Elena Minetti: Synchronizing Different Temporalities: A Challenge of Writing in musique mixte from 1958 to 1960

“Writing is historically the first technique for manipulating time”. With this expression, the media theorist Friedrich Kittler defined writing as a cultural technique that has the potential to order streams of data on spatial coordinates (Kittler 1993, Krämer 2006). In this view, writing is a practice that through the spatialization on a two-dimensional surface allows the visualization and manipulation of something progressing in time. Transferring these considerations to a musicological perspective, musical inscriptions constitute lasting manifestations of ephemeral phenomena fleeting in time, allowing them to be visualized and also organized (Celestini, Nanni, Obert, Urbanek 2020).

Building on these ideas, this paper focuses on a central function of writing music – the synchronization of musical events. More concretely, it investigates how this role became particularly complex when the recording of electroacoustic sounds entered instrumental practice. Indeed, in the so-called musique mixte in which electroacoustic recorded and live sounds are in dialogue, in juxtaposition or even merged, (at least) two different temporalities coexist: on the one hand, the temporality of the live performance, on the other hand, the temporality of the previously recorded track resounding through loudspeakers. Using a comparative methodology, I examine this issue in the scores of Analogique A et B by Iannis Xenakis, Rimes by Henri Pousseur, Transición II by Mauricio Kagel, and Kontakte by Karlheinz Stockhausen – which were composed between 1959 and 1960. Based on this analysis, I trace how composers used different strategies to accomplish the task of making the synchronization of musical temporalities visible. For example, in the score written in standard western notation for the instrumental work Analogique A, Xenakis used arrows and indications of time in seconds, to indicate when the electroacoustic sections of Analogique B for tape, should be inserted. In Transición II, three superimposed temporal structures coexist: the live performance, the previously recorded sections, and the recording and playback of certain sections during the concert. Lines at the bottom of some pages of the score coordinate their interaction. In the performance score of Kontakte, Stockhausen draws signs to mark the events of the electroacoustic part in seconds so, as he stated, the musicians during rehearsals would get used to deciphering them and be able to follow what is coming out of the loudspeakers (Stockhausen 1960). In Pousseur’s Rimes the coordination of the two sound dimensions is guaranteed by the transcription of the recorded sections partly in standard notation, partly in an approximately harmonic and rhythmic notation, and partly through graphical forms.

Exploring different writing strategies to synchronize the recorded and live dimensions may illuminate, even for a philological approach, the underlying compositional choices that led the composer to choose or invent different forms of synchronizing aural events. More broadly, this study may also contribute to a reflection on writing as a cultural technique for manipulating time.


Elena Minetti

graduated in Piano at the Conservatory of Siena (M.A. 2019) and in Musicology at the University of Bologna with a focus on Music Pedagogy (B.A. 2014) and Musical Aesthetics (M.A. 2017). From 2018 to 2021 she was a research assistant in the trinational research cluster Writing Music. Iconic, performative, operative, and material aspects in musical notation(s). Within the framework of this project, she is a PhD candidate in a binational program between the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna and the University Giessen. In her dissertation she investigates musical writing in the compositional processes of early compositions for instrumental and electroacoustic sounds (1950–1959). Since September 2021, she is a research assistant in the research project Digital Letter Edition: Hans Werner Henze’s Network of Artists at the University of Paderborn/Detmold.