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Finisterre – Festival Neue Musik Rümlingen / La Via Lattea 28.7.-1.8.23
The Neue-Musik Festival Rümlingen, located near Basel, with its Ticino counterpart la Via Lattea and Associazione Olocene of the Onsernone Valley jointly invite you to a special sound hiking festival in Ticino. Under the motto Finisterre, from 28 July to 1 August, you can set out along symbolic places searching for the end of the old world and a new and better one: on Monte Verità, along the old via delle Vose in Onsernone Valley and on the Brissago Islands.
Following the footsteps of past world-changers through music and art in the countryside is what this joint festival invites you to do over four days. Enough time to discover alternative lifestyles based on the social utopias of the Monte Verità commune, close to nature and the body. Featuring numerous international artists such as Isabel Mundry, Carola Baukholt, Jürg Kienberger, Mario Pagliarani or New York composer Du Yun or Norwegian Trond Reinholdtsen in new works related to concrete places, visions and visionaries.
Starting point is the Monte Verità, a hill above Ascona that became a magical place for people fleeing civilisation and seeking meaning at the beginning of the 20th century. On the first day of the festival, the hill will be the setting for new works and installations by Manos Tsangaris, Trond Reinholdtsen and Lukas Berchtold.
The “Mountain of Truth” was purchased in 1900 by the son of a Belgian industrialist and his partner, the Munich pianist and music teacher Ida Hofmann. On the piece of land, initially 1.5 hectares in size, they realised their dream of a life close to nature in classless freedom, away from industrialisation, capitalism and materialism. Numerous well-known writers, artists, intellectuals and anarchists from all over Europe and overseas joined them and at a later moment also emigrants from the world wars. In 1913, for example the Munich choreographer Rudolf Laban, who opened his pioneering dance school for expressive dance. Light, air, water and sun were the elixir for a soul-mind-body unity, lived in eurythmy, feminism, gardening and sunbathing in airy garments or nude.
The Swiss curator Harald Szeemann and former director of the Kassel’s documenta5 back in 1972, also became fascinated by Ticino and made it his adopted home from the 1970s until his death in 2005. He described the hill as “the place where our foreheads touch the sky”, collecting everything he could find on it for his 1978 exhibition “Monte verità – le mammelle della verità / the breasts of truth”, which toured internationally, in Zurich, Berlin, Munich and Vienna, making the place famous. The original exhibition, reopened in 2017, will be accessible during the festival. The new works on the mountain borrow from the commune’s expressive dance, love of nature and worship of Wagner.
On the following days, we will follow in the footsteps of other historical truth-seekers from Ticino.
La Via Lattea (“Milky Way”), the Ticino cooperative festival, sets out on the trail of St. Brendan. According to medieval legend, the Irish monk sought earthly paradise on a legendary island on an adventurous journey with other friars. The festival with the resonant name combines theatre with the means of music and vice versa.
It is based in Mendrisiotto in the Sottoceneri, south of Mount Ceneri and usually brings art and sound to historical-cultural places around and on the lake of Lugano.
La Via Lattea 10, Argonauti 2013, Trailer
This year and for the first time, it will be visiting Locarno and playing on lake Maggiore. Starting with a concert spectacle in Muralto’s Romanesque Chiesa di San Vittore, through a theatrical walk through the alleys of Muralto, it will undertake Brendan’s boat route, accompanied by music, ending with nightly meditative concerts under the open sky on the Brissago Islands.
Among other works, the world premiere of Composizione per l’Isola di San Pancrazio, for various objects and 16 players by Mario Pagliarani – composer and artistic director of La Via Lattea – will be presented.
Mario Pagliarani, Debussy – Le jet d’eau, UA Lugano 2009, in-house production SRG/SSR
The valleys around Locarno were popular with hyppie as retreat communities from the sixties onwards. In the Onsernone Valley, on the old Via delle Vose, visitors encounter historical figures in new guises and historical places are revived. Isabel Mundry, for example, chose the culturally and historically charged chapel of the Oratorio Giovanni Nepumoceno in Niva to present her new work ‘Niva-Engramme’, based on a motet by Claudio Monteverdi, which she translates for solo viola in dialogue with the site itself. Mundry’s choice fell on the chapel and its inscription as a fascinating place where a visionary brought together different cultures and religions in the remote Ticino valley. A vision that seems more contemporary to her than Monte Verità’s escape from civilisation, which she finds – albeit – appealing, as Isabel Mundry explains in her neoblog interview.
