“The sounds of the alphabet”

Gabrielle Weber: Interview with Stefan Keller: Livestream – UA & Performace @ Othmar Schoeck Festival 11-13.9.20

The second Othmar Schoeck Festival is taking place in Brunnen in Central Switzerland from 11 to 13 September. The enchanted, weather-worn villa of the Schoeck family, situated high above Lake Lucerne, is once again the unique venue at the heart of this Festival.

In 2017, the composer Stefan Keller was granted a residency of several weeks at the Schoeck villa, which was linked with a commission to compose a song.

He is also the composer-in-residence at this year’s Festival, where three new songs of his will be given their first performances.
LIVESTREAM: Concert World premières Stefan Keller / Keller & Schoeck 

Portrait Stefan Keller @ Villa Massimo ©Alberto Novelli

Alvaro Schoeck, the founder and joint artistic director of the Festival, was convinced for a long time that the Festival would go ahead live this year, in the family’s “outlandishly designed artist’s villa”. But it’s since become clear that this unusual venue wasn’t built with the exigencies of a pandemic in mind. So while the Festival programme will still take place in the historic atelier of the painter Alfred Schoeck – the father of the composer Othmar – it will now be streamed live.

The “hit” of the first Schoeck Festival back in 2016 was the music-theatre event “Hauen und Stechen”. It took place in assorted rooms of the old villa, and wove the composer’s biography together with contemporary circumstances. Every performance of it was sold out.

The parallel performance at this second edition of the Festival will be HeimatLos (“HomeLess”). Women are its focus. It is about “Heimat” – “home” – as a place, as a concept, and as a feeling. HeimatLos will lead small audience groups through the villa, accompanied by music – and the livestream will follow them, putting the virtual audience at the heart of everything, winding its way through the intimate spaces of the house.

Saturday 12 September brings the world premières of the new songs by Stefan Keller.

Keller has often engaged with music traditions from other cultures, and studied the tabla for a long time in India. At the 2020 Eclat Festival, for example, he gave a virtuosic performance in a piece of his own for tabla, voice and live electronics.


Stefan Keller: Persona, Excerpts, 2019

For the Schoeck Festival, Keller has for the first-ever time turned to the more traditional combination of voice and piano. He is currently resident in Berlin, and he spoke with me from that city by Zoom about the background of his new pieces.

Stefan Keller, what were the origins of your three songs – how and where did you start to compose them?

I was in Rome from September 2019 to July 2020, thanks to a scholarship that enabled me to live in the Villa Massimo. I spent the highpoint of the first wave of the pandemic in the Villa, “locked down” with other scholarship-holders. This lockdown was much stricter in Italy than was the case elsewhere. We were in what was in fact a kind of golden cage – it was actually described thus by people on the outside – for it is a beautiful villa in a wonderful park. That had an impact on what I composed, just as everything that moves us influences what we write – even though it’s hardly possible to say exactly what it is. These intense experiences perhaps led me to attempt things that might beforehand have seemed impossible. During this extraordinary time, I started to work on the other two songs of my set of three.

What is your relationship to the work of Othmar Schoeck?

Before my residency, I didn’t have any intense connection to him. That changed when I stayed in the Schoeck villa. Schoeck’s published scores lay around me and literally “touched” me. I was also surprised by some of the stylistic things I found in him. But there are hardly any direct references to his music in my new songs. The reference point for me is the “lied” as a traditional genre that was crucial to Schoeck’s oeuvre.

The ambiance of the villa also inspired me while composing – I was able to work in a wonderful old hall with an excellent grand piano.

Othmar Schoeck Festival 2016: Performance Lwowski-Kronfoth, HAUEN & STECHEN

You have already often written works for voice, but not for the traditional combination of voice and piano. What does the genre of the lied mean to you, and how did you deal with it – also with the tradition in itself?

Composing for voice and piano was a challenge for me. The piano is in many respects an inflexible instrument with regard to sound, touch and pitch. Up to now, I have tended to employ it virtuosically and loudly, which is difficult to bring in line with my interest in the human voice.


Stefan Keller: Breathe / soyuz21, für Klavier, Akkordeon, elektrische Gitarre, Elektronik, 2016

For the voice, I imagined something rather fragile that depended on nuances of pitch and sound. So I took the approach of writing a reduced piano part, in order to give the voice enough space.

The texts of your songs are based on anagrams by the poetess Unica Zürn*: how did you deal with them?

In Zürn’s anagram poems, every line has the same letters in a different order. This combinatoriality of “alphabet sounds” gives the poems themselves a near-musical level. I wanted to make this level explicit in my music by decoding these words into their individual sounds. You don’t primarily hear the sounds themselves, but the whole words and their meanings.

In two of these three songs, the singer doesn’t sing the words conventionally or “naturally”. She provides the pianist with individual, voiceless consonants, and he articulates them with his voice. The goal, of course, is that the words are thereafter comprehensible. This makes big demands on both the singer and the pianist in matters of rhythmic and dynamic precision.
Interview: Gabrielle Weber

*Unica Zürn (Berlin 1916 – 1970 Paris), A German/French poet and artist, known for her 123 anagram poems.
The song cycle by Stefan Keller uses the following three anagram poems:
Der einsame Tisch (“The lonely table”), Es war einmal ein kleines (“There once was a little”), and Das Leben ist schoen (“Life is beautiful”).

Stefan KellerUnica ZürnChris Walton

Othmar Schoeck Festival, artistic directors: Alvaro Schoeck / Chris Walton:
HeimatLos, 11.9.: 8:30pm / 13.9.: 6pm
-At the concert at 8 p.m. on 12.9., further works by Stefan Keller will be performed, alongside selected songs by Othmar Schoeck.
World première, Keller: Soprano: Truike van der Poel, piano: J. Marc Reichow

On Saturday/Sunday, 12./13.9., the two-day international symposium Frauen:Stimmen (“Womens:Voices”) will take place live, and will be streamed live too (via the homepage of the Othmar Schoeck Festival / in collaboration with the Musicological Institute of the University of Zurich and Mariann Steegmann Foundation).
Artistic director of the symposium: Dr. Merle Fahrholz, Chefdramaturgin / stellvertretende Intendantin Oper Dortmund

Neo-Profiles: Stefan Keller, Othmar Schoeck Festival, Soyuz21

A both typical and unusual bass player

Episode 2 of the neoblog portrait series on the Swiss Music Prize 2020:

Martina Berther from Chur – a very typical and at the same time unusual bass player.

