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Zurich-based sound artist and musician Magda Drozd engages with sounds and beings of her environment, thereby working in a way that is as cognitive and reflective as speculative and fantastic. Her third album “Viscera” was released in early 2023 and meanwhile, she’s composing music for theatre and radio plays and also appearing as solo performer in experimental sound contexts between scenes.
What music would an aloe vera listen to? What would the rubber tree in the living room like to dance to? Would the playlist of the cactus on the windowsill be peppered with Piek Time hits? We can only speculate about that. Zurich-based Magda Drozd has written an entire album about it: “Songs for Plants” was released at the end of 2019 on the Lucerne-based label “Präsens Editionen” and fits just perfectly into the era in which everyone seems to have turned into a home gardener.
The starting point was an art project that consisted of growing 200 cacti. Two years later, a sound installation called “Intra-Action / Traces” had grown out of it. At the Zurich University of Arts (ZHdK), Magda Drozd attended the “treelab” initiated by Marcus Maeder, where she found the technical tools to make the sounds of a wide variety of plants audible. A fine needle picks up the movements of liquids in the capillaries (quasi the veins) of the plants, with several amplifiers and software then transposing the interior of the plant into human hearing range. The thirstier a plant is, the more air bubbles move in its capillaries, generating click-like sounds.
Sounds between capillaries and playing
Magda Drozd was not only interested in the bioacoustics of cacti, but also in her own position as a human being relating to these so different creatures. In doing so, she was well aware that the very step of transposing is an artificial trick. “I don’t represent the plants and I’m not trying to represent their sound as accurately as possible. It is ultimately a game I play with the material.”
Magda Drozd · Weaving into shores: The sound installation „Weaving into shores“ combines recordings from Lake Zurich vom Zürichsee with drones from synthesizers and the violin. How do we listen to the lake? What does it mean to us?
With the cactus instruments ready, Magda Drozd now entered the game. She watered the plants, listened to their reaction and also included earth and ceramics sounds, when those materials were touched. “First of all, a sound carpet emerges, I then work a lot with frequency shifts, changing different recordings so that you only hear one frequency, putting effects on top of it and so slowly music emerges from material that is only supposedly the plant.” This also feeds on rhythms or melodies that can be discerned from the capillary sounds, and which Drozd spins on with synthesizers or her main instrument – the violin. This is also why the resulting album is called “Songs for Plants” and not “Songs by Plants”.
„Painkiller“ from the album „Songs for Plants“
Magda Drozd was born in Poland in 1987, she grew up in Munich and moved to Zurich in 2011 to study theatre dramaturgy and later visual arts at the Zurich University of Arts. From theatre and performance, she found her way to sound art and experimental music, with these different art forms and their formats interpenetrating and intermingling in her works. From 2019 to 2021, she was a “Research Fellow” at ZhdK, working on sound and listening as means to produce knowledge. During this time, she also worked on her second album “18 Floors”. The title refers to the Lochergut high-rise in Zurich, where the artist lived at the time. She listened to the building and its 18 floors in all niches and corners (accessible to her) and made many field recordings. This led to questions such as: What does urban living together in a confined space mean? To what extent can a residential building be understood as a living organism? What knowledge can be generated from listening closely to a place?
„Dreamy Monster“ from the album „18 Floors“
Listening between knowledge & speculation
“Knowledge conveyed through sound is a different kind of knowledge than what we usually accept. It is fragile, fluid and ephemeral. This soon led me to speculation. After all, I didn’t record the conversations in this house, but its hard materials.” So “18 Floors” is at once the documentation of a meticulous, insight-driven listening process – and the speculation, set to music, of all the stories, beings and secret workings that a concrete building holds. “I wasn’t interested in assigning each sound to a particular corner or floor in the building. I mixed a lot of things. For me, it’s this speculation: something new emerges that stimulates our imagination, which could also be a house and could sound like this. It’s also about becoming empathetic through listening, about getting an emotional access to a possible knowledge through the music as well.” Initially, “18 Floors” was supposed to take the form of a conceptual performance. Magda Drozd owes the fact that it became a music album to the sound artist and researcher Salomé Voegelin, with whom she was in close contact.
