Super instruments and beautiful monsters – Xenakis turns 100

Xenakis-Tage Zürich will take place on May 28 and 29 2022, to mark Iannis Xenakis’ 100th birthday. The festival was initiated by the musicologist Peter Révai, who managed to bring Iannis Xenakis to Zurich in 1986, during the “concert series with computer music” founded by Révai. The three concerts of the Xenakis-Tage present a wide range of the composer’s work.

 

 

Portrait Iannis Xenakis 1973 © les amis de Xenakis

 

Cécile Olshausen
Composer Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) is usually defined as follows: Greek resistance fighter with a severe facial injury, Le Corbusier’s assistant (later also competitor), and musical mathematician. His daughter Mâkhi brings another and surprising aspect into play, reporting that her father was actually a romantic and that Johannes Brahms was his favourite composer. The book that Mâkhi Xenakis wrote about her father in 2015 is soon to be published in German and co-editor Thomas Meyer will present it in Zurich. Father and daughter were bound by a loving but also ambivalent relationship. Xenakis absolutely wanted his daughter to follow the mathematical and scientific path, with art coming later; just as he had exemplified. As a compromise, Mâkhi Xenakis studied architecture, but she became a sculptor and painter.

So apparently Xenakis loved Brahms while developing his visionary sound worlds. He worked with electronic music and percussion because he saw a great potential for sounds that had never been heard before.

 


Iannis Xenakis often worked with percussion, an instrument in which he saw great potential for new sounds, Rebonds B for percussion (1987-1989), Marianna Bednarska, Lucerne Festival 22.8.2019, SRG/SSR production

 

But he also transformed one of the most traditional genres, the string quartet, into something new. His string quartets will be performed in their entirety in Zurich by the Arditti Quartet, for whom Xenakis composed three of the four quartets. A tour de force, because the works are extremely difficult to play.


«Superinstrument» String Quartet

Goethe Bonmot’s statement that one hears “four reasonable people talking among themselves” in a string quartet does not match these works. Xenakis breaks with almost each and every tradition of the string quartet. There is no exchange of musical thoughts, no development of motifs, no individual statements. Rather, Xenakis seems to be writing for a single, intricate “super instrument”, tracing and racing through the entire tonal space, from extremely low to pointedly high, constantly changing timbres with tremoli, pizzicati of all kinds and “col legno” parts, i.e. notes played or struck with the wooden part of the bow. And above all: the four string players whiz their fingers across the fingerboards, leaving trails of fire behind. Especially in the first two quartets (ST/4 and Tetras), the glissando is Xenakis’ favourite musical medium. With it, he creates a fascinating weightlessness of sound. Xenakis also realised this floating in his architecture: the Philips Pavilion he designed for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, with its bold curves, is glissando music cast in concrete.

 


In Phlegra for ensemble from 1975 Xenakis’ fondness for glissandi can be heard well, Ensemble Phoenix Basel, Dir. Jürg Henneberger, Gare du Nord, 3.11.2018, SRG/SSR production

 

Rarities will also be part of the Xenakis-Tage Zürich and they reveal a completely different side of his oeuvre, namely chamber music reminiscent of folk music. These compositions belong to Xenakis’ early days. The composer was born in Romania and the very first music he heard as a child was folk music, played in the coffee houses and on the radio of his native city Brăila. That is why traditional Romanian and Greek music finds an echo in his early chamber music works.

Another aspect of Xenakis’ work will be featured during a matinée on Sunday morning in the Pavillon Le Corbusier, with his last electronic composition: GENDY3 from 1991, where Xenakis’ great dream of a composing automaton became reality. In GENDY3, the computer uses random operations to control not only the sound events, i.e. rhythm, pitch and tone sequence, but also the timbres. Compared to some of today’s computer-generated music, which is not meant to sound like a computer at all, GENDY3 embraces the fact that a machine is in charge, roaring and squeaking and humming. Xenakis once said that he hoped his music would not sound “like a monster”. But GENDY3 does sound like a living thing – a fantastic, beautiful monster.
Cécile Olshausen

 

Portrait Iannis Xenakis 1988 © Horst Tappe

Les amis de XenakisIannis XenakisJohannes BrahmsMâkhi XenakisThomas MeyerArditti QuartetLe CorbusierPhilips PavilionPeter RévaiPavillon Le Corbusier

 

Xenakis Tage Zürich, 28. and 29. May 2022

mentioned events:
Saturday 28. May, 20:00, Concert String Quartets, Arditti Quartet, Vortragssaal Kunsthaus Zürich
Sunday 29. May, 11:00, Concert and discussion, GENDY3, Pavillon Le Corbusier
Sunday 29. May, 18:00, Concert introduction with Thomas Meyer / Concert Chamber Music, Swiss Chamber Soloists, Kirche St. Peter Zürich

radio programs SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Wednesday, 25.5.2022, 20:00, Musik und Architektur – Iannis Xenakis zum 100 Geburtstag, editor Cécile Olshausen
Musik unserer Zeit, Wednesday, 23.6.2021, 20:00, Nackte Wucht: Iannis Xenakis’ “Metastasis”, editor Moritz Weber

neo-profiles:
Iannis XenakisArditti Quartet

Dieter Ammann turns 60: a portrait

Dieter Ammann, composer of major orchestral works and self-confessed slow writer, celebrates his 60th birthday with concerts by the Basel Sinfonietta and the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, among others.