Composing as a form of listening: Composer Isabel Mundry, who lives and teaches in Zurich and Munich, chose the culturally and historically charged chapel of the Oratorio Giovanni Nepumoceno in Niva to present her new work Niva-Engramme, based on a motet by Claudio Monteverdi. Isabel Mundry discusses her relationship to nature, culture and drop-out communities as well as utopias with Gabrielle Weber. Audio interview exclusively for neo.mx3.ch / Monday, 17.7.23. in-house production SRG/SSR; Music: Sound archeologies, Trio Catch, 2018.
broadcasts SFR 2 Kultur:
MusikMagazin, 29.7.2023, Redaktion Lea Hagmann: talk Mario Pagliarani with Gabrielle Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, 20.9.2023: Festival Rümlingen im Tessin, editor/author Gabrielle Weber
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.
Roman Hošek: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound @ launch srf video series
Neuerdings – a video series in collaboration with SRF 3 Sounds! and SRF 2 Kultur presents experimental music creation up close. In four portraits, it traces the creative paths in the sound labs of Noémi Büchi, Julian Sartorius, Martina Berther and Janiv Oron. Roman Hošek introduces the series and the portrayed artists for the launch at Bad Bonn Kilbi festival on June 2, 2023.
Büchi, Sartorius, Berther and Oron are all seasoned musical personalities and some already won important prizes and can regularly be encountered in renowned projects. They all pursue a radically individual creative path – in which success plays a subordinate role. For them, it’s all about doing. The four musicians talk about their uncompromising creative will in a new documentary series.
Sound is matter
Noémi Büchi takes everyday objects such as paper or screws and extracts sounds from them in order to make music. For example, she tears the paper, records the sound with a microphone and manipulates it with effects and computer software.
In this way, everything becomes an instrument for Noémi Büchi. She used to play classical piano. Today it is keyboards, tone controls and computer pads that the Zurich-based artist operates and with which she controls her self-generated sound sources. The result is a sound collage that invites the audience on a breathtaking journey and encourages them to move.
Because moving something is important for Noémi Büchi. Her symphonic music is not a commentary and carries no message, as what matters to her is making sound visible and tangible. She notices this especially live, when sound waves become physical.
Video-Portrait Noémi Büchi: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is craft
Julian Sartorius likes to move around outdoors or, for example, through factory halls, drumming on objects with his drum sticks. The wide range of sounds he is able to extract from seemingly ordinary objects, such as lids, pipes or wires, and how he manages to produce attractive-sounding beats is amazing.
The Bernese drummer is strongly inspired by electronic music, but creates his sounds exclusively with his hands and on acoustic instruments and objects. What’s appealing to him is to create almost artificial sounds with something natural.
Another facet of Sartorius’ artistic work is the production of beats, and here too he goes his own peculiar way. For example, he likes to work with an old-fashioned cassette player, which – compared to a digital sequencer programme – limits him in terms of technical possibilities, but forces him to make immediate artistic decisions.
Video-Portrait Julian Sartorius: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is quest
Martina Berther gets much more out of her electric bass than just low frequency notes. Violent storms or vast soundscapes open up before the mind’s eye when she gets her instrument vibrating with her effect devices and preparation tools – such as steel wool, sanding block, bottleneck or violin bow.
The solo performer from Graubünden says she makes experimental music because she can thereby surprise herself and has great freedom. At the same time, dealing with this freedom is not always easy. A contradiction? No. It is this tension – between success and failure – that is the main appeal for Martina Berther.
Just like a solo performance, the search for sounds can become a balancing act, as there are many uncertainties and even doubts. For Martina Berther, there must be an intention behind every sound before she includes it in her repertoire. No room for randomness.
Video-Portrait Martina Berther: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
Sound is reaction
Janiv Oron is like an inventor in a music laboratory. When the former DJ creates his sounds, the record player is often still central, but he expands it in experimental ways with other sources, such as a rotating loudspeakers or marbles track.
The sound performer from Basel not only directs his sound machines, but also reacts to random impulses that he receives back, seeing this as a “source of uncertainty” and he consciously engages in it to include improvisation into his work. Oron does not turn away from the digital world, but he feels a stronger fascination with analogue and physically functioning sound sources. These may offer less possibilities in comparison, but they are haptic and can be operated by hand instead of on a screen.
