Rainer Linz

Rainer Linz Rainer Linz, a composer who has worked in a variety of areas - producing radio, instrumental, vocal and performance pieces - was born in 1955 in Essen, in the Ruhr district of West Germany. When he was five years old, his family emigrated and settled in Sydney. His father, a keen audiophile who was constantly building and modifying stereo equipment, liked classical music and opera, but many of his relatives thought him eccentric for this reason. The son came to know the classics from an early age through the father's record collection and also developed a sense of how it is possible to work with music as a pastime and an interest. From his mother, Linz acquired the abilty to laugh.

At 14, he taught himself guitar and also, while attending secondary school, to read music. The formal music lessons at the school did not interest Linz, as he found them too rigid and they entertained attitudes of artistic reception that were foreign to him.

In 1972 he began taking private piano lessons with Irene Enyedy, a Hungarian expatriate and associate of Zoltan Kodaly. After deciding he wanted to further develop his interest in music, he was granted permission to study the subject at HSC level in his final year at Ingleburn High School, even though the school had no HSC music course. In 1974 he entered Sydney University, studying arts and majoring in music.

After one year, he moved to Adelaide where he gained his degree in Music at Adelaide University, in 1976. Linz completed postgraduate studies at the Musikhochschule in Cologne, Germany, with Mauricio Kagel and returned to Australia in 1979, and has lived in Melbourne ever since. Kagel, an Argentinian composer living and teaching in Germany, is the originator of `instrumental theatre' and an innovator in composition, sound works, radio and music theatre.

In Melbourne Linz became active as a performer of his own pieces and as a member of various performing groups. At the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre he performed his own work, such as the pieces Metapiece (1979) and Five Gas Songs (1979). He also performed music by composers such as David Chesworth, John Crawford, Mark Pollard and others using diverse instrumentation that included piano, guitar and junk installations.

Metapiece , for solo performer, employs a circular structure, and derives its musical components from the simultaneous performance of another piece. Metapiece can, therefore, be played on any instruments. Its score takes the form of directions about how the source sounds should alter. For example, as the simultaneous piece plays, they may consist of instructions such as `play louder, softer, higher' and so on. The work is always reflexive, and modifies the reception of existing sounds.

Five Gas Songs , which may also be seen as representative of Linz's early work, uses the chemical formulae for gasses (taken from Mendelev's Periodic Table) and reinterprets the chemical symbols, transposing them into musical terms. For example, `H' (the symbol for the gaseous element hydrogen), becomes, for the purposes of the piece, `an exhalation of breath'.

Linz's interest in theatre and performance led to the formation of The Splinter Faction Group , with performer Elaine Davies, in 1980. Appearing at Melbourne venues such as the Guild Theatre, CHCMC, La Trobe University and at various art galleries, their performances were one-off events, organised for a particular evening and location, and involved entering an ambiguous domain between performance and non-performance. The Splinter events included poetry readings, seminar material, cooking smells, entry into the audience space, issuing and collecting free tickets (there was no admission charge for non-ticket holders) and so on. The beginnings and endings of pieces were never clearly marked, to broaden the notion of the stage and perhaps elide the boundaries between stage and world. The name of the group itself proved provocative and performances drew either strong or no response from audiences.

In 1982 Linz began publishing New Music Articles (NMA) magazine with its co-editor, the Sydney-based composer Richard Vella. The magazine's editorial aim was to document new music activities in Australia, to discuss theoretical issues and bring new material before a wider and better informed public. The magazine allowed composers to articulate their ideas rather than indulge their personalities, which seemed the main form of `musical discussion' available in the popular press. As far as possible, contributors' work was presented with minimal editing, and contributors were encouraged to provide their own artwork. From the first, NMA published work falling outside the editorial prescriptions of other publications.

