Sorry, this entry is only available in German.
2022. After forty years and 14 albums together, the duo consisting of sound tinkerer Boris Blank and frontman Dieter Meier, with his sonorous voice, has been radiating from Switzerland to the world.
The rhythmic-groovy sound and word creations like “Oh Yeah” or “Claro que si” have left their mark on a whole generation of people who grew up in the eighties. Forty years later, Yello’s rhythms, word and image creations still have an impact, even though they seem to have changed very little – but only in appearance.
1981 – in ‘The evening’s young’ video, dancing, colourful glow sticks form the word Yello. A close-up of a young man’s face: Boris Blank – from the front, from the side, his whole body in shadow play, rapid cuts, different perspectives, strong colours, then Dieter Meier at the microphone, monochrome colours changing in the background. Everything is coloured over, flows away and starts again. Cross-fades, cuts, light and colour. The sound is rhythmically varied, accompanied by spoken word singing on one pitch. An audiovisual art product that exploits its possibilities musically and visually in an experimental way but without overdoing it: simple, playfully light, elegant, self-confident and self-ironic.
Yello: The young, Video 1981
This is how Yello presents itself through the years: Blank creates the soundscapes from samples and rhythmic patterns, while Meier provides visuals and voice. Meier likes to say of himself that he is an amateur, that he has never learned anything artistic and that everything happens by pure chance, Blank, on the other hand, describes himself as a sound painter and lovingly gives his samples individual names.
If the video for The Evenings Young can look homemade, ‘Bostich’ from 1984, the song that topped the worldwide charts as a “natural born hit” on vinyl Maxisingle, is more sophisticated: with Blank and Meier as main characters, this time accompanied by rhythmically dancing devices and machine parts. It comes across as very light, with an indie touch.
Yelllo: Bostich, Video 1984
The eighties also saw the birth of Music Television, MTV, in New York: with some 50 regional spin-offs, the new distribution channel consolidated numerous pop careers. Yello’s audiovisual orientation is naturally suited to this new medium and the duo exploits it not “only” for music videos, but also to spin humorous and subversive bizarre stories, such as in the performance Dr. Van Steiner from 1994, where Blank, as rainforest researcher interviewed by Meier, plays hidden sounds and mimics them.
Yello Video@MTV: Dr. Van Steiner, 1994
These videos are cult, all the more so because Yello – in contrast to many other bands – deliberately avoids live concerts: after a few early gigs in Zurich, still as a trio – with founding member Carlos Peron – and a first legendary gig in 1984 at the Roxy DJ club in New York, Yello made itself scarce until 2016: for the album toy, when major sold-out gigs started again at Berlin’s Kraftwerk with a wind ensemble.
The fact that Yello was labelled Swiss export pop band, also through this new medium, does the duo hardly any justice, as Yello is an art project that defies common classifications and Blank and Meier were part of the experimental scenes before that. Meier attracted attention with absurd actions in Zurich and New York in the 1970s or at the Documenta in Kassel in 1972 and even represented Switzerland at the Swiss Avantgarde show in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1971. His subversive side can be heard in some of Yello’s music. Blank is an electronics pioneer and sample virtuoso, who started out in Zurich’s and London’s experimental electro-underground scene, inspired by jazz and new music legends such as John Coltrane, Pierre Boulez and György Ligeti. He displays the spirit of innovation into Yello’s sound paintings, to which Meier adds his deep voice.
Prizes from different corners
The prizes the duo has been awarded with over the years have come from different corners: Art Prize of the City of Zurich in 1997, Swiss music award for the album touch yello in 2010, Echo Prize for 35 years of Yello in 2014, to name just a few. The thick anniversary volume “Oh Yeah!”, published in 2021 with a simple black-and-white cover, Yello artfully looks back on 40 years of joint history, both musically and visually.
In the music projects that Blank and Meier pursue alongside Yello, the two explore other sides and personalities. Meier uses his voice differently in his band Out of chaos, which he founded in 2012 and for which he also composes, while Blank integrates other voices into his own projects and digs into his rich sound library with a different focus. In 2014, for example, he worked closely with singer Malia for the album Convergence, or – in the same year – he recycled and digitised old analogue pieces from the pre-Yello era for a limited special edition in all formats – vinyl, DVD, CD, cassette, in combination with own videos for Electrified. With today’s digital tools, he likes to experiment both visually and acoustically.
Sophisticated, catchy rhythms and soundscapes, combined with crisp lyrics and colourful visuals that come across as unpretentious, mixed with subversive irony and light elegance. Yello maintained this tone and image throughout 14 albums and successively, the duo adopted new technical tools and played with digitalisation.
Yello, Wabaduba, point, Video 2020
Yello, Wabaduba, point
2020: On Wabaduba their latest release and 14th album, Meier and Blank dance in sync: both around seventy years old, in a simple computer-animated, black-and-white sci-fi big-city backdrop, Meier in a suit and Blank in James Bond look, black turtleneck sweater and sunglasses. The world passes by – Meier and Blank stay – and surprise us again and again.