Video-Portrait Janiv Oron: Neuerdings – Faszination Sound, in house-production SRG/SSR
“Neuerdings” – Faszination Sound
“Neuerdings” is a video portrait series about these four Swiss musicians. They are pioneers of tomorrow’s music, whose work is between contemporary electroacoustics, experimental music and pop, and thus also finds international acclaim.
Switzerland is particularly strong in these intermediate areas, not least because of the numerous study degree programmes focusing on transdisciplinary and progressive musical practice. On the other hand, more and more events and growing interest among the public are also slowly but surely emerging.
The portrait series, a collaboration between SRF 3 Sounds! and SRF 2 Kultur, offers a glimpse into to the sound tinkering rooms of the four musicians, who are all breaking new ground with their work and are therefore difficult to place stylistically. In the videos, they talk about their radical approaches and describe the inaccessible and innovative potential of new sounds.
The launch took place at the festival: Bad Bonn Kilbi, friday 2.6.2023
broadcasts SRF Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 7.6.2023, 20h: “Neuerdings”: Schweizer Musik mit Pioniergeist, author Roman Hošek
in: MusikMagazin, 3./4.6.2023: Swisscorner, Vier Schweizer Soundartists (ab Min 46:59), author Lea Hagmann
srf online-Text: Sie schrauben am Sound der Zukunft, author: Claudio Landolt
broadcast SRF 3:
Sounds!, 7.6.2023, 20h: Neuerdings: Schweizer Musik mit Pioniergeist, author Claudio Landolt
Neuerdings on playsuisse
Gabrielle Weber: Portrait Mathieu Corajod / Compagnie Mixt Forma
To create a project in the great hall of the Centre Pompidou in Paris is something quite unique. The Swiss-French composer Mathieu Corajod and the Biel-based Compagnie Mixt Forma are experiencing this with their first joint work at Paris’ Manifeste Festival, namely interdisciplinary project Laquelle se passe ailleurs, a “scenic poem for four hybrid performers”, combining music, text, dance and drama with electronics. The work will also be performed in Switzerland. In the Zoom interview after Paris, where Corajod was rehearsing at IRCAM, we talked about his approach to music theatre, hybridity and interdisciplinarity.
Corajod founded the Compagnie Mixt Forma with the aim of exploring experimental music theatre’s possibilities with like-minded people. Laquelle se passe ailleur was developed together over a period of two years and convinced the Paris Association Beaumarchais-SACD in its first stages already, which made the realisation possible with a sponsorship award. Significantly, this was in the field of choreography.
Corajod’s background in musical theatre comes from his studies at the Bern University of the Arts, where he also met singer Chloé Bieri and percussionist Stanislas Pili, two Compagnie Mixt Forma members.
Corajod’s own conception of connecting different disciplines, media and technologies goes far beyond the traditional understanding of experimental music theatre as a scenic current of contemporary music. During his Parisian studies at the IRCAM, he intensively dealt with electronics as well as contemporary dance, since then the fusion of composition and choreography never left him. In collaboration with the dancers Pierre Lison and Marie Albert, he created his first piece for dance. Others followed, whereby the additional use of voice, as well as collaborative and inclusive aspects are central to Corajod. Together with Lison, Corajod is now also responsible for the choreography of Laquelle se passe ailleurs, where Lison is also involved as dancer-performer.
Mathieu Corajod, ça va bien avec comment tu vis (2019) for two dancers and electronics, Marie Albert and Piere Lison
Explorers on a joint quest
Complemented by actor Antonin Noël, the four performers of the piece undertake a joint “poetic-futuristic expedition”, each of them bringing their own expertise into the whole in order to generate something completely new. Like researchers on a common quest, says Corajod. He calls this kind of collaboration “hybridisation”. On one hand, there is the hybridity between body and machine, made possible by an on-stage technical device in co-production with IRCAM. On the other hand, the performers themselves act hybrid. They all perform everything, bringing their own approach and learning from each other.
Interdisciplinarity is always present – whether visible or not
Laquelle se passe ailleurs was intended to be intermedia from the very beginning. “The impulses I received from dancer, actor and writer extremely increased the demands on stage,” says Corajod. French author Dominique Quélen contributed new texts, based on the company’s ideas. They were then translated into music and choreography. For a performance by singer Bieri, for example, they would have transferred one of the texts not only structurally, but syllable by syllable to individual gestures and Bieri complemented with special timbres of the voice. Everything is present in each of the performing bodies – dance, text and music, says Corajod. Interdisciplinarity is always present, in one way or another, whether visible or not.