Music editor Florian Hauser met him for a personal portrait interview:

Dieter Ammann Portrait © Dieter Ammann

 

 One soul

…of a man. Who, if he takes his time, will ask, tell, laugh and live, during an interview for example, over coffee and Easter eggs and tobacco, and very slowly, imperceptibly, gets to the point, through various layers of concentration. Or – that can also be the case – the associations jump and the topics chase each other. A meeting with Dieter Ammann is a direct expression of what is going on in his mind. Where they live: the …

 

Two souls

… in his chest. From which he sucks energy: There’s the improvising, forward-rushing one, and the composing, reflecting one. They fuel each other and one appears like the reverse image of the other. When they meet, forces that pull in different directions and stretch the music to breaking point are being created. When improvising, the performance, the fellow musicians, the groove forces you to stay in the flow and keep going. When he has an idea, he plays it. If, on the other hand, he has an idea as a composer, then he dissects it, puts it to test. That’s when this unconscious is stopped. Time is stopped. He then tries, experiments, tests the ideas to see if they are any good and how good they are. In this way, the music Ammann composes is like a frozen improvisation. “When I’m finished with a piece,” says Ammann, who is a slow writer, “it’s like a piece of jewellery for me, a gem that I’ve polished. I then put it away, look in the next box – which is completely empty and I start all over again.”

 


From 2014 to 2016, slow writer Dieter Ammann composed his orchestral work “glut”, here in the recording with the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, Dir. George Benjamin, September 1, 2019, KKL Lucerne Festival, SRG/SSR production

 

Many souls

Dieter Ammann has jammed with old rocker Udo Lindenberg as well as jazz legend Eddie Harris, he played trumpet, saxophone and bass with the Donkey Kongs and in Steven’s Nude Club, and performed at the Cologne, Willisau, Antwerp and Lugano jazz festivals.

He studied composition and theory with Roland Moser, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Witold Lutoslawski and Wolfgang Rihm. Then, at the beginning of the 1990s, the Ensemble für Neue Musik Zürich presented him during a concert with composing jazz musicians. That was an initial spark with many consequences: first a CD, then awards and he became more and more known, as composer-in-residence in Davos for example and subsequently at the renowned Lucerne Festival. One prize after the other: Swiss Music Prize, main prize of the IBLA Foundation New York, sponsorship prize of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation (one day he might receive the Siemens main prize, ‘Nobel Prize’ of music…).

What is so special about Amman’s fast, vital music? That it knows no idle time. It bears constant movement as well as the unexpected and it can constantly implode or explode.

With the result that the energy of his music immediately comes through, it is not the kind of music where you feel you have to bite through a thick shell before you can get to the core. No, the connection is quickly established, one is not only invited, but virtually pulled and carried along.

 

Even more souls

This is something that his students sense and benefit from as well. For over 30 years, Ammann has taught classical composition, jazz composition and arrangement as well as classical theory at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. He encourages and challenges his young colleagues, because he is by no means the kind of teacher that whishes to breed successors. “I don’t want to force students into predefined aesthetic directions, but rather encourage them to go their own way and develop the musical language that is already present in each and every one of them.”

 


Two orchestral works by Dieter Ammann’s students will also be premiered at the Basel Sinfonietta’s birthday concert, including one by young composer Aregnaz Martirosyan (*1993), orchestral piece Dreilinden: first creation Armenien national Philharmonic Orchestra, Mai 14th 2021

Where else will his own language lead him? In which direction will it develop? No idea and that is just fine. “Perhaps it is precisely this uncertainty and this permanent search that really attracts me to composing. The exciting thing about composing is this “it’s-so-not-there-yet” and I have to work it out somehow.”

Ammann is the kind of guy who can watch the work do itself and observe from a bird’s eye view, so to speak. “I’m not the bird, I’m more the frog. When I see two crossed blades of grass in front of me, I have to decide whether to go around to the right or left, slip through the middle or jump over. But I can’t look at the blades of grass from above. An example: vertically, i.e. harmonically, every tone has to be set is in a meaningful relationship to every other tone. It is obvious that this leads to an extremely lengthy decision-making processes, especially in an orchestral texture. As an intuitive composer, I cannot shift any responsibility to the predisposition of the musical material, since these actually don’t exist. Apart from the pitch, the same applies to all other musical aspects, including the unplannable development of the overall form: in all matters, I am the only, always uncertain (and insecure) judge.”

Ad multos annos, dear frog!
Florian Hauser


Udo Lindenberg, Eddie Harris, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Witold Lutoslawski, IBLA-Foundation – New York, Ernst von Siemens MusikstiftungJazzfestival WillisauEstival Jazz Lugano
Basel Sinfonetta «Musik am Puls der Zeit», 23.5.22: Dieter Ammann – Sechzig Jahre im Groove, talk with Robin Keller and Baldur Brönnimann

 

birthday concerts:
Basel Sinfonietta:
Donnerstag, 26. Mai, 19h, Stadtcasino Basel : 5. Abo-Konzert «60 Jahre im Groove», Dieter Ammann: «Unbalanced instability» für Violine und Kammerorchester (2013), «Core» (2002), «Turn» (2010), «Boost» (2000/01) für Orchester, Dirigent Principal Conductor Baldur Brönnimann, Solistin Simone Zgraggen (Violine)
18h Pre-Concerttalk Dieter Amman & Uli Fussenegger (Leiter Zeitgenössische Musik Hochschule für Musik FHNW) / Vorkonzert Studierende FHNW

Sonntag, 22. Mai,19h, Club auf dem Jazzcampus Basel: Dieter Ammann live in concert im intimen Rahmen als Improvisator auf Keyboards, an der Trompete und am Bass, mit Jean-Paul Brodbeck (Piano), Christy Doran (Guitar) und Lucas Niggli (Drums, Percussion)

Luzerner Sinfonieorchester:
Dieter Ammann zum 60. Geburtstag: “Glut”, 31. 5. 2022, KKL, 19:30h, Dir. Michael Sanderling

Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 18.5.2022, 20h / Samstag, 21.5.2022, 21h: Durchwachte Nacht. Mit und zu Dieter Ammann, Redaktion Florian Hauser.

