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The Berlin-based Swiss conductor Titus Engel is Basel Sinfonietta’s Principal Conductor for the current season. A portrait by Jaronas Scheurer
“There is this old Kapellmeister tradition: the Kapellmeister who lives, so to speak, in the opera house and conducts the whole history of music, no matter what piece, trying to do it at the highest possible level. I think that’s somehow a great approach,” says Swiss conductor Titus Engel at one point during our interview. Accordingly, he also rejects the notion that he specialises in new music, even though he is the new Principal Conductor of the Basel Sinfonietta, the only Swiss orchestra that specialises exclusively in music after 1950. “When I conduct new music, e.g. a Messiaen opera like this summer in Stuttgart, then phrasing experience I got from conducting Brahms for example, is helpful if a cantilena suddenly appears. On the other hand, new music, which is often very rhythmic, can help a lot if you really want to get to the heart and grind down the rhythmic parameters of traditional music.” This already defines some of the cornerstones of Titus Engel’s work: a precise tonal language, a serving attitude towards the work and great musical breadth.
This musical breadth was evident from an early age. As a teenager, he played double bass and bassists were in high demand, as they are today. He was soon active in a wide variety of musical contexts: from Bach to Boulez and even in big bands. After studying philosophy and musicology in Zurich and Berlin, Titus Engel decided to pursue a career as a conductor and studied conducting with Christian Kluttig in Dresden. Other influences include Peter Eötvös, Sir Colin Davis and Sylvain Cambreling.
Michael Wertmüller: The Blade Dancer, SWR Symphonieorchester under the direction of Titus Engel, premiere at the Donaueschinger Musiktage 2020.
A steep path
Engel conducted the world premiere of Benjamin Schweitzer’s opera Jakob von Gunten in his second year at university and shortly afterwards, he became musical director of the Dresden-based Ensemble Courage. This was followed by performances throughout Europe at major opera houses and festivals, such as the Donaueschingen Music Festival in 2020. While contemporary music continues to play a major role in his repertoire, he has also repeatedly appeared with classical music or even early music, for example with a highly acclaimed production of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo with Ensemble Resonanz in 2006. Further highlights of Titus Engel’s career are certainly his conducting of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s opera Donnerstag from the Licht cycle at Basel Theatre in 2016 and his “Conductor of the Year” award by specialist magazine Opernwelt in 2020. Engels has thus defined a further benchmark: opera, although it seems too short-sighted to simply dismiss him as an opera conductor: “The interplay between arts is important for my work,” he says. “Of course, music is primarily an acoustic phenomenon, but because music is open in terms of content, I believe that the collaboration with other art forms benefits music, especially contemporary music.” Titus Engel doesn’t just think about the visual and scenic aspect of the performance in opera productions.
Simon Steen-Andersen: TRIO, SWR Symphonieorchester (Dir. Emilio Pomàrico), SWR Vokalensemble (Dir. Michael Alber) and the SWR Big Band (Dir. Thorsten Wollmann), premiere at the Donaueschinger Musiktage 2019
This also reflects a mediation concept that is important to Titus Engel, especially when it comes to contemporary music: “I’m not interested in distracting from the music, which would weaken its core. Instead, I believe that creative formats going beyond the normal concert can also be of interest for a wider audience and ultimately sharpen the focus on the music.” During the next Basel Sinfonietta season, the conventional concert format will be broken up again and again. The opening concert on 1 October 2023, will feature the work TRIO by Simon Steen-Andersen, in which a humorous dialogue unfolds between video recordings of orchestra rehearsals and the real orchestra playing. On 26 April 2024, Basel Sinfonietta and jazz pianist Nik Bärtsch’s band will perform a new composition by Bärtsch himself, in which lighting design will play an important role. The season’s final concert in June 2024, will exclusively feature female composers, with young Spanish composer Gemma Ragués Pujol as a performer and the audience being able to intervene on fossil stones in Cathy Milliken’s work Earth Plays V. Video, light, performing arts or audience participation – with Titus Engel, the boundaries between arts, musicians and audience, different musical genres or between pure concert and theatrical production can certainly be questioned.
