1979 (2023)

for 8 musicians, video and electronics (42 minutes)

Premiered in Donaueschingen in October 2023 by Ictus Ensemble. Co-commissioned and co-produced by the SWR, La Biennale di Venezia, de Bijloke, Ictus, Philharmonie Luxembourg and Wien Modern.

1979 audio excerpt


For me there is no doubt that my sense of nostalgia has been growing steadily as I’ve become older. This is both logical and inevitable: the gaps between the present and things of my own ‘yesteryear’ are lengthening to the point where the past has become fuzzy, difficult to remember and consequently, full of mystique. My yesteryears have now turned into eras — the 70s, 80s and 90s have been digested, and each stamped with a distinctive set of attributes. However, I’m not so interested in universal ideas of decades, but rather in my own personal ones. I want to understand how the times that I lived through collided with my individual experience and created memories tinged with the colour of an era. Did life look, sound and feel different from how it does today? I believe that the answer is yes, though I have no way of proving it to you. All I have is the strange tickling sensation in the back of my mind when I try to remember, for instance, 1979, a year of great upheaval for the 5-year-old me, and probably the first time I was aware of the times that I was living in.

In 1979, the effort of remembering is brought together with another, almost contrary notion, the theory that that no sound in a space is ever truly lost — that acoustic waves continue to exist long after the initial source has left the room, bouncing between the walls at ever more minuscule amplitudes for eternity. This theory, whose proponents included figures such as Charles Babbage and Guglielmo Marconi inhabits an intersection between the advent of recording technology, science fiction, memory and poetics. Nearly 100 years after Marconi’s speculations on the everlasting nature of sound, we still have no way of detecting or capturing these super-low amplitude waves, or indeed have any evidence that they exist at all. What is certain though, is that the very idea of them, of their steady and quiet accumulation into a theoretical background noise, and the way they might function as a kind of memory of a space, is a seductive one.

And so, the two principal musical processes in the piece are the layering and accumulation of sounds on the one hand and the repetition of these sounds as they are reflected between walls. What could be termed the ‘delay spectrum’ – a range of natural and man-made phenomena starting with reverberation at one end, and passing through comb filtering effects, echo and imitative polyphony on the other, is presented in different forms throughout the course of the work. The sound source for 1979 is also twofold — cars and songs. In many ways the piece is an attempt to unite these two sources by subjecting them to the same processes of accumulation and repetition. The fragmented melodies of cars become songs because they are repeated, songs turn into something resembling ambient street noise through being piled up on top of one other. The space in which these forever-reflecting sounds are gathered is an imaginary one, an amalgamation of 1979 living rooms — pop music playing on the television, the noise of the road outside streaming in through the windows.