It’s a purely functional exercise, but it’s a beautiful one. When the orchestra all align upon an “A” note to get in tune with one another, every individual instrument dials into a shared understanding of time and space. A door of opportunity opens and promptly shuts; the orchestra are deemed to be “in tune”, and the “real” music commences shortly after. Here, Rutger Zuydervelt extends this moment of alignment into 50 minutes, calling in over 150 musicians (who never congregate, submitting their contributions remotely) to bring the piece into being. I walk through the doorway.
The music and I are constantly orbiting eachother – the psychological aspect of my listening experience ferments and unfurls, while the piece itself slides gradually through stages of transition. I’m drifting down a seemingly endless hotel corridor, with each section devoted to a particular category of instrument; fine strands of string tone trail like loose hairs into a chorus of brass, accompanied by voices that wobble and gulp like seahorses. The drone and I become intimately acquainted. Every microtonal discrepancy starts to sound like a chasm of misunderstanding, while all of the bumps and notches that define timbral shape are magnified in my mind’s eye, with the vibraphones at 25 minutes plonking upon the horizontal wire like ovular raindrops. As my scrutiny intensifies, the supposed moment of alignment starts to feel like a rabble of individual voices swooping in and out of phase.
The exercise loses all function. I come to the realisation that the orchestra are never really in tune, and that to focus too intently upon the differences is to be stranded miles down the corridor, too fixated on moving forward to consider turning back. I reach 35 minutes and the overtones become unbearable, like black slugs upon a plank of pure white – the scrape and pluck of strings become violent flecks of attack, dragging the music away from its quest for absolute synchronisation. What’s amazing is that the sense of expectation never leaves. Stay Tuned is an act of preparation; a held breath, or an vase held aloft before being dropped, preluding a piece that never actually comes.