Musik unserer Zeit, Neue Musik auf dem Sofa, Mittwoch, 23.2.2022: u.a. über glut von Dieter Ammann, mit Doris Lanz und Marcus Weiss, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog

neoblog, 21.8.2020: Ich bin einer der langsamsten Komponisten Europas, Dieter Ammann im Gespräch zum Film Gran Toccata, Autorin Gabrielle Weber

Neo-Profiles:
Dieter Ammann, Basel Sinfonietta, Wolfgang Rihm, Roland Moser, ensemble für neue musik zürich, Aregnaz Martirosyan, Davos Festival young artists in concert, Lucerne Festival ContemporarySwiss Music Prices, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester

Maze-like traces against fix systems

Jaronas Scheurer
The Munich Biennale is a festival for new music theatre curated by Daniel Ott and Manos Tsangaris since 2016. The festival’s premieres always go beyond familiar formats and take the audience to unexpected and surprising places. This will be proven again this year, from May 7 to 19 May, for example, with the production “s p u r e n” by young Russian composer Polina Korobkova.

I meet Polina Korobkova a month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in a cosy café in Basel. After completing her composition studies in Moscow, Korobkova studied in Zurich with Isabel Mundry and in Basel with Caspar Johannes Walter. In 2021 she completed her Master’s degree in Zurich and recently moved to Berlin, while pursuing her studies with Martin Schüttler in Stuttgart. These points already mark some of Korobkova’s characteristics: an alert, sensitive political awareness like Mundry, the interest in microtonal soundscapes like Walter and thorough conceptual work like Schüttler.

The composer Polina Korobkova, zVg. Polina Korobkova

 

Turning point February 24

Korobkova seems shaken, but nevertheless contained about Ukraine’s invasion, still trying to come to terms with what happened and of course in a state of shock. Although she does not identify with Russia, as Russian citizen she is inevitably associated with it. For her, who -like many other Russian artists – on the one hand vehemently rejects and publicly criticises the invasion, and on the other hand professionally and privately suffers from the war, February 24 2022, the day on which Russia began the war against Ukraine, represents a turning point. There is a time before and a time after for her and she is still sorting herself out without being able to tell what the aftermath will look like. The Russian invasion also affects her Munich production called “s p u r e n”. Most of the work was created before 24 February, but the latest developments in Ukraine cannot leave the production unaffected. She does not yet know how this will be reflected in the final result. We will find out at Munich Biennale from May 12 to 18.


Polina Korobkova: flashbacks to perform i, UA 2021: at the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste.

Lost in the air-raid shelter

“s p u r e n” is in any case conceptually designed in such a way that nothing stands in the way of addressing the Ukraine war. The production is shown in the basement of the University of Music and Theatre in Munich. Adolf Hitler had the building constructed as the “Führerbau” in the 1930s and the basement rooms were intended as air-raid shelters. From 1943 onwards, however, the basement rooms in which “s p u r e n” is set did not provide shelter for people, but for some 600 mostly stolen paintings that Hitler wanted to exhibit in his “Führer Museum” in Linz. Today, however, there is no trace of them and according to Korobkova, the rooms all look the same and offer no clues regarding time, country or history. One only gets an uneasy, claustrophobic feeling due to lack of daylight and thick cellar air. One feels very lost down there.

Korobkova presents a pop song in the basement, fragments of which are sung live by five female singers. The song sounds like a normal pop song, even the lyrics are typical. But because of the personal story behind it – Korobkova wrote this song when she was twelve years old – it is also very personal and intimate. By placing it in the unified, claustrophobic basement rooms, a strong contrast is created. It’s a very different setting from a conventional concert – both in terms of the space and format. For Korobkova has the music playing through the entire air-raid shelter, while the audience is led through the facility without sitting on assigned chairs.


Polina Korobkova: anonymous material i, UA 2020: in Apeldoorn (netherlands) with the Orkest De Ereprijs.

Countless historical traces

The pop song and the five singers are joined by the recording of a 36-note organ played by a pre-programmed robot. The instrument, called Arciorgano, is located at the Musik Akademie Basel and is a replica based on a description by composer and music theorist Nicola Vicentino, who was active in the 16th century. With this organ, Vicentino wanted to solve all the tuning problems that were being thoroughly discussed at the time: he designed some kind of super-organ that would unite the idea of “universal harmony”, an important point of reference for Renaissance musical philosophy, with the harmony matters becoming more and more complex. Vicentino thus attempted to tame the overflowing musical practice of the time with a fixed, superordinate system. For Korobkova, this organ also stands for the slightly dictatorial attempt to force the wildly proliferating world of music into a fixed system; hence the mechanical way of playing and the megaphone speakers, reminiscent of political repression of whatever side, through which the recordings are played.

Dictatorial-looking megaphone speakers from which the mechanically clicking recording of a super-organ from the 16th century blares; five female singers singing the 08/15 pop song of a teenager growing up at the beginning of the 21st century; the claustrophobic, identity-less basement rooms in which the Nazis stored masses of looted art almost 80 years ago: In “s p u r e n” by Polina Korobkova, very different historical layers of time flow together, leaving countless traces. But all of them somehow revolve around the problem of fixed systems – be they of music-theoretical or political nature. This questioning of fixed certainties and systems is also her compositional drive, as – with every piece – she asks herself over and over again why she actually composes and where her place in the world of art and music is.
Jaronas Scheurer

Münchener BiennaleManos Tsangaris, Isabel Mundry, Caspar Johannes WalterMartin SchüttlerNicola Vicentino, Arciorgano,  Arciorgano des Studio 31+Führerbau

mentioned events
The Munich Biennale will take place from May 7 to 19, 2022 at various venues around town.