Although he has a strong feeling for the musical traditions of Europe, Linz perceives that they are somehow misplaced in Australia, and points to popular attitudes toward traditional concert music and the enormous levels to which it is subsidised, and yet how little relevance it seems to have outside the concert hall. In contrast to Europe, it is almost as if an ill-suited tradition were being maintained against its will; as if it were being asked more than it is able to deliver.

For these reasons, the few minutes that survive of Percy Grainger's Free Music seem to Linz - in one important historical respect - more significant than all the European symphonies combined. Given such a short history of settlement, Australia seems in an ideal position to develop the new, and Grainger's early experiments in this direction may be viewed as pivotal.

(Grainger conceived his Free Music in about 1902 while in a boat on Melbourne's Albert Park Lake, where the crests and troughs of the waves suggested an `undulating' music without discernable pitch or rhythm. In this music everything would simply `float', as it were. In 1935 Grainger wrote a short piece for string quartet utilising these `gliding tones', then built numerous novel and highly ingenious instruments to accurately reproduce them. One of these consisted of a paper `scroll' on which oscillators with moveable rod controls were attached. As the scroll was wound, the `hills and dales' pattern cut into the top of the paper strip displaced the rods, thus modulating the sound. Grainger also a wrote a number of `free music' scores on graph paper, and recordings are still available of his `experiments', and the machines he invented are now stored at the Grainger Museum in Melbourne.)

Linz points out that a course in Australian music exists in a university in Florida, while many Australian universities do not offer such courses: this is just another example of the irony of the Australian situation, which generally provides him with impetus for invention.

He feels that the relative scarcity of local musical resources (yet in the 19th Century Australia had more pianos per capita than any other country in the world) and difficulty of access to them makes it almost impossible for him to compose on a large scale. Consequently he developed a do-it-yourself approach (as Grainger did with his music machines and as many composers have also found necessary) which has entailed a distancing from the traditional concert platform. This strategy further entails a broader definition of musical production and has led to the composition of mostly smaller pieces which can be combined in various ways to produce larger works, a compositional practice prompted as much by necessity as design.

The Splinter Faction Group performances illustrate this point. For example, Linz's Guitar Songs , in the piece Pain And Suffering (1980), may be played in other performance contexts. Also, the Interludes and Meditation sections of the piece Volcano And Vision (1987), may be viewed as independent and self-contained. In his performance work, simple gestures may be used as cues to radically redefine or modify the meaning of a piece. In The Opera "Crossed Purposes" (1986), the narrative may be read live or heard on tape. Each of these options involve a shift of perception, and the realisation of two quite different pieces. New material can be incorporated into some pieces, or other parts deleted. Each time, the performance may be modified and the various elements combined in relevant ways.

Much of Linz's work involves humor and investigations into everyday life and the mundane world, an examination of details which are often overlooked or taken for granted.

At University Linz began writing in a fairly academic style, yet avoided the (serialist) techniques that were almost de rigeur at the time. Where harmony was prescribed, Linz wrote glissandi; when pitches were customary he wrote unpitched music, when counterpoint was expected he became interested in drones. Form as a subject was never really taught, but it became of prime importance to Linz's work.

Throughout his musical career, Linz has remained critical of academic institutions, particularly of their limited world views and inflexible interests; the subjectivity which somehow gains the status of objective reason.

Many Linz pieces involve improvisational or choice elements, although there is always a primary concern with form. That is, the formal shape of a work is always an important consideration. A musical idea must be contained in a suitably formal way, otherwise a piece will not function. That is why, he believes, he struggles with texts, and perhaps why he is attracted to them. They challenge this sense of form; and, when working with texts, he requires that they suggest or disclose a musical shape. Formal ideas, he believes, constitute a primary `meaning' of music.

The improvisational content of his music, on the other hand, stems from Linz's conviction that the contemporary musician need not be cast solely in the role of interpreter. There is still little acceptance of this method of working in the concert domain in Australia. The musician's task, as defined by concert convention, is to `interpret' music in a fixed and pre-determined way. Many concert musicians are trained to do this, and do this only; and Linz cites many stories of musicians who cannot play unless they have a conventional score in front of them. Yet it is also possible for a musician, even within the concert situation, to be a creator of the music he or she is playing.

