un projet est avant tout une rencontre…

Composer, performer and curator Alexandre Babel has been awarded one of the Swiss Music Prizes of the Federal Office of Culture 2021. The award ceremony took place in Lugano on September, 17 2021. In this interview, Babel explains his point of view on composition and curation and how he combines these two activities.

 

Portrait Alexandre Babel © Felix Brueggemann 2021

Gabrielle Weber
Alexandre Babel, percussionist, composer and curator, can be seen on avant-garde concert stages, at jazz festivals, in galleries and at art biennials. Based between Berlin and Geneva (his hometown), he combines classical avant-garde music, sound art, experimental improvisation and performance.  

There are as many ways of composing as there are composers, says Babel and he therefore prefers to define composition as “the organisation of sounds in time and space”. Curating is also close to this understanding of composition. “Same here, it’s all about setting existing sound objects in motion in a certain place at a certain time and then connecting these objects with other objects.  

Composing and curating are different aspects of the same activity. Babel creates, conceives, stages, networks and interprets.  

Alexandre Babel, born in Geneva in 1980, first found his way to jazz through drum lessons in Geneva. He then specialised in New York with jazz legends such as Joey Baron or Jeff Hirshfield and played in various formations. “What fascinated me about jazz was not just the aesthetics, but rather how musicians interacted to create music. Mixing repertoire and improvisation: that was the basis of making music for me.”  

Also being attracted by the classical avant-garde, Babel soon switched to classical percussion and, back in Europe, found his way to composition. John Cage, Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier, Heiner Goebbels or Helmut Lachenmann were the ground-breaking figures and inspirators in Babel’s compositional path.

From his very first pieces already, such as music for small audiences for snare drum solo, the importance of the performer plays an important role.
Music for small audiences was the beginning a real love affair between me and the snare drum..”

 


In one of his first pieces, ‘music for small audiences‘ Babel explores new sounds for solo snare drum and brings the role of percussion in the music business into focus.

 

Performer – Improviser – Composer

As a drummer, Babel is a touring musician wearing many hats: a fine, quiet improviser, loud, experimental drummer, for example with the band “Sudden infant” in a duo with Joke Lanz, or an interpreter of contemporary drum repertoire in various formations.   

Additionally, he composes, curates and develops projects for his own formations, such as the Berlin collective Radial, together with video artist Mio Chareteau.  

“To make music includes several processes in my opinion. First of all ‘thinking’ the music, which means composing, then transmitting the music and finally perform it for an audience: I’m fascinated by all of them.”   

All of his activities are linked by a convergence of creation and interpretation, as well as an interest in the visual, spatial and performative aspects.

“What do I want to see and what do I want to hear…. ”

For Babel, composing always begins with or even boils down to an encounter. Thus, his compositions are mostly created for specific musicians.  

He always has the performers in mind when writing and is also inspired by their movements and gestures. In the piece The way down for Duo Orion, for example, Babel took the duo’s interplay as starting point and staged it acoustically and also performatively.

 

Alexandre Babel, The way down pour violoncelle et piano, Duo Orion (Gilles Grimaître, piano, Elas Dorbath, Cello) 2020

 

“At the beginning of a project I ask myself: ‘What do I want to see and what do I want to hear’: To me, the visual side is just as important as the sound. Duo Orion, for example, has a special physicality when performing. I developed a piece for them in which the gestures are almost athletic. It almost became dance or a choreography,”.

Curating as a permanent dialogue

Babel says that his three activities – composition, interpretation and curation – have ideally come together in the artistic direction of les amplitudes Festival (La-Chaux-de-Fonds, autumn 2020). “I had the chance to combine all aspects within one object -the festival and at the same time the city of La Chaux-de-Fonds: I thought of the festival as a giant composition in separate parts – an art exhibition, live performances, drum sets and spatial compositions blending together in one new unity”.  

Since 2013, Babel has led the percussion ensemble Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, consisting of some 20 musicians in a loose line-up. “Eklekto offers me the opportunity to develop unusual percussive situations. All projects are created in close exchange and collaboration with the composers and the musicians. “Curating is a permanent dialogue with the musicians involved”.  

 

Attentive listening

Pauline Olivero’s piece Earth ears, a so-called ‘Sonic Ritual‘ from 1989 for free instrumentation, is characteristic of Babel’s understanding of curation: “The musicians play by ear and there is no written score. One has to listen to himself as well as to the whole ensemble and react to it. The piece is about sound, space and attentive listening: to me, those are the basics of making music”.

 


Pauline Oliveros’ piece ‘Earth ears’, a ‘sonic ritual’ and openly interpretable piece from 1989, is characteristic of Babel’s approach to curation.

 

Another important project is his large percussion ensemble with 15 percussionists from the Eklekto pool. “We have clear rules: we play by heart and there is no conducting: playing without a leader creates an enormous energy and presence and at the same time opens up new ways of communication, in an almost radical way”.

 

Choeur mixte reflects the classical setting of chamber music and at the same time puts the often underestimated classical instrument ‘snare drum’ in a new spot-light. Another declaration of love to the snare drum.

