Contemporary Music, Sound Art and Media in Lithuania: From a Historical Perspective to the Present
Sound Exchange was a project by DOCK e.V. and the Goethe-Institut which sought to shed light on experimental music making in Central and Eastern Europe from 1950 to 2010. Alongside the organization of events connected to music festivals in seven different countries, between 2011 and 2012, the project produced a rich anthology of texts and documents on a wide stylistic and aesthetic spectrum of electro-acoustic music, composed and improvised music, musical media art and audio art ranging a 60-year span.
The Lithuanian chapter of this anthology features an essay by Tautvydas Bajarkevicius titled “Contemporary Music, Sound Art and Media in Lithuania: From a Historical Perspective to the Present”. You can read it below:
Contemporary Music, Sound Art and Media in Lithuania: From a Historical Perspective to the Present
By delving into the relationship between music and media, experimental music and sound art, we find ourselves in a broad field of phenomena and contexts, which characterise these themes and genres. In the Eastern European context, it is quite common to distinguish between the academic understanding of experimental music and practices which have nothing in common with formal, conventional musical literacy, and which are based on entirely different premises. However, a large number of those creating electronic and electroacoustic music are, along with sound artists, quite knowledgeable in at least a few of the different global contexts which influence their contemporary work, and which co-exist without necessarily being directly related to one another. On a local scale, the connections between and among these historical musical contexts are frayed and tenuous, and the differing aesthetic and institutional identities have created gulfs between them. Sometimes, contextual connections appear only in hindsight, i. e. by examining the history of music or, to phrase it more colourfully, by conducting an archaeological excavation of its ideas and practices. This is one of the primary strategies of this paper.
Musicologist Veronika Janatjeva’s study entitled »Terza Prattica, Its Manifestations and Imitations in Lithuanian Music« [i] provides the most comprehensive overview of the history of music, covering academic electronic music, electroacoustic and music with other non-traditional musical instruments, along with music created and performed using technology from the 20th and 21st centuries. This paper is the result of the indirect cooperation of two authors. Using the study by Veronika Janatjeva mentioned above, which provides us with a historical map of the ideas and practices of academic music using media and technology (most often electronic technology), I have decided to concentrate on what I believe are the primary aspects in terms of this discourse, and supplement the analysis with own my point of view. At the same time, I would like to broaden its scope by applying my own theoretical and practical experience by posing questions concerning artistic identity, and by discussing the phenomena of the sound art and informal experimental music scene, along with some issues of an institutional nature.
When translated literally from Latin, »terza prattica« means »the third practice«. In music it describes the practice of electronic music and everything that is connected with it, including the specific character of sounds and their qualities, forms of expression, methods of composing and performing, and its function in society. [ii] The broader meaning of the term could be described using the concept of terza prattica developed by German-born composer and musicologist Konrad Boehmer. According to Janatjeva, »Konrad Boehmer’s describes a totally new musical paradigm (though it was only discussed in the context of Western music culture) with the term terza prattica, the theoretical, aesthetic and finally practical premises of which formed already at the beginning of the last century or even earlier, like the Utopian visions of the future of music.«[iii] With innovations in technology and their ever-easier integration in the creation of music, specific creative ideas and research into matters of style are replacing the lofty, visionary-like language and manifesto-like intentions of musical works, and are shaping the identities of composers and artists. Futuristic intonations are becoming an everyday reality, changing the discourse of art theory and practice, as well as identifying real trends. The search for links between the historical perspective and current context is one of the main goals of this paper.
Vytautas Bacevičius (1905-1970) Photo: Lithuanian Archives of Literature and Art
After the Jauna muzika (Young Music) electronic music festival in 2005, Janatjeva stated the following: »In 1961 when Yuri Gagarin ascended to the cosmos, electronic music was born in Lithuania. The first composer who wrote an electronic [music] composition of sinus tones created using a synthesizer was Vytautas Bičiūnas. Less than 20 heard this work, and only a few remember it. Thus formally we can state that electronic music has existed for about 40 years already in Lithuania.«[iv]
This work was called »Kosmosas« (Cosmos). »It is not difficult to guess that it was inspired by the first flight to cosmic space. The composition repeats the decade-old German electronic music model: it was a montage of tape recorder tapes, and the source for the sound was sinusoidal tone generators.« [v] It is said that Bičiūnas, who is a musicologist and sound director [vi], did not hold these creative attempts in particularly high regard, thus they did not survive (along with other works, if there were any).