Basel Sinfonietta – an orchestra for the whole city
Titus Engel shares this love for experimenting and artistic adventures with the Basel Sinfonietta, which he personally believes to be Switzerland’s most exciting orchestra: “Because a) it is democratically organized, which means that an incredible amount of energy and commitment comes from the orchestra itself. And b) because its openness to exciting programmes and its focus on contemporary music totally suits me.” He already has clear specific for his time with the Basel Sinfonietta and would like to work on his own “Sinfonietta sound”. “Of course, one has to be very flexible in the broad repertoire that the Basel Sinfonietta plays. But I’m interested in finding something even more specific. For example, extreme dynamics, sometimes the courage to play very smoothly. Then crisp and hard again.” On the other hand, he is interested in the physical, performative presence of the orchestra, which ties in with his interest in other art forms. “I would love to develop exciting formats with the orchestra: for example, playing outside on the Rhine or in the forest, also to reach an even wider audience, which of course also requires more educational work. This also means projects involving people that wouldn’t necessarily attend the Stadtcasino for orchestral concerts, that we go to them and develop projects together. I would like to broaden the Basel Sinfonietta‘s base in the city so that we become an orchestra for the whole city.”
So Titus Engel has big plans. But the Basel Sinfonietta is a self-managing orchestra, which means that its members have their say regarding the programming. However, his desire to make the Basel Sinfonietta an orchestra for the whole city of Basel by means of unconventional, exciting programmes and formats will undoubtedly be welcomed.
The opening concert of the Basel Sinfonietta under Titus Engel took place October 1st 2023 at 19:00 in in Saint-Louis (F).
Broadcasts SRF 2:
Musikmagazin, 30.9.2023: Interview with Titus Engel by Jaronas Scheurer.
Musik unserer Zeit, 20.2.2019: Der Derwisch: Titus Engel, Redaktion Florian Hauser.
Musikmagazin, 1.2.2014: Interview with Titus Engel by Mariel Kreis, Redaktion: Florian Hauser (ab Min. 28:47).
Summer series on the Swiss Music Prize: No. 2 : Ensemble Nikel.
Vibrant and virtuoso interpretations of contemporary music form the unique DNA of Ensemble Nikel led by electric guitarist Yaron Deutsch (*1978). Nikel almost acts as a pop band and transcends the image of an often radically loud electro sound. Nikel is “radically contemporary”, according to the justification for the Swiss Music Prize 2023 awarded to the Basel ensemble. Gabrielle Weber met Yaron Deutsch, electric guitarist and founder of the ensemble.
What does the prize mean for Nikel?
It is simply heartwarming and rewarding to be noticed and recognized for the work you do. Especially when there is no application involved, nothing prepared us for receiving the message from the committee, making it even more special. From the most pragmatic angle the award opens further doors for us and allows additional means to fulfil large scale plans we have for our future artistic growth.
An ‘alternative chamber music sound’ mixing electronic and instrumental sounds characterises the ensemble. Let’s talk about the beginning of Nikel: How did you find your way to contemporary classical music with the electric guitar – the combination is not obvious?
Playing the electric guitar, I was initially drawn to rock and jazz, but I felt like a ‘copy cat’ of an American culture that is not mine. Then, in 2005, I came across a piece by Luis Andriessen: ‘Hout’ (1991) for saxophone, electric guitar, percussion and piano. It felt like a ‘eureka’ moment. The piece mixes musical genres and elements in an uncomplicated way. I found a connection to my roots and the European classical music avant-garde felt like a sort of homecoming. It gave me a kind of direction in which soundscape I wanted to go.
With Hout we gave our first concert in Tel Aviv in 2006 and its instruments became the permanent line-up of Nikel. After a few changes, we have now been the regular line-up for about ten years: Brian Archinal on percussion, Antoine Françoise – piano, Patrick Stadler – saxophone and me on the electric guitar. We inspire each other.
..and what does the name mean?
Three points: First, I didn’t want a music related name, then it should feature ‘metal’ as is one of our timbres and lastly, it is reminiscent of Israeli artist Lea Nikel and her abstract colour-intensive works. She was active in Paris and New York in the sixties and seventies and died in Tel Aviv in 2005.
It’s like water drops slowly gathering into an organism.
How come you settled in Switzerland?
The fact that three out of four members live in Switzerland has been decisive. I have always been a ‘missionary’ of non-nation related music-making and ensembles without national nor local definition: for me it’s all about working with the musicians I’m most interested in, who inspire me, no matter where they live. That’s how I got to Patrick Stadler in Basel, for instance. But our vision is international. It’s like water drops slowly gathering into an organism.
Starting from an invitation for a concert we get together. Our task as artists is to be fascinating, interesting and also good enough to create a demand. It’s about passion: as long as we are passionate, we exist as a group.