 

In the piece ‘choeur mixte’ for 15 snare drums, the percussionists play their instruments standing in the shape of a wedge, on a lit, empty stage. They act strongly in relation to one another and the piece radiates power as a group and at the same time individual responsibility of the performers.

 

Music without sound

 

Among other things, Babel is currently working on a composition commissioned by the Venice Art Biennale 2022, designing the Swiss pavilion together with Swiss-based Franco-Moroccan visual artist Latifa Echakhch. Babel faces a special challenge in this case, as Echakhch wants him to create a composition without real sound. “This is an important and special task for me: through the joint creation process, we are approaching solutions on how music can sound without sound,” says Babel. At the moment, short pieces of music are being created for this purpose, which will form the basis for the final Music of Silence. Gabrielle Weber

 

Portrait Alexandre Babel ©Felix Brueggemann (2021)

 

On Friday, September 17, 2021, the Swiss Music Price ceremony will take place at Lugano Arte e Cultura (LAC) in Lugano. During that weekend, some of the prize winners will perform as part of Lugano’s Longlake Festival.  

This year’s Grand Prix musique went to Stephan Eicher.
The other prize winners are:
Alexandre Babel, Chiara Banchini, Yilian Canizares, Viviane Chassot, Tom Gabriel Fischer, Jürg Frey, Lionel Friedli, Louis Jucker, Christine Lauterburg, Roland Moser, Roli Mosimann, Conrad Steinmann, Manuel Troller and Nils Wogram.

Concerts Alexandre Babel:
Sunday, 19.9.21, 10:30h at Studio Foce, Lugano:
Alexandre Babel e Niton +ROM visuals 

23.4.-27.11.2022 Biennale Arte Venezia: Alexandre Babel & Latifa Echakhch @Swiss Pavilion Venezia Biennale

 

Joke Lanz, Joey BaronJeff Hirshfield, Pauline Oliveros, Biennale Arte 2022, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier, Heiner Goebbels, Helmut Lachenmann, Latifa EchakhchKollektiv Radial, Mio Chareteau, Elsa Dorbath

 

Sendungen SRF 2 Kultur:
in: Musikmagazin, 18./19.9.21: Alexandre Babel – Träger BAK-Musikpreis 2021 im Gespräch mit Gabrielle Weber, Redaktion Annelis Berger

Musik unserer Zeit, 16.6.21: Alexandre Babel – Perkussionist, Komponist, Kurator, Redaktion Gabrielle Weber

neoblog, 14.10.2020: La ville – une composition géante, Text Anya Leveillé

 

Neo-Profiles:
Alexandre Babel, Les amplitudes, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, Duo Orion, Gilles Grimaître

…inspired by football

Klanglieferservice (Sound delivery) Gare du Nord Basel

The Gare du Nord – Bahnhof für Neue Musik Basel team, came up with a special programme for these lockdown times: sound delivery service (Klanglieferservice).

Their motto: imaginative travel is a good way to stay mobile and keep your soul warm, especially these days.

Gare du Nord: Klanglieferservice ©Alexa Früh

Like any other music hall, the Gare du Nord – Bahnhof für Neue Musik Basel is closed since mid-March. As one of the most important contemporary music venues in Switzerland, it offers a unique year-round programme. In an interview with Gabrielle Weber, the artistic director Désirée Meiser, explains how Gare du Nord is coping with the current corona situation.

Désirée Meiser, the Gare du Nord website welcomes its visitors with the message: “We are working from home”: What are your days like at the moment? 

We are amazed, as days are actually very busy. We’re taking care of cancellations and postponements, of course, but the programming has to go on as well. We have different chatrooms for this. Qualitatively all works well, but quantitatively it can get tiring sometimes.

You were in the middle of two seasonal highlights, “Later Born” and “Musiktheaterformen”. What does the near future look like now that all events have been cancelled for the time being?

In the worst case, we won’t be able to offer anything during this season – but that’s not certain yet. On May 8th, for example, a major cooperation project should have taken place as part of ‘Later Born’: the silent movie “The City without Jews” (1924, Karl Breslauer) with a new composition by Olga Neuwirth (premiere WienModern, 2018), performed by the Basel Symphony Orchestra. It’s a highly political project that was very important to us. But – together with the symphony orchestra – we are now planning to postpone.

Olga Neuwirth, Die Stadt ohne Juden, UA Festival WienModern, Wiener Konzerthaus 7.11.2018

How does the current situation affect you, your team and all those involved in the various projects?

It is a great challenge. We have now requested part-time work for part of the team and at the moment, we still manage somehow, but long-term forecasts are very difficult. We are trying to deal with it as solidly as possible, also with regard to the musicians and the ensembles, who find themselves in difficult situations.

Gare du Nord called for solidarity with action such as #ichwillkeingeldzurück / #solidaritätmitfreienkünstlerinnen: a very important initiative – how did it come about?

We got the idea from existing initiatives and find it important and useful. We’re discussing with the ensembles and trying to postpone certain concerts, but many are still pending. What we are experiencing is definitely great understanding from the audience as well as great empathy for all those involved in culture.