With her work, Magda Drozd moves in different disciplines and formats: sound installation, theatre performance, radio plays, composition, research. “I move between scenes and feel comfortable there. It can be demanding sometimes, but the longer I’m active, the more people know what I do.”
People who have known her for a long time – namely her German friends – say that Magda now speaks with a Swiss inflection. She doesn’t want to let that stand – and even in conversation with her, the author’s ear, trained on Southern German, recognises nothing of the sort. But maybe there is something to it: in between and over all the challenging, exploratory, floating and digging sound passages there are always melodies to be found – which is rare enough in experimental music oriented towards sound art. “I’m not afraid of a bit of kitschy or emotional moments. To me, it reflects life: there are rough edges and there are rounder moments when you can let yourself drift with a melody. When I use the violin, it’s always a fine balancing act not to become too pathetic. In general, I think melodies are becoming trendier again, even in experimental music.”
Magda Drozd: Clipped Wings from the album Viscera
You can hear those melodies most bluntly in Magda Drozd’s latest album “Viscera”. Here, too, the title opens up speculative spaces. Music for viscera? The sound of the body? Or perhaps this time: “Songs for Humans”? Speculation can go on and on.
Soyuz21, a five-piece ensemble from Zurich, has been experimenting at the interface of instrumental sound with electronics and interdisciplinary concert formats since it was founded in 2011. The new project with pieces by Martin Jaggi and Bernhard Lang is aimed equally at music fans and movie buffs. Friedemann Dupelius spoke with Mats Scheidegger, electric guitarist and ensemble leader, and Martin Jaggi.
On July 6, 1976, the Soviet mission Soyuz 21 started its journey to the Salyut 5 space station. Several research projects were taken aboard with the crew: guppies (how would the fish behave in space?), various plants (can they germinate out there?) and crystals (why not?). In addition, Soyuz 21 was to record the Earth from a distance with an infrared telescope, hand spectrograph, colour as well as black-and-white film – and at the same time observe the sun. The communication via satellites was investigated too, as well as the station’s independent navigation. A military use was also one of the possibilities? After only 49 days, the crew headed back to Earth, rumoured to be homesick.
Even though Zurich based ensemble Soyuz 21 does not operate with fish, plants or crystals, nor is it interested in warlike contexts, there are parallels to its namesake: both are concerned with autonomy, communication, observation and experimentation. However, Mats Scheidegger quickly clouds the pride of having deciphered the ideas behind the name: his ensemble, founded in 2011, has nothing to do with this particular mission. First of all, it’s about the Russian term “Soyuz”, which means companion. The reference to space travel generally functions as a symbol for their artistic curiosity. And 21? “It stands for the 21st century! How original!” laughs Mats Scheidegger with self-irony.
Yulan Yu: In den Dünen (2022), premiered by Soyuz 21 on 26.11.2022 at Ackermannshof Basel
The space probe documents diversity
He is right though. With its artistic approach, Soyuz 21 locates itself firmly in this century. The five-member ensemble – which was formed “for musical reasons, out of playing” – regularly premieres new compositions. It maintains particularly close ties with Klaus Lang and Bernhard Lang, among others, but also with the young Swiss generation. The ensemble cooperated during 3 years with the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology (ICST) at the Zurich University of the Arts, whose students developed tailormade pieces. Aesthetically, Soyuz 21 is dominated by the diversity that would also document a photographically equipped space probe. There is just as much room for improvisation as for electronics, the record player as an instrument or the cinema screen as an artistic element. “With the keyboard instruments, we moved away from the piano towards electronic sounds,” Mats Scheidegger tells us. “You simply have a lot more possibilities. A piano always remains a piano, even if there are still great pieces for it.” The guitarist is also expanding his own instrument with all the rules and controls of technology.
