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

“Swiss Days for New Chamber Music in the Ruhr”

From May 6 to 8, Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik’s programme will feature works by composers from 17 different nations with almost a third of the pieces by Swiss composers.

 

Peter Révai 
The Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik are the country’s most renowned festival for advanced musical creation. Those who want to experience or listen to the current state of the art in contemporary musical thinking meet in the south-east of the Ruhr region for a spring weekend, just as they did before the pandemic. The festival has been jointly organised by the town of Witten and Westdeutscher Rundfunk WDR since 1969. It owes its reputation to WDR music editor Harry Vogt, artistic director since 1990, he has always succeeded in presenting the most relevant acts in contemporary music with his knowledgeable selections. The punch line is that most of the pieces are commissioned works from all over the world, premiered here and regularly break the common rules codes of chamber music. Another of Vogt’s specialities is that he always has the pieces performed by the best possible interpreters. To the great regret of the scene, Vogt is stepping down as director with this year’s edition.

 

Portrait Harry Vogt © WDR / Claus Langer

 

Helvetians ante portas

Regarding the high proportion of participants from Switzerland, Vogt says that this year’s edition could almost be labeled “Swiss days for new chamber music in the Ruhr”. There are also many musicians with foreign backgrounds but teaching in Switzerland, such as the electric guitarist Yaron Deutsch, who will lead the contemporary music department at the Basel Musikhochschule in autumn, soprano Sarah Maria Sun, also teaching there and Lugano-born conductor as well as Arturo Tamayo student Elena Schwarz. As director of Ensemble Moderne, she completes a huge programme with three concerts such as one featuring works by old master Georges Aperghis and one by 38-year-old composer-in-residence Milica Djordjevic, from Serbia, former student of Kyburz, among others. She still lives in Berlin and first caused a sensation in Witten 2017 with the lively sound treatment in her doubled string quartet.

 

Portrait Elena Schwarz, Lucerne, 19.03.2016 ©: Elena Schwarz/ Priska Ketterer

 

Teodoro Anzelotti, who teaches in Biel, will also make a special appearance. For Witten, he, for whom more than 300 solo pieces have been written, has now also taken on a solo accordion piece by Hanspeter Kyburz, which was long overdue because of the pandemic. Anzelotti reports that they have been talking about it for some 15 years.

Anzelotti has high expectations, especially since, according to him, there are few compositions in which the basic elements of structural thinking and sensuality of sound are so well combined. The composer informs us that the piece is called Sisyphe heureux after French existentialist author Albert Camus, only to add at the end that one should imagine Sisyphus happy – “il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux”.

Beat Furrer’s new trio also has a longer genesis behind it. Ins Offene should actually have been ready in 2018, but was delayed because of his opera Violetter Schnee, whose premiere took place in Berlin in 2019. The following two years, as we all know, the virus raged. Furrer wrote the piece for Trio Accanto featuring Basel saxophonist Marcus Weiss. Its basis, as in many of Furrer’s works, is the idea of metamorphosis. The permanent, organic transformation takes place on several levels, which are suddenly interrupted by cuts and contrasts, resulting in high emotional qualities and physical moments.

 


Beat Furrer, Il mia vita da vuolp, Marcus Weiss, Saxophone, Rinnat Moriah, Soprano, world creation, Festival Rümlingen 2019, in house-production SRG/SSR

Furrer’s more recent works address the processing problem in a special way. As he explains: “I was interested in the phenomenon of doubling, but also of distorting in a shadow image, and as a result of cutting voices into each other, the emerging of processuality”.

Further world premieres include works by Betsy Jolas, Sarah Nemtsov, Rebecca Saunders (in cooperation with Enno Poppe) and Iranian Elnaz Seyedi. Despite her 96 years of age, Jolas work in particular, which always opposed the serial abstraction of her French contemporaries, is awaiting due reception in the German-speaking world. A pupil of Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen, Jolas worked for the radio for a long time, then became lecturer in analysis and composition at the Conservatoire de Paris as Messiaen’s successor. Her piece as well as the one by Nemtsov will be performed by Trio Catch with Zurich cellist Eva Boesch.

