BAR 016 CD

Roland Kayn makes Cybernetic music. He designs networks of electronic equipment which regulate themselves like a heating system. “Music is sound, which is sufficient in itself”, says Kayn about his music, referring to the fact that even he cannot predict the eventual compositions, which are evolving sound processes without an epicentre, where every sound is equally important. Words like ‘melody’,'harmony’ and ‘rhythm’ do not apply to Kayn’s music, in which processes normally associated with the composer are excluded as much as possible.

The 4CD box Tektra is a sonic revelation: constantly shifting clouds of sound move capriciously through space creating an enormous variety and richness that goes beyond the borders of imagination. Roland Kayn has been idiosyncratically enriching music for forty years with ideas that resonate with our times in dedicated pursuit of his own intention to liberate sound.

The American architect and engineer Richard Buckminster Fuller once proclaimed that a good idea requires a fifty year incubation period before becoming publicly accepted. “Sometimes a good idea strikes like lightning, but more often it starts nagging at your intuition. In any case it takes decades before it becomes a reality and can be presented to the public. And then there is the time required before the public grasps all the implications of an idea and can accept them”. Had Fuller known the work of Roland Kayn, he may well have said these same things about it. The musical ideas which Kayn described with the scientific term ‘cybernetic’ probably started making their presence known in the fifties and regardless of how these ideas may suit the present, they are still a long way from being accepted.

Kayn interpreted the phrase ‘cybernetic music’ as a sonic process, where ‘process’ implies progression or development; these terms cannot be too literally applied to his music. Concepts like melody, harmony and rhythm, atonality or serialism do not apply to Kayn’s music, which is more like a continually changing resonating structure. More than that, the composer presents his music as an artifice which he constructs and sets in motion, but once he has done this, it is left to move through space, without outside interference, according to its own internal laws.

Arriving at this approach of musical composition was no easy task. Kayn composed Orchesterstück Nr.1 ‘Metanoia’  (1950) in an atonal mode while only 17. Three years later while studing music theory and the organ in Stuttgart and Esslingen, he completed Kammerkonzert (1953) in which he restrained free atonality. This piece won the first prize at the festival of 20th Century Music in Kairuzawa, Japan (1958). It was a dodecaphonic piece, yet the way of the future was already starting to make itself apparent.

Composers each have their own style. Style is as unique as a fingerprint. All personal characteristics are contained therein, including, for example, the way in which they react to the current time and culture. In the fifties composers concentrated mainly on new techniques. Roland Kayn, however, immersed himself in the spirit of an age which sparkled with innovation and change as a result of the exponentially increasing stream of information with all its consequences.

It was sometime during 1956, while studying composition at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Berlin that the breakthrough occurred in his attempts to create a musical counterpart to this fascinating world of information. The String Quartet (1956) and subsequent orchestral piece Sequenzen (1957) were not influenced by any other composers, but were inspired by Max Bense, an important pioneer of information theory. Both pieces were based on new principles which almost gave the musical material a physical shape. The interaction between melody, harmony, and rhythm were sublimated by the sound itself, traditionally defined as instrumentation. Initially, Kayn divided the complete sound spectrum from high to low into a series of registers – or, more technically, ‘frequency groups’, – and applied statistical methodology from information theory to determine the pitch, duration and density of tones and chords.

Serialism did not pass him by either – he was attracted to the formal character which implied that the interaction of the sounds take precedence over the emotions of the composer. Spiel for Orchester by Stockhausen, for example, was for Kayn “a composition in which all the sounds are points in space without melody or rhythm.” Kayn called it the music of the future, but it was not long before the strict rules of serialism started to restrict his methods and he found them an obstacle in his quest to fully express the total spectrum of sound.

Kayn felt that information theory offered better alternatives and found ways within it to choose and control the complete sound spectrum. Fifteen or twenty years earlier, John Cage with comparable motivation, discovered the idea of the ‘prepared piano’. Similarly, Roland Kayn also converted the piano into an instrument with which he could explore and experiment with the sound spectrum. Most notes on a piano are produced by two or three strings of the same tuning which are called  ‘unison strings’.  Kayn re-tuned two of the   unison strings of each note to avail himself of the frequencies which occur between the standard half-tones. Though laborious, this ingenious approach produced, in addition to completely new fundamentals, overtones, micro-intervals and an unusually broad, complex and differentiated sound spectrum. So it was, with pieces like Quanten (1958), Aggregate (1959) and Impulse (1959) that Kayn got closer and closer to cybernetic music.

Until now, there had always been a place for him within the new music scene. The composition Aggregate however resulted in him becoming persona non grata on the concert stage. His affinity for the spectral aspects in music made it logical that he continued his work in electronic studios. For aesthetical reasons he was excluded in Cologne, but there were alternatives: first Warsaw, then later Hamburg and Milan. The brief but crucial detour into improvisation with composers such as Franco Evangelisti, Aldo Clementi and Ennio Morricone in the Gruppo d’Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza helped him find his definitive musical direction. The freedom inherent in group improvisation resulted in highly complex and (almost) limitless sound possibilities, but did little for the sound spectrum itself. Improvisation also placed the emphasis on the interaction between the musicians and their emotional involvement rather than on the sonic events themselves. Kayn decided to pursue his quest through composition; to unlock the world of sound and simultaneously, as contradictory as it may seem, to exclude the composer as much as possible. This investigation and contemplation of the basic material concerns of information theory, electronics and improvisation led him to the concept of cybernetic music, the essence of which is completely opposed to the fundamental principles of Western music. Music, supposedly, should have every detail defined by the composer, but Kayn insisted that Cybernetic music should regulate itself, much as a central heating system does. A thermostat ensures that the temperature changes within a space remain within specified limits, and unwanted variations are automatically rectified. When applied to music this simple and efficient form of processing of information can be infinitely extended and refined according to human desires, but always subject to instrumental or electronic limitations. The more complex the information introduced into a musical system, the more unpredictable and ‘improvised ‘ the result. Kayn considers the cybernetic composer a musical improviser without parallel.

