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Petr Kotik: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking 

From the album S.E.M. Ensemble

One of the most fascinating and idiosyncratic exponents of musical minimalism, the Czech composer Petr Kotik has lived in the United States since 1969, when he emigrated at the invitation of Lejaren Hiller. Kotik quickly integrated himself into the American new music scene. Working closely with composers such as Frederic Rzewski and John Cage, he relished the proverbially American spirit of experimentation. “In America, there is a tendency to welcome surprises and unusual ideas with much greater openness to it than in Europe,” he noted. “That could be one of the attributes that separates America from Europe.”

Kotik’s mature style is marked by the polyphonic layering of melodic lines, dissonant yet mellifluous, and characterized by a slow, processional rhythmic pulse. Although clearly influenced by American minimalism, Kotik’s music often has an angular and cerebral tone far removed from the modal sweetness of John Adams or Philip Glass. While those composers were driven by an urge for renewed emotional directness, in Kotik’s hands the stripped-down gestures becomes a vehicle of “dispassionate objectivity,” in the words of Petr Bakla. (In this respect, his work could be compared to that of American composer Tom Johnson.) In addition to composing, Kotik leads the S.E.M. Ensemble, an important contributor to contemporary music whose releases include a one-of-a-kind recording of the complete works of Marcel Duchamp.

The process of chance is an integral part of my method, not something that stands separately. Chance operations I use have a direction and are partially controlled. I then take the result and proceed to work on my own. The way I compose could be called a game. It’s a kind of a dialogue between the results of my method and my reaction to it, intuitively correcting, editing and introducing other elements in a quasi-improvised way. This result can be further processed by the method, which can set off a chain of more intuitive interventions. 


Much of Kotik’s music uses modernist prose as its basis, creating striking parallels between tonal and linguistic patterning. His major work in this vein is the six-hour-long Many Many Women (1976-1978), based on Gertrude Stein's book of the same name. The piece also integrates contrapuntal techniques typical of medieval composers such as Perotin and Machaut

Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, composed shortly thereafter, sets the prose of Buckminster Fuller's magnum opus Synergetics. The oracular proclamations of Fuller’s writing match up perfectly with Kotik’s architectural approach to vocal polyphony. The composer dismisses the notion that music can express or illustrate words, instead arguing that the two are governed by independent forms of structural logic: “For me the text and the music are two different entities.”

Music is expressing itself—music, nothing more and nothing less, just as everything else ultimately expresses itself, whether it is a stone, or a human being or a tree. […] Music invokes a situation that can lead to meditation; a personal, poetic and intellectual meditation. It is a field of sound, which we perceive in a time space. Music is not universal, it is always specific, and the ability to “understand” or navigate in this sound field requires education. A real education, that comes through one’s own initiative. 

Played 181 time(s).

November 09, 2012, 3:11pm

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