Vytautas V. Jurgutis in Transition from Zoom to Neo-Garde

photo: Arūnas Baltėnas

One year before the turn of the millennia, in early 1999, young Lithuanian composer Vytautas V. Jurgutis - at the time one of Osvaldas Balakauskas' most distinctive and free-minded composition students - wrote a piece called Zoom. Scored for an unassuming chamber ensemble, consisting of harpsichord and string quintet, this work inaugurated a new series of compositions for acoustic settings and electronics, based on barely perceptible changes of perspective - closeup or long shot - on the same sound object. Its title also provided a catchword for the generation of young Lithuanian composers, wittily tagged 'Generation Z', who sought to create an unheard-of vocabulary of artificial sonorities that would paradoxically approximate the irregular spectra of natural sounds, and to construct their compositions around a single pattern (or their combinations) repeated at increasingly smaller or larger scales to produce irregular sonic shapes and surfaces - as in fractal images. Evident in certain stylistically varied earlier works (e.g., the club-music driven G.A.L. House for three flutes and tape, 1997, and the more academic Semjase for string orchestra, 1998), this 'geometric' tendency also prevailed in one of the closest sequels to Zoom - the symptomatically titled Fractals for large ensemble, written that same year.

As an advancement of the scientistic tendencies already traceable in Zoom, came another phase of Vytautas V. Jurgutis' work, in which zooming in and out of rhythmic, harmonic or melodic patterns was replaced with complex procedures of generating artificial sonic organisms from stem cells of his own invention - combinations of 'sound genes', as Jurgutis once put it. Digital technology as a source of inspiration now gave way to biotechnology, and the zooming effect was transformed into multidimensional vectorial characteristics of sound, moving in space in many directions at the same time. This mental and technological shift was also reflected in the titles of Jurgutis' works - most expressively in Telomeros for computer and three video projections, and Telogenos for large ensemble, both written and premiered to extraordinary public and critical acclaim in 2002. Taken as if from medical or genetic jargon, they suggest the fundamental idea of the piece: "I regard my titles as part of the creative process," says Jurgutis. "If I fall short of words existing in language, I make up or derive new ones. Such 'artificial' concepts, in my opinion, add a great deal to the ideas contained in my music, however weird or even absurd they may sound. A musical piece and its title must look like parts of the same set."

One of the most recent offspring in this line, Lambdezons for computer, was premiered at the Jauna muzika festival in April of this year. When asked about the meaning of its title, Jurgutis retorted: "it is the result of virtual-genetic modification". The tiny sound particles ('lambda' here refers to sub-atomic particles) whirling and twirling like infinitesimal biomorphic gadgets (the morpheme 'zon' most likely refers to a space probe) around the hall for more than ten minutes, help to shed some light on the composer's evasive statement. Despite its technological intricacies, Lambdezons emerges as an easy-listening piece of electronics. "These short, yet most refined and purified electronic pieces are the hardest to develop," admits Jurgutis. "My aim here was to create something like an amusing musical toy or a delectable candy for the public." The latter took it as a gift from the newly appointed curator of Jauna muzika, who did not hesitate to 'fast forward' the festival (literally depicted by its new logo) by inviting such electronic music legends as Phil Niblock and Merzbow. "I want to make it clear that Jauna muzika was, and will remain a stage for personalities who are not 2-3 year old ephemeral phenomena. They are truly unique, professional and knowledgeable in what they do."

It appears that this self-imposed objective works for Vytautas V. Jurgutis as well, not only as curator, but also in his other creative capacities: as composer, videomaker (most of his electronic compositions have their visual counterpart to the music), and DJ. His works have more than once proved to be composed by a man who continually strives for a greater understanding of fundamental academic matters, and the possibilities for their practical use - including and adopting those which lie beyond the limits of the academic world. Apart from his purely electronic works, this is evident in Jurgutis' recent compositions for string instruments. Ellipses (2003), commissioned by the Gaida Festival for the Arditti Quartet, throws parallels to his earlier works related to mathematics and geometry. On the one hand, the title suggests the overall shape, or trajectory, of diverse sound events rendered in the most unconventional playing techniques, complicated textures, and microtonal writing. On the other hand, it also refers to a linguistic term: the omission of redundant material, that which is unnecessary for understanding. Three repeat performances of this piece by the same musicians - at the Arena Festival in Riga and at Nyyd in Tallinn last October, and at Klangspuren Schwaz 2004 this September - indicate that their understanding of Jurgutis' ellipses is becoming even more insightful than it was at its premiere.

"After completing the piece for the Arditti Quartet, I felt many new prospects and possibilities opening up before me. Many precious leftovers deposited in my mind. So perhaps it is not surprising that they have finally taken shape," says Jurgutis about his new piece, Terra tecta for cello solo and electronics, commissioned by the Warsaw Autumn Friends Foundation, and due to premiere later this year. It is an eleven-minute long journey into a secret territory, land or universe, where real and illusory patterns are constantly fluctuating and interchanging - as the enigmatic title suggests. Jurgutis: "The acoustic part is very complicated, intricate and technically demanding. In the electronic part, my aim was to create the sound object by sculpting and moulding the sound matter, instead of merely executing some pre-calculated conceptual scheme. For me it is very important not to follow a trodden path by simply mixing some ready-to-cook ingredients."

Vytautas V. Jurgutis is always intent on treading his own paths, searching for new sonorities, sensitivities, concepts detached from their established contextual meanings, and shaping his own meanings and phenomena. A few months ago he hit upon the concept of neo-garde, which instantly transfixed his imagination. His Neo-garde club music remix (2004) was then performed live at a "turning sounds 2" event in Warsaw in May 2004 - with the composer acting as DJ. Here he claims to have arrived at something, which could later be identified as his neo-garde style. Clearly not in the vein of academic composition, this electronica-driven remix of pre-recorded pieces points towards Jurgutis' own terrae tectae of sound production. "I can no longer name any musical trend or personal style that I would follow. But I feel a great affinity to what Merzbow is able to conjure up during his performances - that mind-boggling, gravity-defying atmosphere. This is a different level of music, which requires new generation of instruments able to produce musical substance not in sound, but straight into the central nervous system through a kind of implant. I am sure it is the future for music, and I would be the first to apply such neurotechnology."

© Veronika Janatjeva

Lithuanian Music Link No. 9