Regarding Yellofire, an app with which anyone can generate Yello-like sounds, developed by Blank and launched only a few years ago, Dieter Meier says: “Maybe there will be live performances with it – we still have some 30 years ahead of us.”
The two gentlemen are cool and remain true to themselves. A brand that changes gently with the times, skilfully exploits each and every new media development and yet always remains unmistakable: that’s what makes Yello trendsetters and a comprehensive art project to this day.
Yello’s and Boris Blank’s neo-profiles contain previously unreleased videos, including for example ‘The pick up’, where Boris Blank blends autobiographical material with sound and image experiments to form a personal narrative.
Grand Prix Musik: Yello
Other Swiss Musikprices:
L’Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp
Fritz Hauser; Arthur Hnatek; Simone Keller; Daniel Ott; Ripperton; Marina Viotti
AMR Genève; Daniel “Duex” Fontana; Volksmusiksammlung Hanny Christen
The price celebration will take place on September 16th September in Lausanne during Festival Label Suisse.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 27.7.22.: Yello – Gesamt-Kunstprojekt erhält Grand Prix Musik 2022, Redaktion Gabrielle Weber
MusikMagazin, 14./15.5.22: Yello – Das Schweizer Elektropop-Duo bekommt den Grand Prix Musik, Redaktion Annelis Berger
Yello, Boris Blank, Swiss Music Prize
Xenakis-Tage Zürich will take place on May 28 and 29 2022, to mark Iannis Xenakis’ 100th birthday. The festival was initiated by the musicologist Peter Révai, who managed to bring Iannis Xenakis to Zurich in 1986, during the “concert series with computer music” founded by Révai. The three concerts of the Xenakis-Tage present a wide range of the composer’s work.
Composer Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) is usually defined as follows: Greek resistance fighter with a severe facial injury, Le Corbusier’s assistant (later also competitor), and musical mathematician. His daughter Mâkhi brings another and surprising aspect into play, reporting that her father was actually a romantic and that Johannes Brahms was his favourite composer. The book that Mâkhi Xenakis wrote about her father in 2015 is soon to be published in German and co-editor Thomas Meyer will present it in Zurich. Father and daughter were bound by a loving but also ambivalent relationship. Xenakis absolutely wanted his daughter to follow the mathematical and scientific path, with art coming later; just as he had exemplified. As a compromise, Mâkhi Xenakis studied architecture, but she became a sculptor and painter.
So apparently Xenakis loved Brahms while developing his visionary sound worlds. He worked with electronic music and percussion because he saw a great potential for sounds that had never been heard before.
Iannis Xenakis often worked with percussion, an instrument in which he saw great potential for new sounds, Rebonds B for percussion (1987-1989), Marianna Bednarska, Lucerne Festival 22.8.2019, SRG/SSR production
But he also transformed one of the most traditional genres, the string quartet, into something new. His string quartets will be performed in their entirety in Zurich by the Arditti Quartet, for whom Xenakis composed three of the four quartets. A tour de force, because the works are extremely difficult to play.
«Superinstrument» String Quartet
Goethe Bonmot’s statement that one hears “four reasonable people talking among themselves” in a string quartet does not match these works. Xenakis breaks with almost each and every tradition of the string quartet. There is no exchange of musical thoughts, no development of motifs, no individual statements. Rather, Xenakis seems to be writing for a single, intricate “super instrument”, tracing and racing through the entire tonal space, from extremely low to pointedly high, constantly changing timbres with tremoli, pizzicati of all kinds and “col legno” parts, i.e. notes played or struck with the wooden part of the bow. And above all: the four string players whiz their fingers across the fingerboards, leaving trails of fire behind. Especially in the first two quartets (ST/4 and Tetras), the glissando is Xenakis’ favourite musical medium. With it, he creates a fascinating weightlessness of sound. Xenakis also realised this floating in his architecture: the Philips Pavilion he designed for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, with its bold curves, is glissando music cast in concrete.
In Phlegra for ensemble from 1975 Xenakis’ fondness for glissandi can be heard well, Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Dir. Jürg Henneberger, Gare du Nord, 3.11.2018, SRG/SSR production
Rarities will also be part of the Xenakis-Tage Zürich and they reveal a completely different side of his oeuvre, namely chamber music reminiscent of folk music. These compositions belong to Xenakis’ early days. The composer was born in Romania and the very first music he heard as a child was folk music, played in the coffee houses and on the radio of his native city Brăila. That is why traditional Romanian and Greek music finds an echo in his early chamber music works.
Another aspect of Xenakis’ work will be featured during a matinée on Sunday morning in the Pavillon Le Corbusier, with his last electronic composition: GENDY3 from 1991, where Xenakis’ great dream of a composing automaton became reality. In GENDY3, the computer uses random operations to control not only the sound events, i.e. rhythm, pitch and tone sequence, but also the timbres. Compared to some of today’s computer-generated music, which is not meant to sound like a computer at all, GENDY3 embraces the fact that a machine is in charge, roaring and squeaking and humming. Xenakis once said that he hoped his music would not sound “like a monster”. But GENDY3 does sound like a living thing – a fantastic, beautiful monster.