A shared aspect of much of his work concerns the role of the audience. Rather than assume the presence of passive spectators, many pieces tend to draw upon audience responses. For example, in Apparitions , a music theatre piece commissioned by the Victoria State Opera in 1981, a part for the audience - in the form of a discussion framework - is written into the score. In Piano Piece (1979) members of the audience are asked to help relocate the piano on the stage.

Many Linz pieces could not be realised without an audience taking part. The radio piece Talking About Music (1984) involves live-to-air talkback, with callers interacting with a scripted discussion taking place in the studio. Here, Linz uses the radio format, or program, as a given form. His content is likewise appropriated from the radio medium, reworked and re-presented in an altered form. Impromptu and scripted studio discussions, music (both composed and found), station identifications, advertisements and announcements, information and talkback are all incorporated. The result is a piece which is at once `real' and fabricated. One common feature of this work is the use of an announcer.

The Opera "Crossed Purposes" , commissioned by the Public Broadcasting Association of Australia in 1986, is a radio opera in excerpt form only, with an announcer providing a pre-scripted `explanation' of the piece, complete with stage descriptions. The narrative is punctuated by `excerpts' from the opera. These sections, which are sung in Italian, French and English, are an ingenious blending of parts written and recorded by Linz, and segments he has appropriated and treated, pirating well-known operatic and symphonic repertoire pieces. There is little to distinguish between The Opera "Crossed Purposes" and a radio program in the usual sense, and yet the opera appears to be at odds with itself: it is an `opera ficta' in which the heroine takes up arms against the state, a state at odds with its own opera production, a radio production at odds with the state's opera.

Linz's early instrumental work, particularly his chamber pieces, tend to have straightforward titles like Trio, Quintet , and Composition . These titles indicate his concern with formal abstraction, a working with musical rather than representational ideas. That is, the pieces do not `express' ideas or feelings, but embody them. Formally self-referential, they are concerned with the elaboration of their own inner structures, musical strategies and codes.

His early pieces are written in a freely atonal style, yet also encompass elements outside this method of organisation, such as varying gradients of glissandi, textures produced by circular breathing and improvisational components. The compositional processes aim for simplification rather than elaboration. With simplicity and reduction, the informing idea of the piece is manifested and may be honed to clarity. This concern for conceptual unity culminates in Saturn Winds (1982) for orchestra seated around an audience. It is composed in a modular form with interchangeable movements. The rigid construction of the early movements moves through varying stages of formal ambiguity into a 52-part polyphony of solo instruments. The idea of mobility implied in the title refers both to this ambiguity and to the physical circulation of sound around the audience.

Since this piece Linz's work has tended to use simplified materials and is built on a smaller and more practical scale. This has led to the composition of series of works, such as the Dysrhythmic Etudes (1982-) for piano and the Walk On Parts (1987-) for solo instruments with optional accompaniments.

The Etudes may be seen as arrangements from the traditional repertoire, usually of small pieces containing a strong rhythmic element. (For example, preludes by Chopin and Bach, a J. Strauss waltz; pieces, generally, with a strong rhythmic interest.) By means of various disruptive processes, including collage, the rhythms are modified to arrive at a new reading of the original. This produces an unusual effect, and the piece both is and is not recognisable; it contains familiar elements that have somehow `gone wrong', hence the term `dysrhythmic'. Linz compares the effect to "tapping your foot against the beat". In any case, the rhythms are `wrong' in the usual sense.

The Etudes have brought a rhythmic innovation to Linz's work and the subsequent inclusion of tonal material (that is, consonance) in pieces such as Redolent Interludes (1986). These comprise 32 improvisations on a Casio VL Tone, sequenced with variations and released on the NMATAPES label. In these pieces the rhythms and melodies do not `connect'. The adoption of simplified materials has also led to the abandonment of wide intervals in favor of the semitone, which in turn has opened up new formal possibilities in his work. The stage work Volcano And Vision (1987) makes use almost entirely of semitonal structures, the constantly rising and falling counterpoint providing the basis for forward motion.

