Notes on Listen My Secret Fetish

Richard Haynes is an award winning clarinet player working across performance, improvisation and composition. For SPILL Richard presented Listen, My Secret Fetish, an experimental contemporary music performance that explores sexual fetish in four parts: Part 1, Breath Control by David Young; Part 2, Interference by Richard Barrett; Part 3, The Sadness of Detail by Chris Dench; Part 4, Press Release by David Lang.

Rachel Lois’ review of Listen, My Secret Fetish is here. Below are excerpts from a conversation Richard and Rachel Lois had about the work:


RLC: Can you comment about how the four parts in Listen My Secret Fetish were different for you, musically?

RH: Each of the scenes explored different musical territory and therefore my mental and physical relationship to each work was, had to be, carefully controlled. This was perhaps the biggest challenge in the show: 'resetting' my approach for each work during the performance. Each composition presented particular technical challenges, as well as completely different moods that had to be immediately engaged and maintained throughout the work. Extreme rates of change, as well as sustained control of tension over long periods of time are some of the greater challenges that face performers.

RLC: What significance do the different costumes have for you in the work?

RH: I'm quite attached to the total image of each of the scenes in 'Listen my Secret Fetish', as the costumes carry the weight of my extra-musical imaginings resulting from playing the pieces. As a classical musician, one appears in concert gear most of the time (for men, a combination of black, white or tastefully coloured clothes, often, not to out-weigh the presence of the music). My hope would be that a costume, for a musician, can deeply affect the performance of a work; and for an audience member, that it can deeply affect the interpretation of the composition. The costumes in Listen….represent, in a way, some of what I value in the works: innocence, vulnerability, violence, strength, fragility as well as suggestions of the religious, the animal, the masculine, the pre-pubescent, and the organic.

RLC: What is the breathing technique you use in Breath Control and where does it come from?

RH: Circular breathing is employed perhaps most famously by the indigenous peoples of Australia, however this practice is just as prominent in music from Asia and the Middle East. It is a technique that has appeared prescriptively in classical music composition within the last fifty years; before this time it was almost certainly used out of necessity by classical musicians to realise uneconomically written scores (writing a note whose duration is longer than a single breath would allow is certainly not the mistake of the composer: the work of the musician is to realise how to adequately execute the passage, with or without breathing circularly).

RLC: What is fetishistic about the performance Breath Control for you?

RH: This work suggests to me a scene in which a sexualised act could be played out. It places the visual object of the school boy and the urine of the boy in a position to be wanted; just as it displays one's physical prowess (it has to be said, circular breathing and urinating at the same time is not easy).

RLC: Can you tell me about the role the four scores play in your performance?

RH: Breath Control uses a graphic score; for this performance it was a linear watercolour painting by the composer to suggest the colour of the sound, hung from the lighting rig. Each 'sentence' of the music is one minute long and I observe a timer to help me proceed through the work. Interference is a maniacally notated work, often with two or three systems at a time for the voice (much more than a clarinettist has to normally deal with); contrabass clarinet and pedal bass drum. At the time of writing, I'm not interested in memorising this piece, however I think the image of the naked shadow turning pages definitely has something quasi-fanatical about it; like a ruler preaching to his people or a strange sermon from some kind of extremist priest. The Sadness of Detail is also deftly notated. However I enjoyed greatly the task of committing this work to memory. It is sincerely a pleasure to play 'off by heart' and I hope to do it like that many more times. Press Release is also a long 10 page score, I reduced it using graph paper and my own kind of symbol-system to prompt the various rhythms and pitch sets.

RLC: Are you equally interested in the body of the instrument as fetish object, or is the pleasure all in the playing?

RH: My thoughts on that are more connected with the fact being musician; there is a certain amount of object worship that takes place, an advanced respect and understanding of your equipment. Some musicians are certainly obsessed with their instruments bordering on fetishism; that is something that I'm growing towards, rather than away from.

RLC: Can you say a bit about the powerful, visceral effect playing has on you?

RH: I really don't know where to begin. A musician develops such a close relationship to every (particularly solo) piece that she or he plays. It must be like this, as the musician has to bring to the stage the thousands of details that exist in the music, which really can only be achieved through decades of training. I suppose I would have to add to that, that witnessing this coming-together of performative elements (breath, musculature, movement, wood, metal, gut, glass etc.) is something just as captivating as the resulting sound itself; indeed it is pieces like Interference that do to some level attempt to emphasise the transitions between various techniques and overtly separated physical layers.

The music performed in 'Listen...' is incredibly emotional, it's no surprise that the music should be at times incomprehensible as the myriad manifestations of fetish-influenced sexual practice are often just as baffling.