Xenakis Tage Zürich, 28. and 29. May 2022
Saturday 28. May, 20:00, Concert String Quartets, Arditti Quartet, Vortragssaal Kunsthaus Zürich
Sunday 29. May, 11:00, Concert and discussion, GENDY3, Pavillon Le Corbusier
Sunday 29. May, 18:00, Concert introduction with Thomas Meyer / Concert Chamber Music, Swiss Chamber Soloists, Kirche St. Peter Zürich
radio programs SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Wednesday, 25.5.2022, 20:00, Musik und Architektur – Iannis Xenakis zum 100 Geburtstag, editor Cécile Olshausen
Musik unserer Zeit, Wednesday, 23.6.2021, 20:00, Nackte Wucht: Iannis Xenakis’ “Metastasis”, editor Moritz Weber
Dieter Ammann, composer of major orchestral works and self-confessed slow writer, celebrates his 60th birthday with concerts by the Basel Sinfonietta and the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, among others.
Music editor Florian Hauser met him for a personal portrait interview:
…of a man. Who, if he takes his time, will ask, tell, laugh and live, during an interview for example, over coffee and Easter eggs and tobacco, and very slowly, imperceptibly, gets to the point, through various layers of concentration. Or – that can also be the case – the associations jump and the topics chase each other. A meeting with Dieter Ammann is a direct expression of what is going on in his mind. Where they live: the …
… in his chest. From which he sucks energy: There’s the improvising, forward-rushing one, and the composing, reflecting one. They fuel each other and one appears like the reverse image of the other. When they meet, forces that pull in different directions and stretch the music to breaking point are being created. When improvising, the performance, the fellow musicians, the groove forces you to stay in the flow and keep going. When he has an idea, he plays it. If, on the other hand, he has an idea as a composer, then he dissects it, puts it to test. That’s when this unconscious is stopped. Time is stopped. He then tries, experiments, tests the ideas to see if they are any good and how good they are. In this way, the music Ammann composes is like a frozen improvisation. “When I’m finished with a piece,” says Ammann, who is a slow writer, “it’s like a piece of jewellery for me, a gem that I’ve polished. I then put it away, look in the next box – which is completely empty and I start all over again.”
From 2014 to 2016, slow writer Dieter Ammann composed his orchestral work “glut”, here in the recording with the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, Dir. George Benjamin, September 1, 2019, KKL Lucerne Festival, SRG/SSR production
Dieter Ammann has jammed with old rocker Udo Lindenberg as well as jazz legend Eddie Harris, he played trumpet, saxophone and bass with the Donkey Kongs and in Steven’s Nude Club, and performed at the Cologne, Willisau, Antwerp and Lugano jazz festivals.
He studied composition and theory with Roland Moser, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Witold Lutoslawski and Wolfgang Rihm. Then, at the beginning of the 1990s, the Ensemble für Neue Musik Zürich presented him during a concert with composing jazz musicians. That was an initial spark with many consequences: first a CD, then awards and he became more and more known, as composer-in-residence in Davos for example and subsequently at the renowned Lucerne Festival. One prize after the other: Swiss Music Prize, main prize of the IBLA Foundation New York, sponsorship prize of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation (one day he might receive the Siemens main prize, ‘Nobel Prize’ of music…).
What is so special about Amman’s fast, vital music? That it knows no idle time. It bears constant movement as well as the unexpected and it can constantly implode or explode.
With the result that the energy of his music immediately comes through, it is not the kind of music where you feel you have to bite through a thick shell before you can get to the core. No, the connection is quickly established, one is not only invited, but virtually pulled and carried along.
Even more souls
This is something that his students sense and benefit from as well. For over 30 years, Ammann has taught classical composition, jazz composition and arrangement as well as classical theory at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. He encourages and challenges his young colleagues, because he is by no means the kind of teacher that whishes to breed successors. “I don’t want to force students into predefined aesthetic directions, but rather encourage them to go their own way and develop the musical language that is already present in each and every one of them.”
Two orchestral works by Dieter Ammann’s students will also be premiered at the Basel Sinfonietta’s birthday concert, including one by young composer Aregnaz Martirosyan (*1993), orchestral piece Dreilinden: first creation Armenien national Philharmonic Orchestra, Mai 14th 2021
Where else will his own language lead him? In which direction will it develop? No idea and that is just fine. “Perhaps it is precisely this uncertainty and this permanent search that really attracts me to composing. The exciting thing about composing is this “it’s-so-not-there-yet” and I have to work it out somehow.”
