Variable Functions

Variable Functions 1 and 2 are compositions that were created between September 2022 and August 2023 in the Voltage Control Studio of the Institute of Sonology at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. Final edits were made in my private studio. The title refers to Gottfried Michael Koenig’s Funktionen (1967–1969), a series of works that focused on the relatively new control voltage technology at that time, in particular the so-called Variable Function Generator, which was used to determine both the timbre of the Funktionen’s basic material and the parameters of the circuits used to transform this basic material. With these compositions Koenig took an important step in the further development of a way of composing electronic music in which no distinction is made between material and form, between time structure and timbre movement. The Funktionenare part of a line of Koenig’s works that starts with Klangfiguren (1955–1956) and leads via Essay (1957) to Terminus I (1962) and Terminus II ( 1966).

Koenig used the control voltage technique for the Funktionen to ‘program’ the studio, as it were. The production model consisted of five magnetic tapes that were used in different combinations to produce 36 sound types with 36 systematically derived (permuted) circuits. The tapes contained basic sounds or control signals that were all derived from the same curve (the ‘function’). Different combinations of basic sounds and control signals and different distributions of the sound types over the large form led to the different versions (e.g. Funktion Grün,GelbRot, etc.).[1] The Funktionen are therefore not the results of the cut-and-paste work so common in analogue studios, but of a truly new way of transferring compositional representation to a technical reality. All my compositions created in Sonology’s voltage-control studio since 1996 have been greatly influenced by this way of working.[2] In addition, tone generators, modulators and filters in this studio are now available in much greater numbers and many new devices have been designed and built in this context, allowing for much more complex circuitry that produces results with inherent polyphonic and spatial qualities. The devices of such a circuit are set up, after which a multi-channel recording is made of the sounding result without turning knobs or sliding faders. The devices are given a command, but they are not played with. Such a recording of a circuit appears in the composition in virtually unchanged form, whether or not overlapping with other recordings.

Another composition by Koenig that should be mentioned in connection with my own working method is TerminusTerminus has not only influenced my way of working in the voltage control studio: there has in fact not been a single composition I have made since my analysis of that piece in 1995 in which the influence of Terminusis not present in some way.[3] Central to Terminus is the idea of uniting the formal plan and the technical work process. A number of sound structures underwent successive transformations (amplitude modulation, ring modulation, filtering, chopping, etc.). The sound structures and their transformations were notated in a family tree-shaped diagram, which then formed the basis for the way in which the genesis of the material unfolds over time as a musical development. Different trajectories along the branches in the diagram can result in form variations of the composition. The large form of the composition is not one specific elaboration of the diagram: the diagram is rather a form potential encompassing the possible variants.

[1]Gottfried Michael Koenig, Funktionen: Partitur (Utrecht: Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, Instituut voor Sonologie, 1968). This score remained unpublished at the time, but is now available as PDF with some additional remarks from 2006.

[2]In the Royal Conservatoire’s building at the Juliana van Stolberglaan, this studio was called BEA 5. In the new Amare building, it is called Voltage Control Studio (6.76).

[3]This analysis was later published as “Zu Koenigs Terminus”, in Gottfried Michael Koenig – Parameter und Protokolle seiner Musik, ed. Stefan Frikke (Saarbrücken: Pfau Verlag, 2004) 56–96.