Alongside with Scheidegger, Philipp Meier (keys), Sascha Armbruster (saxophone), Isaï Angst (sound design & electronics) and João Pacheco (percussion) are the current members of Soyuz 21, with guest musicians joining in from time to time. The ensemble realises many of its projects in own concert series, mostly taking place in Basel and Zurich. “We think a lot about new concert formats,” says Mats Scheidegger. “There has been a certain loss of audience since the cultural venues reopened. So Sometimes a concert title or a poster that jumps out at people can help – like the Schwimmkörper concert.”
Travelling compensates for wasted time
Sometimes the format itself is attracting. On 13 May, the audience should flock to the cinema, whether music- or movie-fan. At Zurich’s Filmpodium, the project “Constructed Memories” brings contemporary music and film together on equal terms, which leads us back to Soyuz 21, the probe from 1976, as for this project, two companions have joined forces, observed the world and captured it on camera, in colour and in black and white Here too, old recordings have to be interpreted from a distance – spatially, as well as temporally. In 1999, composer Martin Jaggi and video artist Adrian Kelterborn travelled through Malawi. In doing so, they wanted to compensate for the waste of time caused by the Swiss military’s compulsory service. In 2004, a trip through West Africa followed, more precisely: Ghana, Togo and Benin. While Kelterborn recorded the second trip with his digital camera, Jaggi saved many musical memories: “On both trips we went to many concerts. In Accra we played music with an orchestra, Handel was on the programme.” The Highlife genre, a predecessor of Afrobeat, which originated in Ghana, also plays a role in Martin Jaggi’s travel memory.
Martin Jaggi and Adrian Kelterborn have already produced the video version of „Constructed Memories“, published online on the Soyuz 21 website.
From this mix of both technically and neurologically recorded memories, Jaggi and Kelterborn created the two parts of the audiovisual piece “Constructed Memories”. Some 20 years after the two trips, the two school friends discovered how different and how distorted their memories of their time together were. “It was a real archaeological site,” Jaggi recalls. “But we were less concerned with setting specific memories to music. We rather aimed at recreating certain states of being that we associate with the different places.”
A lockdown in the midst of production phase intensified the moment of alienation and re-construction of those memory snippets even further. “We couldn’t work directly together. I was stuck in Singapore and Adrian was in Switzerland, so I composed the music first and described the mood to Adrian in detail. He then set images to the music without any instruments having ever actually played it.” The result is a dynamic interaction of music and film within and sometimes against each other. The images are grainy and pixelated, they flutter and flow. The sounds grind and drag, merge and cross-fade with the visuals, only to detach themselves again. The pandemic’s state of consciousness certainly flowed into the work. “A journey occupies a much larger place in the memory than the same period of time when spent at home and covid made this even more extreme with. If every day is the same for two years, no memories are stored – or only one,” laughs Martin Jaggi.
„Constructed Memories“, Part 2. The video footage comes from the memory card of Adrian Kelterborns’ digital camera from 2004.
The two visual scores (or music videos) are complemented by a piece from Bernhard Lang’s “DW” series (number 16), in which he musically processes his pop music socialisation. This is also about memory and its shifted perception in the present. Musically, these influences can again be located in the time when Soyuz 21 was rocketing into space – we remember.
Martin Jaggi & Adrian Kelterborn (“Constructed Memories”) + Bernhard Lang (“DW 16”)
Sa, 13.5., 20:45: Konzertpodium im Filmpodium Zürich
So, 14.5., 20:00: Kulturmühle Horw (Luzern)
Soyuz 21, Martin Jaggi, Adrian Kelterborn, Bernhard Lang, Klaus Lang, Isaï Angst, João Pacheco, Nicolas Buzzi
Sonic Matter – Festival for Experimental Music takes place for the second time this year from 1 to 4 December in Zurich. Under the multi-literal motto Rise, the festival points beyond itself. One focus being on music creation in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It matters what matters we use to think other matters with”, writes philosopher Donna Haraway. The Zurich festival Sonic Matter understands sound as something that matters. With sound and music, we can think about things that transcend it. Sound can be a gateway to the world, listening a way of reflecting and engaging with our environment. In the second edition of the festival, which succeeded the Zürcher Tage für Neue Musik in 2021, this perspective becomes apparent.
