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Larry Wendt's Logos CD Notes - Part One
For the past couple of decades now, the Logos Foundation in Ghent has been a major stopping place for contemporary audio artists who display their wares on the Western European performance route. Many seasoned travelers and first-time freshmen have performed within their walls. By providing such an exemplary venue, Logos has established Ghent as the leading center for the performance of contemporary music in Belgium. Such a distinction is among many unique features which makes this medieval, yet very modern and cosmopolitan city an attractive place to visit and work in. Logos is presently located between Kongostraat and Bomastraat. It is not far from the central electric plant for Ghent with its two large smoke stacks which can be seen at various places all over town. If one walks down Kongostraat, away from the power station, across the canal and towards the older section of town (though such terms are relative here), they might find themselves at a particularly interesting vantage point from which to view the city: Count's Castle. The castle dates from at least 1180, though it has been rebuilt on the site of older structures. The many excavations and restorations of the castle over its 800 years has muddied the streams of its pre-history. Even in its present form, the castle is a somewhat 19th century romanticized reconstruction of it's 12th century self. However, from the top of the massive donjon in the middle of the castle's courtyard, one has an unparalleled vista of a ancient medieval town reconstructed as a lively, contemporary city. Ghent is a contiguous collection of modern and ancient forms with all the possible gradations in between. Depending upon the vantage point, the city can look like an industrial corporation yard, a museum piece, or a modern shopping mall. The connections between the various areas of town are beyond the comprehension of the casual traveler. From the rooftops, a jigsaw puzzle of oddly angular shapes clearly reveal a street layout which is non-Cartesian in arrangement. To a traveler from suburban California, such as myself, the view can be somewhat disconcerting and compelling. At ground level, it can be down right confusing as one walks aimlessly through Mobius strip-like alleyways, covering the same ground repeatedly, but not seeing the same thing twice. From high on top of Count's Castle, Ghent appears as immutable and unchanging as a picture postcard, though nothing could be further from the truth: everything is in a state of reconstruction and flux. Even the massively old stone buildings periodically need surgical replacements of their limestone features, a side effect of cohabiting for years with humans and the resultant "stone cancer" from such a deleterious habit. The place is shaped and held together by something else other than the mere stone which crumble with time: there is a palpable spirit to the city which holds everything in place like some powerful buzzing lodestone. It has an existence as old as the soil upon which the iron filings of the city have been sprinkled for centuries. To the outsider it is alien and incomprehensively Flemish. It beckons from cobble-stoned alleyways and escapes into the darkness like some shiny hard bug. There is a sense of craft with its every movement. It guides the hand of the stone cutter, the road worker, the taxi driver, the chocolate maker, and the musician: all seem to be in tune with its harmonies. As one looks out on Count's Castle towards the huge twin towers of the central electric plant, one can unmistakably see the gray roof and tetrahedron shaped tower of this "funny little institute" (as a Ghent taxi driver once described it to me), the Logos Foundation.
Logos was founded and is directed by Godfried-Willem Raes and Moniek Darge. Not just content with having a large room in which concerts can be held like a lot of performance galleries, they recently realized an old dream and constructed an unique space which has been in operation since about 1990: the Logos Tetrahedron Hall. Designed by Raes, the structure fits in the site of an old furniture store that was once in back of the original Logos concert hall. It was made by welding together hundreds of hand- cut steel rods and beams, corrugated steel plates and wire mesh. Logos did all the cementing, plumbing, electrical work, and painting as well. The outside of the structure is coated with thick layers of insulating and sound dampening polyurethane. Not just the product of some do-it-yourself expediency, the structure is ascetically appealing in its angularities and is visually transcendental, appearing to be a much larger space than it actually is. The hall seats one hundred and fifty, and also contains a bar and a sound and lighting control room. Shortly after the hall open (complete with an inauguration by the Governor of Flanders), it won the Tech-Art Prize for its design. The Tetrahedron Hall is, as Logos is quick to point out, one of the few performing spaces which has been designed and built by the musicians themselves. As such, the unique design allows no acoustically resonant nodes or standing waves to be formed. The hall is not acoustically dead but rather has a sound which is very linear in its frequency response, very efficient in its dynamic resolution, and has a lively, clear presence to it. It is perfect for both the presentation of amplified electro-acoustic material as well as the works by those musicians not using any amplification at all. For those who have performed in "performance halls" which have the acoustic properties of something that is somewhat less than that of a restroom in a downtown bus station, Tetrahedron Hall can be a real treat. One does not have to worry about their work being buried by outside noises, errant ventilation systems, or phase cancellation muddles. One can be assured that at Logos, their work will be heard as clearly as they intend it to be.