 

 Ricardo Eizirik, Trio Catch: obsessive compulsive music, world creation 2019

 

In the Park

For several years now, sound installations have been one of the festival’s essential parts. Every year, different corners and places in Witten are occupied for this purpose. This time it will be a park, designed in 1906 as place of recreation for Protestant nuns who worked in the hospital. They were to get “light and air” there. Now it will offer twelve sound installations and interventions. Of the twelve sound artists involved, four are connected to Switzerland. Visual artist and performer Lilian Beidler, who teaches at the University of the arts in Bern, tries to fathom the joys and longings of yesteryear’s nuns.

 


Lilian Beidler, Art Mara – Women’s ground 2018

In her work Lustwurzeln und Traumrinden (Pleasure Roots and Dream Barks), she wants to “listen to nature”, to hear whether the confidential conversations of the “lust-walking” nuns are still present in the old trees, seeped into the ground or murmuring in the stream, as SRF editor Cécile Olhausen describes the work. In contrast, the the experienced performer Daniel Ott contributes with a permeable intervention for trumpet, steel drums and voices ad libitum under his own direction.

Mum Hum by Mauro Hertig from Zurich on the other hand deals with completely different natural sounds: the basic material are sounds provided by Ensemble Garage and supposed to correspond to those that an unborn child hears in the womb. Hertig provides an installation setting in which one side of a telephone represents the outside world and the other the soundscape of the foetus in the womb of Hertig’s partner, artist Camille Henrot.

 

Mauro Hertig: The great mirror, Version Royaumont 2019

 

Andrea Neumann, who teaches in Basel, created the music choreography Überspringen, for four performers and four mobile loudspeakers. Since 1996, the Freiburg-based artist has been developing her own set of instruments, the so-called inner piano, with which she tracks down beauties in sounds.

But why such an accumulation of works of Swiss provenance? On the one hand, it is probably due to the “performance backlog” as a result of the lockdown measures. There have been no more live concerts in Witten in the last two years – apart from a few streaming broadcasts. On the other hand, many Swiss composers such as Furrer and Kyburz might fit in well with the intendant’s taste and queries, as they create pieces combining technical finesse with great emotional qualities, which Arnold Schönberg would have described as “driving sounds”.

Not to mention the significant support provided by Swiss funding institution Pro Helvetia.
Peter Révai

 

 

 

The Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik did take place this year from May 6 to May 8. Most of the concerts are available on WDR.
Teodoro Anzellotti, Hanspeter Kyburz, Trio Accanto, Arturo-Tamayo, Elena Schwarz, Georges Aperghis, Rebecca Saunders, Sarah Nemtsov, Betsy Jolas, Enno Poppe, Elnaz Seyedi, Camille Henrot, Andrea Neumann, Milica DjordjevicYaron Deutsch

neo-profiles:
Marcus Weiss, Beat Furrer, Lilian Beidler, Mauro Hertig, Sarah Maria Sun, Daniel OttTrio Catch, Ensemble Modern

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

Mushroom meshwork of sounds and relationships

Friederike Kenneweg

The MaerzMusik festival will take place in Berlin from 18 to 27 March 2022. One of its main focusses will be the work of Éliane Radigue on the occasion of the composer’s 90th birthday. Friederike Kenneweg spoke with French-Swiss musician François J. Bonnet, who’ll be sound director for all of Radigue’s electronic works performances during the festival.

 

Schwarzweissbild von den abstrakten Verbindungslinien eines Pilzmyzels
Maerzmusik 2022 Artwork

 

When shaping the 2022 programme, curators Berno Odo Polzer and Kamila Metwaly, kept in mind both the visible and invisible relationships that hold us all together, in music and beyond. They used the mushroom mycelium’s root-like structure as a metaphor. What we commonly call mushrooms, are in fact mainly the fruiting bodies, but the fungus also includes the multifaceted interconnections of its roots, some of which extend over large areas underground. The influence that these connections have on their environment is still largely a mystery to science.

Such an unmanageable network of connections is also formed by the festival’s events, which run through districts, flats, cafés, pubs and venues, linking places as diverse as the Philharmonie, the Zeiss-Großplanetarium in Prenzlauer Berg and the Kulturquartier silent green in Wedding.

 

Composer Éliane Radigue will turn 90 in 2022. Photo: Éleonore Huisse

The image of a subterranean network also fits the music of Éliane Radigue, whose complete electronic works will be presented live at Maerzmusik. At first it seems like an infinite, almost static sound surface, although subtle changes take place in the various musical layers.

