The ongoing history of modernity is a history of acceleration through means of transport and communication. Devices like the telephone, radio, television, and eventually the internet enable the exchange of information in real time. The letter, however, much ridiculed nowadays as ‘snail mail,’ involved an interval of days or weeks between the writers’ respective utterances.
In the history of modern music, the issue of acceleration through the evolution of media has left yet another trace. The possibility of storing sound directly via phonography has accelerated the trajectory from idea to audible performance and distribution of a work because a written score has stopped being a structural necessity. Since the invention of the phonograph, the position of the composer as a writer of sheet music has become a precarious one. This ontological precariousness has led to reactions such as ostentatiously elaborating scores into (calli-) graphical objects of visual art, but also to an extreme aversion, shared by thinkers as different as Adorno and Cage, against improvised musics that were never based on writing in the first place.
These two historical developments are currently converging. Increasing internet bandwidths and social media imply a tendency towards permanent real-time communication across all media, and physical recording media are fighting a rear guard battle which they are going to lose. Advocates of file sharing on the one side and the music industry on the other side seem to agree on this point, even while holding different views on whether this is a good or a bad thing. This point in the history of music and media suggests a critical review of earlier practices in order to open up new perspectives and alliances. Therefore, Audio Letters explores the intersections and fuzzy areas between improvisation and composition in music, but also those between acceleration and slowing down, between digital and analogue means of communication in our culture at large.
The method of the piece is driven by the fact that both authors consider freely improvised performance, which means real-time interaction in the case of several participants, an important part of their work. The premise of free improvisation also forms the basis for this piece, namely that conception and performance coincide and are not preceded by a phase of composition and notation. Thanks to internet technologies that have gained particular importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as video conferencing tools, real-time interaction would actually be possible even with the authors living and working in different cities. But this aspect of free improvisation is deliberately ‘switched off’ in a kind of self-experiment in which the authors aim to find out how this changes their musical sensibilities and modus operandi.

In many quarters of sonic art, reflexion on the current media shift leads many labels to increasingly (or should one say ‘for one last time?’) release cassette tapes. This pays tribute to a medium which – beginning with 1960s Fluxus-inspired mail art and the experimental tape underground, helped along and (again) accelerated into the 1980s by the introduction of four-track cassette recorders in 1979 – made an important contribution to formulating an artistic vision of global networking and musical cooperation over great distances that has now become a common practice thanks to the internet.
Audio Letters, however, addresses the prehistory of today’s communication not through the analogue medium of cassette tape, but through the analogue channel of surface mail. It is by surface mail that a USB stick with digital recordings of music is sent back and forth between the authors. The creation of the piece begins with a sequence of about four minutes’ duration, improvised by one of the authors. The correspondent then overdubs an equally improvised response and sends it back. Now it is the first correspondent’s turn to improvise a response to the overdubbed track, and so forth.
Thus, each improvised sequence (except the first and the last) appear twice in the piece, but each time in a different role. In its first appearance, it is a response to what preceded it. In its second appearance it is a proposal that prompts a response. And all the musical interactions we hear are interactions in real time, because no matter how long the interval between the recording of a track and its overdub, the overdub is always improvised over the playback in one take. This shares many characteristics with communication through letters: Whenever we re-read a letter, we actualise its content in the real-time operation of our minds. The fact that one and the same sequence appears in two very different roles in Audio Letters brings into play the trade-off between remembering and forgetting that is typical of the long communication routes involved in surface mail. Each new musical statement needs to refer back to a previous statement by the correspondent – or choose to initiate a completely new theme. When it comes to presenting the explorations undertaken by these Audio Letters, radio is the perfect medium. This is not only because, as an acoustic medium, radio has a special affinity to music. More importantly, radio historically was the earliest among today’s real-time media. As such, it pioneered the formulation of an aesthetics of technological media. With internet-based  formats such as online audio archiving, podcasts and other forms of radio on demand, radio today explores the potential of hybridising real-time with asynchronous communication similar to what the Audio Letters themselves do. (And RadioArt106 is, in  many ways, at the cutting edge of some of these developments, so it seems a particularly suitable programme to premiere this piece.)
Janko Hanushevsky
Born in 1978 in Linz/Austria, Janko studied jazz bass & jazz composition at Konservatorium der Stadt Wien. Sound research travels throughout Europe, through India, Lao, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ukraine, North Africa, Brazil and Greenland. Since 2002 he has been working with computer-musician Eva Poepplein as duo Merzouga. Together they have been producing sound-compositions & installations, radio dramas, documentaries, and music for film and theatre. Their radio work was performed and broadcast live, and awarded and shortlisted by Deutsche Akademie der Darstellenden Künste, Prix Marulic, Prix Europa, Prix Phonurgia Nova/Category Radio Arts sonore, n-ost Reportagepreis, and included in the Groupe Selection Ars Acustica. Broadcasts by all major German broadcasters, Swiss radio, Austrian, Finnish, Croatian, Romanian, and Irish National Radio. Their CDs on the sound-art label GRUENREKORDER were reviewed internationally. Merzouga released tracks on international compilations, a.o. the renowned „WIRE Tapper“. He lives in Cologne.
Gerald Fiebig
born 1973, based in Augsburg, Germany, composes audio and texts. Since 2006, his sonic works have been performed and exhibited at festivals in Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Portugal, Romania, and Colombia. Gerald Fiebig has had works broadcast on audio art programmes of radio stations including “Studio Akustische Kunst” (WDR), “Kunstradio” (ORF), “Arte eletroacústica” (Radio e Televisão de Portugal), “Radiacustica PREMEdice” (Radio Vltava, Czech Republic), “Radio Art“ (kolHa Campus 106.0 FM, Israel). His work was also broadcast on “Soundproof” (ABC, Australia), “Framework Radio”, “Radiophrenia”, as well as on several independent stations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. His work has been recognised with a TONSPUR artist-in-residence grant from quartier21/MuseumsQuartier Vienna in 2013. His piece “Identification de substances”, co-composed with Gerhard Zander, was shortlisted for the award of the Institut de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges in 2007. In 2014 and 2016, pieces were shortlisted for the Grand Prix Nova of Radio România. Since 2006, Gerald Fiebig and Hanushevsky’s duo Merzouga have collaborated in live concerts and on theatre projects. Since Fiebig’s CD Gasworks (2019), they are also labelmates on GRUENREKORDER.

Das Tote Kapital & Gerald Fiebig (2021)

Two pieces from the self titled collaboration ‘Das Tote Kapital & Gerald Fiebig’
About the tension between real-time improvisation and studio construction.
Mexican Stand-off
Horror vacui

Markus Joppich: guitar
Johannes Engstler: drums, dulcimer, bass, trombone, field recordings, samples
Gerald Fiebig: field recordings, samples*, electronics, amplified objects
Sounds of blank vinyl grooves by LAB BINÆR . Lab for Media Art