What is both interesting and consistent is that the beginning of electronic music in Lithuania is linked with the Utopian dreams of the modernization of the first half of the 20th century, including sweeping visions of technological progress, eternal industrial evolution and the conquest of the cosmos, which were without a doubt viable, and which influenced the work of Lithuanian composers during the interwar years, as well as during later periods when electronic music had yet to appear. »Among the rare musical reflections of the moods of the industrial century were Vytautas Bacevičius’ ›Kosminė poema‹ (Cosmic Poem, 1928) for an enormous symphony orchestra (for 180 musicians!), ›Elektrinė poema‹ (Electric Poem, 1932), and the ballet ›Šokių sūkuryje‹ (In the Throes of Dance, 1932), along with his Simfonija Nr. 2 ›Alla guerra‹ (Symphony Nr. 2 ›Alla guerra‹) – which depicted the tragic reality of war, a departure from the Romantic ideals of war propagated by the ›The Four Winds‹ [vii] movement – plus Julius Gaidelis’ symphonic poem ›Aliarmas‹ (Alarm, 1945).« [viii]
The category of the cosmos was also important for Vytautas Bacevičius, the first Lithuanian composer we could consider to be an electronic music theorist. He was particularly important in marking the historical beginning of the articulation of ideas about a discourse concerning electronic music. Bacevičius was impressed by the field of electronic music, which revealed »unearthly beauty«, innocence, even a purity that was described in scientific terms (the »pure frequencies« are those that don’t exist in nature: they are »purified« of overtones, giving character and individuality to each natural timbre). An aesthetic promise was made, to contemplate the transcendental spaces of spirituality, and to reflect the universe in the prefiguration of the inner cosmos, using music. Vytautas Bacevičius, who had faithfully promoted avant-garde ideas, became influenced by Constructivism and Expressionism, and in the 1950s and 1960s began to advance closer to what was called in biographies his »cosmic period« (one could mention works such as »Cosmic Symphony«, »Graphics« for a symphony orchestra, »Cosmic Poem« for piano, and »Cosmic Rays« for the organ), during which the ideas that had been important to him intertwined with his meditations on electronic music: »True cosmic music elements must be sought in one’s own inner universe. By going this way, one can rise to the highest Abstract, where the loftiest Wisdom, Logic, Perfection, Truth, Beauty, Virtue, Freedom of Spirit and the highest Creative Force with its endless sources and, finally, omnipotent Will reign.«[ix]
Bacevičius finished his 1963 analytical article »Concrete Music, Electronic Music and Music of the Future« [x] with this Romantic manifesto, which we can consider the first theoretical articulation of electronic and electroacoustic music in Lithuanian music. This text is especially valuable as it summarizes the discussion that was occurring at the time between individuals from both schools, raising the question of live performance on stage and the »liveliness« of the process of electronic or electroacoustic composition, as well as providing certain visionary predictions for the future of music. Most of these insights (except, perhaps, for a too clearly-defined differentiation between pure electronic music and electroacoustic music) are relevant and interesting in various aspects in today’s context.
The primary difference between the preconditions for concrete music and electronic music in Bacevičius’ assessments were based on motifs of »spirituality«. In his opinion, the creators of concrete music were only interested in the physical characteristics of sounds, i.e. »they portray and imitate any and all sounds of a physical and natural nature« [xi]. Bacevičius idealises the ability to make electronic music and the goal of using pure tones. He also examines the rules of this school which cause them to rise against the makers of concrete music: »Composers of electronic music, by being representatives of absolute music, are not interested in the acoustic problems of sound, because they care about spiritual expression, mood, sublimity, etc. Those representing electronic music lead a constant war against the makers of concrete music, whom they consider to be beneath them«. [xii]
Vytautas Bacevičius was in exile from the beginning of World War II. This circumstance most likely did not greatly influence his ideas and work in the historical processes of Lithuanian music. The different contexts and circumstances of his work may, up to a point, have impacted the different trajectories taken by this exile composer and the development of Lithuanian music, limited direct contact, and determined the peripheral status of Vytautas Bacevičius in music history during the Soviet period.
