Playlist: The absent composer

Can a composer ever fully erase the trace of their hand?

In the decades of the mid-twentieth century, as the world became increasingly less human so too did modernism’s imperative to societal and artistic progression. If the European far right had exposed our darkest underside, then the inexorable march of technological change simultaneously revealed the utopian horizon of a post-human future. Chance processes, indeterminacy in performance, the algorithmic organisation of sound – all were presented as alternatives to the worn out notion of the genius composer expressing their oh-so tumultuous inner feels. Yet, of course, the artist can never fully erase the trace of their hand; it’s no small irony that John Cage, such an uncompromising adherent to unhuman composition, is a household name. But can we glimpse, through these pieces – these processes, systems, indeterminacies – a world of sound freed from the sullying intervention of the human will?

1. Music of Changes (first movement), John Cage (1951)
2. Voyage into the Golden Screen (second movement), Per Nørgård (1968)
3. Come Out, Steve Reich (1966)
4. Duo For Violinist and Pianist, Christian Wolff (1961)
5. Venetian Games (first movement), Witold Lutosławski (1961)
6. Kreuzspiel, Karlheinz Stockhausen (1951)

Image: John Cage