Root System

Florian Wittenburg
kranenburg tree

This release follows 2020’s Beyond The Traceries, also on Editions Wandelweiser which I am yet to obtain. Having previously enjoyed his 2012 album sympathetic, (a)symmetric – new music for piano, particularly “Three Drones I-III” where the instructions involve simply placing E-bows on piano strings, I was interested to hear a composition for software. Inside the sleeve of this disc, Florian Wittenburg offers four statements about the creation of this work, which serve almost as prose to accompany the music:

“…a small tree, which I discovered at the former train station of the small German town Kranenburg (lower rhine area), forms the basis of the music on this album.”
“…to be more precise, a photograph of this tree, whose musical potential I saw immediately, served as a template for sketches in Metasynth…”
“…electronic music based on tree/branch drawings in Metasynth, a program that allows you to draw, paint music…”
“This resulted in 4 sketches, consequently the composition has four parts. What still fascinates me about this music, is how out of one simple sound (branch) a fairly complex sound structure arises, where fundamentals and partials interfere.”

Momentarily, I am tempted to consider these four statements as subtitles for each piece of music, as if they were small bundles of prose designed as if fundamental parts of the composition, before I am distracted by Wittenburg’s choice of instrumentation. MetaSynth is a piece of software that came onto the market in the late 1990s that allows the user to create sound from images. It has been used in film soundtracks, e.g. The Matrix, Dune by Hans Zimmer, Arrival, and by electronic musicians such as Biosphere, Ian Boddy and Aphex Twin.

The four pieces, or parts, are pretty much the same length at either 6:11 or 6:12 each, and the silences – tracks 2, 4 and 6 -are intended to act as three “branches” that connect the MetaSynth pieces together, and are simply one minute silent tracks. The piece as a whole is just short of twenty-eight minutes in duration. The selection of Metasynth sounds Wittenburg employs are somewhat austere to my ears. Perhaps this is entirely under the control of MetaSynth itself. On (part 1) the development of the seedling tone results in a crescendo reminiscent of Ligeti’s discordant voices as used on Kubrick’s 2001 – A Space Odyssey soundtrack yet manages to still seem relatively polite and restrained. Primed by the first of the one minute silences, upon listening to (part 2), I was expecting a ramping up of the feeling of unease from (part 1), but this section is anything but disconcerting. Here, MetaSynth is delivering a much more subtle processing. The effect is much more relaxed, and the tone of the synth engine is a lot creamier. (part 3) is all about beat frequencies and a progressively upward trajectory in pitch as subsequent “instruments”, or “voices”, are brought in. The tension is released in the last third as the tones used become more reedy, as if processed through a high pass filter. Curiously, (part 4) is immediately more complex; straightaway several “voices” operate simultaneously and are allowed to develop relatively quickly.

Wittenburg admits: “Composing the intermezzi for these Metasynth main pieces was a real struggle for me as a composer: nothing pleased me, nothing fitted, nothing convinced me. Then eventually the idea came to me to try it simply with silence…at a certain point I started to notice environmental sounds, like heating noises or birdsong, maybe already realizing that absolute silence doesn’t exist…”

These comments are interesting in so much as they emphasise the lack of silence within each of the four parts themselves. Each MetaSynth piece functions as a movement from point A to point B whereas the interjection of silence supports the feeling of becoming aware of one’s surroundings; the potential of the music spreading out into infinity… Extending this idea, it occurs to me that the silences are the truly composed pieces of music and it is the MetaSynth parts which are functioning as connective devices or “branches” rather than the other way around. The biggest silence is the one at the end of (part 4) where the disc shuts off and the listener is plunged into the limitless ideological potential of kranenburg tree.