RLC: I was really struck by the sound the different instruments made, almost a sounding of the body of the instrument itself instead of the music that it might typically produce. Like the sound of your breath running through open keys, instead of playing its particular note. It felt like the non-notes being played with equal emphasis. Can you comment on this?

RH: I love this grey area: where does music stop and noise start? Indeed the term 'music' today is extremely broad and there is plenty of it out there that is made out of what we would commonly call 'noise'. This grey area argument is also a result of the proliferation of highly produced music AND conservative classical music training, whereby many if not all natural non-notated sounds of the instrument are practiced out of the technique of a musician or forcibly removed from the recording by way of brilliant technology. Contemporary music composition often attempts to access this transitional space, but often it's just a reality of live performance. In terms of the works performed in 'Listen...' it comes down to what the composer has instructed me to do with my instruments, and what decisions I made during the process of learning the music.

RLC: There were bits in The Sadness of Detail where I felt the instrument was being deliberately pushed, to somehow play beyond its (and your) normal limits or capacity, whether to do with breath, or the instrument whining or squeaking at the end of sequences. Can you comment on this?

RH: The Sadness of Detail is a beautiful piece of music, it is however very strenuous to perform live, and from memory. It is certainly the piece on the programme least designed to test the limits of the instrument, although it does employ the full range of the clarinet; glissandi (sliding from one pitch to another), quarter tones and eighth-tones (quarter or eighth the length of a normal tone), and a dynamic range from ppppp (quieter sub-tones) to fffff (really, really loud). During the final sections of the piece, the composer asks for the sound to become increasingly tired, even distorted. If the sound did break at any point before this, it was more due to exhaustion and the costume (tightly wrapped cling-wrap).

RLC: I am interested in how your body in the performance can be conceived as porous to the music and take on certain aspects of your instruments. Do you have any thoughts on this?

RH: Playing each of the various clarinets gives one an incredibly different physical feeling, this affects my performance greatly in that I have to 'behave' differently in order to get the instruments to do what I want them to do. Any kind of physical gesture will affect the sound and sometimes, hopefully often, this can be used to advantage the performance, give it a certain edge. In that way 'Listen...' is a good show of this aspect of instrumental playing, in that each piece has a starkly different physical character, and I use my body in correspondingly different ways.

The sound of the instrument (conceptually, not actually) begins in the body, we think of breathing to the stomach, as this expands the lowest regions of the lungs. When this happens, the reflex diaphragm muscle pushes the air out, so in a way we're constantly playing against, but with this muscle. The air blown into the clarinet creates a vacuum on one side of the cane reed, one that it attempts to fill by moving towards it, resulting in the reed continuously vibrating as long as there is air moving past it. Therefore, (technical aspects aside) the body is a vehicle of breath, indirectly of the sound of the clarinet. The body itself becomes 'audible' through the megaphone of the clarinet.

RLC: Listening to you play in Listen..., I was asking myself what constitutes music? What are your personal thoughts on what constitutes music?

RH: In my opinion, music is both organised and non-organised sound. Therefore one could say music is as much a method or psychology of listening, as a type of sound or a type of sonic result. I find the attitude of audience members purporting to know what music 'is' or 'should be', as much as I don't walk around saying what I think architecture 'should be' or what performance art 'is'. The music performed during 'Listen...' was therefore a lot more 'musical' (behaving in a way most people would expect music to behave: exhibiting melody, harmony, rhythm, structure etc.) say, than perhaps what one might hear at a noise event, or some of the more ground-breaking works of the twentieth century (Poeme Symphonique by Gy├Ârgy Ligeti comes to mind). There are many kinds of music I enjoy listening to on a regular basis: a forest, a construction site, a beach, people. All of which became part of the soundscape in 'Listen...'). This is sound, some might say, but the method of listening can make it music: recognising relationships between sounds, identifying pauses in the sound as structural boundaries, knitting together partial sentences uttered by passers-by as a kind of libretto for an urban opera... the list goes on. There's a reason why people should be quiet while listening to music: to afford other listeners the chance to undergo this process undisturbed.

RLC: Who are the composers you admire or who influence you?

RH: There are great number of composers I admire in the United Kingdom: Roger Redgate, Christopher Fox, Liza Lim, Michael Finnissy, Harrison Birtwistle. Greater Europe: Enno Poppe, Michael Jarrell, Pierre Boulez, Georg Friedrich Haas, Bernhard Gander, Mauricio Kagel. Oceania: John Rodgers, James Gardner, Michael Norris, Robert Dahm North America: Michael Gordon, Elliot Carter, Aaron Cassidy, John Adams. To name a few...!

Richard is currently studying for a PhD at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia while living with his partner in Switzerland. He holds a Soloist Diploma (High Distinction) from the University of Arts Berne and a Bachelor of Music (Advanced Performance) from Griffith University, Australia.

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