Frank Rothkamm [ Rheingold ]

The opera started with experiments to create an endless river of sound, to alchemically distill a “rheingold”, the River Rhine’s gold, out of the prelude to Wagner’s opera “Das Rheingold”. It became a de-wagnerisation of the whole opera, which is part of his “Ring” cycle.

Of course, doing a cycle of any sort always reminds me of a statement that our friend Walter made in the motion picture “The Big Lebowski”, after he watched a Pina Bausch-esque dance performance to the sound of Stravinsky. His clear sentiment towards Western Culture there mirrors mine here and it was time then to turn a capital R into a lowercase r, a primus inter pares, a first among equals. All moments in time are equal, so are all values, should they reflect the reality, the essence of the year 2018. The new rheingold liberates the truth seeking subject from the dictatorship of the arrow of time, the supremacy of causality, the yoke of history.

Wagner, as a product of the 19th century, demanded that one thing should lead to another, so you have to sit on your butt, motionless, no coughing, no drinking - no bathroom breaks, oh please - for the entire 2 and 1/2 hours of this capitol R “Rheingold”. In today’s age of the emancipated subject in constant contact with a collective mind via social media this amounts to no more than the aesthetic of imprisonment. This is also true for our daily resurrections of 19th century performance practices, celebrated and subsidized as “Classical Music”.

This aesthetic of imprisonment and its master Wagner became Hitler’s favorite.

To turn the Rheingold of imprisonment into a rheingold of emancipation, I first turned to permutations on the letters of the lowercase word rheingold, which can now form a new word because the capital R, the R as a center is removed. All letters are now equal. Even without the aid of an electronic brain, one can now easily switch these letters around, perform a permutation and rheingold can become “griehlodn”, a word that would have delighted Finnegan’s Wake era James Joyce. But, “griehlodn” sounds too much like grief of one sort or another and permutation, like most contemporary culture, is still deterministic. Given the rule of the permutation, the source can be decrypted. It poses as modern, even enlightened, but cryptographically it is weak and nothing more than a substitution cipher. Julius Caesar used it and fooled a lot of Germans who believed in these gods Wagner wants us to believe ancient Germans believed in. But these beliefs didn’t help the Germans in the 1st century BC, it didn’t help them in the 20th century AD and it certainly does not help them in subsidized Bayreuth today. They did not decrypt the truth, they did not get the message.

What does help in contemporary cryptography, quantum mechanics and emancipated aesthetics is the notion of a random process and the use of the electronic brain. This leaves deterministic systems behind, as they are now described with probabilities. A probability of 100% is certainty, but the chance of this happening in the universe is remote. ”You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you get what you need.” So I followed the advice of physicists, cryptologists and rock royalty and applied it to a 2007 recording of Wagner's opera at Bayreuth, conducted by Thielman. I choose this one because the recording was very clean, free of surface noise, and had a wonderful and nuanced orchestral sound that is not overpowered by the vocals. And it is on YouTube.

These characteristics were important because of what I did to the recording, mathematically speaking. I divided the opera into 5 acts made up of Wagner’s 4 scenes, plus the famous prelude, as a separate act 0. These acts 0-4 have durations between 4:30 and 49 minutes in the performance of Wagner’s opera. In experiments with a electronic brain I now proceeded to randomly sample from each act and place the samples randomly within the length of each act. “I” literally chopped Wagner to pieces and then put the pieces back together without the I, the egocentricity of the 19th century, but with the cryptographically sound methods of the 21st.

The art of composition lay in the mathematical formula, in choosing the parameters of statistical methods.

How long should the samples be? How should they be distributed, what is the magical distribution? In order to find the answers, I deployed the highly subjective sleepy hypnosis method. I asked when would I become hypnotized by the sonic experiment, this wall of sound in front of me? While listening intently, would I be able to leave this world and drift into a netherworld between awake and asleep? This would be an emancipated, a rheingold-ian, state indeed. The answer was a sample length between 0.4 and 14.04 seconds but beta distributed which favored shorter time spans.

Good, but the results smelled to much like statistical average.

The original recording was now atomized and the bits distributed evenly over the appropriate time spans while the harmonic language, the pitches of the samples remained unaltered, much like in my album “Beethoven No.9”. All was still equal temperament. Luckily the Csound function diskin2, which read the sound files in, had a parameter that also changes the pitch of the sample and this in degrees way smaller that 100 cents, the smallest interval in equal temperament. I set a random range between 0.8 and 1.1 and - deus ex machina - a completely new harmonic language emerged, vast and granular.

In the end there are on average 13.33 events per second that pass by the listener, there are at least 13.33 harmonically modulated excerpts from “Das Rheingold” present in every second of rheingold. This sounds like big data, for sure, but only then did unanimated random bits turn into a animated force. Turning Rheingold into rheingold, I created a whole new and equal universe, probable in all directions and dimensions, without subsidies, free of the arrow of time.

Catalog No: FLX140 (LN502)
Title: Rheingold
Sound Artist: Frank Rothkamm
Visual Artist: Holger Rothkamm
Length: 2:31:06 (9066s)
Composed: 2018
Location: Cologne
Instruments: PHP 7 (PECL stats)
Csound 6
Release Date: 04/28/2018
Format: Digital
File Under: psycho-stochastic opera