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On How a Work Becomes a “Work”: Aesthetics, Performance and the Reshaping of a Musical Tradition

Paper Presentation
26 August 2021
10:00 - 10:30 hrs (GMT+7)

Jiradej Setabundhu



Jonas Baes


“The sound of fate

knocking at the door...

but those are only

for the first two bars.

A movement emerges

from then,

not to demonstrate ‘fate’,

but to cancel, preserve

and elevate (aufheben)

those pretentious beats”

Adorno, 1998:66



This paper addresses the question of how a musical work becomes a musical work; a question that implicates the modes and sites of production, and how those inform—and in turn is informed by—the process of creation. The question is further nuanced where with contemporary composers in Southeast Asia, tradition finds its way into the material, the construction, or the conceptual framework of a musical work; now reshaped to be rendered in modern performance spaces, and within modernizing landscapes. Two significant aspects of production are discussed: the aesthetic, a consideration from which composers draw out materials from tradition; and the performative, which subjects tradition to the processes set by the mode of modernist creation. Central to the discussion is my recent work epos for alto clarinet, commissioned by the Goethe Institut, in collaboration with Lübeck-based clarinetist Nora Louise Müller. Inspired by the ambahan, a sung poetic form from among the Hanunoo-Mangyan of Mindoro Island in the Philippines, the creation and the subsequent journey and engagement with epos underscore the dialectical undertaking of how tradition is reshaped to befit the aesthetic and performative aspects of a contemporary musical work.

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