This is about Claudia Molitor, but only sort of. Only in so far as Claudia Molitor cares whether or not you talk about her as the ‘composer’ of her music, the ‘author’ of her scores. In all her flagship productions, there is another shining star. It could be the bridge containing a million histories in Singing Bridge, or the railway line that services London and Margate in Sonorama. In some cases, it could be everything else: Decay, the collaborative project she’ll finalise at hcmf// 2019, has been living its own life entirely.
Beginning her career as a student of Michael Finnissy, Molitor learned what Wire described as his attention to ‘texture and extended instrumental sonarity’, crafting pieces that sound precisely detailed, with exacting structure. But she also learned to apply these ideas elsewhere: environments became textures, and she started to extend seemingly unimpeachable abstract concepts – like time and space. In recent years, Molitor has crafted a series of multi-disciplinary projects best described as audio-environmental, focusing our attention on places and situations we exist in constant collaboration with. In 2016’s Singing Bridge, she created an immersive piece of acoustic geography, tying Waterloo bridge to a series of sound recordings specific to its site and history. A Guardian review remarked that it was ‘best experienced as it was intended – overlooking the bridge’, deftly summing up Molitor’s practice of using music to build meaningful relationships between us and our worlds.
It is not unusual for Molitor to talk about things – whether structures, journeys or pieces of music – as if they are alive. On the Waterloo bridge, she remarked that we ‘completely take it for granted’, saying that she hoped to ‘open up the space for the space for the listener to reconnect with this beautiful structure and their relationship to it’. In turning a train journey from London to Margate into the music score for Sonorama, she described wanting to ‘challenge the disconnect between the traveller and their journey’, locking the listener into place with our companion – a countryside in transit. It’s as if we’re estranged family members walking into a reunion; reckoning with our everyday experiences, we learn to replace our indifference with deep, lasting relationships to our surroundings.
Molitor’s art tends to extend. It goes beyond being a ‘piece’ of music that is forever fixed in in time, instead inviting indeterminate aspects like journey and growth. Her work is multi-directional, often shedding identities like ‘composer’ in favour of the chaos theory of collaboration. Her most recent project, Decay, enlists an ever-changing roster of musicians over the course of many interrelated performances. Conceived with collaborative partner Tullits Rennie, the piece was first performed at hcmf// 2018 alongside guest musician Kelly Jayne Jones; it has since been performed with improvisers such as John Butcher, Alison Blunt and Line Upon Line Percussion, moving beyond strict borders to become an ever-changing music piece. Now, more than ever, its sense of flow – its freedom to travel through time – feels important. In a dash of fatalistic irony, Molitor and Rennie were denied work permits to perform Decay in the United States, the music travelling overseas without them.
Molitor describes the process of Decay as ‘generative’, inviting different artistic voices to ‘change and challenge any sense of authoritative iteration’. It’s not only the mechanics of the piece that change – along with instrumentation and musical structure, the philosophy of Decay is in flux. By giving the piece qualities such as age and personal history, artists can do different things to it: a particular sound they add could be a milestone for the piece, or it could become a contamination, germinating the piece with new sound. Molitor notes the ubiquitous nature of her theme – because decay is a fact of existence, it is something we ‘are troubled by and drawn to in equal measures’. It isn’t neutral, as such, but a combination of different emotional flourishes. The piece draws on individual experiences, to the personal existentialism of each artist contributing to it.
Decay makes a return fixture of hcmf// 2019, once again performed alongside a selection of guest musicians. It appears alongside Auricularis Superior, a sound installation commissioned by hcmf// in 2017, surveying the links between sound and meditation fostered by Pauline Oliveros. The focused and intentional approach of these works is too good an analogy for Molitor to pass up: these in-the-moment participations, these close-up examinations of life processes, are what make her a composer. Molitor fights against our disassociation, our ability to hide away from the things that culture our life. She scores the whole existence.