Your first performance in Donaueschingen in 2012 was legendary – this vibrant energy and raging virtuosity, for example in the premiere of Michael Wertmüller’s piece “Skip a beat”, is a lasting memory for me: How did the invitation come about?
In 2010 we performed at the Darmstadt Summer Courses. The new artistic director at the time was Thomas Schäfer and he wanted to present new voices in his first edition, so he invited us and our performance had a great echo. Shortly after, Armin Köhler, Donaueschingen’s artistic director, called and invited us to the festival two years later.
Michael Wertmüller, Skip a beat, Ensemble Nikel, world creation Donaueschinger Musiktage 2012
What did this performance do for Nikel?
Performing in front of a large audience with international resonance was one thing: a career ‘boost’: the familiarity with the international scene was very important for our growth. But Donaueschingen also enabled us to play four world premieres by four important composers who wrote especially for us and our instrumentation. We wouldn’t have had the financial means to commission such pieces ourselves. We have played these completely different pieces all over the world ever since. This mechanism continues by the way: when the festivals invite us, they commission pieces for us which we then keep in our repertoire. We always get involved in the selection process and suggest composers we are enthusiastic about and this enthusiasm is tangible during our performances.
Our memory tends to remember extremes
Nikel’s performances are known for an often radically loud electronic sound…
First of all, I have to reject this ‘loud’ ensemble definition as we also play many subtle pieces, quiet, tactile music. Probably our virtuoso quality leads to the impression: “the musicians can make walls shake…. “ (laughs…)
Masculine power, is not our thing. Our memory tends to remember extremes. But so much happens outside the extremes, in fact most…
We are like an ‘electrified string quartet’, an organism that works very well together and whose sound blends very well. We are able to finetune and find balance between loud and soft.
In 2017, Nikel released a comprehensive CD for the ensemble’s 10th anniversary – do the chosen pieces reflect the characteristic of the specific “Nikel sound”?
Quite hard to say, especially since the first decade was very formative so from a bird’s eye view the collection and curation of the pieces summarises our characteristics but once zooming in you notice that each work, though capturing predominant qualities of the group, still keeps our artistic character on the elusive end.
Stefan Prins, Fremdkörper 2, Ensemble Nikel 2010 (Decennial-Box).
You just got back from the Darmstadt Ferienkurse where you performed new pieces by Jennifer Walshe and Matthew Shlomowitz: what was the atmosphere like and how did it feel to be back at one of Nikel’s first important performance venues?
Darmstadt was fantastic: it was our fourth visit there. We played a piece we feel very comfortable with, both artistically and personally: an extraordinary collaboration of over two years with Matthew & Jennifer, who also accompanied us on stage. With two sold-out shows and a very positive review in the New York Times, it was a perfect premiere for the project.
Minor characters, Matthew Shlomowitz / Jennifer Walshe, Ensemble Nikel, world creation Ferienkurse Neue Musik Darmstadt 2022.
We have a new album (Radio Works) coming up with pieces commissioned and recorded by various European radio stations during the pandemic, including the Shlomowitz/Walshe piece followed by a world premiere of a four-piece cycle by composer Sarah Nemtsov for nikel and orchestra, due in Cologne and Essen with the WDR Symphony Orchestra. Our new season in Switzerland will begin in January 2024 with a world premiere by John Menoud.
Sarah Nemtsov, Tikkun pour orchestre, part 1 of the tetralogy, Ensemble Nikel, Camerata Ataremac, Ensemble Vertigo, conductor: Peter Rundel, Festival Les amplitudes 2022, SRG/SSR in-house production.
Kritik Darmstadt 2023: Seth Colter Walls, New York Times, 13.8.2023
A Decade, Decennial-Box 2017, 4 CDs mit Doku-DVD und Buch zum Ensemble.
Yaron Deutsch, Live in New York City, 2022
Schweizer Musikpreise 2023:
Grand Prix Musik: Erik Truffaz
Katharina Rosenberger, Ensemble Nikel, Carlo Balmelli, Mario Batkovic, Lucia Cadotsch, Sonja Moonear, Saadet Türköz
Helvetiarockt, Kunstraum Walcheturm, Pronto
broadcasts SRF Kultur:
SRF Kultur online, 11.5.23: Trompeter Erik Truffaz erhält den Grand Prix Musik, Redaktion Jodok Hess.
Musikmagazin, 22.7.23, Carlo Balmelli: Ein Leben für die Blasmusik, Redaktion Annelis Berger, Musiktalk mit Carlo Balmelli (ab Min 9:40).