Martina Berther @ Ester Poly © J. Dubois

Jodok Hess
Martina Berther is a typical electric bass player because she can basically play anything, like many bassists. She’s been grooving hard with hip-hop bands, played feminist punk rock with drummer Beatrice Graf, accompanied great quality pop music with Sophie Hunger or played electro-pop for Daniela Sarda. As Frida Stroom she experiments solo on the bass and moves completely free in the realm of noise.

I met Martina Berther in her rehearsal room in Zurich Affoltern – a nice, big bright space with lots of guitars, basses, effects and drum sets everywhere.

The fact that she shares the room with several other musicians sometimes stresses her out, because it can get crowded. On the other hand, she likes it because it automatically requires a certain discipline and people help each other out.

In general, Martina seems to be someone who if life gives you nothing but lemons, makes some lemonade. The story of how she came to the electric bass in the first place is a beautiful one for example, as the former conductor of the “Jugendmusik Chur” Music School left her take over only reluctantly:
“I used to play trumpet, but it was not really my instrument, fortunately – because that’s how I stayed open-minded and kept looking for what could turn out to become my instrument. In the “Jugendmusik” there was this quite revolutionary electric bass player and bear in mind, the “Jugendmusik” was rather conservative at that time. This electric bassist was over 20 years old, so he had to quit, so they were looking for someone else, but obviously male. When I proposed to take over, the director said: ‘Oh well, we’ll have to have a meeting and discuss if that’s possible, a woman on the bass’.”

Others might have been offended and hence abandoned, but not Martina Berther. She waited patiently for the outcome of that meeting.

“Thanks to an open-minded member of the board, who was female and strongly defended my cause, I was admitted and luckily got to play bass.”

Luckily indeed! After all, this is how the Swiss music scene came to choose an electric bassist among the prizewinners. The Swiss Music Prize is what this interview will focus on.

25000 francs in Corona times, you don’t say no to that, do you?

“No! (laughs) – you don’t say no to that. You don’t say no to that in non-corona times neither.”

Were you surprised?

“Yes, indeed I was! Last year I attended the award ceremony, as my musical partner Beatrice Graf (drummer of Ester Polly) got it and I thought: If I continue to work well, maybe I’ll get it one day. It simply came much earlier… (laughs) But I would have gone on for another 50 years even without prices.


Martina Berther / Beatrice Graf @ Ester Poly – FieldsessionB-Sides Festival 2018

Your broad profile is therefore not a business plan?

“No, definitely not! It all came about out of curiosity.”

Tell us about your role models?

I inspire myself more to sounds than to musicians. Whenever I heard an intriguing sound, be it a cello or a drum set, I would reflect on what I like about it and what I could translate about it on the bass?

So it’s all about sound?

“Sound, or energy – sometimes it is difficult for me to point out, what exactly I like about a musician. It is often a presence or an attitude, which is what I have tried to adopt as a role model. On the other hand, I quite often hear: I started playing bass because of you. Which is beautiful of course.”

When I listen to the Frida Stroom project, Hermeto Pascoal comes to mind – because of the concept that everything is music. Even his beard is music to him, or a banknote he plucks. So I asked myself: Is it this curiosity that makes them go beyond sound, energy and all that to look for something new?”

“Yes, it is mainly about sound. It can also be things that happen while you play. Sometimes I notice that the whirring of the amp was actually the most beautiful moment of a 30 minutes improvisation, so I focus mainly on that and feel the urge to develop further.”

“the whirring of the amp.. the most beautiful moment of a 30 minutes improvisation”

How do you prevent the listener from feeling excluded?

“Actually, theoretically, it is quite simple. If I myself get involved in the moment, in space, in the audience, by making myself vulnerable and start to play only from that point, the public gets involved very quickly. It becomes more difficult when there’s insecurity and I try not to allow improvisation and decide to start with a particular sound”.

Is that already too much?

“Sometimes it is. Or when I start improvising and then find myself thinking: I could do that next. I then have the feeling of being too busy to really notice what’s actually happening, in the room or with my instrument. Because everything is already there. You can do so much with very little, all you need is the courage to get involved. If I fight against it, out of insecurity, then it is more me fighting against something.
“You just have to find the courage and go for it.”

“all you need is the courage to get involved”


Martina Berther with Frida Stroom, live at Gamut Festival 2017

Is improvisation in this case something like surrendering? Letting go?

“For me it is, yes. Sometimes it works very well, sometimes less. I haven’t found a recipe yet.”

Do you never have the urge to just go groovy and conventional in such moments?

“(laughs) I have been extremely groove-oriented for many years. My first bands were hip hop bands, Breitbild for example, and I was very much into soul music as well. At the moment I’m not so much interested in this more conventional way of playing bass anymore.

Frida Stroom © Stefan Berther

Your “heart of hearts” is currently more experimentally oriented, than let’s say a project like Sophie Hunger?

“On bass it definitely is. Although wouldn’t say that I’m not interested in groovy music anymore.

I have simply already done it a lot. With Sophie Hunger one is definitely encouraged to bring in her own ideas. I really have to get out of my comfort zone. Sophie brings the necessary energy and support. I felt that I was being asked to show myself in a very good way.”

This sounds a bit like jazz?

“Yes, totally! (laughs) It was actually the biggest jazz band I’ve played with in the last few years.
Interview: Jodok Hess

Martina Berther, Beatrice GrafSophie Hunger, Hermeto Pascoal, Frida Stroom, Ester Poly

Broadcasts SRF 2 KulturJazz&World Aktuell, 15.9.20, Beitrag von Jodok Hess

Neo-Profiles: Martina Berther, Swiss Music Prize

“I am one of Europe’s slowest composers.”

Dieter Ammann and his piano concerto Gran Toccata @ Sternstunde Musik srf &neo.mx3

Dieter Ammann continues to push forward: with his piano concerto “The Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata”, which premiered at the BBC Proms London and was subsequently performed worldwide, the composer, currently teaching in Lucerne and Bern, is reaching a new career height. Swiss Television SRF is broadcasting an in-depth portrait in its Sternstunde Musik format. Filmmaker Daniel von Aarburg accompanied Ammann during the three years of the piano concerto’s creation: the result is a dense, subtle and humorous portrait of a process that wasn’t always easy, with insights into rehearsals, concerts as well as private situations. Ammann’s youth and his career are also explored.

