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Composers on the Coronavirus Crisis: Daniel Smutny

The consequences of the coronavirus crisis move us all. We have asked our composers how these months and weeks affect their artistic work. We will publish their answers successively in this section.

Daniel Smutny

(The composer Daniel Smutny, born in Mannheim in 1976, studied with Hans Zender and Bernhard Kontarsky in Frankfurt am Main and now lives as a freelance composer in Leipzig)

"Composition as a response in a disruptive phase: 
Until recently, I worked on a longer work-in-progress, the piano cycle 'Periplus', which I see as a draft of 'virtual music' in the digital realm. I could not have imagined that the work and its ideas could have once experienced such relevance and explosive topicality. The magazine MusikTexte is publishing my essay on the (recent) 'Appearance of the Virtual' and the piano cycle 'Periplus' in its issue no. 165, to be published in May. Thinking the ideas of this text through further, I am currently working on creating new forms and events in synergy with mediatized environments.

I am concerned with the question of how much social reactions to the Covid 19 pandemic will change our perspective on the practice of art in general and music in particular. At present, the imperative of social distancing is leading to an isolated, domestic, medially mediated situation of participation by means of digitalised terminals. The here and now of collaborative performance is simulated as a memory (also of the 'pre-Corona period'). Recordings and ghost performances seem to want to convey the supposedly essential information (the work, the game, the statements). The shared experience with all senses, the social ritual not applicable. 

Would it therefore be essential for me - speaking as a composer - merely to create works (as intentional objects), regardless of whether and under what technical and social conditions they can be represented? The text as the essential, the most important - comparable to the unfortunate concept of systemic relevance? And: don't we all tend to write into an uncertain future? I feel uneasy about the fact that the life of art has been so cut back. How then to transfer the 'surplus', for instance the many interacting levels of shared live, performance, light on location, spatial presence, atmospheres into a medium that is systematically based on norm-reduced data exchange, speech recognition and control with retrievability of archive data? It is my task to formulate my art precisely in this context and in this time as spaces of freedom, as places of possibilities, of free thinking and subtle perception, of attentive solidarity and of exchange that relieves the strain of action.

The now enforced time of 'enclosure' triggers approaches, ideas and responses. I assume that more than ever before we will find ourselves in hybrid contexts of perception; between new concert formats - which are urgently needed and not only due to corona - and audio-visual-digitalized representations, extensions of these here and now experiences for those who cannot participate locally. These extensions could be understood as continuations, parallel strands and other perspectives on the events in the artworks and not just as media images (or rather: bad reproductions) of remembered 'real scenes'. The added new option of domestic digitalized art perception, but also the hybrid of live, pre-production and in-ear soundtracks at performance venues lead to new forms and progressions in my music; as well as to new spatial, aural-architectural arrangements at special places I am currently searching for. All of this, with the daily changing basic condition of what could probably satisfy speculative requirements, is my current situation, which keeps planning in constant motion, not to mention constant scrutiny. And nonetheless: Initial formulations can be fixed. This is not a straightforward matter. I am all the more pleased and grateful for this - and at the same time full of empathy for the many burdens and borderline experiences that so many of us are enduring at the moment. The desire arises to use my art to promote solidarity and mindfulness in mutual perception; in this regard, I see it as my unconditional task to create spaces for this. 

I am currently working, to this end, on formulating an artistic response to this disruptive phase and proposing formats for an art that reacts to this particular 'now' and inevitably transforms itself in the process. 

I hope that we can ultimately overcome this difficult crisis with a new enrichment in the creative - of which we absolutely need more and not less - and that the losses are kept as small as possible. It is here that I am hoping to be able to make a contribution."

(Daniel Smutny, 26.4.2020)

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