Ammann is the kind of guy who can watch the work do itself and observe from a bird’s eye view, so to speak. “I’m not the bird, I’m more the frog. When I see two crossed blades of grass in front of me, I have to decide whether to go around to the right or left, slip through the middle or jump over. But I can’t look at the blades of grass from above. An example: vertically, i.e. harmonically, every tone has to be set is in a meaningful relationship to every other tone. It is obvious that this leads to an extremely lengthy decision-making processes, especially in an orchestral texture. As an intuitive composer, I cannot shift any responsibility to the predisposition of the musical material, since these actually don’t exist. Apart from the pitch, the same applies to all other musical aspects, including the unplannable development of the overall form: in all matters, I am the only, always uncertain (and insecure) judge.”
Ad multos annos, dear frog!
Udo Lindenberg, Eddie Harris, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Witold Lutoslawski, IBLA-Foundation – New York, Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung, Jazzfestival Willisau, Estival Jazz Lugano
Basel Sinfonetta «Musik am Puls der Zeit», 23.5.22: Dieter Ammann – Sechzig Jahre im Groove, talk with Robin Keller and Baldur Brönnimann
Donnerstag, 26. Mai, 19h, Stadtcasino Basel : 5. Abo-Konzert «60 Jahre im Groove», Dieter Ammann: «Unbalanced instability» für Violine und Kammerorchester (2013), «Core» (2002), «Turn» (2010), «Boost» (2000/01) für Orchester, Dirigent Principal Conductor Baldur Brönnimann, Solistin Simone Zgraggen (Violine)
18h Pre-Concerttalk Dieter Amman & Uli Fussenegger (Leiter Zeitgenössische Musik Hochschule für Musik FHNW) / Vorkonzert Studierende FHNW
Sonntag, 22. Mai,19h, Club auf dem Jazzcampus Basel: Dieter Ammann live in concert im intimen Rahmen als Improvisator auf Keyboards, an der Trompete und am Bass, mit Jean-Paul Brodbeck (Piano), Christy Doran (Guitar) und Lucas Niggli (Drums, Percussion)
Dieter Ammann zum 60. Geburtstag: “Glut”, 31. 5. 2022, KKL, 19:30h, Dir. Michael Sanderling
Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 18.5.2022, 20h / Samstag, 21.5.2022, 21h: Durchwachte Nacht. Mit und zu Dieter Ammann, Redaktion Florian Hauser.
Musik unserer Zeit, Neue Musik auf dem Sofa, Mittwoch, 23.2.2022: u.a. über glut von Dieter Ammann, mit Doris Lanz und Marcus Weiss, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog
neoblog, 21.8.2020: Ich bin einer der langsamsten Komponisten Europas, Dieter Ammann im Gespräch zum Film Gran Toccata, Autorin Gabrielle Weber
Dieter Ammann, Basel Sinfonietta, Wolfgang Rihm, Roland Moser, ensemble für neue musik zürich, Aregnaz Martirosyan, Davos Festival young artists in concert, Lucerne Festival Contemporary, Swiss Music Prices, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester
From May 6 to 8, Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik’s programme will feature works by composers from 17 different nations with almost a third of the pieces by Swiss composers.
The Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik are the country’s most renowned festival for advanced musical creation. Those who want to experience or listen to the current state of the art in contemporary musical thinking meet in the south-east of the Ruhr region for a spring weekend, just as they did before the pandemic. The festival has been jointly organised by the town of Witten and Westdeutscher Rundfunk WDR since 1969. It owes its reputation to WDR music editor Harry Vogt, artistic director since 1990, he has always succeeded in presenting the most relevant acts in contemporary music with his knowledgeable selections. The punch line is that most of the pieces are commissioned works from all over the world, premiered here and regularly break the common rules codes of chamber music. Another of Vogt’s specialities is that he always has the pieces performed by the best possible interpreters. To the great regret of the scene, Vogt is stepping down as director with this year’s edition.
Helvetians ante portas
Regarding the high proportion of participants from Switzerland, Vogt says that this year’s edition could almost be labeled “Swiss days for new chamber music in the Ruhr”. There are also many musicians with foreign backgrounds but teaching in Switzerland, such as the electric guitarist Yaron Deutsch, who will lead the contemporary music department at the Basel Musikhochschule in autumn, soprano Sarah Maria Sun, also teaching there and Lugano-born conductor as well as Arturo Tamayo student Elena Schwarz. As director of Ensemble Moderne, she completes a huge programme with three concerts such as one featuring works by old master Georges Aperghis and one by 38-year-old composer-in-residence Milica Djordjevic, from Serbia, former student of Kyburz, among others. She still lives in Berlin and first caused a sensation in Witten 2017 with the lively sound treatment in her doubled string quartet.
Teodoro Anzelotti, who teaches in Biel, will also make a special appearance. For Witten, he, for whom more than 300 solo pieces have been written, has now also taken on a solo accordion piece by Hanspeter Kyburz, which was long overdue because of the pandemic. Anzelotti reports that they have been talking about it for some 15 years.