Volcano was performed at the National Playwright's Conference in Canberra, 1987. The performers were Chris Bogg, tenor; Ian Cousins, baritone; Simone de Haan, Trombone; Daryl Pratt, percussion; and Ya Ching Zhu, keyboard. It was written by Paul Greene and directed by Nigel Kellaway. In this opera-style piece, there are solo songs and interludes, recitations and a volcano prop complete with lightning and smoke effects. The performers announce an impending vision, which appears in the centre of the volcano towards the end of the performance.

Theatricality is also inherent in some of Linz's less formalistic instrumental works. As its title suggests, Walk On Parts contains the idea of walking on stage, thus emphasising the inherent theatricality of solo performance in a concert setting. One goes to see, as well as hear, the soloist perform. In Piano Piece (1979) the performer speaks but does not play, enlisting instead the help of the audience to demonstrate the percussive uses of the piano. In Apparitions the performance draws to a close just as it appears ready to begin. There is an engaging theatricality in many of Linz's instrumental works, involving a subtlety which is all too easily overlooked.

This subtlety often resembles a sort of compositional `sleight of hand', in which small gestures are employed by the performers to give a certain impression of what is to follow. Whereas, in hindsight, the audience will recognise that the gesture indicated something else entirely; the result often being surprise and confusion. But Linz's intent is a clarifying process, as these `false cues' disclose and make conscious certain built-in responses to both music and performance.

Linz's vocal work gives him the opportunity to combine theatre with musical form. Again, the Five Gas Songs (1979) combine vocalisations with animated accompaniments, such as breaking glass. Some of Linz's more recent songs are settings of texts by Melbourne writers such as Ted Hopkins and Paul Greene, and settings of his own texts. Like the texts read by the announcer in Linz's works for radio, the songs are sung to the audience and not for it. Many texts are written in the first person and contain an implied `you'. For example, This Song from Apparitions :

They used to call me a cold woman.
(Satin sheets in winter)
Now I know it's not true,
I've come to sing This Song for you
I'm singing This Song

Linz's work can be seen as an investigation of the performing process, which in turn suggests an examination of the function of music in our society. His method is to combine musical ideas, to put them in different contexts and to discover how these ideas are modified by these various shifts.

The concert hall is relevant to this investigation, but Linz's work is not wholly geared to the concert platform. Likewise, the Western musical tradition influences his practice, but many of his ideas also are derived from outside this tradition.

He has composed music for galleries, home performances, radio and other performance contexts that might or might not involve a stage presentation, and he explores different relationships between performer, music and audience.

There is a sense of an historical placement and perspective to his views, ideas and practice. The idea of composing on paper, rather than through improvisation or direct performance, is also a concern; and Linz has been influenced by composers such as Anton Webern and others `within the tradition'. He has investigated traditional practices such as counterpoint and harmony, and traditional forms in a broader sense. He concedes that he was trained in the classical tradition, through his study of music history and technique at university, and these concerns are still relevant to his music. He is then, a composer not in any new sense, as well as not being a composer in any sense.


"(Dis)Continuous Music" NMATAPES 2 . 1983.

"Colour TV Song" SNX - Popular Music of Tomorrow , Hawai 006 (France) 1985.

"The Opera Crossed Purposes " hear NOW , National Programming Service - Public Broadcasting Association of Australia, Sydney. 1986.

Redolent Interludes NMA Publications. 1986.

"Dysrhythmic Etudes" NMATAPES 5 . 1987.

"Dysrhythmic Etude" An der Schonen Blauen Donau . Home Produkt GT011 (Belgium) 1987.

Two Pieces for Radio

intersect live electronics and clarinet pieces.

22 Contemporary Australian Composers index

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