Bernhard Lang on G.F. Haas's Koma

Bernhard Lang on G.F. Haas's Koma

The Theatre of the Invisible

Listening to Georg Friedrich Haas’s Koma
by Bernhard Lang

It seems like an affirmation of insufficient strength, unsatisfactory intensity or unconvincing intellectual potency that the New Music of recent decades is seemingly compelled to ally itself with visuals, that the performative takes precedence over the sounds, that the visible component usurps the foreground from the musical.

Sound waves are invisible, and in an age of visual overload and inflation they can represent a small miracle: listening frees the eyes, allows the glance to turn inward and attain an experience of temporality and space connected to great freedom. Leibniz described music as “the human mind counting without being aware of counting”.

I experienced Georg Friedrich Haas’s music-theatre piece Koma as a great apologia for this invisibility, in several senses. The drama itself undergoes a shift into sound and its core, opening up a cosmos full of wonder. Haas has actually succeeded here in developing a new form of harmony that makes his musical language unique: the microtonal illuminations and displacements of natural tones in a new kind of hyperchromaticism, a new Gesualdo.

Picture of the world premiere of KOMA by Georg Friedrich Haas in Klagenfurt
World premiere of the definitive version of Koma, Klagenfurt 2019

This is all scored with extraordinary subtlety, with great delicacy and transparency in Koma. Vehement frenzy and outbursts here give way to a chamber-musical texture more reminiscent of the Second Viennese School. The vocal part reaps the benefits in a new transparency that conveys a high degree of textual intelligibility without amplification. More than in his previous works, the vocal part’s intonation is connected with the microtonal texture.

The dimension of the invisible in Koma acquires an additional interpretation that relates to its content: the mirroring of the coma patient’s internal mental states reflects what is unseen, unspeakable and unthinkable. Form meets content and is combined with meaning. In listening, the invisible becomes visible, legible, tangible.

Haas’s constantly recurring theme of darkness (cf. the music-theatre work Nacht [Night] or the dark scenes in In Vain), of darkening, finds a scenic realization in Koma: in the repetitive insertion of black-out scenes, whose negativity shows up the visible scenes as static images of a consciousness flaring up, of points of recollection, associations, dissociated islands in the stream of consciousness. In these moments of darkness, Koma actually becomes a theatre of listening, and in the process goes perhaps a step farther: the deprivation of visibility in the auditorium led me to perceive my own self as listener. I was, in the Godardian sense, listening to myself listening.

Photos: Arnold Pöschl