Musikmagazin, 17.6.23, Inspirationen mit offenem Ende: Die Vokalkünstlerin Saadet Türköz, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Musiktalk mit Saadet Türköz (ab Min 8:38).
Musikmagazin, 13.5.23, Schweizer Musikpreise 2023, Redaktion Florian Hauser, Musiktalk mit Katharina Rosenberger (ab Min 4:55)
Enno Poppe @Lucerne Festival 2023 – A portrait by Annelis Berger
Enno Poppe is considered one of the most original composers of our time. The 55-year-old composer’s music is highly complex and yet extremely attractive to the ears and often as exciting as a thriller. Enno Poppe is this year’s composer-in-residence at the Lucerne Festival. He’ll present his work Fett, among others, as well as the orchestral piece Prozession.
He is a city person through and through: “Life in the countryside would be too complicated for me. I really like living in the city, where I can buy a litre of milk at any time without having to think much. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like to climb a mountain or jump into a lake sometimes.” Unfortunately, he won’t have time for that in Lucerne: “No way, I know that from the last time I worked with the Academy. I look after some 100 young people, all greedy and hungry for knowledge; they want to work from morning to night and experience things, so no time for climbing mountains”.
Poppe studied composition and conducting in Berlin, still lives in the German capital and works throughout Europe with the most important contemporary music ensembles. I met him in Zurich, where he has just rehearsed with the Collegium Novum ensemble. A midsummer late afternoon, Poppe could just have a beer before the interview. We first talk about what distinguishes his music.
“I like intense and expressive music, I like to take the listeners with me. But I have to look for a new form of expressivity, expressivity cannot only be claimed, nor can it be imposed or sentimental. I cannot borrow the expressivity of a Bruckner symphony, I have to find one that has something to do with today and with the means available today. It is not simply a search for new sounds, but a search for a new expressivity. That’s something that constantly occupies me.”
The piece Procession is an example of this. “The work is actually a single process of growth,” says Poppe. “It begins with single notes, from which melodies emerge, then chords, which accumulate into chorale-like passages and the piece continues to build up, becoming more and more intense. Formally, there are nine big waves of increase, the sixth being the biggest and then it slowly decreases again. Every single musician in the ensemble has a solo part here and then leads one part at a time until the next part comes with the next solo.”
Enno Poppe, Procession, 2015/20, Ensemble Musikfabrik Köln, conductor Enno Poppe, Ensemblefestival for Contemporary Music 2020, Leipzig Kölner Philharmonie Nov. 22nd, 2020
An important source of inspiration for this work was the Catholic procession “Semana Santa” in Seville, which takes place every year during Easter. “They run through the city for seven days, 24 hours at a stretch with brass bands and drums, the Basel Fasnacht is a doddle compared to that. This Spanish processional music has a deep connection with the piece, without me quoting it directly.”
Prozession is a work that develops a pull during the listening process, as it really becomes denser and denser and one can hardly escape it. The work also conveys the feeling of tenacity: there’s no way of evading this music, its expressivity is very direct.
Enno Popp finds a compositional means for expressivity in glissandos and vibratos, which is beautifully demonstrated in Wald from 2010 for four string quartets. For many years, Enno Poppe has been working with the “moving” tone, inspired, among other things, by the Asian tradition of tones that are always in motion, i.e. one never hears the same tone twice, the musician intones it differently each time. Enno Poppe has often worked with this. “In Wald, every note is constantly sliding, moving up and down, back and forth. At the most varied speeds. That, in turn, is immensely expressive, because every single tone becomes animated.”
Enno Poppe also deals with the “moving” sound in the ensemble work Scherben, in the recording with the Collegium Novum Zürich, conductor: Enno Poppe, 2008, in-house production SRG/SSR.
Enno Poppe talks easily about his music. It is rare to find composers who do this in such an uninhibited and relaxed way. That makes a meeting with him very pleasant.
Of course I would also like to talk with him about the work Fett, one of the highlights at Lucerne Festival, conducted by Susanna Mälkki in the great KKL hall: “The piece IS indeed fat! Otherwise it shouldn’t be called that,” he says with a smile. In this composition, Poppe completely dispenses with melodies and themes and everything else that classically characterises symphonies. He worked with Chord clusters – at first only four-note chords that get bigger and bigger. “Towards the end we have 40-50-note chords! And not just octaves, but microtonal agglomerations.”