In his conversation with Gabrielle Weber he talks about the making of both film and concert.

Dieter Ammann @composing

It took you three years to compose the Gran Toccata; would you describe composing a new work as a journey and was the film project also one?

It was an eventful journey: I was already involved in an independent film project initiated by director Arthur Spirk, a great music connoisseur and lover. Then SRF decided to produce a film portrait and everyone agreed to re-start the filming process with Daniel von Aarburg taking over the direction. We clicked already at our first meeting and an unbelievably beautiful cooperation developed from it.

How did the story come about?

I placed myself in the hands of the team with great confidence. The director always anticipated what he wished to film. An enormous amount of good material was produced. According to the motto “kill your darlings”, a lot of cutting and editing turned out to be necessary. For example, my teaching activities at the Lucerne University as well as some private scenes are missing, which is a pity as I am deeply rooted in my family and immediate surroundings.

You live and work mostly at night… how was that compatible with the needs of the film crew go?

It wasn’t just a job for them, they got completely involved. That’s what made it possible to capture personal and private moments. They also naturally took my rhythm into account, set the shooting in the afternoon and sometimes at night. There was great deal of idealism involved.

..and with the soloist, pianist Andreas Haefliger?

Our cooperation worked very well, but not always without problems. We had to figure out and fight about certain things. It was exciting to work thing out together and it created a lifetime relationship.

Your “Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata” was and still is a huge success, worldwide: It is known that you initially resisted for a long time to write a piano concerto and only accepted it on the condition that one of the US “Big Five” orchestras* was involved… Was the acceptance from Boston unexpected? Was it inspiring?

I was actually trying to avoid this huge task. I generally only accept assignments if I can fully support the conditions. For example, in an earlier request for an opera, I set the condition of an eight years production. This could not be guaranteed and so that was it for me.

Due to the very early request, I actually got a few years’ notice for the piano concerto before I started to compose, so I didn’t freeze…

What was the musical spark for the piano concerto?

At the beginning I listened to an enormous amount of piano literature for about six months and created an extensive collection of examples of textures. I was interested in what complexity is possible on the piano – not in the sense of New Complexity, for example, but intrinsically, developed from the instrument. This collection with all notations and verbal sketches was stolen from me during a train ride and all of a sudden I had nothing left. That was a real shock.

You once said: “Freedom is at the heart of composing contemporary music”: Particularly in the case of commissions for large orchestras, there are framework conditions, sometimes obstacles, which can be restrictive. They come from music that is not primarily and originally written to contain improvised material, where freedom is supposedly greater.

Writing for 70 musicians is not a restriction for me, but restrictions also exist when I work with an algorithm program on the computer or when I write for piano trio. It is precisely the friction with the restriction, the sounding out of limits, that fires the imagination.


Dieter Ammann, Après le silence. Für Klaviertrio, Mondrian Ensemble, 2004/05

Restriction is fuel for fantasy.

…when working with orchestras there is a strict working rhythm, with usually little time for rehearsals and little freedom.

I do not only have high demands on myself, but also on the interpreters of my music. Fortunately, it is mainly artistically outstanding soloists and ensembles who deal with my works, so when a top orchestra has four rehearsals, the world premiere really works. However, a world premiere rarely corresponds to the interpretational ideal. This requires several performances. In my opinion, the promotion of music should move away from the premieres hype and rather towards the obligation to perform a new piece several times.

There were also interpretational differences in the piano concerto. Each orchestra and every conductor come with his or her own sound. Contemporary orchestral works in particular are rarely performed twice. However, I have the qualitative claim to add something valid to the repertoire, so that a constant engagement with the music is possible through replaying, as for example in the case of “glut” for orchestra.


Dieter Ammann, glut. Für Orchester, Lucerne Festival Academy, Dirigent George Benjamin, 2019

You describe yourself as a slow composer – a new work of yours is to be expected only every few years… What’s next?

2022 I will turn – whoa! – sixty. I am looking forward to a residency with the Basel Symphony Orchestra or a birthday concert of the Sinfonietta. Perhaps there will be one or two more symphonic concerts in addition. The postponed Swiss premiere of the piano concerto will also take place in 2022, at the Lucerne Festival.

Recently, I started working on a concerto for viola and orchestra, for soloist Nils Mönkemeyer, a co-commission of the SOB with the Munich Chamber Orchestra. This will be followed by a piece for one of the world’s leading orchestras, followed by a cello concerto. If I get to live that long…;-)
Interview: Gabrielle Weber

SRF-Filmportrait Dieter Ammann / Gran Toccata, Sternstunde Musik 2020: Regie Daniel von Aarburg / producer SRF: Markus Wicker:

The Piano Concerto – Gran Toccata, Premiere is on tour since August 2019, soloist Andreas Haefliger, among others: BBC-Proms / London, Taipei Symphony Orchestra / Taiwan, Boston Symphony Orchestra / USA, Munich Philharmonic / Munich Gasteig, Helsinki Philharmonic / Helsinki. The Swiss premiere at Lucerne Festival has been postponed to 2022 due to the pandemic.

The CD recording of Gran Toccata with the Helsinki Philharmonic conducted by Susanna Mälkki on BIS Records label will be made available on neo.mx3 immediately after release.

Dieter Ammann’s neo-profile includes short videos of the original material by Arthur Spirk.

*Big Five: New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra

Dieter Ammann, Andreas HaefligerLucerne Festival, Sinfonieorchester Basel, Mondrian Ensemble, Nils Mönkemeyer, Basel Sinfonietta

Broadcasts: SRF1
Dieter Ammann – Gran Toccata, Sternstunde Musik, So, 23.8., 11:55h; Di, 25.8., 13:00h; Sa, 29.8., 9:40h (Dauer 1Std)

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musikmagazin, 22./23.8.20, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog / Beitrag Silvan Moosmüller.
Musik unserer Zeit, 29.7.2020. (Erstausstrahlung 12.2.2020), Unspielbarkeit, Redaktion Theresa Beyer

Neo-Profiles: Dieter Ammann, Lucerne Festival Academy, Sinfonieorchester Basel, Mondrian Ensemble, Basel Sinfonietta

Alpine blessing for Casino opening

Christian Fluri: Helena Winkelman – Composer in Residence @ Sinfonieorchester Basel 20/21

Helena Winkelman, composer, violinist and artistic director of the distinguished Camerata Variabile ensemble, is one of Switzerland’s most interesting and unconventional internationally renowned musicians and this year’s Composer in Residence with the Basel Symphony Orchestra (SOB).