Chloé Bieri in Five young lights for voice and electronics by Pietro Caramelli, 2019
Scenes of an exploration – linked by a playful-poetic approach.
Although there is no actual story in the play, they worked with hidden narratives that the participants imagined for each other in order to be able to act on stage. “When developing a play, questions like: Who am I in this play? What am I doing? or How am I behaving? always arise. It helps if one’s able to imagine something,” says Corajod. This is how different scenes of an exploration with a kind of incomplete plot, connected by a playful-poetic approach came about: “We want to take the audience on this journey,” says Corajod and compares the atmosphere of the project to Andrei Tarkowski, David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick movies.
The choreography doesn’t follow a plot either. They would have used different strategies for individual scenes. Only some, like Bieris’ solo, are completely choreographed, others are based on improvisation and were then rehearsed and fixed step by step. There are also movement sensors in individual objects of the stage set that produce sound when manipulated by the performers, with these manipulations being choreographed to the last detail.
The aim is to design movements in such a way that they trigger something in the larger context of the stage, says Corajod. He sees the SACD’s support for the choreography as confirmation of this novel approach interweaving choreography and composition. On the one hand, it is an honour and on the other hand, he is particularly pleased because he comes from the music. The production is thus not “only” recognised in contemporary music, but also in theatre and dance.
Mathieu Corajod et Pierre Lison (mouvement), Axes (2021), instrumental dance, Duo Alto, UA Paris 2021
Because Corajod also wishes to bring contemporary music to a wider audience and he always explores the genre’s boundaries. With his previous project, the experimental opera Rendez-vous près du feu, performed as part of the “Nancy Opera Experience” at the Festival Musica 2022, he succeeded, as he was not only the composer, but also director. The new work took place partly outdoors – on the spacious square Stanislas in front of the opera – partly inside the Opéra national de Lorraine. Members of the orchestra and performers performed inside, close to the windows facing the square. The choir sang as a flash mob in the audience on the forecourt and the action was projected onto the façade by video mapping.
Mathieu Corajod, Rendez-vous près du feu (2022): Théâtre musical and experimental opera united in an exceptional format (in situ, video mapping, flash mob), commissioned by Opéra national de Lorraine and Festival Musica.
This allowed the opera to open up to the square and the city as well as being enlivened in a different way through light, scenography and actions – it also drew numerous random passers-by under the spell of scenic hybridised contemporary music.
After these two major projects, Corajod is now taking a creative break to focus on a research project dedicated to Swiss music theatre pioneer Hans Wüthrich.
Laquelle se passe ailleurs :
2. / 3.6.23, 19:30h,Theater am Rennweg 26 Biel
8.6.23, 20h, Gare du Nord Basel
12.6.23, 20h, Festival ManiFeste, Centre Pompidou Paris
9.9.23, 21h, Musikfestival Bern, Dampfzentrale Turbinensaal
Festival ManiFeste IRCAM/Centre Pompidou Paris, June 7 – July 1 2023
The British composer and conductor was honoured with the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize in 2023. His darkest opera ‘Lessons in Love and Violence’ revolves around the historical male couple Edward II and Piers Gaveston, and it can be enjoyed at Zurich’s Opera. Moritz Weber interviewed the composer before the premiere.
63-year-old George Benjamin is in a very good mood, joking and very friendly when I connect with him at his home via video conference. Birds are chirping in the background and the sun is shining on his face.
The operas he composes and is famous for, however, are anything but friendly. On the contrary: in his first global success ‘Written on skin’ (2012), the cuckolded husband serves his wife her lover’s heart for dinner. Whereas his next full-length and equally acclaimed opera ‘Lessons in Love and Violence’ (2018) is a gripping medieval drama about the former English king Edward II and his lover Gaveston, both victims of a conspiracy.
Benjamin dreamed of composing operas since his early years and conceived them for himself in his head. Were the themes for these fantasy operas already so brutal? “Yes, I’m afraid they were very brutal. I liked dramatic and dangerous stories and wasn’t at all afraid of darkness in creativity as a small child.” His first favourite operas in the repertoire were Wozzeck, Elektra, Salome and La damnation de Faust – he couldn’t do much with Mozart’s Magic Flute, and he still has problems with Rossini today. “Too nice and not scary enough for me.”
His inspiration at the time was an illustrated book of ancient myths and legends, from Hercules and Pegasus to the Piper of Hamelin (the latter eventually became material for his very first stage work, the short two-person chamber opera ‘Into the little hill’ (2006). “I am very much for merriment and for harmony between people, but in theatre you need suspense, drama, mystery and possibly darkness”.
