'The Impossible Music' of Ričardas Kabelis

The composer Ričardas Kabelis (b. 1957) is probably one of the most sophisticated and enigmatic figures in Lithuanian music. For almost a decade he has been residing in Stuttgart, Germany, and making rare but regular appearances at European as well as Lithuanian contemporary music events. Since his stay in Akademie Schloss Solitude in 1993 he seems to delve thoroughly into the subtleties of microtonal music and puzzles of its rhythmic arrangement. Clearly off the mainstream of contemporary music, his oeuvre is often considered neither easily playable nor listenable. Nevertheless, in recent years, Kabelis has enjoyed a growing interest in his work. Many of his latest compositions have been premiered at different German venues and festivals.

Extremely reduced and ascetic, Kabelis' musical idiom provokes to speak of it in philosophical-poetical metaphors: '...the feeling of having reached a boundary behind which the physical sound-structure could metamorphose into an active spiritual substance, observing and comprehending itself...' (Rytis Mažulis)

While solving the self-imposed technological and spiritual problems, the composer sometimes cannot avoid using electronics. However, most of his music is composed for live performers, who work hard to reveal the coded secrets in this seemingly dehumanised sound mathematics. 'In times, when computer-based composers often refer to artificial intelligence, the twisted and dislocated sounds in the compositions of Ričardas Kabelis, testify to his artistic intelligence.' (Jean-Baptiste Joly)

Quite a few Kabelis' works are based on the exposition of a certain single isolated musical parameter. In CCC for snare drum (1991), only rhythm is present (presumably the most primordial element of music). Zelle for violin, viola and piano (1992) is reduced to harmony changes: repetitions of the triads and their inversions, beating in uniform rhythmic values, twist us into a strange merry-go-round and vertigo-like acoustic adventures. In the composition Ex oriente lux for violin, viola, harpsichord and clavichord (1994), both rhythm and harmony are eliminated: we only hear the most subtle, hardly audible change of timbre and microintervals that plunges the concentrated audience into an endless space/time continuum.

As it is admitted by many reviewers, the extreme 'conceptualism' of this music 'made of nothing' seems to have a huge power of suggestion. After the premiere of Opus opus for flute, guitar and string quartet (1999), the host of the Baden-Baden Radio said that 'the field of tension in Ričardas Kabelis' composition consists of multifaceted confrontations of sound and silence. The constantly increasing intensiveness of the sound structures and tense silence create expressiveness in the composition as well as inner power and the sense of the depth of sound. These qualities are very rare in contemporary music. The dynamic interpretation has heightened the explosive power and tension of sound even more.'

Like some mediaeval alchemist (inclined to absorb various new scientific and technological discoveries), Kabelis is able to 'dematerialise' much of the sound substance of a huge symphony orchestra so that it is perceived as a sign from the inaccessible heights of the pure spirit... 'The title of Ričardas Kabelis' composition originates from Sanskrit and means "substance of spirit". Kabelis has attempted to define it by arranging the orchestra in concentric circles and measuring time by the strokes of sixteenth chords, consisting of microtonal twelve-tone and five-tone spectra', thus Stuttgarter Zeitung received Kabelis' Mudra for large symphony orchestra (2001) premiered at the festival Neue Music 'Eclat' Stuttgart in February 2001.

On the other hand the composer is not such an inaccessible purist of ascetic seriousness. Starting with his Goldfärbig - the composition of instrumental theatre - created together with Rytis Mažulis in 1988 (regarded the weirdest ever performance of this type in Lithuanian music), he appeared as an author of bizzare and subtly absurd humour in music. This may also apply to Vierzig persische Pfirsiche for vocal ensemble or mixed choir (2000), perhaps the most often performed offspring in this line, premiered by the Expanded Voice Company at the festival Neue Music Stuttgart in October 2000. According to Leonberger Zeitschrift, 'this witty composition for choir was... a veritable rhetorical and acoustic firework of unusual art... Thirty-nine semantic variations of the same line "Vierzig persische Pfirsiche" are so comical that, for instance, the last "Pferzisch virsiche piersige" made the audience laugh. This small masterpiece demonstrates the humorist potential in the so-called new music.'

With each new opus Ričardas Kabelis seems to be pioneering still more distant expanses. What will be his further journeys through the territories of the 'impossible music'? At least we know their destinations: Kabelis is offered commissions to write music for string quartet and orchestra (the presumed performer - Odeon Quartet, the premiere - April 2002), for harps ensemble (Open Harps Ensemble, July 2002), and for vocal ensemble and orchestra (Expanded Voice Company, Autumn 2002).

© Linas Paulauskis & Veronika Janatjeva

Lithuanian Music Link No. 3