 

Engage in a different perception

Sound director François J. Bonnet recommends that those who attend the concerts fully engage with the perception of these subtle changes, as they allow open up a completely new horizon to the listeners. Bonnet is in charge of 17 events, covering the composer’s works from 1971 to the year 2000. Bonnet, who is an active musician himself under the name Kassel Jaeger, is the current director of INA GRM(Institut national de l’audiovisuel / Groupe de Recherches Musicales). He thus presides over today’s version of the legendary institution that Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer, founding fathers of “musique concrète”, brought into being in the 1940s. Radigue also worked with Schaeffer and Henry for a long time. Today, her name is primarily associated with her work with the ARP 2500 synthesiser, of which she was one of the pioneers in the 1970s.

 

François J. Bonnet. Ein bärtiger Mann im blauen Pullover vor einer Mauer aus brüchigem Stein. Foto: Éléanore Huisse
François J. Bonnet is sound director for Éliane Radigue’s complete electronic repertorie during Maerzmusik 2022. © Éléanore Huisse

 

François J. Bonnet is an expert of Radigue’s also because he published an extensive edition of her electronic works with the composer herself, leading to a close relationship of trust between the two. Furthermore, he gained a precise sense of how the composer’s procedures and what matters to her in each individual composition.

 

The underrated importance of sound direction

Bonnet actually decides for each venue how the playback position should look and filters out certain frequencies or emphasises them during the performance – entirely according to the room’s acoustics. Even if the works are final recorded mixes, he still enhances parts during the performance or gives them a certain sparkle. This influence can lead to the same piece sounding completely different according to the venue. Once, Éliane Radigue herself told him after a concert that she had perceived her own piece with completely different ears that day.

 

Acoustic music, orally transmitted

After a long period of working with the synthesiser, from 2000 onwards Éliane Radigue turned to purely acoustic music, which she developed with her respective “musician partners”. Occam Océan was created in 2015 in collaboration with Paris based ensemble ONCEIM (l’Orchestre de Nouvelles Créations, Expérimentations et Improvisation Musicales).

 


Éliane Radigue, Occam Occéan, Premiere 26.9.2015, Festival CRAK Paris
The extraordinary aspect is that there is no written version of the orchestral work, as the piece is transmitted orally and through listening. In a further joint transmission process, the ensemble ONCEIM passes the composition on to Klangforum Wien and performs Occam Océan in a joint performance in the Chamber Music Hall of the Berlin Philharmonie.

 

Furrow, groove, path

As part of this concert, the ensemble ONCEIM will also perform Sillon for 27 improvising musicians by Patricia Bosshard (2018). Sillon means furrow, groove, path. The repetitive piece is about movements from the individual voice to the overall sound and about connecting lines between various instrument groups through musical material, timbre and sound.

 


Patricia Bosshard’s Foumilierewith Orchestre du Grand Eustache (2018) also focuses on shared practice and listening rather than on written scores

 

MaerzMusik will be the starting point of tracks like Sillon to also run through people, through the city, through the world – music as a mushroom meshwork that connects us all in one way or another.

Friederike Kenneweg

 

Berno Odo Polzer, Kamila MetwalyZeiss-Großplanetarium Berlinsilent green Kulturquartier Berlin, Philharmonie BerlinOccam Océan, Pierre Henry, Pierre Schaefer, INA GRMEnsemble ONCEIM, Klangforum Wien

MaerzMusik 18.3.-27.3. 2022

Selected / mentioned concerts:
21.3.2022 Zeiss-Grossplanetarium: Éliane Radigue: The Electronic Works 1: Trilogie de la Mort I. Kyema (1988)

22.3.2022 Zeiss-Grossplanetarium: Éliane Radigue: The Electronic Works 4: Adnos (1974)

23.3.2022 Philharmonie Berlin: Occam Océan, Klangforum Wien und Ensemble ONCEIM

 

neo-profiles:
François J. Bonnet, Patricia Bosshard

 

Poetic North, Electronic Night

Friedemann Dupelius
“You really have to be a poet to live in the north,” says Cosima Weiter and laughs out loud. She must know what she’s talking about, having travelled to the far north of Europe several times with enjoyment. No wonder, she is also a poet, a sound poet to be precise, “I don’t want to idealise it though” she points out. She still identified a special mindset when travelling to the northern regions of Finland and Norway to prepare the scenic Kaija Saariaho evening Nord with Ensemble Contrechamps. Together with video artist Alexandre Simon, Cosima Weiter captured not only images and sounds, but also impressions of the people living where Nord will be set. “If you live in a big city and meet someone you don’t like, you just move on to the next person. But finding yourself where so few people live, you have to make an effort and try understand the others. Thus, being far away from everything means being open,” she explains.