King Edward II neglected both his people and his political business, he was completely addicted to Piers Gaveston and preferred to spend money on art and music. It was important to George Benjamin to write an opera with a homosexual couple at the centre, “and the greatest challenge was a technical one: how do you write in a modern tonal language for a pair of two baritones?”
In opera history, there are hardly any models for male lovers, apart from the operas Brokeback Mountain (Charles Wuorinen, 2014) and Edward II (Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini, 2017). In these two works, however, the lovers sing in the baritone and tenor voice ranges. When asked whether he had also brought autobiographical elements into the composition of this male love, Benjamin replies: “You’d have to ask my partner Michael Waldman, but not as far as I know. But life in West London today is also much more peaceful than it was back then, in the palace where the opera is set,” he laughs.
Benjamin succeeded in creating some striking scenes between Edward and Gaveston, in which love and violence are sometimes mixed. Two palm reading scenes, for example (scenes 3 and 6), form an axis through the whole play. They are accompanied by almost ritualistic sounds of percussion instruments from all over the world, like two Persian tombaks, an African speaking drum and two Caribbean tumbas. In addition, there is the Central European cymbalon, “my idea was that music from all over the world should sound while Gaveston reads from the king’s hand, a bit like a window on the supernatural.”
Another key scene takes place shortly afterwards in the theatre, when the betrayed Queen Isabel invites Edward and Gaveston to an “entertainment”, with the aim to initiate a coup d’état. The music is multi-layered, because what is shown on stage is supposed to stand out from and at the same time harmonise with what is happening between the protagonists. The stage play revolves around the Old Testament love story between David and Jonathan, also a male couple, and Gaveston is to be bewitched with this performance. “It took me six months to write this scene: In this theatre on theatre, high voices sing in a texture and timbre of their own, plus the hidden hatred and discomfort.” They finally culminate and Gaveston is arrested against the king’s will. At the end of the opera, the heir to the throne invites his mother Isabel to an entertainment in which he brings the conspiracy against his father to the stage and has her partner in crime, as well as lover murdered. Edward’s son has thus learned his lessons in love and violence.
For this, which can be considered his darkest opera to date, George Benjamin also worked intensively with the singers of the world premiere production at the Royal Opera House. “They all came to my house, I accompanied them on the piano in songs and opera arias, asked them many questions about their strengths and weaknesses and their musical preferences”. The roles are written for Stéphane Degout, Gyula Orendt and Barbara Hannigan, but of course not exclusively for them. “I love it and am excited to see what timbres and characteristics other singers bring to these roles. But it is important to me that they sing all the notes clearly and in the right place, with little vibrato. Because I have matched them very carefully to the orchestral sounds.”
George Benjamin, Martin Crimp and Barbara Hannigan talk about the world premiere of Lessons in love and violence at Royal Opera House 2018
As with his other stage works, the libretto is by playwright Martin Crimp. If he hadn’t met Crimp, he probably would never have composed an opera, Benjamin says, “I waited 25 years to find him. All attempts with other librettists failed”. Now they are a well-rehearsed, congenial team, perhaps similar to Da Ponte and Mozart, or Hofmannsthal and Strauss. For Crimp and Benjamin also share common aesthetic premises: A very clear and concise (tonal) language as well as power – or violence – in expression. “He uses words very precisely and with intention; he is a perfectionist, just as I try to be when composing,” says the Siemens Music Prize winner modestly.
Fairytale-like new opera
George Benjamin’s fourth stage work will be premiered this summer at Aix-en-Provence’s opera festival in and he will conduct it himself. ‘Picture a day like this’ will be less dark than Lessons, he reveals: “Martin Crimp and I wanted to do something different, also to refresh ourselves. This opera is shorter and also has a smaller cast, five protagonists instead of eight and 22 musicians in the orchestra instead of 70”.
This work is about a quest: a woman loses her child and is supposed to find a perfectly happy person in a single day. When she doesn’t succeed, she turns to a sorceress. “I love instruments that don’t actually belong to the classical orchestra, and I use a few of them in Picture a day like this, for example tenor and bass recorders.” In this new and also shorter opera, the protagonist is on stage throughout the play, which is also a first for Benjamin and Crimp. The characters she encounters, on the other hand, are all very different. He does not reveal more yet: “I would rather have the audience discover it, without my words in mind”.
