Unfocused Notes on Obscurity

Monday 11 June 2018

Dieter Schnebel died a couple of weeks ago. I saw him once, maybe five years ago, in a small church in Brighton for a matinee concert dedicated to his music, including a premiere. It was a small show. Other than LCMF featuring some of his Maulwerke a while back, it’s the only time I’ve heard Schnebel’s music played live. Later that week, Ian Pace included a bagatelle by Schnebel in his recital at City University. The programme included two pieces by Betsy Jolas, including the first performance in the UK of her B for Sonata, composed in 1973.

In a field of music where a raging success is defined by sales figures cracking four digits, it seems petty to talk about obscurity. People’s attention may now be able to range wider than ever before, but in doing so it gets spread thin. Holes open up and someone can fall through without being able to identify the point where they were marginalised. Perhaps they will be paid the backhanded compliment of having a mythology grow around them so they can be ‘rediscovered’, hopefully before they’re dead. Maybe it’s just a local thing, but there is no self-evident reason why an artist may have greater recognition in one foreign country over another.

The final gig in the Kammer Klang season was on Tuesday. They ended with a set of short chamber works by Laurie Spiegel, composed in the 1980s and 2000s: string trio, piano, banjo, pieces that remain almost unknown and unheard. The web site is illustrated with a 1970s photograph of Spiegel in Bell Labs, bringing home Fitzgerald’s observation that there are no second acts in American lives. Spiegel withdrew from the electronic new music scene in the 1980s, but for the punters left behind it’s hard not to feel like everything that follows is an anticlimax. The pieces are simple, almost too simple, but after a while the anodyne surface slips away to reveal something more beguiling, unexpected turns designed to charm rather than subvert or surprise.