Anzelotti has high expectations, especially since, according to him, there are few compositions in which the basic elements of structural thinking and sensuality of sound are so well combined. The composer informs us that the piece is called Sisyphe heureux after French existentialist author Albert Camus, only to add at the end that one should imagine Sisyphus happy – “il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux”.
Beat Furrer’s new trio also has a longer genesis behind it. Ins Offene should actually have been ready in 2018, but was delayed because of his opera Violetter Schnee, whose premiere took place in Berlin in 2019. The following two years, as we all know, the virus raged. Furrer wrote the piece for Trio Accanto featuring Basel saxophonist Marcus Weiss. Its basis, as in many of Furrer’s works, is the idea of metamorphosis. The permanent, organic transformation takes place on several levels, which are suddenly interrupted by cuts and contrasts, resulting in high emotional qualities and physical moments.
Beat Furrer, Il mia vita da vuolp, Marcus Weiss, Saxophone, Rinnat Moriah, Soprano, world creation, Festival Rümlingen 2019, in house-production SRG/SSR
Furrer’s more recent works address the processing problem in a special way. As he explains: “I was interested in the phenomenon of doubling, but also of distorting in a shadow image, and as a result of cutting voices into each other, the emerging of processuality”.
Further world premieres include works by Betsy Jolas, Sarah Nemtsov, Rebecca Saunders (in cooperation with Enno Poppe) and Iranian Elnaz Seyedi. Despite her 96 years of age, Jolas work in particular, which always opposed the serial abstraction of her French contemporaries, is awaiting due reception in the German-speaking world. A pupil of Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen, Jolas worked for the radio for a long time, then became lecturer in analysis and composition at the Conservatoire de Paris as Messiaen’s successor. Her piece as well as the one by Nemtsov will be performed by Trio Catch with Zurich cellist Eva Boesch.
Ricardo Eizirik, Trio Catch: obsessive compulsive music, world creation 2019
In the Park
For several years now, sound installations have been one of the festival’s essential parts. Every year, different corners and places in Witten are occupied for this purpose. This time it will be a park, designed in 1906 as place of recreation for Protestant nuns who worked in the hospital. They were to get “light and air” there. Now it will offer twelve sound installations and interventions. Of the twelve sound artists involved, four are connected to Switzerland. Visual artist and performer Lilian Beidler, who teaches at the University of the arts in Bern, tries to fathom the joys and longings of yesteryear’s nuns.
Lilian Beidler, Art Mara – Women’s ground 2018
In her work Lustwurzeln und Traumrinden (Pleasure Roots and Dream Barks), she wants to “listen to nature”, to hear whether the confidential conversations of the “lust-walking” nuns are still present in the old trees, seeped into the ground or murmuring in the stream, as SRF editor Cécile Olhausen describes the work. In contrast, the the experienced performer Daniel Ott contributes with a permeable intervention for trumpet, steel drums and voices ad libitum under his own direction.
Mum Hum by Mauro Hertig from Zurich on the other hand deals with completely different natural sounds: the basic material are sounds provided by Ensemble Garage and supposed to correspond to those that an unborn child hears in the womb. Hertig provides an installation setting in which one side of a telephone represents the outside world and the other the soundscape of the foetus in the womb of Hertig’s partner, artist Camille Henrot.
Mauro Hertig: The great mirror, Version Royaumont 2019
Andrea Neumann, who teaches in Basel, created the music choreography Überspringen, for four performers and four mobile loudspeakers. Since 1996, the Freiburg-based artist has been developing her own set of instruments, the so-called inner piano, with which she tracks down beauties in sounds.
But why such an accumulation of works of Swiss provenance? On the one hand, it is probably due to the “performance backlog” as a result of the lockdown measures. There have been no more live concerts in Witten in the last two years – apart from a few streaming broadcasts. On the other hand, many Swiss composers such as Furrer and Kyburz might fit in well with the intendant’s taste and queries, as they create pieces combining technical finesse with great emotional qualities, which Arnold Schönberg would have described as “driving sounds”.
Not to mention the significant support provided by Swiss funding institution Pro Helvetia.
The Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik did take place this year from May 6 to May 8. Most of the concerts are available on WDR.
Teodoro Anzellotti, Hanspeter Kyburz, Trio Accanto, Arturo-Tamayo, Elena Schwarz, Georges Aperghis, Rebecca Saunders, Sarah Nemtsov, Betsy Jolas, Enno Poppe, Elnaz Seyedi, Camille Henrot, Andrea Neumann, Milica Djordjevic, Yaron Deutsch
‘Wood, mouth, ritual, possession’ and ‘multiple speakers’. This year’s edition of Geneva’s traditional contemporary music Festival Archipel does not focus on one main theme only, but on several individual motifs. The artistic directors, Marie Jeanson and Denis Schuler, wish to tell stories and create unexpected encounters, with a playful, light-hearted approach and special focus on shared experiences.
