nmz 98-02 - The article "Feeling the body of sounds-the piano-player and improviser" by Roman Brotbeck, reviewing the performance "The tree after/Hiroshima 2" (text and video, Cologne, October 1995, with the participation of Rena Meyer-Wiel-voice) gives an idea of public reception

Feeling the body of sounds

The piano-player, Improviser and Performance-Artist Klaus Runze

As Klaus Runze began to play the piano without music in the late 60s, first as a pedagogical tool, but then in concerts, there was hardly any tradition for his new life’s direction. "Note-f'ree" music existed in Jazz or other style-oriented Improvisation; in the New Music of the 50s one searched for freer concepts.

Rena Meyer-Wiel and Klaus Runze in the performance
"The tree after" / Hiroshima II, Köln Oktober 1995


’t have much to do with there tendencies, as they weren’t really note-free. In Jazz the formulas aren't written down, but the conventions of the idiom are learned. In the oase of style-oriented Improvisation, where a performer might play a fugue, the point is that the player could improvise as though he were playing a composition. And the better an improviser "plays" composer, the more success he’ll have with the audience. Within the bounderies of New Music it was very difficult to separate the idea of a work from the control of the author.

Klaus Runze distanced hiniself from such forms of "noteless" music. His point of departure was the keyboard and the keys themselves. The touch of the finger to the key, the touch of the bow to the string. His point of departure was the "feeling". The classically trained pianist saw that the original, sensual connection to the key, to the breathing of the piano could be lost through the use of printed music. While interpreting works of music, the keys generally have a serving role, Runze seeks to take this "service" role away from the playing apparates, and tries to give it a value of it’s own.

The Piano as "Sound - Sculpture"

With his first ventures into this world Runze saw the importance of the Here and Now; the seeking of something Direct. His Piano sounds are himself. in his music there is almost no room for preconception or planing, the music is more a kind of simply bing within the sound - a sculptural "being" within any moment. Runze can insist on sounds, can feel their "bodies" until they are truly understood. The piano is turned into a rich soundsculpture which brings different colors at different moments. Always moving, always elastic, in an ever-changing state of "becoming". In this way the piano is freed of it’s 19th century categorisation as apparatus for house music.

Tone production is Klaus Runze’s point of departure. He is interested in the extremest differentiation of tone production possible through manipulation of the keys, for example legatissimo or staccatissimo. In this way it’s possible for him to bring the piano into a kind of "breathing" state. Sometimes he uses various attack techniques, enveloping his hands in silk or cotton scarves, pouncing upon the keys like a seal. In this way it is possible for him to generate clustereffects not possible with the naked hand. But when Runze does play with the hand alone the effects are just as varied, just as startling, through the keys he coos, whispers, screams, and, yes, sings too.

Sometimes the pianist tries to remove one of the piano’s biggest disadvantages: once the hammer has hit the string there is no way to change the sound, barring use of the pedal. Very early on Runze began playing right on the strings themselves, muffling and dampening them to create an elastic sound world. He doesn’t prerare the piano (à la Cage) but changes the sound within it's duration. He chooses material which softens rather than hardens the piano’s natural sound. In each case he follows given musical situations to their respective ends and when he plays with a partner, in which case the one creates the sound and the other modifies an already created sound, each player has to have the highest possible degree of autonomy. A dialogue or musical game is created between the two players. Thus we have the rare situation in which the beginning and end of a sound is handled by two different respective players. Not in composition or development, but in the continuing differentiation, sound coloring, in the sensibility with which he hears sounds and gives them their "own" time; these are the qualities of Runze’s playing. The advantage of a music without written scores is that the European sense of time, which places so much into categories of future and past, is made for the moment obsolete. The forms become almost oriental in their emphasis on the present, without any real intention however to sound so.

Other Pianos

Runze is not only interested in treating the piano as though it were somethimg else, to play it in new ways, he is also interested in combining it with other instruments and jumps at every chance he finds to use new or unusual forms of the instrument. 20 jears ago he enthusiastically played on a 16th-tone piano of the mexican futurist Julián Garillo, whose whole range from bottom to top covers only one octave. Lately he has been trying out two pianos tuned a quartertone apart; in 1996 Runze gave a concert on a Bösendorfer Imperial, a Grand Piano which has an additional 6th below the conventinal Contra-A. With his differentiated cluster playing the concert was like cave-wandering through unknown, quarries and crevices; music of enormous strength, with granite-drilling, landslides, slugde and quartz-crystals.

Early on Runze began building his own instruments. Like Harry Partch (d. 1974) he not only realizes ideas, but also accepts found materials. One of his favorite sources is the Rhine river and the instruments which then later appear in his music are like audible "messages in a bottle".

Trio and Duo

More recently Runze has been playing in the following formations: with the "Trio STRUZ" (Marianne Steffen-Wittek, percussion instruments; Markus Zaja, soprano saxophone and bass clarinet; Klaus Runze, piano and sound sculptures), and in a Duo with the vocalist Rena Meyer-Wiel. After working with rather long forms (pieces of half-hour length) Runze is now concentrating on shorter pieces with humerous titles which can be separated from one another. The pieces of the STRUZ Trio can’t be catagorized with the traditional words "composition" or "improvisation". lt is clear in the performances that something is happening, as in all fine chamber music, which has taken a tremendous amount of work and ref inement. Runze’s experimental phase of the early 80’s - sometimes very related to a "happening" has become more refined with the years.

lt seemed that each spontaneous event held something of protest within it; protest against the determined aspects in music and everyday life. Spontaneity can be shown in small gestures as well as in large.

lt is interesting to note that Runze plays different roles in his different ensembles. In Trio STRUZ he is a botherer, who gets in the way of the melodic lines inevitable created through such a formation. With the vocalist Rena Meyer-Wiel Runze takes on an ordering and accompanying role. Rena Meyer-Wiel has the kind of voice that 60’s composers looked for: a huge range, with the most differenciated attacks and a perfect technique, she can slip into the most diverse ethno-musical styles in a heart-beat. Arabian, japaneese or american.

What has been said about the intimacy or the differenciation of the Art Song in the 19th century, these qualities can be found in the performances of Meyer-Wiel / Runze. Here Runze plays to a large extent on the keys. The piano becomes almost alive, like a lung for the singer. A lung which supplies her with breath through the wildest escapades!
Two years ago Runze accompanied Rena Meyer-Wiel with two of his sound sculptures for "The Tree after...", an Installation and Elegie for the Soth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. In Hiroshima "Peace Park" there are some very old trees. They stand not far from the blast center of August 6, 1945. Their damaged state, with burned bark and wood on one side, tells their story. In 1973 three trees were planted at the Peace Memorial Museum which blossom each year. Klaus Runze documented the phenomenon of both sets of trees in 1988 which became the basis for his installation "Tree lanterns". In this scenery a dialoge takes place between voice and accompaniment, which Klaus Runze played on two Kitharas - found pieces of wood upon which double bass strings have been attached. A symbolic, reduced, damaged world of new sounds is created.
What this performance shows is Runze’s ability to bring difficult and emotional themes into his work without sentimentaly or kitsch. Few areas have been so overpopulated with fundamentalists in the last few years as the performance area of improvisation. Klaus Runze remains interested in sound and touch. Touched sounds, without ideology, have always been his theme.

Roman Brotbeck