Mindaugas Urbaitis Photo: Arūnas Baltėnas
Along with the problematic issues of aesthetic orientation that were connected with technological progress and avant-garde ideas in Soviet Lithuania, there is the relevant question of access to technology and its quality and possibilities in the 1960s and 1970s, during a time that marked what could be called the »youth« of music based on the use of new technologies. There is an interesting link between the first creators of this music and national radio stations and television channels. According to Janatjeva, Bičiūnas »worked as a sound director at Lithuanian Radio starting in 1945, became the first sound director for Lithuanian Television and Radio in 1956, and worked at the Vilnius-based recording studio Melodija from 1961. It was precisely this that gave him the rare chance to experiment with the only accessible tools for making electronic music – the studio magnetophones and sound generators which were used to test the equipment. The case of Jurgis Juozapaitis was similar: he was a composer who worked as a sound director for Lithuanian Television and Radio starting in 1969.« [xiii]
With musicology and cultural studies being mostly focused on serious music and phenomena related to intellectual culture, connections between media and music in the context of popular culture are of particular interest for studies of an interdisciplinary nature on audiovisual art, cultural history and visual anthropology, which are otherwise left out on the periphery. At the same time, the professional interest of composers of serious academic music, and the search for new forms and methods of aesthetic expression connected with technology, draw them toward creative experiments. One of the innovators in this field was Jurgis Juozapaitis, who wrote the chamber symphony »Jūratė ir Kastytis« in 1974, which was the first Lithuanian concert piece to employ a pre-recorded tape. In 1979 he used a magnetic tape editing technique and composed an electroacoustic work entitled »UFO«, while in the 1980s he bought a computer and wrote »Kolapsaras« (Collapse) in 1985, which, according to V. Janatjeva, was the first work created and executed by a computer in Lithuania.
It was not only the composition of musical works that provided technological challenges, but also the performance of these works. This aspect is particularly important for the common paradigm of stage performance, where a new dimension is added by the direction of space and acoustics on stage, and by different approaches to stage direction. The first works of a longer length which used a tape, electrified traditional instruments (violoncello) or live electronic music were made in the 1970s. Mindaugas Urbaitis should be mentioned as a pioneer in this field, using an early version of the tape recorder in his work »Invencijos« (Inventions) for oboe in 1976. His 1979 composition »Meilės daina ir išsiskyrimas« (Song of Love and Separation) for solo soprano and delay system employed an interactive interplay of sound and electronic music during a live stage performance. Urbaitis’ interest in new technological tools for composing music reflects his identity as a composer, as well as his stylistic independence from what is known as the »machinist generation«, which we will look at later.
The link between technological and compositional aspects and problematic issues is revealed by the creative experiments of composer Osvaldas Balakauskas in the 1970s and 1980s. Osvaldas Balakauskas was fascinated by the possibilities of the electric violoncello. One of his notable works is »Ludus modorum« for electronic violoncello and chamber orchestra. A considerable part of this modern piece is for tape and small ensembles as well as for solo performances. The tape usually featured sections, modified in one way or another, which had been recorded beforehand by the performers who were playing on stage. [xiv] This kind of technique provided a number of compositional advantages. According to Vytautas Landsbergis: »Sound recording and reproduction equipment, allowing one to play the tape back or at different speeds, helps to enrich the sound with new colours, upside-down sounds that can’t be produced with regular methods, unheard-of virtuoso possibilities that instruments don’t have. […] The texture is enriched, embellished, accessible where needed, a strong symphonic sound, the impression of a complex orchestral score. However, the composer wins in terms of the chamber-like character – his symphonies with tape are portable, and can be offered to somewhat broader strata of listeners without an enormous orchestra or special premises.« [xv] However, especially when keeping that period in mind, it was the technological aspects that were the most difficult to predict, and the realization of ideas linked with them became problematic. According to the composer, »the electronic audio equipment basis is not at the level it needs to be (or sometimes there simply isn’t any [level]). Due to this, not all the aforementioned possibilities give the expected result, and often it fails entirely«. [xvi]
This situation, paradoxically, greatly influenced what was known as the »machinist generation«, who were very productive in the mid-1980s, manifesting their creative identity in alternative and experimental ways and forcing their way into the Lithuanian academic music environment with a distinct taste for contexts that had, up until that point, been rather foreign to the current dominant aesthetic tastes.