Helena Winkelman, Portrait with violin

The work of Helena Winkelman includes chamber music, choral and orchestral works as well as opera and musical theatre. In her compositions she develops her own musical language, which reflects our times and is based on a wide variety of influences, such as Baroque, Jazz and various folk music, combining complexity with playfulness and profoundness with joy of life.


Helena Winkelman, Camerata Variabile: Papa Haydn’s Parrot (2016)

The SOB already commissioned Winkelman with three new pieces: Einkreisung and Gemini, whose premiere will be conducted by Ivor Bolton, SOB’s main director and Goblins for six percussionists. All three works are structured for theatrical purposes and have their own lighting concept.

Einkreisung for eight alphorns – mountain atmosphere in town

Einkreisung is one of the works that will inaugurate the renovated casino, which will present its new looks on August 22. The piece is written for eight alphorns of different lengths and tunings.

“The idea is based on the traditional Swiss alpine blessing.” explains Winkelman “For the opening of the city casino, I wanted to bring the mountain atmosphere into town and into the music hall, in order to provide the urban world with some earthiness and peace.”

The eight alphorn players, the Hornroh-Quartett together with four horn players of the SOB will be distributed both on stage and in the galleries, thus encircling the audience. Winkelman describes “Einkreisung” as a work that dramatically employs the alternation between quiet, almost traditional-sounding alpine greetings and strong sound layers along the instruments’ overtones. The sound will be passed on in a circular manner, creating an effective setting to highlight the new concert hall.

Helena Winkelman, Granithörner (Teaser), Camerata Variabile &Balthasar Streiff, 2018

Gemini – Staged interactions

Gemini, a concerto for two violins and orchestra, was written by Helena Winkelman for two great musical personalities, Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Pekka Kuusisto: it will be premiered at the SOB’s first season concert in September. The concert consists of nine short scenes, each of which portrays possible relationship modes between two people. Both soloists will be accompanied by a drummer each, moving through the piece with them during the performace. The last three scenes “Battleships”, “Partners in Crime” and “Horsing around” bring various folk music elements into play in a humorous, rapid question and answer game between soloists and orchestra. The climax of the piece is reached in a staged duel, in which the solo double bass intervenes alongside the two secondary percussionists.

During a long conversation about her music, Helena Winkelman talks about the creative process and the connection between art and life itself.

“At the beginning of a work there is often a sound that is formed by a combination of body tension, gesture and tactile imagination” she says. “These three elements in turn arise from an inner sensation or atmosphere.

In all these years I came to the insight that in the end there is no big difference between composers and non-composers, because just as in composing, there are also decisions to be made in life, along which one’s own path then unfolds. Every detail is important, the reasons are important, everything influences and intertwines. This is often an overwhelming task.

As composers we hold a magnifying glass over these decision-making processes, showing that, ideally, it is possible to make a good choice.

Conscious shaping of the world

Here I would like to contradict the often-expressed belief that art is there to interpret, reflect and process life. We find ourselves in a world of glorification of the executive. Consequently, art is perceived as being of little importance. But what if instead life asked OURSELVES for a possible, desired direction and much more than we think would depend on our creativity and vision?

Music could be our encouragement and training to awaken this creative potential and to consciously shape our world – as artists do – at any given time.”
Christian Fluri


Helena Winkelman: Atlas für Solocello (Nicolas Altstaedt), Cello und Streicher, 2019, Solist: Cello

Uraufführungen Helena Winkelman & SOB:
Einkreisung, August 22 (reopening Stadtcasino Basel), August 26, Special Concert: Neue Welt. Alphorn soloists: Hornroh-Quartett, SOB: Diane Eaton, Megan McBride, Eda Paçaci, Lars Magnus

Gemini, October, 9. and 10. Concert: Duel, Stadtcasino Basel.
Due to family reasons one of the soloists Pekka Kuusisto had to cancel. The composer herself will step in and perform his part.

Goblins, February 4, 2021, in: Concert Solmidable, Stadtcasino Basel.
Helena WinkelmanSinfonieorchester BaselCamerata VariabileCasino Basel,  hornroh modern alphorn quartetBalthasar Streiff

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Kontext / Künste im Gespräch, September 3, 2020, 9am/6pm: Annelis Berger im Werkstattgespräch mit Patricia Kopatchinskaja und Helena Winkelmann.
Musik unserer Zeit, September 9, 2020: Portrait Helena Winkelmann (Annelis Berger)

Neo-Profiles:
Helena WinkelmanSinfonieorchester Basel, Camerata Variabilehornroh modern alphorn quartet

Sound hiking: yes!

Neue Musik Rümlingen’s 30th anniversary – birthday edition despite Corona: 20.-24.8.2020

Jaronas Scheurer
Due to the current situation all summer festivals have been cancelled. All of them? Almost! A small festival for contemporary music in the Basel region will be taking place: Neue Musik Rümlingen.

Festival Rümlingen 2016, Serge Vuille, Change © Schulthess-Foto

The event will take place from August 20 to 24 in the small village of Läufelfingen and the reason for this exception is the festival’s special. “The audience will be hiking outdoors, where compositions specifically written for the landscape can be enjoyed” says managing director Tumasch Clalüna. This, however, is not a special feature of this year’s edition, as the festival has been focusing on unusual formats since its foundation 30 years ago. The audience will walk in small groups of maximum 10 persons, in full respect of the current guidelines and reservation is therefore mandatory. Starting point will be Läufelfingen station and from there, the route leads up the old pass road towards Hauenstein and in a large loop, back to Läufelfingen, specifically to its SilO12 exhibition space. Along the way, the audience can linger and enjoy works by eleven young composers, created specifically for each particular location.


