Fritz Vögele, in his monograph on Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) (published by Rowohlt in 1982), views the great American scientist as the epitome of ingenuity and technical progress.

When I was invited to write a short composition for the 25th anniversary of the Institut für Österreichische Musikdokumentation IÖM (Documentary Institute for Austrian Music), I developed together with Gottfried Hinker a computer program for comparing different chords—with the aim of making this painstaking process a lot easier. At the same time, I was trying to conceptualize a formal structure that could generate rational, purely technical functional processes. The result was a modular structure consisting of four-part chords and capable of producing great variability.

Thus, the final form of the short compositions grouped under the common title "Monumentum pro Thomas Alva Edison" slowly emerged in the course of over more than two decades. Common to all pieces is the three-movement arrangement with 3x3 (i.e. 9), 3x2 (i.e. 6) and 2x2 (i.e. 4) formal sections, which are shaped by modules—in other words, the small units of connections between several four-part chords developed from the grids. The work thus becomes progressively reduced in its proportions —rejuvenated, so to speak.

Two contrasting modular types are mainly used: an a-module, which can occur several times within a section, and a b-module, whose position is fixed at the end of each section. The a-module is formed by three chords in the 1st movement, by four chords in the 2nd movement, and by five chords in the 3rd movement. This results in homophonic, chordal pieces, in which melodic lines and very rudimentary counterpoint can only develop from these harmonies. The harmonies in all the pieces always consist of the same three intervals: minor second, major third, and tritone. However, all three intervals do not always occur; for instance, the minor second may occur twice, along with only one of the other two intervals.

After the form has been established via a process resembling a modular system, individual "molds" can now be derived from it (to use a sculptor's language). But what distinguishes the individual molds from one another, if one disregards the very individually shaped sound image that is created by the chosen instrumentation, as well as the rhythmic design (temporal levels arising out of different tempo relations), articulation, etc.? There is the variability of the individual modules allowing the composer to change the number of a-modules and the number of chords within the singular b-module—also by omission. The possibility of using inversions of the chords in the modules is also employed. Moreover, for the a-module, the composer can determine how many of the notes (0-3) in the chord progression remain the same (for example, if the first chord consisted of the notes E-F-B-D sharp and the second of G sharp-B flat-B natural-F, then the relationship between the two chords would involve the two notes they have in common).


First Mold for violin, guitar, and double bass (1998-2018)

»for the 25th anniversary of the Documentary Institute for Austrian Music«

Slowly, with cool precision               Vienna, 15 February 1998           3'30''
II Allegretto (rhapsodically) Vienna, 4 August 2018 2'17''
III    Presto  Vienna, 12 August 2018 1'54''

: 7'45''
Premiere of the first module: 1998 in Vienna (Hoboken Hall), performed by Leo Witoszynski, Michael Seifried and René Staar

I got the idea for this mold (and for the entire work) from the "Generative Chord Computer Program" I developed together with Gottfried Hinker, which provided us with a basis for all the pieces in the cycle. This involves the development of chord sequences from predetermined interval combinations.

The manner of processing is different in all the molds. In the first movement, the broken chords in the a-module are used as mutually displaced complex rhythmic events, while the b-module presents itself through chords displaced homophonically against each other, i.e. in a simpler form, but faster in tempo. Tempo relationships further expand the spectrum of possibilities.

The 2nd movement is dominated by a duet between violin and double bass, which "play around" the guitar. The surreal effect of the 3rd movement results from the prominent function of the double bass as the leading instrument, which is countered by strongly reduced harmonic structures in the violin and guitar in rapidly changing rhythms in 5/8, 6/8 and 3/4 meters. In the process, the violin differentiates between leaps and pizzicato passages, and the double bass sometimes performs wide leaps that contribute to a whimsical effect.


Second Mold for violin, B-flat clarinet, tenor saxophone, and piano (1998)

I Rhythmically flowing      Vienna, 10 June 1998      0'54''
II Fast March - Parodistic    Vienna, 22 April 2021 1'00
III   Gentle Parody of a waltz (Allegretto scurrile)          Vienna, 26 April 2021 1'08''

: 3'30''
Premiere of the first module: 1998 in Vienna (Karajan Centrum), performed by Stefan Neubauer, Peter Rohrsdorfer, Johannes Marian and René Staar

In the first movement, an accelerando of tempo relationships occurs within a six-stage time lapse. In the process, the ratio 5:4 is applied to the a-module, pushing the movement to the brink of feasibility. The parodic features of the two complementary movements, a quick march à la Mickey Mouse – albeit with a sarcastic undertone – and a "gentle parody of a waltz" (or rather: some waltzes) reinforce the absurd features of this mold. The element of absurdity is further emphasized through abrupt accents, exaggerated tempi (the march too fast, the waltz too slow), and, ultimately, the brevity of the work itself (for comparison, Webern's Quartet op. 22 with the same instrumentation lasts more than twice as long as this piece). While in the 2nd movement the b-module is clarified compositionally by the triplet figuration that contrasts with the march, the 3rd movement achieves a fusion of the two basic building blocks of the Monumentum.