New production Opernhaus Zürich: 21.Mai -11.Juni 2023 (conductor Ilan Volkov, with: Ivan Ludlow/Lauri Vasar as König, Björn Bürger as Gaveston and Jeanine De Bique as Isabel.
Festival Aix-en-Provence, George Benjamin, Picture a day like this, UA 5.-.23.Juli 2023
Features SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 17.5.23, 20h/ 20.5.23., 21h: Drama um den schwulen Edward II. George Benjamins düsterste Oper, Redaktion Moritz Weber.
Musikmagazin, 20./21.5.2023: Kurzportrait George Benjamin, Redaktion Moritz Weber.
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
The Bernese saxophone quartet celebrates its 20th anniversary with contemporary music celebration.
To produce every possible sound on the saxophone – that is the craft of the Konus Quartet. The four musicians specialise in contemporary and experimental music, showing – as an ensemble – all the kinds of different sound worlds the saxophone is capable of. This year, the Konus Quartet celebrates its 20th anniversary with a festival week full of collaborations – for example with the Gori Women’s Choir from Georgia.
Many saxophone quartets want to sound as virtuosic and full as possible, almost like an organ, but not the Konus Quartet: they play precisely and minimalistically, exploring the boundaries of saxophone music. Christian Kobi, Fabio Oehrli, Jonas Tschanz and Stefan Rolli: these are the musicians forming the Quartet, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The four artists are all versatile, with backgrounds ranging from free improvisation, sound mixing and label management to big band and festival management. What they share is a passion for the saxophone and the love for musical experimentation.
Minimalism and precision
Christian Kobi, for example, has already created music with the saxophone’s silence. To achieve this, he mounted microphones very close to the blowpipe and recorded the instrument’s resonance without blowing into it. He amplified the silence recorded with this procedure until feedback occurred. The result is a sustained, inconspicuous sound that is easy to overhear if you don’t pay attention.
In rawlines 1, Christian Kobi lets silence become sound through feedback of resonances inside the saxophone.
Modular and forward-looking
While traditional saxophone quartets usually consist of the four main instruments of the saxophone family – baritone, tenor, alto and soprano – the Konus Quartet is modular and remains flexible in its instrumentation. Depending on the piece, they play in the traditional line-up, but sometimes also with two alto saxophones, one tenor and one baritone, or even with two tenor and two baritones.
This flexibility is also something the quartet seeks, when compositions are commissioned, working primarily with composers who have explored sound in depth and are not limited by traditional expectations of saxophone quartets. Among the pieces they perform are compositions by important names on the international contemporary music scene such as Chiyoko Szlavnics, Jürg Frey, Barry Guy, Makiko Nishikaze, Phill Niblock, Urs Peter Schneider, Martin Brandlmayr or Klaus Lang.
FORWARD & REWIND: A celebration of contemporary music
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Konus Quartet is holding a festival weekend in Bern entitled Foward & Rewind. The two words Forward & Rewind are meant literally, as the four saxophonists revisit past collaborations and strive for new ones, showing themselves to be both thoughtful and forward-looking.
One of the already existing collaborations is, for example, with the string quartet Quatuor Bozzini. In 2021, the Konus Quartet premiered the piece Continuité, fragilité, resonance by Swiss composer Jürg Frey with them. For the festival’s opening concert, Konus Quartet and Quatuor Bozzini will revisit this piece, together with another work by composer Chiyoko Szlavnics. The musicians give themselves plenty of time and space – and patiently and precisely unfold the various sound surfaces that are hidden in the compositions.
During a Lifetime (excerpt): The Konus Quartet interprets a piece by Canadian composer Chiyoko Szlavnics.
Powerful voices from Georgia
A new collaboration is scheduled with the renowned Georgian Gori Women’s Choir, which has been presenting traditional Georgian choral singing since 1970. This polyphonic singing technique is hundreds of years old and distantly related to the yodelling we know. It is characterised in particular by the almost physically perceptible power in the voice. The women sing partly in unison, partly in microtonal ranges, mixing harmony and dissonance.
Since 2013, the choir has been led by Teona Tsiramuna and has reinvented itself, so to speak. It is very important to the director to always discover new things and to combine the vocal tradition with modern and international music. “In 1970, the choir sang for a specific, fairly homogeneous audience. It performed mainly melancholic and sustained Georgian music. Now that has expanded. We also sing Mexican, Turkish or African folk music,” says Tsiramuna in an interview for SRF 2 Kultur.
