every once in awhile, or someone walks past. I try, for awhile, to determine if there is some formal compositional structure. When Werder strikes the tuning fork, I check the time on my cell phone. After three times of this, I can find no pattern. Either he strikes it when he feels it, or there is some arbitrary environmental signal he’s cueing off. I don’t think he struck it at all for the last two thirds of the piece.

Now I can lay my analytical mind to rest a bit–no more need to worry about apprehending a worked-out structure. I can just listen to this area of space and time he has carved out for us to experience. The text for the composition is from a poem by Fernando Pessoa (the context of the poem is a little more complicated, but we’ll leave it at this for now):

Some days, when the light is perfect and precise,

When things contain all the reality they can ever have

This reminds me of a certain quality of light I find here in the evenings just before sunset. Something about the angle of the sun in this part of the world creates an atmosphere that I can’t articulate but fascinates me almost daily–there is nothing like it in Denver. My back starts to hurt on the bench as I didn’t have time to stretch before heading out. The teenaged smokers have left. At another bench is a woman who I think is also here to listen. She does some stretches every once in awhile. At one o’clock Werder stands up–the piece is over. A few friends, including the stretching woman, walk over and talk to him. I sit for a minute longer, then walk home, smiling and saying “thanks” to Werder on the way out. He does the same to me.


I wrote most of that a couple days after the performance, intending to go back as many more Tuesdays as possible. Turns out I didn’t make it to any–was out of town for a couple, lazy for a couple more. But I’m glad I went. Download the score here.


One Response to “2011/1 by Manfred Werder”

  1. Byron August 8, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Thanks for using the time and effort to write something so interesting.

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