Tobias Krebs, rêves éveillés, 2019

The audience will walk towards the music and after a while carry on, without necessarily experiencing the entire composition. A challenge for the invited composers, as Tumasch Clalüna pointed out. Some works are rather to be defined sound situations instead of conventional compositions with a clear beginning and end, while others are more installation-like or let the performers spontaneously react to the passing audience. Instead of a conventional concert festival, Tumasch Clalüna therefore prefers the definition of “musical landscape walk”. “Park Opera 2” by Polish composer Wojtek Blecharz, for example, which will be premiered at the festival, fits this idea perfectly as Blecharz composed the opera specifically for the landscape above Läufelfingen, same goes for the performance “Waves” by Lara Stanic, also referring to the surroundings.

Lara Stanic: 4Laptops, 2019

But why does Neue Musik Rümlingen actually take place in Läufelfingen and not in Rümlingen? We’ve been invited by SiLO12 for a cooperation some time ago, explains Clalüna and this year was the right opportunity, as an anniversary exhibition had been planned in addition to the music.

A closer look at the programme reveals that the composers are remarkably young, e.g. new works by Tobias Krebs, Léo Collin or Anda Kryeziu will be heard and performed. This is surprising, because one could assume that a 30-year anniversary is the occasion to invite big names of the scene. Tumasch Clalüna answers that the festival prefers to stay focused on what is currently going on and to look ahead rather than back.


Léo Collin, Corals, 2020

The 30 years retrospective of the festival’s history won’t be completely missing though, as at the end of the walk, SiLO12 will host the «Aus dem Schuber – Archiv Rümlingen» exhibition, with the Basel ensemble “zone expérimentale” performing works related to the festival’s entire history.

Further information:
The sound hiking and “Aus dem Schuber” concerts will take place on Saturday 22. and Sunday 23. of August, while the exhibition will run from Friday 21. to Monday 24. of August, with an opening vernissage on Thursday evening (August 20).

Festival Rümglinen 2019: Jürg Kienberger InneHalten © Schulthess-Foto

Neue Musik Rümlingen, Wojtek Blecharz, Delirium Ensemble, ensemble zone expérimentale

Neo-Profiles: Neue Musik Rümlingen, Daniel Ott, Lara Stanic, Léo Collin, Tobias Krebs, Andreas Eduardo Frank

(Français) Et après 2_2

Impacts of the pandemic on musicians in Switzerland and the United States

Laurent Estoppey, composer, saxophonist, sound artist and artistic director of the Ensemble Babel Lausanne, has been a musical bridge between Europe and the United States for many years.

As expert of both continents, I invited him to state his points of view on the consequences of the corona virus pandemic relating to musical creation on both sides of the Atlantic.

Read the second part of his large-scale survey:

Portrait Laurent Estoppey©Wayne Reich

(re)inventing the aftermath ⎜2/2 

Laurent Estoppey
The most important losses and needs musicians faced during lockdown times are easily identifiable and generally shared: playing with others, playing in front of an audience, hugging family and friends.

However, this situation allowed some people to develop a great variety of long-term thoughts and projects, explore new paths, at a different pace. Approaches to the digital world and its possibilities are also very different from one person to another.

“Physical distancing opens up interesting ways of reflection and questions related to performance in a constraining framework for example, the limits of the body and the way in which sound flows out of it, inhabits the space, extends a gesture, encounters others. This kind of directions captures my attention at the moment.”


Laurent Estoppey, Caroline County

New forms of projects are born and it is still very difficult to know if they will be really satisfactory, but they do respond to a desire, an urge to create, to pursue a quest. (see links below)

Many “records” will be released in the next few years…but for which public? And at what price?

For if musicians clearly need an audience, we don’t know if the opposite is true? Has free music made its way into the minds of the (digital) public?

The example of a rock concert in Geneva in May, watched by 13’000 people of which everyone was kindly asked to pay a proposed amount or make a free offer… and only 13 people paid something, is obviously worrying.

The “revival” initiated by some cities by offering free shows – where the artists were payed – also leaves one wondering. The public is accustomed access easily and free, preventing it from being truly professionalized.

“I am afraid that as the economic situation is improving, this interlude only served to forge the next speeches on crisis and austerity, despite the promises of support regarding some essential professions and the promise to review priorities.

I hope, however, that the fact of having experienced a rare moment of “deviation” in our production pace, including in the cultural industry, will remain in the memory of a few people who will look at all this differently.”


Dragos Tara, Horde

The passion of musicians on both sides of the Atlantic is intact, but will we have the energy to make our activities viable and recognized as real professions?

Many artistic questions remain:
Do we have to reinvent the concert situation in terms of new and sustainable health standards?

Will the creation and performance modes of the recent months become the new standards and if so, will we settle for lesser quality and experiences?

Will the crisis reinforce our demands and our artistic needs or will it push towards a quasi-economic renunciation of musical practice as experienced in the USA?

What we realise, is also that musicians’ associations such as SONART or FGMC (Fédération genevoise des musiques de création) also have a very important role to play in the reflection and management of the “aftermath”.


Viva Sanchez, Brice Catherin, Numéro 2

In conclusion, two reflections by American musicians:
I believe the music scene was very exciting but definitely dying. What I miss the most is maybe something that actually never existed.

The pandemic saved me from a burnout. I appreciate this period and try to make the most of it, through meditation, reflection and gardening. The health crisis and the (potential) political awakening are extremely inspiring and stimulating for composing music and songs. »

It’s up to us to react and to dream!

Laurent Estoppey (2/2)

Here some links to specific projects carried out during lockdown times:
Atomwrec Bob Parking Garage Bidness
Brice Catherin / Noisebringers
Jacques Demierre Decálogo Sonoro – 3° entrega
Nicolas Lira 72 seconds solos
Dragos Tara Lisières (avec entre autres Patricia Bosshard, Laurent Estoppey…)
Andrew Weathers Llano Estacado Monad Band
Association Insubordinations / Cyril Bondy, Jacques Demierre, Anouck Genthon…
ensemBle baBel Walking Venezia
Hyper-Duo (Julien Mégroz et Gilles Grimaître)
Article suggested by Julien Mégroz

Quotes in italics are from musicians who participated in the survey:
Antonio Albanese, Aaron Bachelder, Cyril Bondi, Patricia Bosshard, Laurent Bruttin, Brice Catherin, Vattel Cherry, Jacques Demierre, Susan Fancher, Edmée Fleury, Antoine Francoise, Shawn Galvin, Anouck Genthon, James Gilmore, Gary Heidt, Jonas Kocher, Antoine Läng, Nicolas Lira, Julien Mégroz, David Meier, David Menestres, Luc Müller ,Raphaël Ortis, Robert Pence, Will Redman, Noëlle Reymond, Viva Sanchez, Dragos Tara, Vinz Vonlanthen, Andrew Weathers.