 

Four pieces by Kaija Saariaho are part of the production “North” by Cosima Weiter & Alexandre Simon © Andrew Campbell

 

Nord is about a woman who sets out to wander from Finland to the very place where one is far away from everything: the north. During this thoroughly romantic undertaking, she meets different people who react differently to her. Some are envious, others admire her and one is even heartbroken. “I actually wanted to tell the story in a feminist way,” says Cosima Weiter, “pointing out that it’s not easy for a woman to wander alone. But when I was in the north, I had to discard that as everyone is the same there. Nobody cares if you are a woman, you can do whatever you want. This is something we’re not familiar with here in Central Europe.”

 

Time, Space, Sound

A Finnish woman who has been doing and composing what she wants for decades is Kaija Saariaho. Her music is at the centre of the scenic narrative, embodied by three actors in front of a large screen. “It was very important for us to respect Saariaho’s music and give a large space, not cutting it short.” Four of Saariaho compositions form the musical basis for the plot, Nocturne (1994) in the version for solo viola, Aure (2011) for cello and viola, Petals (1988) for cello and electronics and Fleurs de neige (1998) in its version for string quartet. Around the slow, cautious music, a soundscape opens that Weiter and Simon, together with Lau Nau and Bertrand Siffert, have created from their own recordings and sparks of other music. “There are three things that interest me in music and poetry: Time, space and sound,” says Cosima Weiter, “and in Saariaho’s music I find them all.” In Nord, the sound poet lends her voice to the protagonist, rendered disembodied through loudspeakers.
You really have to be a poet to tell stories about the North.

 


Kaija Saariaho, Graal Théâtre, Contrechamps, In-house production SRG/SSR 2009

 

Nuit de l’électroacoustique

Contrechamps will spin a completely different tale on March 19, when the ensemble invites to its first Nuit de l’électroacoustique. It was almost cancelled due to supply issues, as the renovation of the post-industrial premises, where Contrechamps is due to move to, could not be completed in time. Les 6 Toits on the Geneva ZIC site was supposed to be inaugurated with the Nuit. Luckyly, exile was found at short notice in Pavillon ADC, a centre for contemporary dance in Geneva. The Geneva subculture club Cave 12, which presents the Nuit de l’électroacoustique together with Contrechamps, was also involved its curation and organisation from the beginning. The fact that Pavillon ADC is now also part of the event, will most probably lead to a more diverse audience.

 


Heinz Holliger, Cardiophonie, Contrechamps, Oboe: Béatrice Laplante, In-house production SRG/SSR 2018

 

“Parts of our regular audience will certainly be more familiar with Heinz Holliger,” is what Serge Vuille, artistic director of Contrechamps, supposes. Holliger is represented with Cardiophonie for oboe and electronics. “Other people from the electronic music realm, will rather come for Phill Niblock, Jessica Ekomane or Beatriz Ferreyra, for example.” These two last-mentioned names, already cover a wide range. On one hand, a young artist who has been drawing attention since a few years with astute performances, for example recently at the MaerzMusik Berlin festival – on the other hand, the 84-year-old pioneer who already worked with Pierre Schaeffer in the 1960s. “We want to make connections,” says Serge Vuille, “for example between purely electronic music and organic instruments in combination with electronics, or between new and old tools, who knows, maybe Beatriz Ferreyra will bring old tape machines?”

 

Jessica Ekomane plays at the Nuit de l’électroacoustique © Camille Blake

 

Casualness and Focus

For the curatorial collective of Contrechamps and Cave 12, the goal is not only to mix old and young, but also international headliners with local acts from the independent Geneva scene. The latter is represented with performances by Salômé Guillemin and d’incise. In addition, three new pieces have been commissioned to a smaller version of the Contrechamps Ensemble plus live electronics, a reminiscence of the IRCAM school, as Serge Vuille points out.