If the directors of Logos were just content upon running their performance space, that would probably be enough for most anyone as a full-time occupation. However, Moniek and Godfried are also very active composers and performers in their own right making up the group known as the Logos Duo. They have performed all over world, often in places not known for their support of experimental music, such as small towns in China, in the isolated outback of Australia, in many of the Eastern European countries (both before and after the changes), and even in such places as the state of Louisiana. Their live performances often make use of musical instruments designed and built by Raes, who is a very inventive and prolific instrument builder. His designs range from all kinds of acoustic and digital/electro-mechanical sound sculptures to the most sublime controlling and sound generating devices. The Logos approach to music is one in which every aspect of the musical experience is ultimately controlled by the composer. The necessary tools to realize a particular piece are developed on the spot.
This brings us to the present Logos collection of pieces for recorded media. It samples the duo's recent interests in compositions which exemplify form rather than some of their more concrete or "visible" interests. These are works which can be (and often are) performed by others on a variety of instruments ranging from traditional and indigenous to contemporary commercial samplers and synthesizers. The present collection is not primarily focused upon the kinds of venues which the Logos Duo normally performs in but rather a more general kind of environment common to more traditional music listening. However, the same kinds of features and principles of their other works are also at work here. This work is an aggregate of cultural styles and techniques which contrast ancient and modern forms which are buttressed together within an angular and complex architecture. In the case of Raes' compositions, most of the works are algorithmic in nature, in that many of the more salient features of the compositional process are explicitly identified and eternalized.
Raes' approach to such a technique is one in which the composer builds an algorithm for a specific piece, rather than having the algorithm dictate what the composition is as a purely mechanical process. In this way, compositional tools are built for the specific job at hand, freeing the composer from redundant habits which impede upon the free flow of ideas. In particular here, are two works selected from a larger cycle of compositions which Raes calls The Fugue Books. These are a collection of pieces composed with the aid of a rather large and multi-modular, expert system program which Raes wrote that treats classical problems in the composition of fugues (and in particular, Flemish approaches to polyphony). Much of the tedious aspects of composing this traditional form are performed by the program while many of the more mundane aesthetic choices learned from the composer's previous examples are implemented. The program is also completely interactive, allowing the composer to make adjustments with every step of the compositional process. Such an approach to composition enhances the resolution of structural details within the work and breaths a new breath into a somewhat traditionally assumed form.
Darge's work with soundscapes on the other hand, are the intuitive compliment of Raes' algorithmic approach. Acoustical snapshots taken from various far-flung sites are mixed together to often provide counterpoint to the playing of indigenous musical instruments. Former sound ecologies are dismantled and rebuilt along a different guideline. Their former reality is twisted and shaped into a new mold. A new spatial and temporal architecture permeates the compositional organization, and the pieces exists as acoustical entities with their own particular life and property. This collection as a whole exhibits a diversity of approaches in dealing with traditional and contemporary compositional situations. Instead of breaking completely with the past, the salvage of age-old methods of musical resolution in world cultures is sifted and picked through. Nothing is assumed or taken for granted. What has been kept has often been modified, cleaned-up, and welded onto some other compositional salvage to produce a framework for a new music: a music that harks back to the culture and the city from which it sprang. It is a music which reveals the true face of Ghent.
San Jose, California October 1994
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