Das Gespräch fand im Februar 2008 im Rahmen des Festivals Stockholm New Music statt. Gegenstand des Gesprächs ist Büngers Klanginstallation Moonstruck.
Interview & Abschrift: Björn Gottstein
Why the Moonlight Sonata?
First thing, it was never called the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, it was called the Moonlight Sonata thirty years after his death or something like that. So this romanticism already starts there. And then the Moonlight Sonata is one of the most played pieces in the classical repertoire, especially that it is played not only on concert stages but also by children learning how to play the piano. And since there are children playing the piano or young people playing the piano in this installation, I wanted to use something that is, not stagy, but more like a daily space, something you could appreciate at home. I wanted to use classical music in that sense. Not in the usual way.
So the music itself becomes an icon, something replaceable by another object that serves a similar function in culture?
Yeah. I was interested in trying to see how the Moonlight Sonata in particular and classical music in general is perceived in different ways. I consider this as being a kind of variation piece which differs from the usual way of making variations, where you make a variation in time, say for instance Mozart making variations of Haydn or something like that, where he does it one variation after another, in time. In this case I wanted to make a piece that would be a variation in space. So you are able to walk between these different rooms, and the space and the context makes the variation. That's the difference. So you have one space which is the escalator. You move up the escalator and you hear the Moonlight Sonata as if it was played in a subway or something, a subway speaker system, with very bad quality, but that is the situation you very often hear a piece like the Moonlight Sonata in.
Yes Muzak. Exactly. And then you move into the next space where these young piano players are playing the Moonlight Sonata. There you have Beethoven, the only thing that is still left of him, that we can sort of be sure of, the music he wrote is somehow still there. Even if it has been very transformed to history, there is still something I believe of the original there. So maybe you can hear it in that way. You move forward from that room into the next room. You see a big image, a big visual of Gary Oldman playing Beethoven from a 90s movie, a big projection where he sits with his head pressed against the lid of his piano, he tries to hear if there is anything still there in his ear, because he is almost deaf. And then I replaced that sound, the sound of that movie, with the sound from the piano outside but it is transformed so it becomes like a defect hearing or something like that. I am not thinking about it as defect hearing in the medical sense, but a more like a form to work with. The Moonlight Sonata being distorted by tradition or being distorted by this extreme romanticism surrounding Beethoven. So you walk between these different spaces and the inner space is a kind of a mythical space where everything is resonating inside of this defect hearing. And of course the defect hearing is also a big part of the romanticism surrounding Beethoven. I mean a lot of people might not be able to give a name of any of Beethoven's music but most of the time they know that he was deaf, you know. This hearing defect grew until it got gigantic proportions.
What part did the movie play in coming up with the concept?
I saw this movie many years ago. And the movie is not so interesting. It is just a very romanticized concept of Beethoven and his love story or whatever. But there was this particular scene where he pressed his head against the lid and could almost not hear anymore, and there was something about that which struck me as being both extremely romanticized but also very, very touching. And in my work in general I like to work with these different contrasts, going from something where at the same time you got sucked in it you also get disgusted by it, because it is so romanticized. I find that feeling very interesting. Which you can find in a lot of Hollywood movies or pop music.
One question concerning the technical side. What exactly did you do with the Beethoven to have it sound so resonant?
Yeah, I just used different filters to filter out, so the computer program that I wrote is just searching through different regions of Beethoven's hearing basically. So it sounds completely different depending on when you walk in. And it also reacts to the way the piano players are playing. So if they play with a really strong accent and a particular filter happens to be exactly where they play at that moment then the whole thing starts resonating like a tinitus effect.
So it is live.
Everything is live.
I was standing on the sweet spot where you can hear both and I was amazed by the fact of the synchronicity. But now I just realize that you just hear a filtered version of the live playing.
Yup. It is actually happening live. And that is really important somehow, because then you can move between different spaces, many of the people I have talked to who have experienced the installation say, that the most interesting place is in between the piano player and the distorted sound, so between Gary Oldman and the live piano player, there you have a place where you can cross fade by yourself and you can move just your legs a little bit and then you can decide how much you want to hear of each. And this is something I didn't really consider that much when I built the installation. It is just a sort of happy coincidence sort of. Which I am really, really happy about.