 

 

d’incise, Le désir certain, 2019 (Insub.records & Moving Furniture Records)

 

The Nuit de l’électroacoustique is intended to casually generate a focused listening experience. The audience can walk around freely, “we want to prove that – whether sitting or not – one can enjoy electronic music in a focused way.” The public can even take a break from the five-hour programme at the bar, or walk around the virtual reality installation by Raphaël Raccuia and Nicolas Carrel, which invites to discover the future, because that is what electronic music has been about since the beginning.
Friedemann Dupelius

 

Contrechamps in spring 2022:
Nord: 7.-20.2., Le Grütli, Geneva
Nuit de l’électroacoustique: 19.3., 19-24 Uhr, Pavillon ADC, Geneva

ContrechampsCosima Weiter & Alexandre SimonKaija SaariahoBeatriz FerreyraJessica EkomanePhill NiblockLe GrütliPavillon ADCCave 12

radio-features SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 9.10.2019: Johannes Knapp und Serge Vuille – zwei junge Querdenker am Ruder, editors: Theresa Beyer / Moritz Weber (in German)
neoblog, 19.6.19: Ensemble Contrechamps Genève, expérimentation et héritage, Interview with Serge Vuille by Gabrielle Weber

neo-profiles:
Contrechamps, Heinz Holliger, d’incise, Serge Vuille

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

Robert Walser’s composers

Silvan Moosmüller: Monograph Robert Walser Vertonungen – book vernissage GdN 27.1.22

In his new volume, musicologist Roman Brotbeck traces the history of Robert Walser’s works set to music and simultaneously sketches a fascinating panorama of 20th and 21st century music away from dominant trends.
On January 27, the book vernissage will take place at the GdN in Basel – Silvan Moosmüller, with a performance of Georges Aperghis’ Zeugen, based on texts by Walser.

 

Silvan Moosmüller
“Robert Walser – sein eigener Komponist” (Robert Walser – his own composer) is the title used to introduce Roman Brotbeck’s Töne und Schälle. Robert Walser set to music 1912 to 2021.

 

Robert Walser Berlin 1909 © Keystone SDA / Robert Walser-Stiftung Bern

 

Walser as literary composer

Indeed, many prose pieces and even more so poems of notorious “chatterer” Walser resemble a musical composition with their elaborate sound structure: every syllable, every letter contributes to the poetry of the whole. “To set Walser to music is a difficult, perhaps even insoluble task, because many of Walser’s texts are already music and therefore no longer need music,” says Brotbeck, summing up the delicate starting point.

 

200 works by over 100 composers

Nevertheless – or rather precisely because of the musicality of his writing – Walser has inspired a large number of composers to set his works to music. Along with Hölderlin, Walser is one of the most frequently set writers of the 20th century. Roman Brotbeck unfolds this sounding Walser cosmos on almost 500 pages. His book is the first comprehensive and systematic study of the musical reception of Walser’s literary works.

And as curator of last year’s Rümlingen Festival, Brotbeck himself added a new chapter to the history of Walser settings. 15 world premieres with works on Robert Walser were launched in September; among them, the revised new version of the théâtre musical Zeugen by Georges Aperghis for example, which will be performed together with the book vernissage at the GdN in Basel. Or the performative exhibition Patient Nr. 3561 by composer and performer HannaH Walter and her collective Mycelium.

 

From the beginning

But let’s start chronologically with James Simon. According to Brotbeck’s research, this Berlin musicologist and composer was the first to approach Robert Walser. More precisely, it is the two poems Gebet (Prayer) and Gelassenheit (Serenity), that Simon presented as songs in 1912 and 1914 in a romantic manner.

James Simon’s figure is groundbreaking for the further history of Robert Walser musical settings in two respects: Firstly, he is not one of the great, well-known composers, he has even been almost forgotten today and secondly, with his ‘belated’ romantic compositional technique, he stands at odds with the dominant trends of his time.

 

Music historiography on this side of the ridge

These two qualities form the DNA for everything that follows, as in general, the now 110-year old history of Walser’s musical settings does not align with established music historiography. Rather, it reads – in Roman Brotbeck’s own words – as a “history, or better stories of attempts to break out of the avant-garde”.

