Future Shock: FURT: Complexity and The End of Technology

The October 2009 issue of Point of Departure has Kevin’s take on the electroacoustic improvising duet of FURT , A.K.A. Richard Barrett and Paul Obermayer. In this column Kevin explores dealing with complexity and the impossibility of silence.

You have to be engaged to listen to complex music. Otherwise, you may be prone to think about it in terms of deconstruction or literary analysis, instead of listening to it. Part of the difficulty stems from the one time, real time nature of music performance. Music is experienced: it is sensual; it touches you; and it is fast – 1125 feet per second fast. That speed can work against the kind detailed engagement required to pull a piece of music apart, if we are indeed we are even meant to do that. Dense, difficult music begs the question of whether or not it is possible to fully hear the music as it happens. That is also a challenge for the performer(s) as well.

Few electroacoustic improvising ensembles have met this challenge like FURT, the duo of Paul Obermayer and Richard Barrett. There is a structurally reinforcing aspect to every sound they produce. This intrinsically compositional impulse is unsurprising given that Barrett has stand-alone cred in contemporary music. Barrett was already pursuing composition when FURT was formed in 1986 – Obermayer was finishing university. Barrett is now renowned as part of the so-called “New Complexity School,” where dense, extremely difficult compositions for acoustic instruments that use unconventional playing methods challenge performers to the point of impossibility. (Brian Ferneyhough also considered a “New Complexity” composer has tempo indications such as “faster than possible.”) But, applied to FURT, “New Complexity” seems vacuous.

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