With “Rise”, the middle word of the motto triad Turn – Rise – Leap now provides the guiding thought impulse: “This can be understood in the sense of growing or emerging – or also as something resistant, rebellious, that aims at expanding boundaries,” Lisa Nolte explains. She, too, is part of a triad. Together with composer Katharina Rosenberger and artist and curator Julie Beauvais, they form of the core team behind Sonic Matter since its conception in 2021. The subtitle “Platform for Experimental Music” makes two things clear: Sonic Matter thinks beyond the boundaries of a festival. It is not over after four dense days, but sees itself as an ongoing process. In addition, the term “experimental” signals aesthetic breadth. According to Lisa Nolte, the aim is “to have as much scope as possible for sound-based current art forms”. On the one hand, there are formats with contemporary music as it has established itself in Europe – with for example, the Tonhalle Orchestra performing music by Peter Ruzicka and George Enescu, or Collegium Novum Zurich playing Iannis Xenakis’ Φλέγρα (Phlegra) alongside a world premiere by Laure M. Hiendl. But Lisa Nolte adds: “New music is often about a very specific idea of quality, which is not to be found everywhere. Other approaches can be very stimulating.”
Iannis Xenakis – Φλέγρα (Phlegra) (1975), played by Ensemble Phoenix Basel
Listening, thinking and dreaming with archives
These approaches can come from other forms of music and art, or even from places in the world that have long received too little attention. The duo Listening at Pungwe from South Africa and Zimbabwe, for example, has a very unique artistic approach to sound. Memory Biwa and Robert Machiri collect music and field recordings from their home regions. They understand this material as a sound archive whose contents they put in a new context during their performances and listening sessions. The eponymous term “Pungwe” is reminiscent of the ritual of a wake, during which those who attend are in a particularly alert state – a state that also makes it possible to dream of a better future or to motivate oneself for uprising.
A Live-Session by Listening at Pungwe in Kapstadt 2017
Sound and music archives are indeed such a “Matter” with which other “Matters”, like things or topics can be thought about. Collected sound recordings contain information about history, social and political circumstances and much more, offering the possibility of imagining and dreaming about how the world could be. In this sense, the students in the Once Upon A Sound project with Roman Bruderer, Peter Nussbaumer and Iva Sanjek have created their own sound archives, which they will present at the festival during dedicated listening sessions and DJ sets.
The people of all ages who worked with artists Léo Collin and Manon Fantini also sharpened their ears to the sounds of their surroundings, resulting in the installation Play The Village. In the joint listening sessions with the cozy title Soft Pillows – Hot Ears, the focus is also on listening together. Moroccan artist Abdellah M. Hassak will present an entire symphony of archives in the Walcheturm art space.
Noémi Büchi plays “live from the Listening Lounge” (3.12.) at Kunstraum Walcheturm
Another focus of Sonic Matter 2022 is the sub-Saharan region of Africa. In addition to Pungwe, artists from the Ugandan music festival and label Nyege Nyege will be in Zurich. Label founder Rey Sapienz, for example, will be DJing at the party in the Gessnerallee, stating what Lisa Nolte already knows: “Listening is an active procedure, which also becomes apparent when music puts you directly into physical movement.” Dancing is also Sonic Matter – a sonic experience and the moment when sound becomes embodied matter. Latefa Wiersch, Rhoda Davids Abel and Dandara Modesto tell of dreams and longings for the lost African homeland in their interdisciplinary performance Neon Bush Girl Society, exploring legends of the fled ethnic groups Nama and Damara from southern Africa.