«s p u r e n» by Polina Korobkova will be performed between May 12 and May 18 in the air-raid shelter of the Hochschule für Theater und Musik at Arcisstrasse 12 in Munich.

profiles neo-mx3:
Polina Korobkova, Daniel Ott, Isabel Mundry

Open to people and music

Friederike Kenneweg
“It’s hard to concentrate on work right now,” said pianist Tamriko Kordzaia when I meet her for a Zoom interview in early March. We are both shaken by the Ukraine war, but for Georgian Kordzaia, the events have another meaning. ” I was there demonstrating of course, which did help, but when things go on the same way afterwards, I suddenly feel lonely here…”

 

Die Pianistin Tamriko Kordzaia sitzt am Flügel und spielt konzentriert, vor ihr die aufgeschlagenen Noten.
Portrait Tamriko Kordzaia © Lorenzo Pusterla/ Kunstraum Walcheturm

 

Bridges between Georgia and Switzerland

Tamriko Kordzaia has long been kind of a musical ambassador between Switzerland and Georgia. Since 2005, she has directed Close Encounters festival, which aims at performing contemporary music from both countries. The festival takes place every two years in Switzerland and Georgia. Tamriko Kordzaia’s goal is to present the music of contemporary composers from both countries and thereby create encounters. In Georgia, however, it is also about bringing contemporary music to rural regions and away from the capital. “This enables all participants – musicians and listeners alike – to have unique experiences,” Kordzaia emphasises.

This year, works by Peter Conradin Zumthor and Cathy van Eck will be featured alongside new pieces by young Georgian composers. Alexandre Kordzaia (*1994), Tamriko’s son, is also represented at the Close Encounters Festival. He can be considered a mediating bridge between Switzerland and Georgia, but also between classical and electronic music, as he’s not only known for his chamber music works, but also as a club musician under the name KORDZ.

Engagement for a forgotten composer

Tamriko Kordzaia does not only wish to present young composers however. In collaboration with two other Georgian pianists, she has also dedicated herself to the rediscovery of the late Mikheil Shugliashvili (1941-1996). In 2013, the three pianists performed Shugliashvili’s Grand Chromatic Fantasy (Symphony) and released the first recording of this impressive work for three pianos on CD.

 

Extract of the piece Grand Chromatic Fantasy (Symphony) by Mikheil Shugliashvili at Musikfestival Bern 2020

 

Building bridges between formations, eras and genres

Tamriko Kordzaia is active in very different musical formations. She plays solo performances, in duo with Dominik Blum from Steamboat Switzerland or with the cellist Karolina Öhman and she’s member of the Mondrian Ensemble since 2008, which covers all possible piano quartet combinations with its programmes.
Currently Mondrian Ensemble features Tamriko Kordzaia with Karolina Öhman, Ivana Pristašová and Petra Ackermann.

 

Die vier Musikerinnen des Mondrian Ensembles. Foto: Arturo Fuentes
Tamriko Kordzaia plays in Mondrian Ensemble since 2008, along with Karolina Öhman, Ivana Pristašová and Petra Ackermann. Foto: Arturo Fuentes

 

Tamriko Kordzaia has been building bridges not only between countries and formations, but also between eras. At the beginning of her career in Georgia, she first made a name for herself with her Mozart and Haydn interpretations, when continuing her studies at Zurich University of Arts, she began to explore contemporary music, with – for example – the works of the Swiss composer Christoph Delz (1950-1993), whose complete piano works she recorded in 2005. Mondrian Ensemble explicitly focusses on presenting both old and new music in its programmes, thereby unveiling unusual connections. The ensemble also implements concepts including space, stage or film play and has no reservations about collaborating with representatives of jazz or club music.

 

Recording of the Mondrian Ensemble playing Plod on by Martin Jaggi.

 

Over the long time that Tamriko Kordzaia has been with Mondrian Ensemble, firm and regular relationships and collaborations have developed with composers such as Dieter Ammann, Felix Profos, Antoine Chessex, Martin Jaggi, Jannik Giger, Roland Moser and Thomas Wally.

 

sieben Sonnengesichter

Tamriko Kordzaia also has a special relationship with the music of Klaus Lang, whose pieces have already found their way into some of the Mondrian Ensemble’s programmes. When the pandemic brought concert life to an abrupt halt, Kordzaia decided to concentrate and deal with Klaus Lang’s piece “sieben sonnengesichter” in detail. The result of this in-depth research can be heard a 2021 CD and recording.

 


Video of the recording session of sieben sonnengesichter by Klaus Lang. Piano: Tamriko Kordzaia.

 

Working with the younger generation

Something that distinguished Tamriko Kordzaia since her beginnings in Switzerland is her work with young musicians – an activity that she enjoys very much these days. At the Zurich University of Arts, she gives piano lessons and helps students find their own voice in the interpretation of not only classical but also contemporary works. In this regard, she also gets in touch with young composers, whom she advises on the development of their pieces. “It’s so great to see what ideas these young people have and how they get on. It always gives me a sense of purpose and helps me to keep going, even if sometimes circumstances are difficult.”
Friederike Kenneweg

Mentioned events:
Festival Close Encounters:
Dienstag, 26.4.22 Kunstraum Walcheturm – Favourite Pieces
Donnerstag, 28.4.22 Stanser Musiktage – Georgian music with Gori women choire
Freitag, 29.4.22 Feilenhauer Winterthur – Georgian music with Gori women choire
Samstag, 30.4.22 GDS.FM Club Sender Zürich – Tbilisi Madness

10 PIECES TO DESTROY ANY PARTY:
Dienstag, 3.5.22 Gare du Nord, Basel
Mittwoch, 4.5.22 Kunstraum Walcheturm, Zürich
Donnerstag, 5.5.22 Cinema Sil Plaz, Ilanz

Mentioned recordings:
Klaus Lang / Tamriko Kordzaia, sieben sonnengesichter: CD domizil records 2021.
Mikheil Shugliashvili/Tamriko Kordzaia, Tamara Chitadze, Nutsa Kasradze, Grand Chromatic Fantasy (Symphony) For Three Pianos: CD, Edition Wandelweiser Records, 2016.
Christoph Delz: Sils „Reliquie“ – 3 Auszüge aus „Istanbul“, CD, guildmusic, 2005.