Enno Poppe, Fett (2018/19): Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Susanne Mälkki, World premiere 10.5.2019, Helsinki Music Center
Finally, the conversation turns to the composer’s working method. He always enjoys both composing and conducting. Otherwise he wouldn’t do it at all. Sometimes, when opening a door to a new tonal world for a composition – like the microtonal agglomerations in Fett’s case – it is very easy for him because he quickly finds himself at ease in the new world. “Fett went incredibly fast. I was really into it. It was untouched terrain, which always invigorates me, I can then sometimes work very quickly. For Fett it took me about ten weeks, it’s actually a mystery to me why it went so quickly, because there are an incredible number of notes in this work.” There is a sense of lightness – and that is precisely what distinguishes Enno Poppe’s music: it is complex and multi-layered, but never bulky. This takes the listener on a journey through a world that never stands still.
Enno Poppe at Lucerne Festival 2023
broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Künste im Gespräch, 3.8.2023, Enno Poppe, Composer in Residence am Lucerne Festival, editor/author Annelis Berger.
Musik unserer Zeit, 13.9.2023, Enno Poppe im Portrait, editor/author Annelis Berger.
Roland Dahinden wears many hats: composer, trombonist, sound artist, improviser, conductor… During this year’s Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt, he will present works by the US composer Anthony Braxton, with whom he has a long-standing collaboration.
Filled with music in different ways from morning to night – that’s how one can imagine Roland Dahinden’s everyday life. Two hours are always reserved for his trombone etudes, to which he has devoted himself daily for 40 years now. A time of full concentration on his instrument, in which nothing else has room. “It’s something I look forward to every day,” says Dahinden. “And after that, I look forward just as much to opening the score I’m currently composing, rehearsing, or whatever else is on the schedule. So everything has its place.”
Dahinden/Kleeb a long-time duo
When at home, there is also usually piano to be heard, as his wife, pianist Hildegard Kleeb, is practising for the next performances. The two have been playing together as a duo since 1987, but also in various trio constellations, for example with percussionist Alexandre Babel or electronic musician Cameron Harris. Both pursue their respective solo careers in different ways, but also play together in completely different projects or constellations.
“We talk about music when we get up in the morning and often still are when going to bed at night,” says Roland Dahinden. “That’s very precious, to share this enthusiasm with someone for so long and live it together.”
Panorama for trombone and piano by Alvin Lucier – 1993 – played by the duo Dahinden/Kleeb
Encounters with Anthony Braxton, Alvin Lucier, John Cage
Kleeb and Dahinden experienced a very formative time together in the USA during the 1990s. From 1992 to 1995, Roland was able to work as an assistant to Alvin Lucier and Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan University and get to know their special approach to sound, improvisation and jazz. The fact that this stay was possible at all was thanks to the intercession of none other than John Cage, who composed the piece Two5 for the duo Dahinden/ Kleeb in 1991.
Conducting in Prague
His relationship with Anthony Braxton and the precise knowledge of his work, moving between set music and improvisation, led Roland Dahinden to rehearse some of Braxton’s pieces from the Language Type Music series with the Prague Music Performance Orchestra in 2021. The ensemble, which moves between composed contemporary music, improvisation and jazz, was so satisfied with the collaboration that they asked him to be their permanent conductor. The 55 musicians in the ensemble all have their own musical projects and bring their own approaches to the table. Bringing them together to create an overall sound is always a challenge, says Dahinden – but one that he is only too happy to tackle.
Anthony Braxton in Darmstadt
This year, the PMP Orchestra, conducted by Roland Dahinden, is focusing on the world premiere of a monumental work by Anthony Braxton: the opera Trillium X. The four-and-a-half-hour multimedia opera, which Braxton worked on for over five years, consists of four acts and deals with the effects of turbo-capitalism – with global catastrophes, nuclear threats and the coexistence of humans and robots. After the premiere to be held on August 1st in Prague, the ensemble will travel to the Darmstadt Summer Course for New Music to record this great work. At the pre-opening concert in Darmstadt, the Orchestra, conducted by Dahinden, will perform a version of Braxton’s Language Music and Roland Dahinden will also perform as a trombonist in Thundermusic a new piece by Anthony Braxton, premiered by an ensemble put together especially for the occasion.
After this eventful summer, Roland Dahinden will continue to work on his own compositions. One thing is certain: everyday life in the Dahinden/Kleeb household will continue to be filled with music, however it sounds. And the next exciting challenge is just around the corner.
5. August 2023: Language Music with Anthony Braxton and the PMP Orchestra. Conductor: Roland Dahinden
7. August 2023: First night of Thunder Music by Anthony Braxton, with Roland Dahinden playing the trombone
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