Many thanks to you all!

Neo-Profiles: Laurent Estoppey, Association Amalthea, Julien Mégroz, Jonas KocherDragos Tara, Ensemble Babel, Jacques Demierre

“Art is a social activity”

Interview with Antoine Chessex @ Swiss Music Prize 2020_1

The mystery is revealed: this year’s Swiss Grand Prix Musique goes to Erika Stucky, singer, musician and performer of the new folk genre.

There are 14 other prizewinners, several of which in the broad genre of contemporary and experimental music.

Neo-Blog will portray them in loose succession, starting with Antoine Chessex, saxophonist, composer, sound artist and sound theorist.

Portrait Antoine Chessex ©Pierre Chinellato

Antoine Chessex was born in Vevey in 1980. After residencies in New York, London and Berlin, he now lives in Zurich and is considered one of the most innovative young musicians in Switzerland. Chessex is not afraid of genre boundaries and moves fluently between composed and improvised music, noise and sound art. In addition, he is an internationally active author, lecturer and curator and raises awareness regarding socio-political issues such as inequality or precariousness in the artistic creation realm.

In this interview he talks with Gabrielle Weber about sound and hearing.

Congratulations on being awarded first of all! Were you surprised?

I am very happy thanks and I was a bit surprised I admit. Especially since my work is rather on the edge of the commercial music scene and cannot be assigned to any genre.

What does this award mean to you?

The prize is a sign of recognition that my professional practice, which has now been going on for twenty years, is being acknowledged. I was not trained in an institution, but in real life and through practice. Receiving the prize as an individual artist, however, is kind of ambivalent though, as my music mainly develops in a collective practice and there are often several people involved.


Antoine Chessex / Eklekto: écho/cide, Ausschnitt

Does the price have a special meaning in these peculiar times of corona pandemic? The topic of precariousness in music creation is central to many and you draw attention to it in your magazine “Multiple”…

The current situation shows how fragile and precarious the whole system is for many freelance artists in Switzerland. Many musicians are professionally forced to live in a state of improvisation. They only make ends meet by combining different (cultural) works. If one element is missing or gets lost, the whole situation quickly collapses. The complexity of the matter is also due to the fact that artists need a lot of time to experiment and research and to always be “productive” therefore becomes problematic. In my opinion, art is not a service, but rather a social activity, so the real question today is under what circumstances art and music creation as a profession can still exist.

 “It’s like sonic fiction, letting imagination unfold”

You question the romanticised sound image of nature in music. Some of your works have been compared to ” primal elemental forces “, like earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions.

My music perhaps represents nature more metaphorically, as I whish to deconstruct clichés portraying nature as just beautiful, calm and harmonious. Nature is also chaotic, violent and loud. In works like “The experience of limit” the piano sounds like a storm at sea. It’s like sonic fiction, letting imagination unfold. I’m tonally interested in phenomena like seismic activities, tornadoes, snow avalanches or heavy rainfall for instance.


Antoine Chessex / Tamriko Kordzaia, The experience of limit

You associate sound and hearing with power and plead for critical listening: What is it all about?

Music is culturally constructed and embedded in various historical traditions. Basically, however, I am mostly concerned with the relationship between sound and hearing. Hearing is never neutral, but always situated. There are complex mechanisms at play and it is about power relations: The tradition of the European avant-garde, for example, excluded many voices. It takes debate to uncover the boundaries of the audible and the term “critical listening” invites us to listen and question power relations as well as social dimensions.

Music scenes and institutions often operate homogeneously, while reality is highly heterogeneous.

Your works live between improvised and written music, noise and sound art – without any fear of contact between musical genres: how does this work in the practice of the institutions?

When it comes to sound and hearing, music genres become obsolete, although cultural institutions are usually organized according to them. In the independent scene, music functions differently than in the institutional contemporary framework and sound art requires different spaces. Music scenes and institutions often operate homogeneously, while reality is highly heterogeneous. The more artists move between the different scenes, the more structural changes can take place.

You are not “only” a composer and musician, but also active as curator, e.g. for the “Textures” festival at legendary Café OTO in London. Do your composing and curating activities influence each other?

Curating is mainly about other artists and bringing people together. Composing, curating, but also improvising and artistic research are connected in many ways and represent different aspects of my practice.

Portrait Antoine Chessex @Londres © A.Lukoszevieze

A new composition by Antoine Chessex will be premiered at Festival Label Suisse in September, interpreted by Simone Keller on church organ and Dominik Blum on Hammond organ.
Interview: Gabrielle Weber

Antoine Chessex / Schweizer Kulturpreise BAK / Festival Label Suisse / Café OTO London

Broadcasts SRG: RSI/NEO, Redaktion Valentina Bensi, 28.7.20, 20h: incontro con Antoine Chessex

neo-profiles: Antoine Chessex, Swiss Music Prize, Simone Keller, Dominik Blum, Tamriko Kordzaia, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center

What next???

Impacts of the pandemic on musicians in Switzerland and the United States

Laurent Estoppey, composer, saxophonist, sound artist and artistic director of the Ensemble BaBel Lausanne, has been a musical bridge between Europe and the United States for many years and launched many intercontinental collaboration projects between experimental, transdisciplinary, improvised music as well as sound art.

As expert of both continents, I invited him to state his points of view on the consequences of the corona virus pandemic relating to musical creation on both sides of the Atlantic.

After conducting a large-scale survey, Estoppey concluded that the pandemic revealed the system’s fragility and encouraged a fundamental questioning of the music industry as such, but also inspired new methods of creation and collaboration.

Read his insights in the two-part series below:

Portrait Laurent Estoppey©Wayne Reich

1/2 face the facts

Laurent Estoppey
Well, let’s not beat around the bush, we’ve all been hit very heavily by this situation and not “only” financially, but deeply and on all levels, we faced an existential crisis that forces us to imagine and seek other possibilities.

Is the pandemic and its consequences experienced in the same way on both sides of the Atlantic?