DADA-Congress (1979, Lithuania) Photo: Šarūnas Nakas
This generation includes the work of composers Šarūnas Nakas, Rytis Mažulis, Tomas Juzeliūnas, Nomeda Valančiūtė and Gintaras Sodeika. In one way or another they clearly displayed or partially reflected »machinism« – the cult of technology, mathematical precision, pure logic and related ideas – in music, and included a Modernist flair or neo-Dadaist irony. The concept of »machinism«, which from the very beginning seems to have been used more by critics than articulated consciously by the composers themselves, served as an aesthetic programme and paradigm for creative identity. This concept as such was not limited by a concrete aspect – the form these ideas took was in a sense secondary – that is, they could assume various forms. However, it was precisely the power and expression of this idea which revealed the very beauty, courage and rebellious energy of »machinism,« and created the aura of creative breakthrough surrounding this group of composers.
Works that have merited the still-relevant »machinist generation« label for these composers include Šarūnas Nakas‘ »Merz-machine« for 33 electronic and acoustic instruments, »Vox-machine« (1985) for 25 electronically modified voices and Mažulis’ »Čiauškanti mašina« (Twittering Machine, 1986) for four pianists. V. Janatjeva describes Nakas‘ compositions in the following way: »Concentrated compositions swelling with energy (and sometimes with open aggression), composed of maximally autonomous lines or layers, pulsating with mechanically repeating segments of dense patterns and assaulting the listener with sharp ›urbanist‹ sound produced with electroacoustic instruments…« [xvii]
Šarūnas Nakas, 1984
The composers themselves have expressed different opinions about being grouped together on one shelf in the annals of music history. Gintaras Sodeika says that »it is a particular generation that forms a specific cultural and aesthetic background«. [xviii] Šarūnas Nakas’ position is not as clear-cut: »I look at generations cautiously. Those who are born in the same year don’t necessarily have similarities. Often there is a generation label, description or sign that is created to make it easier to label them.« Despite this reserved comparison by Šarūnas Nakas of the machinists with a generation or stylistic movement, there are certain characteristics that define the work of the aforementioned composers: the strategies they use to create their identities and their ties with the traditions of the 1980s clearly set them apart from the overall panorama of Lithuanian academic music.
Šarūnas Nakas »Merz-machine«, score page
In some cases, the issue of identity is particularly striking. Worthy of mention are two much later works: Rytis Mažulis’ »Grynojo proto klavyras« [xix] (1992–1994) for two pianists and tape, which was a reference to Immanuel Kant’s work »Critique of Pure Reason«, and the work »Gyvybės vandens klavyras« [xx] for two pianos and tape (1983) by Algirdas Martinaitis, who was from the Lithuanian school of Neo-Romantic music. Rytis Mažulis’ minimalist piece reflects the basic principles of machinist composition, a mathematically precise organisation of the structure that seems to multiply the motif that is chosen as the point of departure for the work, reminding the listener of the intertwined garlands of melodies in Martinaitis’ composition: here, however, they do not intertwine into picturesque Romantic compositional threads with an Eastern sound, as in Martinaitis’ work, but rather obey a strict and mechanical compositional logic. This work, though it was made in the 1990s, reflects rather well the situation of the identity of the machinist generation – in one way or another, their creative manifestations became a counterbalance to the dominant Neo-Romantic style. In the case of Rytis Mažulis, they became minimalist compositions organized along canonical progression. Šarūnas Nakas employed the use of Dadaist, futuristic, jazz and other compositional ornaments, while on the discourse level he employed socially active and chameleon-like mythologies concerning artistic identity. [xxi]
Mindaugas Urbaitis expanded innovative strategies for composing by employingtechnology, while at a later date Gintaras Sodeika, concentrating on the (post-)minimalist musical tradition, consistently progressed towards writing works possessing elements of performances, happenings and actions, which surpassed the borders of musical composition. At the end of the 1980s Sodeika was regularly working together with creators of contemporary fine art and with members of performance groups (such as the group Žalias lapas).