Sonic Matter is always
Sub-Saharan Africa 2022 is prominently featured also in the Open Lab. With this permanent format, Sonic Matter emphasises that it takes place 365 days a year. At the Open Lab, experts from various fields, like arts, science and civil society work together on urgent issues in their respective regions of the world. The individual projects deal with indigenous peoples in Uganda and Mozambique, the cultural and political life of South Sudanese refugees in Kenya or historical sounds in Johannesburg. The online platform is continuously updated. Another project that keeps the sound and thought processes going around the clock is Sonic Matter Radio, as Sonic Matter is not only four exciting days of music, sound and art in Zurich – it is also a permanent state of listening, thinking and narrating around the globe. According to Donna Haraway, narratives create the world: “It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories”.
Partner festival 2022:
Nyege Nyege (Uganda)
There is something tidy and neat about the way vacuum-cleaning robots prance across the floor. Always on the lookout for unswept corners, they circle around, turn, jerk back and forth, left and right, orchestrating their hunt for the last speck of dust with an unrelenting hum. Last summer, Janiv Oron packed small speakers onto two of these modern household helpers. In the Istanbul art gallery Öktem Aykut, they scrubbed their way between the visitors on the parquet floor and played a mobile soundtrack, consisting of fragments of Janiv Oron’s compositions and their own constant whirring, to Renée Levi’s paintings on the walls.
It’s almost like Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Rotortisch and its rotating loudspeaker had discovered mobility after 60 years. Or else the party trucks, as we know them from Zurich’s Street Parade, had lost their way. Janiv Oron would probably be happy with either interpretation. The Basel musician and sound artist not only moves his sound sources, but also himself between different musical points, stirring up the dust of habits in the process. As part of the DJ duo Goldfinger Brothers, he has been playing at parties for over two decades. During his music and media art studies at the Bern University, he was introduced to sound art and contemporary composition. Since then, Oron has been expanding his sound language and rethinking the tools he grew up with in club culture on his new paths, working with record players and vinyl records as instruments for both composition and live performance. He also uses loudspeaker systems to sonically react to spaces and to create new sound spaces within them, guesting in galleries, but has also collaborating with contemporary music ensembles and dance companies in recent years.
In May 2022, Janiv Oron released his first solo album „Easel“ on the Zurich based label Light From Other Days. Oron recorded the pieces with Buchla’s analogue “Easel” synthesizer.
The motif of rotation is conspicuous to the eyes and ears in many of Janiv Oron’s works: “The mix, infinite loops, revolutions of the mind, speed, phase shift, general forms of repetition or spatiotemporal displacement,” is how he describes his fascination with everything spinning in music. “These are swirls of sound in time and space. They create a dynamic or kinetic fullness.” Rotating loudspeakers, performing vacuum robots and spinning turntables circle through Janiv Oron’s art, which, for all its compositional abstraction, is strongly informed by the body in space and bodily perceptions: “Sound moves onto the skin and the skin starts to hear for you.” Janiv Oron knows from the club scene how it feels to be tickled in the diaphragm by subcutaneous bass frequencies.
Janiv Oron at Nachtstrom 94 (Gare du Nord, Basel)
For his concert with Basel Sinfonietta in June 2022, to close their anniversary season “40+1”, he brought a sound system – built by a friend – to the Pfaffenholz sports centre hall. The two high loudspeaker towers were necessary to record the “soundclash” with the 80 musicians strong orchestra. At the same time, it provided an adequate sound for a large sports hall. In this concert, the Sinfonietta played Flowing down too slow by Fausto Romitelli and Christophe Bertrand’s Mana. Janiv Oron sampled 64 small excerpts from these two compositions, some of them only a few seconds short, and ran them through various computer algorithms. The source material was thus stretched, distorted and taken out of its original context. “In sampling, I isolate scraps of a story and insert them into a new narrative,” he explains. In a next step, composer Oliver Waespi orchestrated 21 selected remix fragments by Janiv Oron, again for the Basel Sinfonietta. Oron finally played live on the turntables with the orchestra. The records, connected to a software, served as a control unit for the individual orchestra samples.
The title of this re-composition is Datendieb (Data Thief): “In my music I very often work with already existing material. In sampling, one becomes a time traveler. You steal in the past, edit in the moment and think the material forward into the future.”