Klaus Lang, Mikheil Shugliashvili, KORDZ, Christoph Delz

Profiles neo-mx3:
Tamriko Kordzaia, Festival Close Encounters, Mondrian Ensemble, Karolina Öhman, Petra Ackermann, Alexandre Kordzaia, Cathy van Eck, Peter Conradin Zumthor, Jannik Giger, Dieter Ammann, Martin Jaggi, Roland Moser, Felix Profos, Antoine Chessex, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, Musikfestival Bern

Wood, Mouth, Ritual – Storytelling at Geneva’s Archipel Festival

Gabrielle Weber
‘Wood, mouth, ritual, possession’ and ‘multiple speakers’. This year’s edition of Geneva’s traditional contemporary music Festival Archipel does not focus on one main theme only, but on several individual motifs. The artistic directors, Marie Jeanson and Denis Schuler, wish to tell stories and create unexpected encounters, with a playful, light-hearted approach and special focus on shared experiences.

Jeanson, organiser of experimental and improvised music, together with Schuler, composer, curated their first joint festival edition in 2021. Although online because of the pandemic, the edition was successful and able to offer plenty of concerts and encounters between musicians, despite the lack of an actual live audience. This year, the festival’s main venue – ‘Maison communale de Plainpalais‘ – will feature music around the clock during ten days and also become a meeting place. In addition to the extensive concert programme – with composer-in-residence Clara Jannotta or a series on Alvin Lucier –  sound installations, shared meals prepared by musicians, nightly salons d’écoute with performers presenting their favourite works in Dolby Surround, or pannels as well as mediation workshops will be featured. In addition, a festival radio programme will broadcast around the clock daily and the programme offers numerous other events spread throughout the city.

The motifs are a hidden thread running through the entire festival, with various composers closely involved and spinning their own stories. Geneva composer Olga Kokcharova is one of them and I spoke with her about her multi-part festival project ‘sculpter la voûte‘ – shaping the vault.

 

Portrait Olga Kokcharova, zVg. Festival Archipel

 

“We have lost our connection to the environment and sound can restore it,” says Kokcharova. The delicate, almost shy composer of powerful natural soundscapes dedicates her central festival project to wood.

Sculpter la voûte is based on several years of research in which Kokcharova studied the growth of trees in Ticino forests. In the process, she examines wood as a sound producer as well as the forest as condition for human culture.

In spring 2021, Kokcharova recorded sounds in a natural reserve in the south of Switzerland. One can hear the physiological activity of the trees. These are almost brutal, raw sounds – deep sonorities, cracking. You sense that there are forces at play that go far beyond human,” she explains.

Kokcharova is originally from Siberia and emigrated to Switzerland at the age of 16. She experienced a real cultural shock, but also a boost of inspiration. In Siberia, she grew up surrounded by nature, far away from cities and did not know anything about European culture.

In Geneva, she first studied architecture, design and fine arts, then piano and composition. Sound has been important to her from the very beginning. Today she works especially with natural sounds and field recordings, integrating them into compositions, installations, soundwalks, sound performances or film music, for festivals and institutions at home and abroad.

 


Olga Kokcharova and Antoine Läng, Venera, 2018

 

Kokcharova’s work is always concerned with larger connections and the relationship between people and their environment.

 

Trees cracking as they grow – raw, brutal sounds

 

In the premiere of Sculpter la voûte- altération’ for amplified loudspeakers, a composition commissioned by the festival and at the same time the first part of her project, she presents the sounds recorded in Ticino through an orchestra of loudspeakers. The forest sound is realistically spatialised by an ambisonic system, a space-spanning ‘dome of loudspeakers’, created in collaboration with ZHdK Zurich, which will also be used for other performances during the festival, such as the Swiss premiere of Luis Naón’s string quartet with électronique ambisonique, performed by Quatuor Diotima on the previous evening.

Kokcharova, on the other hand, supplements these ambisonics with an Akusmonium, a system of additional loudspeakers, whereby she strongly alienates the sound with ‘altérations’.

“It’s like resurrecting the forest. One is directly in touch with the sound of life that inhabits it: you feel you are in the midst of it.”

For Kokcharova, the forest is not a place of relaxation, on the contrary it triggers highest concentration, creating connections with things we do not understand and she draws attention to this through alienations in her piece.

 


Olga Kokcharova, Mixotricha Paradoxa – part II, 2019

 

Performance installatique et sensorielle 

The second part of Sculpter la voûte – ‘auscultation‘, is a collaboration with Geneva’s Ensemble Contrechamps, as a performance installatique et sensorielle. In her installation, Kokcharova traces the sound path of wood: from the living tree, vibrating through the circulation of its sap, to the tonewood, which becomes an instrument in the hands of the violin maker and then comes to life with the musician. This happens tangibly, in the truest sense of the word, as one of Ensemble Contrechamps’ musicians will play for each individual member of the audience. The latter can truly feel the instrument, trace its sound and vibration, and thus experience his or her own expérience vibratoire.

 

Pour entendre le son on a besoin de la matière...

Sound is vibration: it is our connection to the world, says Kokcharova. In order to hear sound, a material, for example wood, is needed. For Kokcharova, this connection also creates a larger context that secretly shapes us: “When we talk about the history of mankind, the focus is always on humans, tools or animals. Plants are never mentioned – but without plants, mankind wouldn’t exist”. She is interested in showing how other life forms – in this case trees – influence all aspects of our lives as well as our cultural production.

Man and nature have always had a relationship, says Kokcharova, so for her festival project she chose to tell a somewhat different, very personal story of wood and man.
Gabrielle Weber

 

Olga Kokcharova, Lutherie Guidetti, Locarno

 

Festival Archipel Genève: april, 1-10th Geneva

Clara Ianotta, Italian composer is artist in residence and present at the festival.

Alvin Lucier, dem 2021 verstorbenen US-Elektropionier ist eine Hommage mit drei Performance-Installationen gewidmet.

Antoine LängQuatuor DiotimaDenis SchulerMarie Jeanson

mentioned events:
Saturday, 2.4.: world premiere Olga Kokcharova ‘Sculpter la voûte– altération’, and ‘Mycenae Alpha‘ by Iannis Xenakis (1978), in honour of his 100th birthday, Olga Kokcharova at ‘système ambisonique‘.