The end of the 1980s was a particularly stormy period, full of creative experiments. The theatrical concerts of the Free Sound Sessions featured works by composers from different generations which were inspired by the Fluxus movement, and which oscillated between fanciful and absurd decorations and were inspired by a spirit that had been freed from all canons. For example, Vidmantas Bartulis’ composition »Mein Lieber Freund Beethoven« used radio receivers, recordings of Beethoven’s music, and petard explosions.
The middle of the 1980s also featured the appearance of the Jaunimo kamerinės muzikos dienos (Youth Chamber Music Days, which became the Druskomanija Festival), which was an open forum in which young composers could experiment, and which even had its own musicology publication, Jauna Muzika (Young Music), which examined the problems facing contemporary music. While the machinists did not only define their identity with technological terms or limit themselves to an arsenal of concrete tools for expression, they were among the most active in raising the question of the need for electronic studios (which paradoxically has remained relevant in the 21st century, due to the lack of education in media culture) in order to go beyond the trends of Lithuanian academic music which were dominant at the time. According to Vita Gruodytė, »Digital music today has achieved the level of laser surgery and all kinds of other informatized Western spheres of life, which is why the lagging behind of Lithuanian composers is determined not by whether or not they possess the technology, but by the lack of contemplation of or thinking about technology. It is just not clear – is it because of a distrust of technology, the non-existence of innovative spirit, or the lack of funds? Perhaps the first reason, and the second, and the third?« [xxii]
Vladimir Tarasov »Nocturne for Paper«, Installation 1998
After the 2005 Jauna Muzika electronic music festival, machinist composer Rytis Mažulis admitted that the performance of Japanese noise musician »Merzbow« left an enormous impression on him. In the world of experimental music, Merzbow has been one of the most influential figures since the 1970s. However, we are clearly talking about two phenomena from separate fields, academic music and the experimental music scene.
Most sound artists or contemporary experimental musicians without an academic musical education are influenced by a particularly broad context of musical practices. Thanks to the pioneers of these practices, which included Max Neuhaus, Christina Kubisch, Alvin Lucier and others, the term »sound art« was coined to describe them. In some cases, however, the contemporary generation of sound artists, especially creators of experimental music, were influenced more by musical currents and various (sub-)cultural phenomena that emerged from and were formed by the counter-culture, such as noise music, rock music, industrial music, psychedelic culture, krautrock, punk rock and a number of other phenomena.
The local movement associated with sound art has been uniquely anti-establishment from the very beginning up to the mid-1990s, and, looking at it from the perspective of »serious culture«, it is situated on the fringes. It is hard to find a single nucleus for the expression of sound art on the map of artistic movements in Soviet Lithuania which would provide an adequate point of comparison with what was happening elsewhere in the world. It is, however, worth mentioning a few parallel examples which can be indirectly linked with experimental music or sound art. In the field of discourse we have a letter sent in 1963 by Jurgis Mačiūnas (one of the most famous Lithuanian artists in exile, internationally known as George Maciunas) to musicologist Vytautas Landsbergis (who later became the most influential figure of the Sąjūdis Reform Movement and the first head of a restored Lithuanian state). In this letter, Jurgis Mačiūnas wrote about avant-garde music, Fluxus art, mentioned John Cage’s scores, and also enquired about the possibility of returning to Lithuania to give concerts. What is interesting is that the letter highlighted the left-wing, pro-socialist character of Fluxus ideas and the political proximity of the movement to a socialist order, the kind that Jurgis Mačiūnas was imagining from his position in exile. [xxiii]
However, the visit by Fluxus members to Lithuania did not take place, and contacts allowing an exchange of information across the Atlantic about avant-garde art, including music, were only of a personal nature, and did not have any substantial influence on local art processes. In terms of expressions of informal culture in later years, one should mention the aura that hovered around the concerts of the GTČ free jazz trio with Ganelin, Tarasov, and Chekasin (otherwise known as Ganelin Trio). The trio’s improvisational style was unique in the Soviet Union. In addition, the concerts and performances that took place in the Neringa Cafe or in artists’ studios brought a number of artists and intellectuals together in one group, and it existed as a kind of island of informal, lively underground culture, the energy of which spread into artists’ studios, where Lithuanian artists developed ties with Moscow Conceptualists, and the newest information on international art was discussed (or at least as much news as was available).