Death Can Dance
Similarly oscillating between times is the loop – the germ cell of electronic dance music (often) pressed onto records, to which Janiv Oron continues to feel connected. Over the years, he developed a fascination for what is usually referred to as drone in electronic music. Oron breathes life into his drones with analogue or digital electronic instruments and plays them in several collaborations i.e. with Christoph Dangel (cello), Stefan Preyer (double bass), Thomas Giger (light art) and the Basel Chamber Orchestra – with whom he has already realised several cross-genre projects, such as the three parts of “Don Bosco’s Garden”.
„Don Boscos Garden 1“ – with Janiv Oron, Christoph Dangel, Stefan Preyer & Thomas Giger
In the latter, realised at the end of October 2022, Oron mixed the instrumentalists of the chamber orchestra playing sporadically in the Don Bosco building into a remix of Mahler’s 4th Symphony.
„Don Boscos Garden 2″ – with Kammerorchester Basel, Giulia Semenzato & Anne-May Krüger
Another collaboration is scheduled for November 2022, in which Janiv Oron and organist Filip Hrubý will compose music somewhere between ambient, organ sounds and electronics for the Basel dance company MIR. Both organs of the Predigerkirche in Basel will be used for the work entitled Now here – no where, a Totentanz for the 21st century, approaching the abstract phenomenon of death and one’s own mortality. To this end, eight amateur dancers from Basel were included in the development process as “experts of everyday life”; and one of them will dance live on stage. Even if Janiv Oron is still keeping a low profile with regard to musical details, one can assume that no definitive song of death will be played here. Because: Everything turns and comes back in a different shape.
Now here – no where. Ein Totentanz für das 21. Jahrhundert
9.-20.11., Predigerkirche Basel
“Which machine would you like to have dinner with (smartphones don’t count)?” – Leo Hofmann ponders and decides on a rolling, self-playing piano on which he can also play himself sometime.
The relationships between humans and machines, or, to put it more trendily: between human and non-human performers, are currently a popular topic in art and debate, not least triggered by the latest hype regarding artificial intelligence. In their music theatre piece All watched over by machines of loving grace composer Leo Hofmann and director Benjamin van Bebber deal with these relations in intimate stage situations. In 1967, Richard Brautigan wrote of a „cybernetic meadow / where mammals and computers / live together in mutually / programming harmony“ in his poem of the same name
The utopia Brautigan describes originates from the hippie era. The counter-movements of the 60s saw in the emerging computer technology a revolutionary, humanistic potential for a better world. Even the founding of the first companies in Silicon Valley can be traced back to this. In the old days.
After a corona-induced film premiere of All watched over…. in 2021, the piece celebrated its premiere in physical co-presence at the Roxy Birsfelden in May. In June, the mixed choir reunites for two performances at Berlin’s Ballhaus Ost.
Film: All watched over by machines of loving grace
Human and non-human musical entities
All watched over…. is about how 21st century technologies are affecting the way we live together. In particular, regarding sound. How can we act responsibly in the midst of omnipresent constant sound? Where can space for intimacy be created? What is it with machines and us? The “extremely mixed choir”, which Hofmann and van Bebber founded for another project, represents the human part of the actors on stage. Extremely mixed means that it features professionals as well as so-called amateurs with the most diverse backgrounds. In addition, there are non-human devices, such as loudspeakers. Here a specific feature of Hofmann’s and van Bebber’s work becomes apparent. “I am an electronic composer and see matters from a radio play and loudspeaker point of view,” says Hofmann. “When you work with finished music, it creates a new freedom on stage and raises the question of co-presence in the production.”
In this regard, Hofmann and van Bebber have invented the term “complementary action”. What do liberated bodies do when the music comes out of the loudspeaker and does not have to be actually performed? The performers become co-present mediators of the music and can draw attention to certain musical details through small actions and gestures. The music theatre makers find another concept in the principle of “ritournelle” by philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. This opens up the option of creating one’s own acoustic space for action, for example by a performer establishing an inner sense of security through quiet humming or murmuring, which the choir in All watched over…. can use as a starting point for improvisation and act upon. Leo Hofmann likes to speak of a listening space into which the performers and the audience enter together, thus creating a “shared attention”.