3.-10. April: Olga Koksharova: Sculpter la voûte –  ‘auscultation‘:

Saturday, 9.4., 14h: Gespräch ‘arbre, bois, vibration, transmission‘ with Ernst Zürcher, writer, and Christian Guidetti, lute.

radiofeatures SRF 2 Kultur:
in: Musikmagazin, Sa, 2.4.22, 10h /So, 3.4.20h, by Benjamin Herzog: Café with Olga Kokcharova, editor Gabrielle Weber
Musik unserer Zeit, Mi, 22.6.22, 20h/Sa, 25.6.22, 21h: storytelling at Festival Archipel Genève 2022, editor Gabrielle Weber

profiles neo-mx3:
Festival ArchipelOlga KokcharovaContrechampsLuis Naon

No catchy tunes! Festival ear we are

Cécile Olshausen: earweare @ Alte Juragarage Biel 3-5.2 2022

Cécile Olshausen
ear we are is bold and innovative. A festival for new listening experiences beyond the mainstream. Founded in 1999 in Biel as a stage for free improvisation, it has become internationally renowned for improvised contemporary music. The audience trusts the festival’s curators as well as the risks they take and numerously shows up at the Alte Juragarage on the edge of Biel’s old town. People come with open ears and minds: ear we are!

 

Christine Abdelnour & Magda Mayas participate at Festival ear we are 2022 ©zVg Festival ear we are

 

The festival is like a well-stocked bookshop, where – in addition to bestsellers – one can find literature by unknown writers and trut the shop owner’s choices. This is also what the curators propose in Biel every two years, sometimes well-known names, but often insider tips. The four artistic directors of the festival – Martin Schütz, Hans Koch, Christian Müller and Gaudenz Badrutt – are all proven artists in the realm of free improvisation, they contributed in developing this genre in recent years and are leading it into the future with their own performances.

 

Martin Schütz, Cellist and one of the co-curators of the festival: solo, live december 2019, zVg. Martin Schütz

 

Their programming procedure for the ear we are festival is an essential and valuable process: a lot of music is listened to, discussed, discarded and re-evaluated together. The curatorship is looking for creative musicians who take risks, play with risk, improvise in the best sense of the word, i.e. do not always know in advance where exactly the path they have chosen will lead, the notes show and disclose the way. ear we are offers such artists a creative space and allows them to experiment and work across musical stylistic boundaries during three days. All of this in an appropriate location, the Alte Juragarage, a Bauhaus factory building, built in 1928 and cleared out especially for the festival. A special place for special music, for improvisation, but also for concept and composition. In other words: for present day music.   

It is no coincidence that such an innovative music festival has flourished so successfully in Biel, as the free improvisation scene is particularly lively there. In fact, so-called “free improvisation” has a long tradition in Switzerland. It was in the early 1970s that a group of young likeminded musicians invented a new way of making music. Those who came from jazz no longer wanted to play standards and grooves and even free jazz started to feel like a golden cage to them. Those who came from classical music no longer wanted to practise and perform scores full of noises and special effects for hours on end, they wanted to become inventive themselves. This is how free improvised music came into being, and it developed faster in Switzerland than elsewhere. Subsidies and new festivals helped the musicians to organise themselves and soon they were invited to major international festivals. Free improvisation has long since become part of the institutional training programme of the music schools and conservatories.  

 

Improvisation – collectively shaped art

Free improvisation is a collective art, where people play together and the joint performances are not only musical, but also social encounters, with musicians paying attention to each other, lending each other an ear. This art of listening to each other is definitely a quality criterion, as anyone who cannot hear what the others are playing or singing, who exclusively follows his own score in his head, ultimately proves to be a poor improviser. From all these musical-aesthetic and psychosocial premises, a specific musical genre has emerged that can be described as musical bridges from nothing to nothing, eruptive moments, the avoidance of “normal” singing or playing, instead many sounds that are explored out of the voice and invented on the instruments, with surprising playing devices such as knitting needles, brushes or wires, often also numerous electronic aids; and above all: the music is developed in the very moment, nothing is pre-set and yet these are all arrangements that are also rehearsed, taught and learned. As a result, the intended innovations and departures of improvised music can sometimes become somewhat predictable and free improvisation limits itself in its own freedom.  

But in the city of Biel, renowned for its watches and watchmakers, the clock hands are always on the present time, also in free improvisation. The ear we are festival contributes a lot to this, not least because it invites musicians from all over the world to contribute with their specific experiences and backgrounds. The 2022 edition in particular, which should have taken place last year but was postponed because of the pandemic, clearly shows how much genre boundaries are dissolving and individually shaped questions and experiments are taking centre stage.  

Swiss vocalist Dorothea Schürch for example uses her voice as her centre, sound laboratory as well as research tool; she creates her soundscapes without electronic transformations and recently wrote a dissertation on voice experiments of the 1950s.

 


ensemble 6ix with Dorothea Schürch, improvisations to Dieter Roth, Kunsthaus Zug 27.11.2014, in house-production SRG/SSR

 

British trumpeter, flugelhorn player and composer Charlotte Keeffe also focuses on her instrument. Fascinated about how painters create their work on canvas, she too explores colours and shapes in her pointed improvisations and sees her instrument as a kind of “sound brush”. Another example is the beguiling sounds of the Australian Oren Ambarchi. The Sydney-born musician, originally a brilliant drummer in numerous free jazz bands, questions the so-called professional “mastery” of an instrument: without ever having enjoyed a lesson, he takes the liberty of unfolding his surreal musical world on the guitar with various utensils. Last but not least the American poet, musician, artist and activist Moore Mother counters Eurocentric traditions with Afro-American culture and socially critical rap, where very concrete political positions – which are rarely heard so explicitly in free improvisation – are voiced.
So open you ears for ear we are 2022!
Cécile Olshausen

 

Zu erleben am ear we are 2022: die amerikanische Dichterin, Musikerin, Künstlerin und Aktivistin Moor Mother

 

earweare 2022 -The current programme may can undergo short notice changes due to the pandemic situation, 3.-5.2.22.