After a collaboration with Georgian-British pop and blues singer Katie Melua, the Gori Women’s Choir gained fame beyond the borders of Georgia and now performs on European stages in various constellations. The conductor’s love of experimentation also draws her to collaborations with contemporary musicians, for example at the Stanser Musiktage.
At the Stanser Musiktage 2022, they performed with four young electronic artists, merging voices with synthesiser sounds.
Air vibrations, the collaboration between the Konus Quartet and the Gori Women’s Choir, can relate on one hand to the vibration of the “air “, on the other hand in can be interpreted as “song vibrations”, from the Italian “aria”. The Gori Women’s Choir brings its voices to vibrate together with two other big names of contemporary music: Georgian-Swiss pianist Tamriko Kordzaia and Austrian composer and concert organist Klaus Lang.
Die neue Kollaboration knüpft an die erste Zusammenarbeit zwischen Klaus Lang und dem Konus Quartett, dem Stück Drei Allmenden, an.
Lang conceived and composed the concert and is featured on the organ. His works are characterised by the way he explores sound. Music is “time made audible”, says Lang. On his instrument, the concert organ, this side of sound can be explored particularly well, as one can hold the notes for any length of time.
In the Air Vibrations concert, Lang interweaves his organ playing with the Konus Quartet’s saxophones and Tamriko Kordzaia’s piano playing, laying the ground for the traditional singing of the Gori Women’s Choir. This creates music that mixes the old and the new and is thus fully in the spirit of the festival: Forward & Rewind.
FORWARD & REWIND Bern
3.5.23, 18:30: concert «Continuité, fragilité, resonance» Jürg Frey, with Quator Bozzini, les Concerts de musique Contemporaine (CMC) La Chaux-de-Fonds
5.5.-7.5.23: Fest für neue Musik , Bern
5.5. 19:30: Interlaced Resonances, Aula PROGR Bern
6.5. 19:30: Voltage Cracklings, Aula PROGR Bern
7.5. 19:30: Air Vibrations, Kirche St Peter & Paul Bern
concert: Moods Zürich
8.5.23, 20:30: «Air Vibrations»
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 19.7.2023: Konzert Konus Quartett und Gori Women’s Choir, Bern: Air vibrations
Neue Musik im Konzert, 12.1.22: Jürg Frey: Stehende Schwärme
Musik unserer Zeit, 13.11.13: «zoom in» – der Saxophonist und Veranstalter Christian Kobi
Online-Artikel, 13.11.13: Das Rauschen des Nichts: Der Saxophonist Christian Kobi
Musik unserer Zeit, 17.07.2019: Saxophonzauber mit dem Konus Quartett
Musikmagazin, 21.5.22: Chorleiterin Teona Tsiramua: «Wir singen nicht nur Wiegenlieder»
Konus Quartett, Tamriko Kordzaia, Christian Kobi, Jürg Frey, Urs Peter Schneider, Jonas Tschanz
Female vocal performers yesterday and today
Vocal performance is very present in contemporary music. Female performers in particular can draw on a long tradition of works since Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III per voce femminile (1965) or Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody (1966). In their mini-series “Musik unserer Zeit”, Benjamin Herzog and Florian Hauser examined this genre’s historical and current exponents.
At the end of the day it always boils down to finding your own voice. Lie it in the saliva present in our oral cavities, in spatial sounds thrown around or in primal words with which we tried to communicate on our continent since 15’000 years ago.
Bel canto is a standard term in vocal practice and can be translated with “beautiful singing”. But what is beautiful? What does (in the present day) singing mean? Anyone who listens to the hybrid, multi-layered tones sound paintings of Norwegian Maja Ratkje, is fascinated by their beauty. However, they have little to do with bel canto.
Swiss singer Franziska Baumann would rather avoid comparing her singing practice with classical “Schöngesang”. “At first I didn’t know that what I do can be considered art at all.” Sche says and had to travel to New York, where the ideas of what singing can be were more open than in her native Toggenburg, to realise that perhaps it is and the self-empowerment that comes with it. There, Baumann’s home.
Another exponent which has not much in common with the Elysian realms of singing is American Audrey Chen. She states having no artistic pretensions at all with what she does. “It is a process,” she says, which rather reflects her changeable biography. A life for which Chen wanted to find her own language.
The three women are vocal performers. A term that is as general as it is fuzzy. Singer, vocalist, “singing artist” – many things bubble in the pond of this wording, yet forming a special bubble. Namely, many of these vocal performers, if we want to stick with this word, are at the same time performers as well as composers, conceptualisers.