Third Mold for String Trio (1998)

I Quite brisk   Lake Pleasant, 10 July 1998            3'05''
II With inner glow             Vienna, 9 April 2021 2'56''
III   Allegretto    Vienna, 10 April 2021 1'10''

Premiere of the first module: 27 November 1998 at the Festival of New Music in Lissabon, performed by Tobias Lea, Philipp von Steinaecker and René Staar
Premiere of the complete work24 September 2021 at the Alte Schmiede Kunstverein (Vienna), by the Trio EIS (Ivana Pristasova, Petra Ackermann, Roland Schueler)

The 1st movement is built upon the horizontal, interlocking counterpoint of the a-modules, while the b-module offers a contrast of horizontal, quasi-arpeggiated chords. The 2nd movement (to be played with inner glow – as if black lava from a volcano were threatening our livelihood) consists of homophonic ponticello chords and is to be performed with the utmost legato. The b-module is tonally distinguished by the separate articulation between the chords that are now performed ordinario. The 3rd movement is to be played pizzicato throughout, except at the end. The a-modules are characterized by three alternating characters (3/4 in dance-like character, 6/8 as a differently weighted dance-like element, and eighth notes dizzyingly succeeding one other in 2/4 time), while the b-module is always shaped by sharp Bartók pizzicati. These 2x2 sections conclude the movement, and thus the work, with the last b-module shortened to two chords, and by saltandi acting as echoes.


Fourth Mold for harp, harpsichord, and guitar (2017)

»for the 30th anniversary of the Ensemble Wiener Collage«

I Allegretto     Vienna, 4 January 2018      1'45''
II Andante comodo e rubato       Vienna, 5 July 2019 2'04''
III   Vivo leggiero                 Vienna, 5 July 2019 0'32''

Duration: 4'30''
World premiere of the first module: 24 April 2018 at the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna, performed by the Ensemble Wiener Collage conducted by René Staar.

The 1st movement of this mold, written for the unique sound spectrum of harp, harpsichord and guitar, mainly explores the a-module using complex shifts of various syncopated structures. The b module, on the other hand, consists only of arpeggiated chords.

The 2nd movement is dominated by various solos of the three instruments, which assume a role resembling a broken melody. The whole is accompanied by a distinctive interplay of lightly floating chords that develop out of an equally dignified prelude. Although this movement has something mysterious about it – to which the harmony contributes decisively –  the overall character is rather bizarre. This is further emphasized in the 3rd movement, an extremely short impulse, that starts with surreal fluttering and eventually peters out in an interplay of two harmonies in bizarre succession. If one can clearly distinguish the b-module from the a-module in the 1st and 3rd movements, these differences are minimized in the 2nd movement and largely disappear in its espressivo.


Fifth Mold for mezzo soprano (vocalise), B-flat clarinet, 2 violins, viola, cello, accordion, and piano (2018)

I Andante mosso      Vienna, 15 August 2018           2'36''
II Lento Vienna, 15 August 2018 2'55''
III   Brisk and cheerful                    Vienna, 15 August 2018 0'38''

World premiere of the first module: 18 December 2018 in Tel Aviv, performed by the Ensemble Wiener Collage, conducted by René Staar

Although in the 1st movement the structure of the formal parts is easily traceable, the kinship of its layout with the 1st movement of the 4th Mold is immediately apparent. This piece is also based on interlocking syncopated elements, but here the soprano presents the b-module. However, the formal sections appear extended, and the first three sections resemble an exposition. From section 4 onwards, the soprano takes over the a-module, while the b-module remains within the instrumental parts. Apart from this, the inclusion of tempo relations in the rhythmic profile of the piece indicates the development-like character of sections 4-6. The remaining sections (7-9) cannot be considered a recapitulation, if only because a new perspective of chordal processing is again introduced in them. 

The parts just described could be schematically represented thus:

I (1-3) Interlocking syncopated rhythms.

II (4-6) Processing of the elements with the help of tempo relations

III (7-9) Reshaping of the material, taking into account the contrast of triplet and duplet forms established in the exposition.

Analogies to the 4th Mold can also be observed in the 2nd movement, especially in terms of the melodic structure, even if, in this case, it is focussed on the soprano line. Only the 3rd movement differs substantially in its structure from the 3rd movement of the 4th Mold: it is characterized by four or even five quarter notes that are detached from each other, which the soprano presents several times distributed over the abstract text "ha-ha-ha-ha". The remainder of this short movement is animated by the invention of several contrasting elements that can take on either a dance-like, spherical, or even playful character. This character is further emphasized in the soprano line through the merging of vowels (e.g. a-o-a or o-e-o).