To try and answer this question – since there are almost as many situations as there are musicians – at the beginning of June I sent a short questionnaire to some forty musicians who all have rather independent activities in the fields of contemporary, improvised and experimental music.


Ensemble Babel, Christian Marclay: Screenplay part.2

I was particularly touched by the feedback’s generosity and honesty, which of course reflects the need to express oneself in this time of need and frustration. I had expected rather short answers, but many developed several points and gave numerous inputs for reflection.

To my great surprise, the artistic reactions are absolutely the same for most of them.

The only big difference is that musicians in the United States have little or no possibility of compensation (knowing that fees – when they exist – are much lower than in Switzerland or Europe in general and the possibilities of private or public subsidies are five to ten times lower).


Ensemble Batida, Haiku

“We all realize that, even if money is important, it is not the main thing. The last few months have prevented projects from happening, which generates an immense feeling doubt for most of us. »

“This situation influences my life and therefore also my artistic practice, but in a rather global way, which will reveal itself entirely only later on, I believe.»

If for many Americans, making music has little to do with economic aspects, Swiss musicians faced the great precariousness of our profession through the pandemic. “Like many people in this profession, I protect myself by having a second job. »


Julien Mégroz, Défibrillation décongelée

The general reactions to the crisis were – of course – quite similar: first frustration, the reaction to the forced stop, then discovery of other spaces, physical as well as temporal, which led to a deep introspection and to a great questioning – at least until the activities seemed to start again – of the “previous” situation.

“Am I creator or project manager?”

Let’s go back to that “previous” situation with a few statements many can relate to:

In a way this shows the fragility of a system. Music is the weakest link of performing arts. Mainly because it has not been able to professionally develop and establish itself in the same way as theatre or dance.”

This crisis highlights the precarious way the musician’s profession is considered in Switzerland, one does what he or she can to earn a living and put aside enough time to create».

This brought the precariousness and dysfunctions of the creative music branch to light. »

Does this approach really generate quality or does it just add ‘events’ to the quantity of cultural products in an area?

What do I really have to say as an artist? Do I want to depend on a cultural market and state or private funding and support for a long time to come? 

Am I creator or project manager?


Laurent Estoppey, Always something there

All the issues that were already at hand before the crisis are crucial. However, there is a frightening difference on both sides of the Atlantic. Whereas the Americans have long since given up on the possibility of real income through their artistic activities (most of them teach full-time or have totally different professions “to pay the bills”, such as computer scientists, translators, graphic designers, etc. and very little time to devote to concerts), the Swiss want to believe in a greater appreciation of their art.
But: “We are asked to be creative, to bounce back, find solutions, whereas in my opinion the fight is political and the question is: do we want real and proper working conditions for artists and musicians? »
Laurent Estoppey (1/2 )

Here some links to specific projects carried out during lockdown times:
Atomwrec Bob Parking Garage Bidness
Brice Catherin / Noisebringers
Jacques Demierre Decálogo Sonoro – 3° entrega
Nicolas Lira 72 seconds solos
Dragos Tara Lisières (avec entre autres Patricia Bosshard, Laurent Estoppey…)
Andrew Weathers Llano Estacado Monad Band
Association Insubordinations / Cyril Bondy, Jacques Demierre, Anouck Genthon…
ensemBle baBel Walking Venezia
Hyper-Duo (Julien Mégroz et Gilles Grimaître)
Article suggéré par Julien Mégroz

Quotes in italics are from musicians who participated in the survey:
Antonio Albanese, Aaron Bachelder, Cyril Bondi, Patricia Bosshard, Laurent Bruttin, Brice Catherin, Vattel Cherry, Jacques Demierre, Susan Fancher, Edmée Fleury, Antoine Francoise, Shawn Galvin, Anouck Genthon, James Gilmore, Gary Heidt, Jonas Kocher, Antoine Läng, Nicolas Lira, Julien Mégroz, David Meier, David Menestres, Luc Müller ,Raphaël Ortis, Robert Pence, Will Redman, Noëlle Reymond, Viva Sanchez, Dragos Tara, Vinz Vonlanthen, Andrew Weathers.

Many thanks to you all!

Neo-Profiles: Laurent Estoppey, Association Amalthea, Julien Mégroz, Jonas KocherDragos Tara, Ensemble Babel, Jacques Demierre

“We consider space and sound as one”

On July 4 and 5, the closed-down chemical factory of Uetikon am See will host Al(t)chemiefestival, a small, carefully curated music festival presenting a wide musical spectrum ranging from classical to contemporary music, performance and sound art. The disused factory site is of particular importance in the festival context.

Die Chemische @Uetikon am See

“Die Chemische” as it’s lovingly called, is a 200-year-old chemical factory and a monument of industrial culture situated in a prime location on the lake of Zurich.

A new complex will be built there by 2028, hosting a school, offices, apartments and commercial premises. Currently artists and musicians have established studios and workshops there, as the large area will be used for cultural purposes until the conversion is completed.

Marcel Babazadeh, sound engineer, and Sophie Krayer, stage designer, have been running the Klang und Raum studio in the “Chemische” for some time now, offering sound consulting for public spaces and creating artistic projects that combine music with space. During the lockdown, the Atelier caused a sensation with live streaming of digital concerts, during which an enthusiastic social media community of well over 1000 people came together each Monday.

This is how the idea of Al(t)chemiefestival came to life.

Pianist Tamriko Kordzaia has been working with the duo for a long time and contributed to the Digital Concerts with a contemporary solo recital. She is the third member of the curators-directors team.


Tamriko Kordzaia, Karolina Öhman, Iannis Xenakis (Artarea 2020)

According to Kordzaia, the idea of promoting the musical side of the area through a festival had been around for some time now. Corona had initially inhibited the plan, but as the restrictions loosened up it became an inspiration to spontaneously take up the idea again. And – especially due to numerous requests for participation from ” starving ” artists – the project took off and expanded into a two-day festival.

Portrait Tamriko Kordzaia

Furthermore, the area is perfect regarding the current corona guidelines. According to Kordzaia: “One can play in different rooms and change places, play music indoors and outdoors, but also take a walk by the lake in between or simply linger”. For example, one concert takes place in a vintage furniture hall, while others take place outdoors.

“we would like to take advantage of the artistic synergies of the entire area” (Kordzaia)

The place is not just a backdrop for the festival, according to Babazadeh “We are in dialogue with the space, with the place and also with history”.