Leo Hofmann: Ritournelle
Hospitality in the music household
The duo will also set up such a listening room in July during the Nuremberg music installations. The festival which takes place for the first, wants to explore the space as a central element in experiencing music – in deliberate distinction to forms such as sound installation, music theatre or concert. Leo Hofmann interprets the guideline as follows: “To me, this is a promise that music will be produced ongoingly by acting bodies, but those are not stable.” But couldn’t a bar counter with background music and the right framing be called a music installation? Anyway, in Hofmann’s and van Bebber’s case the music is played live. During the four days of the festival, they will settle in the collective space of the Nuremberg band Borgo and have various musicians as guests. “We want to negotiate hospitality on different levels. It will not be a performance, nor a total space, but we will live, sleep and eat in this space for four days, make a daily programme and the guest musicians will bring what they already have,” says Leo Hofmann. Composer-performer Francesca Fargion, for example, composes sleep songs and works with stylized diaries. A visit to Hofmann/van Bebber is supposed to function like a house call. In contrast to sound installations that often run on their own, this musical household is only activated by its inhabitants and guests, with the audience of course also being invited into this space of shared attention.
Leo Hofmann: Kapriole, released 2022 by Präsens Editionen
Leo Hofmann immortalised a different kind of staged listening space on vinyl record in the spring of 2022. Although the Bern University of the Arts graduate has been primarily active with music theatre productions in recent years, he had already produced radio plays and music much earlier. Kapriole (leap) is nevertheless his first “real” album, released by the busy Lucerne label Präsens Editionen. Spread over eight tracks, Leo Hofmann shows his interpretation of contemporary sound practices. In his live pieces, he often deals with functional audio technologies, such as Bluetooth boxes. Above all, he is interested in their aesthetic and social significance – what listening, protective and private spaces does contemporary audio technology open up?
The music on Kapriole sounds intimate and close, also through the careful use of the voice, which sometimes seems as if it were singing or speaking only to the listener. Hofmann says that the biggest challenge has been to create space in the listening room. “I often hear that my music is very dense and requires a lot of attention. When working on the album, I kept de-densifying, taking away and leaving sounds in the background. But you should also be able to listen at any time and discover something.” Whether in divided attention in front of the music theatre stage or on the inner stage between two earplugs: In Leo Hofmann’s listening rooms, one can feel at ease.
11.+12. June, Ballhaus Ost, Berlin: Leo Hofmann & Benjamin van Bebber: All watched over by machines of loving grace
neo-Profil: Leo Hofmann
“You really have to be a poet to live in the north,” says Cosima Weiter and laughs out loud. She must know what she’s talking about, having travelled to the far north of Europe several times with enjoyment. No wonder, she is also a poet, a sound poet to be precise, “I don’t want to idealise it though” she points out. She still identified a special mindset when travelling to the northern regions of Finland and Norway to prepare the scenic Kaija Saariaho evening Nord with Ensemble Contrechamps. Together with video artist Alexandre Simon, Cosima Weiter captured not only images and sounds, but also impressions of the people living where Nord will be set. “If you live in a big city and meet someone you don’t like, you just move on to the next person. But finding yourself where so few people live, you have to make an effort and try understand the others. Thus, being far away from everything means being open,” she explains.
Nord is about a woman who sets out to wander from Finland to the very place where one is far away from everything: the north. During this thoroughly romantic undertaking, she meets different people who react differently to her. Some are envious, others admire her and one is even heartbroken. “I actually wanted to tell the story in a feminist way,” says Cosima Weiter, “pointing out that it’s not easy for a woman to wander alone. But when I was in the north, I had to discard that as everyone is the same there. Nobody cares if you are a woman, you can do whatever you want. This is something we’re not familiar with here in Central Europe.”