We can find the first elements of performance art in the work of the GTČ trio at the end of the 1970s (»Catalogue: Live in East Germany« LP/Leo 1979). For example, the concert known as »Home Music Making In Nine Rooms« which took place in the Vilnius Philharmonic in 1979, mixed elements of musical improvisation and theatre with aspects of performance and happening derived from the visual arts. [xxiv] It was these attempts to exceed the limits of music which led to the first installations by Vladimiras Tarasovas at the end of the 1980s, which can be considered the beginning of sound art in Lithuania.
A somewhat different environment, which could truly be called a hotbed of the counter-culture, was the unique avant-rock phenomenon »Ir Visa Tai Kas Yra Gražu Yra Gražu« (And Everything That is Beautiful is Beautiful, often abbreviated as I.V.T.K.Y.G.Y.G.), which surrounded itself with an intense informal movement and the bohemians of Vilnius. The group’s central figure was Artūras Barysas, who was known as an experimental film maker and music collector who had rather mysteriously managed to acquire an almost unimaginable music collection, given the Soviet context. Artūras Barysas became the prototype of Magas, who was a character in a series of novels by Robertas Kundrotas and Algimantas Lyva. In 1990 Robertas Kundrotas and Linas Vyliaudas founded Tango, the first magazine to cover the international history of experimental, electronic, and improvisational music alongside current developments. The magazine was not published regularly, but it was relatively consistent, as a total of nine issues came out until 2001, giving an analytical and varied overview of themes such as avant-garde music, experimental music, avant-garde rock, free jazz and minimalism, along with other topics. [xxv]
Most of the artistic practices of the last two decades connected to experimental electronic music which identify themselves with the international scene have emerged from the environment of informal culture. A number of artists in this cultural sphere have gradually received local and international recognition as founders of practices of an interdisciplinary character bringing together sound art, contemporary music and visual arts.
The musical project »naj« was established by Kaunas residents Rolandas Cikanavičius, Algimantas Milius and Darius Čiuta in the 1990s, and distinguished itself with its radical aesthetic, balancing between industrial music and noise music. A similar aesthetic was noticeable in the radical sound experiments of guitarist Juozas Milašius. However, starting in the middle of the decade, with the chance to use the first widely accessible digital technology, »naj« member Darius Čiuta began his own explorations in search of his own form of aesthetic expression, and began to research various options for a conceptual approach to sound, starting with collages of sonic cut-ups or musical quotations, an interest (which was radical at the time) in soft, barely audible sound structures that were drawn out over long stretches of time to expose their malleable timbre and spaciousness, and ending with various interdisciplinary projects. As a professional architect, Darius Čiuta often sees sound in the context of a specific situation, event or spatial diffusion, and articulates both its plastic and semantic characteristics. For example, the project »Baltic Flour Mills« [xxvi] (a collaboration between Darius Čuita and Artūras Raila) considers the context of a post-war building in the Gateshead neighbourhood of Newcastle shortly before it is renovated and re-inaugurated as a contemporary arts centre. Darius Čuita employed field recordings to record the industrial ambience of the ghostly building.
