The first thing that strikes us about the compositions of Nicolaus A. Huber is their absolute self-sufficiency. The next thing is their accessibility. Generally these two features don't come in pairs: it means, after all, joining the familiar with the unfamiliar. But Huber's music thrives on just this dialectical tension. In the 1960s, he gathered experiences from both Stockhausen and Luigi Nono on what constitutes musical gesture, ensemble, the deadweight of tradition, and the freedom of new expanses, both temporal and spatial.
But these experiences were unable to satisfy him, not least of all because of their attendant social strictures. "The stimuli I got from Nono left me somehow dissatisfied. Take material and historicity, for instance: I couldn't find enough access to the real roots. So I started delving into psychology. I thought, if you really want to eradicate tonality, it's not enough to avoid a performance technique or something like that, you've got to change yourself from the bottom up. It was from this angle that I acquired my approach to tonality and my urge to revitalize human beings."
The above quotation from an interview implies an enormous amount of grass-roots labor. Even today, Huber still has an undiminished interest in the way human beings are affected by a tone, a sonority, a rhythm; and it is the unexpected responses that inspire him more than the predictable ones. The roots of this interest lie in Huber's penchant for political music, a sine qua non for him during the 1970s and one that continues to reverberate in an age when social utopias have long given way wholesale to the pressures of pragmatism.
Today, as Huber views the situation, composers are largely left to their own devices. Twenty years ago, a politically-minded composer could still write for the masses (if such was his intention) and keep an ear open for feedback from that quarter. Today, however, composers confront a lonely crowd. Moreover, this crowd is at the mercy of a constantly expanding apparatus whose sole purpose is to present a simulated caricature of reality, from newscasts to video games. As a result, the creative musician of today must make use of these same mechanisms. Thus, again and again, Huber's most recent works hinge on aspects of disorientation, on acoustical and optical illusion. In this respect, he has been strongly influenced by the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard. At the same time, however, his critical approach comes hand in hand with a retrenchment to the elemental forces of the composer's craft.
"I believe I have a special affinity for the elemental per se. It might be nothing more than a scale, or a single insistent pitch. I don't care for linguistic gibberish or ornamentation, and it makes me sick to hear them in other composers." What Huber is striving for is a new immediacy, an intensity of the moment of the same sort he discovered not only in the fragmentary works of late Nono but also (note the range of his interests!) in the short stories of Charles Bukowski. Here he has even detected aspects of tonality - a species of tonality, however, that still cries out for a new definition. "It's this area of distinctness and definability, with as few Bteles $(A as possible, that I like to call the ?,Bclose range $(A. Recently I've come to refer to the cultivation and unfolding of the nuclear ego, the safeguarding of the close range, as a new definition of tonality."
These thoughts have left an increasingly distinct mark on Huber's compositions. The "close range" has even come more and more to include the body of the performer. For Huber, to write music is always to probe the possibilities and limits of the human body. In his piano piece "Beds and Brackets", for example, an inquisitive performer tells an entire story about the breadth of the arms and the interlocking of the hands, about transcending the keyboard and inspecting the instrument. At the end, an instruction in the score tells us that the doors and windows of the concert hall are to be thrown open or, where this is not possible, the sounds of the outside world are to be piped in on tape. Here the motion reaches a point of displacement so extreme as to go beyond or even to precede art itself.
Much of Huber's music thrives on similar ideas. The very titles of his compositions speak volumes, even those whose meaning is hidden at first glance by their deceptive neutrality. His "Nocturnes" for orchestra, for example, deal with landscapes of the night and secret conspiracies. The subtitle, a quotation from a novel by RamÃ³n del Valle-InclÃ¡n, makes the meaning plain: "The night is deep in whispers and reverberations." Here, too, Huber is especially interested in the other close-range relations within a secretive darkness, where whispering can grow to maximum intensity or a scream can reverberate in the distance. Disorientation and twilight also resonate in such titles as "Sphaerenmusik" ("Music of the Spheres"), "Demijour" or "Air mit ,BSphinxes $(A". The latter is a piece for chamber orchestra in which a melody ("air") recedes further and further into "airy" regions full of mystery. Other titles place the emphasis on more elemental aspects. One example, borrowed from John Cage, is the term "Mit etwas Extremismus" ("with a bit of extremism"), to which Huber has added "und einer Muskel-Coda" ("and a muscular coda"). Another is "Statement zu einem Faustschlag Nonos" ("Statement on a Blow from Nono's Fist"), a piano piece that continues to occupy Huber's attention (he has also incorporated it in other works such as "Beds and Brackets" and "Drei Stuecke fuer Orchester"). It is one of the most eloquent examples of Huber's alertness to physical sounds and the way they violently impinge on his artistic sensibility: "Shortly before he died, I sat with Nono on the jury of a composers' competition. During the sessions he sometimes pounded out massive rhythms of elemental proportions on the table with his fist, fortississimo. These liberating hammerblows remained stuck in my mind the whole time I was working on "Statement". They were entirely an outgrowth of the close range of doing and perceiving."
These and other elemental and energetic observations help to explain why Huber's music pushes forward again and again into realms of almost incantatory pulsation. For Huber, the regular, unbroken pulse is one of the most basic and primordial of all musical experiences. The repetition of identical events has a fascination all its own. Yet each repetition, it turns out, stands in a different landscape dominated by what has preceded it and encounters a different state of physical receptivity in the listener. Even the title of a piece for snare drum, "dasselbe ist nicht dasselbe" ("the same is not the same"), points to this aspect, both in its meaning and in the repetitive structure of its words. Once again, this factor of repetitiveness relates to disorientation and illusion. Critical composition (a term Huber adopted in the 1970s) can only attain the full brunt of the grass roots if it takes advantage of experiences as elemental as the naked sensation of bodily rhythms. The same sort of experiences can be gathered from, say, Andy Warhol's serial replications of photographs. Perhaps this is why Huber alludes to this very technique in his new orchestral project, "To 'Marilyn Six Pack' ".
(1996; Translation: Roger Clément)