Italian Recorder Works
That the word ‘investigation’ is never far away from the surface of Wolff’s writings is no coincidence, and this Edition RZ anthology of long-lost and hitherto deleted Wolff recordings opens with a characteristic call-to-action. Duo for Violinist and Pianist (1961) is not, you’ll notice, a more passive ‘Duo for Violin and Piano’. Performed by János Négyesy (violin) and Cornelius Cardew (piano), the set-up is cued up like a relay race: one player starts and must sustain his gesture until the other musician enters with a new sound; at the end an existentialist Beckettian paradox emerges as the rules say neither player can stop until the other makes their ‘final’ sound. Being music, though, Godot eventually must show.
Encouraging musicians to become socially responsible for their sounds by listening is Wolff’s key concern. Négyesy and Cardew navigate without structural props and recurring landmarks. Passing time is suspended; space opens in which to place each sound carefully. For Pianist (not ‘For Piano’!) is another open-plan score and hearing three performances – David Tudor, then two versions by Frederic Rzewski – presses the point that indeterminate scores need to be interpreted like anything else. Tudor demonstrates the material; Rzewski constructs internal dialogues, thinks it into a piece.
When Wolff’s concerns are transferred to a larger group, the results accumulate. Edges, realised by the improvisation troupe Gentle Fire, which included Richard Bernas, is fantastically disorientating; the text scores Stone and Drinks, conceived for Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra, deal up deeper mysteries. The structures are again inscrutable but the familiarity of the sounds – water being poured, drunk, gargled – makes the scenario more enigmatic; reality once removed. If Cage and Feldman were the New York School’s rock-star personalities, Wolff is its George Harrison – the introverted, slightly unfathomable one.