Hans Koch, Christian Müller, Gaudenz Badrutt, Charlotte Keeffe, Oren Ambarchi, Moor Mother

broadcasts SRF2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit / Neue Musik im Konzert 2.3.2022:
Ohne Ohrwürmer! Das Bieler Festival earweare, autor Cécile Olshausen

Musik unserer Zeit, 13.10.2021: Vinyl – Hype, Retro Kult, talk with Oren Ambarchy, autor Gabrielle Weber

neo-profiles:
Martin Schütz, Dorothea Schürch, Florian Stoffner

Portrait of our time

Gabrielle Weber: Ensemble Vortex @Start of season GdN Basel 24.2.2022

Vortex – the one inside the hurricane, the overpowering one from which one cannot escape. The name says it all: whirling up and remixing – that’s what the Geneva Ensemble Vortex is all about.  

In Geneva, in French-speaking Switzerland and abroad, the Ensemble Vortex is an institution – in German-speaking Switzerland it has hardly ever performed. It will now be featured as part of „Focus Romandie“, the French-speaking Switzerland series of Basel’s Gare du Nord opening season.  

I spoke with Daniel Zea, composer, co-founder and director, about the ensemble’s perception and direction as well as the upcoming season.

 

Portrait Daniel Zea © zVg Daniel Zea

 

In the beginning, there was a common interest in exploring interfaces: improvisation, jazz, dance, theatre, installation, radiophony and visual arts. “We were united by curiosity for experimentation and fascination for the new,” says Daniel Zea. This led a handful of graduates from the Geneva Conservatoire to join forces and form the ensemble. That was in 2005 and the ensemble decided electroacoustics would always be present which “was not an obvous thing at all at the time,” says Zea.  

They come from Switzerland, Europe and South America and most of the founders are still part of the ensemble. In addition to Zea – who grew up in Colombia before moving to Geneva – its members are composers Fernando Garnero, Arturo Corrales and John Menoud, and performers Anne Gillot and Mauricio Carrasco. “We were all still studying and very young: we wanted to hear and play our pieces and those of other young composers. We wanted to work on them as freely as possible, together with the performers,” says Zea. The members – the permanent core counts about ten – often take on both roles.  

Vortex exclusively performs new pieces commissioned for the ensemble, they are premiered and then added to the repertoire. Some 150 new works have already been written by a large circle of composers.  

An important pioneer was Geneva composer and lecturer Eric Gaudibert, who supported the ensemble’s founding and stood by its side until his death in 2012. “Eric Gaudibert was an important personality for the new music scene in French-speaking Switzerland and for Vortex. He had a great network, inspired and advised us and made many things happen” says Zea. To close the season, Vortex is therefore organising a mini-festival in Geneva in order to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death. This will take place in December, as – unlike those of other actors – Vortex’s seasons are based on the calendar year.


Eric Gaudibert, Gong pour pianofort concertante et ensemble, Lemanic Modern Ensemble, conductor William Blank,  2011/12, inhouse-production SRG/SSR

 

They always have a main theme. In season 17, the motto is ‘Resonance comes between notes and noise’ and the focus ison society after the pandemic, which reshuffled the parameters of our dealings with each other and shifted many things towards digital. Present times face a lot of pressure, which is what they want to express, says Zea.  

Good examples are the two pieces to be performed in Basel at the opening of the season: The Love letters? by Zea (premiere 2019), and Fabulae by Fernando Garnero (premiere 2016). “Both pieces reflect today’s society in different ways and paired they form a portrait of our time,” says Zea.

 

“Staging the weakening of the human being through technology”.

 

In The Love letters? two performers – a man and a woman – sit opposite to each other, both at the computer. Movements, facial expressions and glances are recorded and shown on a large video screen – live, delayed, superimposed, alienated – and translated into electronic music and text.

 

Daniel Zea: The Love Letters?, Ensemble Vortex: Anne Gillot, Mauricio Carrasco, world creation 2019

 

Zea questions communication in digital space through facial recognition. In search engines, smartphones, social media or state surveillance, it is used by algorithms, usually without us being aware of it. The title carries a question mark: Is what is recorded/shown real or is it the real actors on stage? Can feelings exchanged via digital devices be ‘real’?  

“Love Letters? is a love dialogue that shows how absurd today’s communication has become. Social media are taking over, the work stages weakening of the human being through technology,” says Zea.  

For Zea, the piece, which was written in 2018, is almost prophetic as during the pandemic, digital communication became omnipresent.

 

Alienate the supposedly familiar

 

Fernando Garnera’s Fabulae also alienates the supposedly familiar through additional perspectives. Video, electronics and additional texts add further narrative levels to well-known Grimm fairy tale Cinderella and expose outdated moral concepts. Thus, it is transposed into a bizarre digitally transformed present-day future.  

“Behind this lurks a hidden critique of today’s capitalist society, intensified by the pandemic,” says Zea.

 

Fernando Garnero, Fabulae, Ensemble Vortex, world creation 2016

 

A radically different approach to our society is conveyed by the season’s following project: Suma, a collaboration with the Cologne’s Ensemble Garage. Starting from the question of how music could be made differently today, together and in the present, now that working together from different places became a habit. The result is a kind of answer to the pandemic, says Zea. “We are collectively creating a common contemporary ritual through which music reconnects with the ‘sacred’, with nature, based on memory, ritual and shamanism. In doing so, we question today’s role of technology and communication.”  

 

Composer’s next generation

 

Vortex also regularly focusses on the next generation – not least to remain ‘young’ itself. Its biennial interdisciplinary laboratory Composer’s next generation promotes young talents. In 2021, it took place for the fourth time with five young composers or sound artists selected through a call for projects. Vortex then works closely with them for a season, the result is a carte blanche at the Archipel Genève new music festival and follow-up commissions at l’Abri, a venue for visual and sound art in the heart of Geneva. In this way, Vortex continues to bind participants to the ensemble and the Geneva scene. “Participants included Cloé Bieri, Barblina Meierhans and Helga Arias – all of them were still kind of beginners at the time and are now travelling internationally and continue to be closely associated with Vortex,” says Zea.