Also deserving of mention is Gintas Kraptavičius, known by his stage name Gintas K [xxvii], an example of someone with a consistent and successful career on the informal scene who has recently garnered considerable attention on the international experimental music and sound art scene. Gintas K already began his musical career at the end of the 1980s with Modus, one of the first industrial music groups in Lithuania. In the mid-1990s, G. Kraptavičius turned toward conceptual artistic actions reminiscent of Fluxus. The most interesting work of this time is probably the performance entitled »Invitation for Tea«: the sound of water being boiled was amplified by contact microphones, from the lowest sound elements at the beginning of this generative composition to the multi-layered mass of noise at the end as the water boils. At the end of the performance, audience members were invited for a cup of tea made from the water used in the piece.
A few years later, already known as Gintas K, Kraptavičius joined the international network of sound artists based on partially virtual collaborations, participating in a number of festivals, creative workshops, projects and artistic collaborations. In 2007 his work received special recognition at Berlin’s prestigious Transmediale digital art festival. [xxviii] Antanas Jasenka and young composer and visual artist Arturas Bumšteinas should also be mentioned, as artists who have found themselves in a peculiar »in-between« situation. Both composers, despite their traditional academic education, orient their work toward experimental music and interdisciplinary art as well as other rather unconventional artistic practices. Starting in the mid-1990s, Jasenka began expanding his own aesthetic of electroacoustic composition, manipulating cuttings of cassette tapes, individual sound fragments and sound collages. Employing digital technology, Jasenka focussed on developing a style that could be described using constructivist, technological, neo-futuristic metaphors of the relationship between man and machine, based on collages of digitally generated tones, intense dynamics, and a dense tonal palette. This style is clearly seen in Jasenka’s works »Deusexmachina« (2001), »Elektroninės sutartinės« (Electronic Polophonic Songs, 2003), »Sonic Machine« (2005), »Boarding Pass« (2005), and »point.exe« (2006), among others.
The initiation of radical collective improvisations using digital technology was one of the early creative approaches of Arturas Bumšteinas. The projects »No Video – No Noise«, »Audio Shrift«, »massON«, »Chaos?«, »Life After the Earthquake«, »Experimental Sound Mixer«, and »mixthemixthemix« brought together participants in the informal music scene, and put into practice the idea of collective mixing, the final result of which was an almost uncontrollable mass of sound. Conceptual ideas expressed in sound and images were explored at first in the artistic duet of A. Bumšteinas and Laura Garbštienė, G-Lab, and later in Bumšteinas’ solo projects. Recently, the palette of A. Bumšteinas’ aesthetic expression has been very broad, from objects for gallery spaces to the creation of performance situations and documentary shows, from chamber works for acoustic instruments to concerts by the laptop quartet Twentytwentyone (which he founded).
The above-mentioned composers have been singled out not only for the importance of their work in the context of the experimental music scene of sound art, but also because of their artistic identity, creative models and specific strategies which refuse to be categorized using standard classifications. This could also be said of a large group of other artists, their projects and initiatives, the listing of which alone would require a separate text, not to mention a more complete overview.
Like any other cultural phenomenon, the fate of technologically-based musical works, the conditions for their creation and the vitality of a favourable environment largely depends on institutional models, educational processes, cultural management and policies. In the first decade of this century, we can already observe a positive shift, and say for a fact that opportunities are appearing for the more active expansion of electronic music. However, although electronic music has already achieved a certain kind of folklore status, and interest in it as well as the spectrum of related creative practices has taken on all forms possible, the institutional articulation of these processes is still in the earliest stages.
In twenty years of independence, the only institutional initiative in Lithuania to have consistently worked in the field of visual art, media art and media culture and to have initiated diverse artistic projects is the independent institutional creation Jutempus, established by artists Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas. In the mid-1990s a few projects initiated by Jutempus garnered broad recognition on the contemporary art scene in Lithuania, beginning with an international collaboration with a group of British artists called Ground Control, and ending with the television show tvvv.plotas. Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas used Jutempus to articulate themes of art and technology and also electronic music on a wider scale, and actively implemented practices linked to electronic music in later projects like Ruta Remake or Re-Approaching New Media (RAM), which served as a network for the Baltic countries, and a cycle of creative workshops which took place in 2004 for new media art initiatives. Other practices linked to media art and the context of media culture were, and still are, relatively sporadic.