Jeanson, organiser of experimental and improvised music, together with Schuler, composer, curated their first joint festival edition in 2021. Although online because of the pandemic, the edition was successful and able to offer plenty of concerts and encounters between musicians, despite the lack of an actual live audience. This year, the festival’s main venue – ‘Maison communale de Plainpalais‘ – will feature music around the clock during ten days and also become a meeting place. In addition to the extensive concert programme – with composer-in-residence Clara Jannotta or a series on Alvin Lucier – sound installations, shared meals prepared by musicians, nightly salons d’écoute with performers presenting their favourite works in Dolby Surround, or pannels as well as mediation workshops will be featured. In addition, a festival radio programme will broadcast around the clock daily and the programme offers numerous other events spread throughout the city.
The motifs are a hidden thread running through the entire festival, with various composers closely involved and spinning their own stories. Geneva composer Olga Kokcharova is one of them and I spoke with her about her multi-part festival project ‘sculpter la voûte‘ – shaping the vault.
“We have lost our connection to the environment and sound can restore it,” says Kokcharova. The delicate, almost shy composer of powerful natural soundscapes dedicates her central festival project to wood.
Sculpter la voûte is based on several years of research in which Kokcharova studied the growth of trees in Ticino forests. In the process, she examines wood as a sound producer as well as the forest as condition for human culture.
In spring 2021, Kokcharova recorded sounds in a natural reserve in the south of Switzerland. “One can hear the physiological activity of the trees. These are almost brutal, raw sounds – deep sonorities, cracking. You sense that there are forces at play that go far beyond human,” she explains.
Kokcharova is originally from Siberia and emigrated to Switzerland at the age of 16. She experienced a real cultural shock, but also a boost of inspiration. In Siberia, she grew up surrounded by nature, far away from cities and did not know anything about European culture.
In Geneva, she first studied architecture, design and fine arts, then piano and composition. Sound has been important to her from the very beginning. Today she works especially with natural sounds and field recordings, integrating them into compositions, installations, soundwalks, sound performances or film music, for festivals and institutions at home and abroad.
Olga Kokcharova and Antoine Läng, Venera, 2018
Kokcharova’s work is always concerned with larger connections and the relationship between people and their environment.
Trees cracking as they grow – raw, brutal sounds
In the premiere of Sculpter la voûte- ‘altération’ for amplified loudspeakers, a composition commissioned by the festival and at the same time the first part of her project, she presents the sounds recorded in Ticino through an orchestra of loudspeakers. The forest sound is realistically spatialised by an ambisonic system, a space-spanning ‘dome of loudspeakers’, created in collaboration with ZHdK Zurich, which will also be used for other performances during the festival, such as the Swiss premiere of Luis Naón’s string quartet with électronique ambisonique, performed by Quatuor Diotima on the previous evening.
Kokcharova, on the other hand, supplements these ambisonics with an Akusmonium, a system of additional loudspeakers, whereby she strongly alienates the sound with ‘altérations’.
“It’s like resurrecting the forest. One is directly in touch with the sound of life that inhabits it: you feel you are in the midst of it.”
For Kokcharova, the forest is not a place of relaxation, on the contrary it triggers highest concentration, creating connections with things we do not understand and she draws attention to this through alienations in her piece.
Olga Kokcharova, Mixotricha Paradoxa – part II, 2019
Performance installatique et sensorielle
The second part of Sculpter la voûte – ‘auscultation‘, is a collaboration with Geneva’s Ensemble Contrechamps, as a performance installatique et sensorielle. In her installation, Kokcharova traces the sound path of wood: from the living tree, vibrating through the circulation of its sap, to the tonewood, which becomes an instrument in the hands of the violin maker and then comes to life with the musician. This happens tangibly, in the truest sense of the word, as one of Ensemble Contrechamps’ musicians will play for each individual member of the audience. The latter can truly feel the instrument, trace its sound and vibration, and thus experience his or her own expérience vibratoire.
Pour entendre le son on a besoin de la matière...
Sound is vibration: it is our connection to the world, says Kokcharova. In order to hear sound, a material, for example wood, is needed. For Kokcharova, this connection also creates a larger context that secretly shapes us: “When we talk about the history of mankind, the focus is always on humans, tools or animals. Plants are never mentioned – but without plants, mankind wouldn’t exist”. She is interested in showing how other life forms – in this case trees – influence all aspects of our lives as well as our cultural production.
Man and nature have always had a relationship, says Kokcharova, so for her festival project she chose to tell a somewhat different, very personal story of wood and man.
Festival Archipel Genève: april, 1-10th Geneva
Clara Ianotta, Italian composer is artist in residence and present at the festival.
Alvin Lucier, dem 2021 verstorbenen US-Elektropionier ist eine Hommage mit drei Performance-Installationen gewidmet.
Saturday, 2.4.: world premiere Olga Kokcharova ‘Sculpter la voûte– altération’, and ‘Mycenae Alpha‘ by Iannis Xenakis (1978), in honour of his 100th birthday, Olga Kokcharova at ‘système ambisonique‘.
