by Dieter Schnebel

Michael Wertmueller´s music is, on the one hand, full of raw power, on the other, speculative. His early hand-written scores look chaotic: densely written rows of notes, spotty black, which suggest a corresponding musical dynamics. Actually, this dynamics is often rebellious, fighting - Wertmueller is a virtuoso, also a wild drummer - and apparently chaotic. Literary texts underlie several of his pieces: in Dunkel-Zeiten (Dark Times), some from Nietzsche; in Das Zimmer (The Room) some from Beuys; in William, a bizarre play from Thomas Bernhard; Entleibung (Decorporeal) runs through a triptych by Francis Bacon. Of course, the text-images are not a subject that is copied into music, but rather an impulse for musical processes - an expressionism that develops in rhythms and tones. Which has something old-fashioned, a touch of genius: an unmediated statement of a powerful originality; even the way his pieces originate is eruptive, though now and then slow-moving.

Nevertheless, the volcanic in Wertmueller's work is strictly controlled. The drummer, who is strongly physical and sensual in his performing, has been drilled from his (good!) education in complex time processes. Septulets, 11-tulets are beat in a dreamlike security such when a "normal" 4/4 beat appears, it nearly shocks the listener. The often extremely difficult time structures of his pieces are based on percussive experiences that are rationalized in the composition and worked out with excessive meticulousness. The notes on the score - which have been written out for a while now using a computer - look correspondingly "crazy". The are bars such as

19·7 39·7 41·5 57·7 97·9  
256 1024 4096 512 2048
(in Tonio W.)

and there are not only 64th (as of course in Beethoven's late works), but also six and seven-barred 256th and 512th notes - and even further (When he was drawing up one of his pieces, the computer gave up: it was simply overtaxed with the input/output of the extremely complex written notes). In Wertmueller's piece die zeit. eine gebrauchsanweisung. (time. a user's manual.), the fifteen musicians read the notes from a screen upon which the notes run like a film; and this because each individual voice has its own time signature. The voices, however, "are controlled by a central computer that works like a fifteen-armed conductor and indicates the fifteen deifferent tempi" (at the work's premiere at the Donaueschingen festival, the public unfortunately could not read along).

Meanwhile, the musicians are permanently over-taxed: demanded of them is to play the rhythmically unplayable, the impossible! - materially, instrumentally and mentally - throughout the piece. In the Entleibung pieces there are insane tempi of the strings, which not only produces an emotional wildness and beyond that a secondary impression of a quasi-overexertion and kind of ecstatic over-concentration, but also calls up a quasi-otherworldly electronic tonal quality. Thus an Entleibung (de-corpus, out of the body) happens - and something metaphysical occurs, beyond physis and nature.

This is where Wertmueller's art shows its speculative side. The construction is constantly the basis - be it an apparently simple one over a row of Webern's String Quartet op. 28 (to one of his hidden, quiet gods)- which is why the saxophone quartet is called Tonio W. in 100 Bars, be it the chord configurations from one of my bagatelles (Elysium (Film music)). But such materials are shoved through the most modern computer shredder with an extremely logical determination until the begin - even without the expressions that fall away - to sound supernaturally.

Wertmueller is a figure full of contradictions. On the one hand, latently linked to tradition (see above), even weirdly a native in Switzerland (13(!) Stücke für Steamboat Switzerland or Wertmüller upon his way to the Zivilschutz (civil defense), on the other hand (painfully?) settled in the computer world and in extremely technological procedures. On the one hand, secretly romantic (the reference to Tristan in die zeit), also as an jazz musician and in life: on the other hand, working with the most modern material and procedures. Thus his person is "brilliant" like his music, antiquated, sentimental and entirely modern technologically and inventive. Searching for a utopia - that non-place where the impossible possibly becomes possible, happening in a moment of intensified time. I wish him all the best!