With the Al(t)chemiefestival, the trio of directors wants to set an example. Kordzaia  says: “Through Corona and the paralysis of all artistic activities, it is important to us to involve as many musicians from the area as possible and to give them the opportunity to play”.

The musical leitmotif of the festival is very personal, as musicians perform pieces of their own choice that they have been working on intensively during the lockdown, freshly created compositions or projects that were postponed during the break. Trombonist Nils Wolgram, for example, presents new pieces of a CD that will be released in autumn.


Nils Wogram: Sneak Preview, Soloprogramm 2020

The line-up includes both new and traditional works: composer Stefan Wirth for instance plays his own but also Beethoven’s piano works and Dominique Girod performs outside on the double bass.

There is also electroacoustics, for example by Nicolas Buzzi, as well as a sound installation, a “sonic sphere”, by Krayer and Babazadeh.


Nicolas Buzzi: ssssscccccaaaaallllleeeee, 2019

“Al(t)chemie” or “alchemy” – the (t) is in brackets and this ambiguity refers to musical variety but also to the magic of the place. “It’s a killer area – and when it mixes with sound and live performance, it becomes unique,” says Babazadeh.
Gabrielle Weber

Die Chemische

The Al(t)chemie festival will take place on July, 4 and 5 in the closed down chemical factory of Uetikon am See.

On both days there three concert blocks will start at 15h00 and given the current corona situation, the audience is kindly asked to register.

Due to the great demand, the Digital Concerts will continue until the end of August.

Al(t)chemiefestival, Digital ConcertsStefan Wirth, Dominique Girod, Nils Wogram, Kappeler-Zumthor, Karolina Öhman, Isa Wiss, Sophie Krayer, Tobias Gerber/Ensemble Werktag, Philipp Schaufelberger

Neo-Profiles: Al(t)chemiefestival, Tamriko Kordzaia, Stefan WirthNicolas Buzzi, Karolina Öhman, Peter Conradin Zumthor

The now In Sound

The renowned Swiss-based online magazine Norient, founded in 2002, has recently been integrated into the new online platform Norient Space – The Now In Sound. With a community of 700 journalists*, musicians* and scientists* from over 70 countries, this new platform bundles digital reflection on global contemporary and experimental music creation.

Snapshot Iokoi ©Norient

On March 5th, Norient Space’s beta version was launched at “Haus der Kulturen der Welt” in Berlin. A panel as well as a sound installation complemented the opening of this new “virtual transdisciplinary gallery and community platform between art, journalism and science”. The Swiss launch is scheduled for September 24.

Julia Vorkefeld was there at the Berlin launch and reports for neo.mx3 about Norient Space and the panel Life after Music Magazines-the Norient Way.

The independent Swiss music and media art platform Norient reinvents itself after almost 20 years. Culture’s glory days are over and in times when music analysis consist of the hearts and likes of the post-digital era, the challenge for music journalism is to keep innovative. The Now In Sound is Norient’s motto and the sound of now is a mirror of global events – which is what makes music journalism still relevant. The platform relaunched its project in a strategically smart way, starting from Berlin with an event in the prestigious “Haus der Kulturen der Welt”.

Snapshot Bruno Spoerri ©Norient

A relaunch is a rather brave undertaking these times. We had no idea that shortly after the Berlin launch, a virus would completely freeze all cultural industries and throw many of its actors into even greater precariousness. Not to mention that many renowned music magazines, such as Spex and Groove, had buried their analogue products and the Swiss magazine Dissonance had to abandon completely.

Independent music journalism has therefore eventually been declared an endangered species. The relaunch’s kick-off was accordingly complemented by a panel on the future of music journalism under the title “Life after Music Magazines-the Norient Way” which announced the fact that virtual, interdisciplinary, global, collaborative and transmedial should be some of the solutions for contemporary music journalism.

No – Orient: virtual, interdisciplinary, global, collaborative and transmedial..

Under the motto Connecting the dots – the network stands for shared knowledge production and its makers pursue ambitious ideas with it. Norient has been committed to diversity from the very beginning, long before it became a buzzword in the German-speaking cultural branch. Diversity not just as an empty phrase, but as serious policy for the name alone, a play on words from No and Orient, contains the avoidance musical exoticism and the associated power relations.


Norient Snaps Trailer 2020

The panel reflects the platform’s internationality and diversity and global players, such as Jenny Fatou Mbaye (Centre for Culture and the Creative Industries, City University of London), Faisal M. Khan (curator, Akaliko Collective, Dhaka) or Kamila Metwaly (music journalist, musician Savvy Contemporary Berlin) were involved.

The main focus was on how the platform could improve its content and formal orientation, with the aim of achieving more diversity, more internationality, new formats and events, and thus more quality overall.


Joy Frempong, The sample shapes the song, 2012

We care about content – is another motto and all speakers agreed that journalism in general and thus also music journalism should refocus on quality and that creating high-quality content has its price. However, since music platforms and editorial offices usually pay poorly, it is no wonder that music journalism is degenerating more and more into a badly paid hobby. It is a sad fact that music reviews are used as a corporate and marketing tool by global brands such as RedBull or Ballantines, as in these cases money would actually be available for cultural knowledge production. In order not to leave the shaping of culture to the brands, other solutions for financing independent music platforms, free of advertising, censorship and algorithms must be found. One solution the speakers pointed out could be more generosity in sharing content.

Financial precariousness in music journalism, however, was not discussed in depth and as I personally raised the issue, it was clear that all those involved were well aware of the problem. The input to consider as many professional areas as possible was however hardly convincing.

Snapshot No Orientalism ©Norient

Norient tries to finance itself through a membership model. Connoisseurs who appreciate the platform support its content through subscriptions, and selected in-depth content such as dossiers or specials is reserved for subscribers while the rest of the platform is free of charge.

Whether Norient will be able to survive with its new model is not certain but we really hope so, because in an era of ethnic backlash, such cultural platforms are deeply needed.
Julia Vorkefeld

Norient Space is currently in beta mode. The official digital launch will take place on September 24th.

Norient – The Now In Sound, Wael Elkholy, Jing Yang, Jonas Kocher, Joy Frempong/Oy

Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur, 22.1.2020

Neo-Profiles: Norient, Wael Sami Elkholy, Jing Yang, Jonas Kocher, Bruno Spoerri