 

Ensemble Vortex / Composer’s next generation

 

Vortex is stirring things and shaking them up – also in Geneva, as most of the region’s contributors are associated with the ensemble through joint projects by now, plus of course the Vortexians have also made a name for themselves individually at home and abroad.  
Gabrielle Weber

 
Ensemble VortexDaniel Zea, Chloé Bieri, Anne Gillot, Mauricio Carrasco, Ensemble Garage, Festival Archipel, L’Abri, Festival acht Brücken Köln

upcoming concerts Ensemble Vortex:
23.2.22, 20h, Gare du Nord Basel: The Love letters? / Fabulae, after concert talk with the participants

Suma: Ensemble Vortex & Ensemble Garage:
6.4.22 Archipel; 2.5.22 Köln: Festival acht Brücken

remember Eric Gaudibert – Mini-Festival: 10./17.Dezember 22, Genf

neo-profiles:
Daniel Zea, Ensemble Vortex, Eric Gaudibert, Arturo Corrales, Fernando Garnero, John Menoud, Barblina Meierhans, Helga Arias, William Blank, Lemanic Modern Ensemble

Friction generates heat – Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri @Festival “ZeitRäume Basel”, September 13-22, 2019

Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri

“ZeitRäume” festival welcomes you in the courtyard of Basel’s “Kunstmuseum” with a walk-through and interactive sound sculpture. Composer and sound artist Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri’s contribution to this major collaborative work is her mysterious tube instrument “Untitled VII”.
Theresa Beyer visited Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri for neo.mx3 at her studio in Wald – Zurich region.

In the old days, textiles used to be woven in these large and bright factory rooms. Today Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri and kinetic artist Pe Lang live and work here. Their loft is a lab full of machines, electronics and mechanical objects.

At the back of a workbench, Pe Lang flips a toggle switch and a disc starts turning on black cardboard, Marianthi pulls out needles of various sizes and sticks them into the cardboard. With this gesture, the object turns into an instrument: whenever the small tubes that pop up from the disc touch the needles, fine bell tones are generated. When several performers insert needles into the cardboard of several machines according to a certain pattern, this concept grows into the work “Resonators”. Conceiving this kind of acoustic settings is the core of Marianthis and Pe Lang’s work.


Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri und Pe Lang: Modular No.3

Long-term materials research

Each and every detail of these sound objects is the result of countless material tests – and “Untitled VII” – incorporated by “ ZeitRäume” Festival into the large sound sculpture “Rohrwerk/Fabrique Sonore” – makes no exception. In the studio, Pe Lang shows the prototype: “The 24 tubes are made of transparent acrylic, a material that has the potential to produce warm sound. Each tube is then covered with a TPE foil through which we have stretched a nylon string. And the wheels at the front of the small electric engines are made of hard cotton fabric and coated with a kind of rosin. Sound is produced by increasing the friction.”

Visualization Rohrwerk Fabrique sonore© Made in

Pe Lang turns on the small engines of the tube instrument, generating a continuous tone, the result is complex, organic and beautiful at once – an independent sound sculpture with the potential of growing into a composition. To unfold this potential, Pe Lang slips into the role of performer and slowly changes the speed of the engines, the tension of the nylon string and the position of the clamps attached to it. The sonic reaction is immediate – sometimes reminiscent of a modular synthesizer, sometimes of an organ rich in overtones, sometimes of Eliane Radigue’s or La Monte Young’s meandering drones.

Marianthi compares the delicacy and carefulness with which the instrument is to be played to a Japanese tea ceremony: “Although each and every gesture are the result of great calculation, it all appears to be effortless and simple. Each movement being part of a natural flow”.

Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri: Untitled II (“Untitled VII” is a sequel of “Untitled II.”)

The Charme of the flawed

There is one further element playing its role in “Untitled II”’s sound flow: the material itself. “The diaphragm’s tension decreases over time, the rosin wears off and the engines begin to wobble a bit,” says Pe Lang, “these inaccuracies have been incorporated deliberately. The tube instrument, pretending to be clean, minimalistic and controllable, is not a perfect machine after all.”

This is another reason why Marianthi’s and Pe Lang’s sound sculptures and compositions always move in spaces between accurate and inaccurate, object and performance, mechanical and electronic. And when they leave the studio in Wald, they end up somewhere between galleries and concert halls.

But who is actually composing here: the composer, the performer, or the instrument itself? Those are exactly the lines that Marianthi is trying to blur with her sound sculptures. “I want to place composer, performer and instrument on the same level and thereby also question the whole idea of authorship”. So finally, who or what is in charge always depends on the point of view.
Theresa Beyer

Marianthi Paplexandri-Alexandri: Untitled VI

With its 30 projects, this year’s edition of “ZeitRäume – Biennale für neue Musik und Architektur” in Basel is the largest to date. The 45-metre-high sound tower “Rohrwerk/Fabrique sonore” can be experienced in the courtyard of the Kunstmuseum, from September, 15 to September, 21. Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri is one of the six composers and four musicians bringing this mixture of pavilion and musical instrument to life. 

This year’s Swiss Music Prize will be awarded on September, 20, at the Kunstmuseum Basel, as part of the ZeitRäume festival. Among the nominees, Cod.act, Michael Jarrell, Pierre Favre, Laurent Peter (d’incise) and Kammerorchester Basel.

Zeiträume – Biennale für neue Musik und Architektur, Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, Pe Lang

neo-profiles: ZeitRäume BaselMarianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, Pe Lang, Kammerorchester Basel, Michael Jarrell, Pierre Favre, d’incise / tresque

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri, Pe Lang: 11.September, 20h, Wiederholung 14.September, 20h;
Passage: Cod.act -Maschinenmusik aus La Chaux-de-Fonds: 20. September, 20h; Kontext, 20. September