In contemporary music, those forms of media art belonging to the spectrum of »serious« or intellectual culture are best represented by the Jauna muzika festival, which since 2002 has focused exclusively on academic and non-academic electronic music, electroacoustic music, sound art, and connections between music and technology. It is a regularly staged annual festival, attracting international sound art and contemporary music stars, Lithuanian artists and a broad audience that enjoys this music. Stars that have performed on the Jauna Muzika stage, including Merzbow, Ryoji Ikeda, Carsten Nicolai, Frank Bretschneider, Thomas Köner, CM von Hausswolff, Farmers Manual, eRikm, Richard Chartier, and Pita bear witness to the unique nature of the festival not only in the context of Lithuania, but the whole of Eastern Europe.
There are a number of music and media art festivals and projects that have devoted considerable attention to electronic music over the last ten years. One could mention the festivals Enter and Virus (held in Šiauliai), which are devoted to media art, the festival Centras (in Kaunas) that ran until 2006 and is once again being staged, Garso zona (Sound Zone, in Kaunas and Vilnius), the more academically-oriented festival Iš Arti (Up Close, in Kaunas), Permainų muzika (Music of Change, in Klaipėda), and the young composers’ festival Druskomanija (in Druskininkai). Interesting and energetic interdisciplinary initiatives like the audio-visual poetry festival Tarp (Between) and Naujosios operos akcija (New Opera Action), which experiments with contemporary forms of opera, have become ongoing projects.
Nevertheless, there are still deficiencies amidst this host of positive phenomena. The institutional infrastructure is not well-disposed toward modern interpretations of art practices in the field of sound art and electronic music, as they does not support a stable and consistent environment in which expert skills can be professionally developed. There are no regular residency programmes for the fields of visual art or contemporary music (or at least there is a lack of them), electronic and electroacoustic art, as well as studies devoted to radio art, which would be open to sound art professionals (ultimately, the very concept »sound art professional« currently sounds rather unrealistic in Lithuania), nor are there a sufficiently well-developed creative industries and other industrial branches based on audiovisual media to support professional skills in this field. There is a lack of cooperation between the exact sciences and the creative sector, which could otherwise effectively expand scientific research and artistic practices based on the relationship between music and technology. Finally, a vocabulary for adequate interdisciplinary art research discourse and perspectives for interpreting this kind of musical work is beginning to appear in local musicological discourse, albeit slowly.
It is only in the last decade that the educational infrastructure linked with this field has begun to improve, and has slowly become a more regular and consistent part of an academic programme. A department for sound and video art technology has been established at the Faculty of Humanities in Kaunas, and Šiaulių University is expanding their audio-visual studies. In addition, there are courses in audio-visual art and sound art in the Department of Photography and Media at the Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts. Kaunas’ Vytautas Magnus University is developing programmes focused on media arts, while Vilnius Gediminas Technical University already offers the possibility of technology and art studies (as well as music) of various types and levels. The Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre is delving deeper into contemporary music and sound on both a theoretical and practical level: however, it is difficult to discern elements of a more consistent and conscientious programme that would allow one to more actively shape discourse on the relationship of music and media in an environment including the new generation of composers and performers. This is why the interdisciplinary educational initiatives organized by composers from the new generation are particularly vital and justified, such as the network of creative music laboratories in 2009 called »Procesas«, a cycle in six parts devoted to music recordings, acoustic music, contemporary forms of opera, musical visualisation, electronic music and discourse on 21st century music.
To briefly sum up, it can be said that the long history of electronic music, electroacoustic music and other technology-based music in Lithuania reveals a potentially rich map of musical ideas that, up until now, have been rarely articulated. This historical heritage is an eloquent comment on today’s situation. Our age, called by many the Golden Age of electronic music, opens up inexhaustible and attainable artistic perspectives. Thus a historical and cultural experience linked with this kind of art, which has suffered a traumatic feeling of deficiency, emptiness of context, fear of innovation, and a feeling of isolation that has been exacerbated by a narrow definition of the discipline, now seems like a horizon that has never been so wide with possibilities, and never so rich with productive and creative visions.
Translation: Jayde Will