3.-10. April: Olga Koksharova: Sculpter la voûte – ‘auscultation‘:
Saturday, 9.4., 14h: Gespräch ‘arbre, bois, vibration, transmission‘ with Ernst Zürcher, writer, and Christian Guidetti, lute.
radiofeatures SRF 2 Kultur:
in: Musikmagazin, Sa, 2.4.22, 10h /So, 3.4.20h, by Benjamin Herzog: Café with Olga Kokcharova, editor Gabrielle Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, Mi, 22.6.22, 20h/Sa, 25.6.22, 21h: storytelling at Festival Archipel Genève 2022, editor Gabrielle Weber
“Sometimes I feel like I’m living on a train,” says Helga Arias and she laughs. The Basque composer was born in Bilbao in 1984 and now lives in Switzerland. She describes herself as a nomad, because she has been on the move since her childhood and lived in many different places. In the spring of 2020, however, everything suddenly had to stop because of Corona.
Hours of video calls
Helga Arias had actually planned a longer stay in the USA; the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), an artists’ collective from New York, having invited her as composer in residence. But she had to stay in Europe because of the pandemic and the ICE‘s musicians in New York were also isolated and could not rehearse because of the lockdown. This standstill triggeerd creative energies in Helga Arias though and so the work I see you for amplified string quartet and live video was created and premiered at the opening concert of the SONIC MATTER Festival in Zurich in December 2021.
As real encounters as well as planned collective forms of work were not possible, Helga Arias brought the ensemble together through video call. First connecting individually with each member, recording sounds and tones for hours, but also having conversations about art, taste, music and mental states. She assembled audio-visual material and then distributed it among the quartet’s members. Bringing them together, even though everyone was stuck at home. An artificial, but also artful form of communication.
It was only a few hours before the premiere in Zurich that the composer and the quartet finally met in person and were able to assemble the virtually created video and score of I see you on. During the pandemic, a creative and different model of collaboration emerged, one in which all participants, both composer and players, are artistically involved on an equal level.
Helga Arias, I see you, International Contemporary Ensemble, UA Festival Sonic Matter Zürich, 2.12.2021 / Sound-recording: Eigenproduktion SRG/SSR
Intoxicated by stimuli
Helga Arias is sensitive and modern, observing everything without ever ignoring the world, including the virtual world of digital media, when composing: Hatespeech, Me Too debates and Fake News are elements of her music. “Contact with society is very important to me,” she explains, “it’s called contemporary music, so it has to be contemporary. What happens in the world also has an effect on my musical ideas.”
In her performance Hate-follow me – world premiered during the Bern Music Festival in September 2021 – Arias mixes the vocal sounds of four sopranos with intrusive signals of mobile phones and social media rush images on video: spiteful insults alternate with intrusive body poses, a mixture of senseless seduction and hatred, accompanied by incessant vibrating, ringing, tweeting and beeping.
Helga Arias: Hate-follow me, UA Musikfestival Bern, UA 5.9.2021
This oppressive excess of acoustic as well as visual inputs ist the composer’s goas though which Helga Arias draws our attention to the waterfall of messages that pours in on us every day. Even if we could read one message, it is immediately replaced by the next. The individual piece of information losing its meaning. In the process, the composer condenses sound and image in a scary, fascinating way and one begins to suspect why hate news in particular spreads so quickly and so widely.
Hate-follow me drastically shows that the unlimited space of the World Wide Web is not used for maximum openness and diversity. Rather, the perspective narrows when influencers and bloggers spread standardised clichés and cement old role models. Instead of celebrating differentiated polyphony, uninhibited hate speech silences many on the internet. Hate-follow me ends – after a mediatic collapse – in a torrent of apologies. But this is not conciliatory, for the thousands of them “sorrys” seem tacky and hypocritical. This piece is an astonishing paradox: Helga Arias composes music that won’t let us go, by asking us to turn it off. If we do, we withdraw from the madness of the world; if we don’t, we submit to it.
For Helga Arias, works like Hate-follow me or I see you are opportunities to reflect on her role as composer as well as her relationship with performers and audiences: “The performers of my music are not playing machines and I am not their boss telling them what to do! It’s about complex interactions.” Also with the audience. Thus Helga Arias does not and doesn’t want to convey a message. We listeners have to find out for ourselves how to cope with the contradictions and craziness.
On March 26, Helga Arias will be in Ascona for a conferenza-concerto as part of the Festival Ticino Musica.
Radio programs SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit: I see you – die Komponistin Helga Arias, editor Cécile Olshausen, Wednesday, 9.2.22, 20:00h / Saturday, 12.2.22, 21:00h
SRF-online, 14.2.22: Komponistin Helga Arias – Sie macht auch Hate Speech zu Musik, Text Cécile Olshausen
Cécile Olshausen: earweare @ Alte Juragarage Biel 3-5.2 2022
ear we are is bold and innovative. A festival for new listening experiences beyond the mainstream. Founded in 1999 in Biel as a stage for free improvisation, it has become internationally renowned for improvised contemporary music. The audience trusts the festival’s curators as well as the risks they take and numerously shows up at the Alte Juragarage on the edge of Biel’s old town. People come with open ears and minds: ear we are!