Time, Space, Sound
A Finnish woman who has been doing and composing what she wants for decades is Kaija Saariaho. Her music is at the centre of the scenic narrative, embodied by three actors in front of a large screen. “It was very important for us to respect Saariaho’s music and give a large space, not cutting it short.” Four of Saariaho compositions form the musical basis for the plot, Nocturne (1994) in the version for solo viola, Aure (2011) for cello and viola, Petals (1988) for cello and electronics and Fleurs de neige (1998) in its version for string quartet. Around the slow, cautious music, a soundscape opens that Weiter and Simon, together with Lau Nau and Bertrand Siffert, have created from their own recordings and sparks of other music. “There are three things that interest me in music and poetry: Time, space and sound,” says Cosima Weiter, “and in Saariaho’s music I find them all.” In Nord, the sound poet lends her voice to the protagonist, rendered disembodied through loudspeakers.
You really have to be a poet to tell stories about the North.
Kaija Saariaho, Graal Théâtre, Contrechamps, In-house production SRG/SSR 2009
Nuit de l’électroacoustique
Contrechamps will spin a completely different tale on March 19, when the ensemble invites to its first Nuit de l’électroacoustique. It was almost cancelled due to supply issues, as the renovation of the post-industrial premises, where Contrechamps is due to move to, could not be completed in time. Les 6 Toits on the Geneva ZIC site was supposed to be inaugurated with the Nuit. Luckyly, exile was found at short notice in Pavillon ADC, a centre for contemporary dance in Geneva. The Geneva subculture club Cave 12, which presents the Nuit de l’électroacoustique together with Contrechamps, was also involved its curation and organisation from the beginning. The fact that Pavillon ADC is now also part of the event, will most probably lead to a more diverse audience.
Heinz Holliger, Cardiophonie, Contrechamps, Oboe: Béatrice Laplante, In-house production SRG/SSR 2018
“Parts of our regular audience will certainly be more familiar with Heinz Holliger,” is what Serge Vuille, artistic director of Contrechamps, supposes. Holliger is represented with Cardiophonie for oboe and electronics. “Other people from the electronic music realm, will rather come for Phill Niblock, Jessica Ekomane or Beatriz Ferreyra, for example.” These two last-mentioned names, already cover a wide range. On one hand, a young artist who has been drawing attention since a few years with astute performances, for example recently at the MaerzMusik Berlin festival – on the other hand, the 84-year-old pioneer who already worked with Pierre Schaeffer in the 1960s. “We want to make connections,” says Serge Vuille, “for example between purely electronic music and organic instruments in combination with electronics, or between new and old tools, who knows, maybe Beatriz Ferreyra will bring old tape machines?”
Casualness and Focus
For the curatorial collective of Contrechamps and Cave 12, the goal is not only to mix old and young, but also international headliners with local acts from the independent Geneva scene. The latter is represented with performances by Salômé Guillemin and d’incise. In addition, three new pieces have been commissioned to a smaller version of the Contrechamps Ensemble plus live electronics, a reminiscence of the IRCAM school, as Serge Vuille points out.
d’incise, Le désir certain, 2019 (Insub.records & Moving Furniture Records)
The Nuit de l’électroacoustique is intended to casually generate a focused listening experience. The audience can walk around freely, “we want to prove that – whether sitting or not – one can enjoy electronic music in a focused way.” The public can even take a break from the five-hour programme at the bar, or walk around the virtual reality installation by Raphaël Raccuia and Nicolas Carrel, which invites to discover the future, because that is what electronic music has been about since the beginning.
Contrechamps in spring 2022:
Nord: 7.-20.2., Le Grütli, Geneva
Nuit de l’électroacoustique: 19.3., 19-24 Uhr, Pavillon ADC, Geneva
radio-features SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 9.10.2019: Johannes Knapp und Serge Vuille – zwei junge Querdenker am Ruder, editors: Theresa Beyer / Moritz Weber (in German)
neoblog, 19.6.19: Ensemble Contrechamps Genève, expérimentation et héritage, Interview with Serge Vuille by Gabrielle Weber