It is fitting that Walser’s musical reception started very gently. In the fifty years after James Simon’s first musical realisations, there are only two further records; in the next 25 years until 1987, according to Brotbeck’s research, one can count 13 composers with 20 works. Among them further song settings are to be found, but also the twelve-tone dramma-oratorio Flucht by Wladimir Vogel, which exhausts the rhythmic polyphonic possibilities of the speech choir.

 


Wladimir Vogel, Flucht, Dramma-Oratorio (1964), Zurich Tonhalle-Orchestra 1966, in-house production SRG/SSR

 

The calm…

Of these “early” Walser composers, to whom the first part of the volume is devoted, the Swiss Urs Peter Schneider has been particularly persistent and versatile in his engagement with Walser’s body of work. Over almost sixty years, Schneider has created an entire Walser laboratory – from the “extreme stereophony” of his radiophonic portrait Spazieren mit Robert Walser to the polyphonisations of text material in Chorbuch.

 


Urs Peter Schneider, Chorbuch, 12 songs 12 texts by Robert Walser for 8 voices, UA 2013 Basler Madrigalisten, Musikfestival Bern, in-house production SRG/SSR

 

According to Brotbeck, most of Walser’s musical settings, only came into being in the last 34 years, but at an exponentially increasing rate. Initiated by Heinz Holliger’s Beiseit cycle and the great Schneewittchen (Snow White) opera, a veritable Walser boom began in the 1990s.

 

…before the storm

It is no coincidence that this boom corresponds with the trend towards new forms of music and theatre under the sign of post-dramatic theatre. Thus, the piano song loses its dominant position and Walser becomes man of the hour. But according to Brotbeck, socio-political changes also favoured Walser’s reception in the 1990s: “Arts were at that time characterised by an ambivalent mixture of an urge for freedom and disorientation, deconstruction of grand narratives in the wake of post-modernism and fascination with new media and technologies”. Not much has changed in this respect to this day.

In order to clearly present the wealth of material in the second part of his book, Brotbeck divides the works primarily according to genre, namely various forms of music theatre, song and song cycles as well as melodramas. The range is enormous, from improvisational forms with actors of the new Swiss folk music scene (e.g. Oberwalliser Spillit) to scenic music such as Michel Roth’s music theatre Meta-Räuber to new contextualisations such as in ‘Der Teich‘ by multinational composer Ezko Kikoutchi, with a French-Swiss-German libretto in a Japanese setting.

 


Ezko Kikoutchi, Der Teich after a text by Robert Walser, Laure-Anne Payot, Mezzosopran and Lemanic Modern Ensemble, 2012

 

Deviation as norm

In this regard, the history of Robert Walser set to music resembles Walser’s twisted and constantly digressing narratives. Or as Roman Brotbeck puts it: “The Common Ground of Walser’s musical settings is, in a way, the absence of Common Ground”. The fact that Brotbeck points out precisely this “dissection of individualistic Walser approaches” and resists the temptation for a grand narrative is a great merit of his book. Since the works discussed are always contextualised in terms of social history and cultural politics, the chapters nevertheless present a detailed picture of the (Swiss) cultural landscape along with its currents and institutions in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Thus, over 500 pages, what emerges is the fascinating panorama of a “different music history of the 20th and 21st centuries” and the best thing is that this history will go on for a long time.
Silvan Moosmüller

 

Do 27.1.22, 21h GdN Basel: book-launch Töne und Schälle. Robert Walser-Vertonungen 1912 bis 2021 / 20h Concert: Georges Aperghis, Zeugen

Sa 29.1.22, 20h / So, 30.1.22, 17h GdN Basel: Roland Moser, Die Europäerin auf Mikrogramme von Robert Walser

Roman Brotbeck, Silvan Moosmüller, Georges Aperghis, James Simon

broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 8.9.2021: Klingender Autor – Walser-Vertonungen am Festival Rümlingen, Redaktion Silvan Moosmüller
neoblog, 13.7.2021: Alles was unser Menschengeschlecht ausmacht – Roland Moser erhält einen BAK-Musikpreis 2021, u.a. zur UA von ‘Die Europäerin’ nach Robert Walser, Autor Burkhard Kinzler

neo-profiles:
Robert Walser, Urs Peter Schneider, Heinz Holliger, Michel Roth, Ezko Kikoutchi, Kollektiv Mycelium, Neue Musik Rümlingen, Gare du Nord, Basler Madrigalisten, Musikfestival Bern, Roland Moser, Lemanic Modern Ensemble