He ‘regulated’ the musical processes in his instrumental music of the early sixties in so many different ways that he practically gave up his own control over the resulting piece. The score for Diffusions (for 1 – 4 organs) is nothing more than a page of graphic symbols; more a selection of musical material than a composition, and it is the interaction of the performers working with the score who determine the final result. The composer concerns himself with ‘free’ music, a music which, like the fabric of the cosmos, follows its own internal laws and conditions. Compositions like Phasen (1962), Allotropy (1962-64) and Signals (1964-66), all for variable groups of instruments, present the performers with an excess of possibilities, from which they can choose and react to, making it impossible to predict the process. The inherent guidelines only influence the shape of the piece insofar that the directions that the musicians take are defined.

If the composer himself is unable to predict the results of cybernetic music, and the music itself can only be produced by a collection of drawings, descriptions and rules which have to be connected by the composer then it does not necessarily mean that the concept of ‘authorship’ has technically been relinquished. What is abandoned are the narrative elements, the psycho-emotional effects and other details/aspects usually associated with the ideas of ‘authorship’ and ‘work of art’. The process is as audible and as transparent as the fundamental construction in modern architecture. It is also a music ‘without incorrect notes or renditions’.

Kayn also borrowed the term ‘entropy’ from physics to describe another characteristic of his music. ‘Entropy’ focuses on the moment when heat energy (through molecular motion) transforms into another form of energy. Entropy, therefore, is a process which brings about an essential change.

Kayn used this term to describe a sound process without an epicentre determined by the composer, where every sound at every moment is itself the centre, music without narrative, without tension and release, without climax and without hierarchy.

They are complex, mostly electronically derived structures with highly refined and multi-layered progressions of sound. They are compositions that traverse primordial chaos. These extremely fine, minute details in Kayn’s music push hearing to its limit. Schwingungen (1961) was his first ‘entropic’ composition. It ends in a constellation of points (notes) which are sometimes highly compacted, sometimes so dispersed and transparent that they seem to bounce around off each other in chaotic confusion.

Kayn concentrated more on electronic and electro-acoustic music from 1970 onwards, for which he developed his own compositional processes. His electronic pieces start with defining a network of electronic equipment. The nature of the network, and its inherent potential, play a large role in determining the final audible result. Next, the composer collates the basic information about this network and develops a system of signals or commands that it can obey and execute.

These have to be incorporated in a system of controllers, adjustments and operations which can realise the composition. This demanding work may take years of construction and tests, and when the system is activated, the resulting composition is recorded to tape once only from the beginning to the end.

In his electro-acoustic work, Kayn regulates analogue processes so that these, in their turn, initiate more new processes. Using a mixing console and 16 track tape results in a ‘real-time’ composition. In the studio a large assortment of electronic musical equipment is connected as a complex network which generates new material from the streams of sounds it receives. This is precisely what makes ‘ideal’, ‘utopian’ cybernetic music possible: a network that drives itself which removes the need for a composer. The original sound material can come from a variety of sources. Kayn used human voices and animal sounds as his sources for Cybernetics I (1966-68) and Cybernetics II (1969), orchestral sound for Infra (1975-79) and electronic sounds in Tektra (1980-82).

Current information and electronic techniques are developing so rapidly and have such a great influence on our daily lives that Roland Kayn feels that present-day composers have a moral obligation to create music using the electronic techniques at their disposal, and that electronic music is not just a consequence of this rapidly expanding technology.

To date, his latest available work is Tektra, which was composed in 1982. Since then, Kayn has been working on three new pieces: Scanning – a project of 10 hour duration, five electronic pieces he calls Fünf letzte Lieder and the orchestral piece Multiplex. In addition he has composed for piano, utilising a feedback process in which he incorporates the possibility for music to generate itself in real-time (Fractals  1 – 7, 1994-1995).

Roland Kayn has been idiosyncratically enriching music for forty years with ideas that resonate with our time in a special way. Never before have we had such easy access to so much information which offers itself autonomously and without order; never before have we had to distill from and process so much information. We are also having to accept that the world becomes more habitable and fascinating as barriers disappear and perception and understanding broaden. The less people concern themselves with the flow of information, the smoother it goes. Kayn’s music provides a possible model for such a world; a utopia, perhaps.

His music breathes a kind of natural freedom. As he once said, “to make things possible, the limitations and hindrances must disappear. The music becomes autonomous once the composer has no control over the direction it takes once he has set it in motion. Music is sound which is sufficient in itself.”

Tektra (1980-82) is a cybernetic project, an electro-acoustic composition which, as much as possible, originates from the interaction between electronic circuitry and processes carefully developed by the composer and discussed above. “No single composer, no matter the extent of his imagination, could conceive of this enormous variety of sounds, nor could he have conceived of the way they might be created”, says Kayn, “only the impulses which set the piece in motion can really be considered direct involvement by the composer. The result is because of purely autonomous processes.”

Despite the Greek inferences of the title, no meaning for it can be found in any dictionary of language or electro-acoustic handbook of composition. The word Tektra, like the music, was derived from a series of processes which Kayn applied to the alphabet. It is a synthetic word, the total of the first letters of the seperate parts, and according to the composer, the listeners may interpret the word as they do the music, freely and without restraint.

Frans van Rossum