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Liner Notes

by Hans-Jürgen Linke

History tells us that it was the string instruments that first revealed the connection between music and mathematics, since it can be discerned by looking at them that music has to do with proportions. The piano, too, was originally a string instrument.
It could have been percussion instruments that at some point gave rise to the idea of a common unit to regulate the dividing up of time.
It was probably the vibrating columns of air in the wind instruments, so reminiscent of the human voice, that made it clear that music always entails communication from one human being to another.
The spoken word seems not to have played any part in music's formative development. For that reason, among others, music cannot be described. Language can only give an approximation of what music conveys.

Does music count amongst the arts? In former times, it was seen more as a method by which humans came to understand the world. Pipe organs were the largest and most complicated machines in existence, and there was no clear division between music and science.
Four centuries later, some of the world's greatest machines are dedicated to science, while music taken a humble back seat. In 2009, when the Herschel Space Observatory was launched into an orbit at the Lagrangian point L2, music was nowhere to be heard. Super-cooled by liquid helium, the Herschel Space Observatory transmitted, among other things, optical signals from the edge of the solar system, where an unknown number of disparate heavenly bodies collectively referred to “trans-Neptunian objects” (TNOs) are to be found. An international team of astronomers is tasked with classifying these objects as part of a project entitled “TNOs are Cool”.
Just who was the eponymous Frederick William Herschel? An astronomer, he was born in the principality of Hanover in 1738, and died in London in 1822. Aside from making a number of notable contributions to the field of astronomy, he also played the cello, oboe and organ, as well as composing 24 symphonies, numerous concerti and works for organ.

When jazz first emerged, a close association with the sciences was not on anyone's agenda. Jazz saw itself as expressing feelings through the act of music-making. “Hot” was a typical descriptor used in its early days. A good four decades were to elapse before jazz was to admit the description “cool” to its vocabulary. Cool jazz did not mean the denial of emotions, but their expression in muted, multilayered and fractured terms. Cool jazz sought to bring composed music and the molten heat of its improvised counterpart closer together.
In Matthias Ockert's case, receiving Signals from the Cool is to be understood in a programmatic sense. His music processes influences from the sound-worlds of other jazz musicians in surroundings that are metrically and rhythmically complex, and yet frequently dance-like; the one, after all, does not necessarily rule the other out. Timbre and melody in Ockert's music are informed first and foremost by an affinity for stringed instruments. It is a music in which rock elements and aleatoric techniques are equally at home, a music which is carefully constructed and balanced, but which cannot make do with musicians who simply play what is written on the page in front of them. This music is conceived for realisation as a collective process for which each participant must take responsibility, none being left to his or her own devices – not even in the soli, for which the ensemble effort frequently makes way – and every one being required to exercise precision in listening. Matthias Ockert's music doesn't just sound like jazz, it is jazz, but it renders any and every demarcation between jazz and composition obsolete.

We are still left, though, with the question of the signals from out of the cold at the edge of the solar system. The Herschel Space Observatory transmitted them from a distance of many light-minutes. Matthias Ockert converted them into sound and added music. They have left traces in that music, although we can neither hear nor fathom exactly what these might be – and yet they are there. They do not disrupt the music. They are a part of it.