The festival is like a well-stocked bookshop, where – in addition to bestsellers – one can find literature by unknown writers and trut the shop owner’s choices. This is also what the curators propose in Biel every two years, sometimes well-known names, but often insider tips. The four artistic directors of the festival – Martin Schütz, Hans Koch, Christian Müller and Gaudenz Badrutt – are all proven artists in the realm of free improvisation, they contributed in developing this genre in recent years and are leading it into the future with their own performances.
Martin Schütz, Cellist and one of the co-curators of the festival: solo, live december 2019, zVg. Martin Schütz
Their programming procedure for the ear we are festival is an essential and valuable process: a lot of music is listened to, discussed, discarded and re-evaluated together. The curatorship is looking for creative musicians who take risks, play with risk, improvise in the best sense of the word, i.e. do not always know in advance where exactly the path they have chosen will lead, the notes show and disclose the way. ear we are offers such artists a creative space and allows them to experiment and work across musical stylistic boundaries during three days. All of this in an appropriate location, the Alte Juragarage, a Bauhaus factory building, built in 1928 and cleared out especially for the festival. A special place for special music, for improvisation, but also for concept and composition. In other words: for present day music.
It is no coincidence that such an innovative music festival has flourished so successfully in Biel, as the free improvisation scene is particularly lively there. In fact, so-called “free improvisation” has a long tradition in Switzerland. It was in the early 1970s that a group of young likeminded musicians invented a new way of making music. Those who came from jazz no longer wanted to play standards and grooves and even free jazz started to feel like a golden cage to them. Those who came from classical music no longer wanted to practise and perform scores full of noises and special effects for hours on end, they wanted to become inventive themselves. This is how free improvised music came into being, and it developed faster in Switzerland than elsewhere. Subsidies and new festivals helped the musicians to organise themselves and soon they were invited to major international festivals. Free improvisation has long since become part of the institutional training programme of the music schools and conservatories.
Improvisation – collectively shaped art
Free improvisation is a collective art, where people play together and the joint performances are not only musical, but also social encounters, with musicians paying attention to each other, lending each other an ear. This art of listening to each other is definitely a quality criterion, as anyone who cannot hear what the others are playing or singing, who exclusively follows his own score in his head, ultimately proves to be a poor improviser. From all these musical-aesthetic and psychosocial premises, a specific musical genre has emerged that can be described as musical bridges from nothing to nothing, eruptive moments, the avoidance of “normal” singing or playing, instead many sounds that are explored out of the voice and invented on the instruments, with surprising playing devices such as knitting needles, brushes or wires, often also numerous electronic aids; and above all: the music is developed in the very moment, nothing is pre-set and yet these are all arrangements that are also rehearsed, taught and learned. As a result, the intended innovations and departures of improvised music can sometimes become somewhat predictable and free improvisation limits itself in its own freedom.
But in the city of Biel, renowned for its watches and watchmakers, the clock hands are always on the present time, also in free improvisation. The ear we are festival contributes a lot to this, not least because it invites musicians from all over the world to contribute with their specific experiences and backgrounds. The 2022 edition in particular, which should have taken place last year but was postponed because of the pandemic, clearly shows how much genre boundaries are dissolving and individually shaped questions and experiments are taking centre stage.
Swiss vocalist Dorothea Schürch for example uses her voice as her centre, sound laboratory as well as research tool; she creates her soundscapes without electronic transformations and recently wrote a dissertation on voice experiments of the 1950s.
ensemble 6ix with Dorothea Schürch, improvisations to Dieter Roth, Kunsthaus Zug 27.11.2014, in house-production SRG/SSR
British trumpeter, flugelhorn player and composer Charlotte Keeffe also focuses on her instrument. Fascinated about how painters create their work on canvas, she too explores colours and shapes in her pointed improvisations and sees her instrument as a kind of “sound brush”. Another example is the beguiling sounds of the Australian Oren Ambarchi. The Sydney-born musician, originally a brilliant drummer in numerous free jazz bands, questions the so-called professional “mastery” of an instrument: without ever having enjoyed a lesson, he takes the liberty of unfolding his surreal musical world on the guitar with various utensils. Last but not least the American poet, musician, artist and activist Moore Mother counters Eurocentric traditions with Afro-American culture and socially critical rap, where very concrete political positions – which are rarely heard so explicitly in free improvisation – are voiced.
So open you ears for ear we are 2022!
earweare 2022 -The current programme may can undergo short notice changes due to the pandemic situation, 3.-5.2.22.
broadcasts SRF2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit / Neue Musik im Konzert 2.3.2022:
Ohne Ohrwürmer! Das Bieler Festival earweare, autor Cécile Olshausen
Musik unserer Zeit, 13.10.2021: Vinyl – Hype, Retro Kult, talk with Oren Ambarchy, autor Gabrielle Weber