Exploring her Toggenburg homeland
As childer, many of us probably did like Franziska Baumann on her exploratory tours through her Toggenburg homeland: combining the sounds of streams, creeks, leaves, birds and harvesting machines into an inner mixture of sounds, into some kind of music that perhaps already wanted to find its way out of the body with one or the other gurgle or peep from Baumann’s mouth. This was followed by classical studies and her escape from the rules and walls of what were still called “conservatories” back then. In New York, she found role models who simply saw what was linked to her early experiences as an art form. “It was also self-empowering” she says today.
Not to be an interpreter that reproduces, but a master of one’s own tones is something that applies to all three women presented here, with means that expand one’s own voice by several dimensions. In Franziska Baumann’s case, this is a special glove provided with sensors with which she can produce sounds, triggering them from an existing sound library and sending them around the room. A ghost orchestra that she conducts herself while at the same time performing vocally.
Franziska Baumann, Re-Shuffling Sirenes, Solo für Stimme und gestische Live-Elektronik, International Conference for Live Interfaces Trondheim 2020
Audrey Chen has discovered an entire orchestra in her own mouth. The sounds she produces in an unapologetically intimate way between cheeks, tongue, throat and in the waves of her own saliva seem like a hyperconsonants language. A supernatural being seems to be speaking to us. What constitutes “bel canto”, sailing on vowels, is not only missing here as even the consonants come out fragmented, breathless, as the sounding mouth-muscle mass of an extraterrestrial, at least quite alien.
Chen mentions regularly that she became a single mother at the age of 23, an obviously drastic experience in her biography. Did she become a stranger to herself in her life plan at that time? “I had to find my own language, also as an immigrant and daughter of an immigrant couple in the USA.” Today she lives with Norwegian trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø. Their two (musical) languages do not seem to be so different. In any case, they have been combining for years in almost astonishingly harmonious projects.
Audrey Chen &Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø, Beam Splitter, 22.04.2017, Kaohsiung Taiwan, Yard/Theater
What about Norwegian vocal performer Maja Ratkje? She says her thinking is orchestral. Piano or guitar have always been too small or little “accompaniment” for her. Anyone who talks to Ratkje should not miss this double understatement. Ratkje likes to play on many levels. As a student, she founded a group called “Spunk” to irritate her audience with the voices of the Chipmonks, the talking squirrels from the comic world. A stay at IRCAM in Paris gave rise to a fascination with electronic media, which she has been consistently deepening ever since. Her performance on the occasion of an award ceremony at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, documented on video, testifies to the virtuosity she has reached in the meantime. Ratkje succeeds in using voice and electronics to create an interlocking sound creature that, like the Greek Hydra, always has more heads than we could ever perceive, let alone conquer by hearing.
Maja S.K. Ratkje Interview about What are the words to us, world creation @Luzerner Theater 2022
In her residency at the Lucerne Theatre in the 2022/23 season, Ratkje showed that, in addition to the latest technology, she is also devoted to the ancient. Her composition Revelations (This Early Song) was integrated into a music theatre piece. Primal words like “worm”, “bark” or “spit” appear in it, words that were spoken some 15’000 years ago all over the Eurasian continent, as Ratkje told us.
Why she digs so deep into semantic depths becomes apparent upon hearing and legitimises the theme outlined in this text through the analysis of the three female exponents. The fascination that captures us when listening to Revelations is nothing less than a kind of genetic legitimisation of vocal performance as we experience it in many forms today. It’s about finding your own true voice. Finding a way to address, hiss, spit at each other with meaning. Whether we, the audience, feel more addressed by this way of communicating or whether we prefer the culinary delights of bel canto is a personal matter.
In the Musik unserer Zeit-broadcast series on vocal performance of March 8 and 15 2023, Florian Hauser also portrayed the pioneers Carla Henius and Cathy Berberian, in a conversation with singer and musicologist Anne-May Krüger, who wrote a book about the two.
Anne-May Krüger: Musik über Stimmen – Vokalinterpretinnen und -interpreten der 1950er und 60er Jahre im Fokus hybrider Forschung, Wolke-Verlag.
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.3.2023: Vokalperformance I – Gegenwartsstimmen elektronisch verwoben, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog)
Musik unserer Zeit, 15.3.2023: Vokalperformance II – Pionierinnen Carla Henius und Cathy Berberian, Redaktion Florian Hauser im Gespräch mit Anne-May Krüger