Germán Toro-Peréz / Reise nach Comala, Hörspielfassung Juan Rulfo, GdN / IGNM Basel

“A great deal of flexibility – also mental flexibility – is now required of everyone”

You came up with a programme to fill this gap for your audience: the sound delivery service: how did this idea originate?

Following the high streaming services demand, the idea came about to counteract this fast pace of life and the constant need to offer something new. We wanted to open windows and possibilities to browse through selected archive recordings. There are such wonderful programmes, conversations and concert recordings, especially from SRF 2 Kultur.

Performing new pieces is important and good. But a lot of great existing music is too seldom proposed. The fact that we all have to stay at home now is a great opportunity to turn our attention to works that had been forgotten.

Football was also an inspiration: as the games can no longer take place, football fans started to watch legendary games from the past. (laughs)

What is special about the sound delivery service – and why should one listen to it?

We have asked experts to send us their personal favorites and got a great flow of beautiful finds, which are always surprising and a pleasure to listen to.

aus: Klanglieferservice GdN, Tipp: Anja Wernicke, 9.4.20

Terms like ‘physical distancing’ or ‘social distancing’ are omnipresent: Do you feel socially close to your audience and your team, despite physical distance? The sound delivery service also symbolically stands for music as a unifying element…

We don’t want to overwhelm the audience with a flood of mails during this break. The sound delivery service is intended to be kind of a virtual connection, in that we find ourselves in a virtual space and listen to something together. That may give a certain comfort, but commonly experiencing live sound in a real space is something unique that cannot be replaced.

Right now, our team is incredibly precious. Despite sometimes great geographical distances, we are all highly motivated and have a strong sense of cohesion.

The emergency state as “wake-up call”

Does this Corona period also offer opportunities or potential?

One of the phenomena of this strange state of emergency triggers, is some kind of ‘wake-up call’ – we appreciate what we had and have with new awareness…
Interview: Gabrielle Weber
The sound delivery service started on March 30 and features personal highlights on the GdN homepage daily. The selections have been proposed, among others, by Mark Sattler, Author Lucerne Festival, Bernhard Günther, artistic director of WienModern and ZeitRäume Basel festivals, Anja Wernicke, managing director and main producer of ZeitRäume Basel, Uli Fussenegger, head of Neue Musik FHNW or Désirée Meiser, artistic director GdN, as well as SRF 2 Kultur music editors.

Klanglieferservice / GdN

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit: Heinz Holliger und die Literatur
Klassiker der Moderne: Concorde Sonata von Charles Ives
Neue Musik im Konzert: Wassermusik, within: UA Katharina Rosenberger: Rein
neo.mx3: Antoine Chessex, écho/cide

Neo-profiles:
Gare du Nord, Antoine Chessex, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, Lucerne Festival, Lucerne Festival Academy, Lucerne Festival Alumni, Germán Toro-Peréz, Katharina Rosenberger

“creating something that moves people”

The submission deadline for Impuls neue Musik’s funding 2020 is the first of May.

The competition is looking for music projects contributing to the exchange between German- and French-speaking regions, as well as cultural areas throughout Germany, France and Switzerland.

Brigitta Muntendorf, Room © Brigitta Muntendorf

Impuls neue Musik is a transnational funding programme for contemporary music. Since years the project fund commits to creating links between the music scenes of Germany, France and Switzerland, i.e. through ‘idea workshops’ giving a concrete expression to cultural exchange on international level. In 2020, two new jury members joined the board: German composer Brigitta Muntendorf and French journalist Anne Montaron.

Gabrielle Weber interviewed Brigitta Muntendorf regarding Impuls neue Musik, the current situation, digital networking and long-term potential of international cooperation.

Brigitta Muntendorf, you usually travel a lot and constantly work with different teams and partners in different places: tell us about the current situation?

I’m currently working from home – like any other musician or composer – as all planned events have been cancelled for the time being. Trying to change that, wanting to travel or mourning cancelled events wouldn’t make any sense. What makes sense is to trust the artists, their creativity and capability to come up with ideas.

“Music can be many different things and have different meanings” 

How would you personally like to contribute to Impuls neue Musik?

I am curious about themes and questions other artists or ensembles deal with, as well as the connections they seek and their motivation to do so. That’s the approach I would like to keep, when looking at projects. Artistically, I believe that contemporary music can be very broad and I would like to encourage that.

What is special about the Impuls financing…?

The focus being on international cooperation and internationality always carries the challenge of thinking on a larger scale.


Joint adventure, Ensemble C Barré und Neue Vokalsolisten, Eclat 2020

…and the combination of the three countries – Germany, France and Switzerland?

The three countries are geographically close of course, but each of them has its distinctive characteristics: Contemporary Music in France, for example, is based on a compositional background that is completely different from the one of Germany and Switzerland. At the same time, all three countries pursue similar formats, festivals and structures in their current practice. They come from different cultural origins but find themselves in a common performance ground.

“the potential to exit one’s own comfort zone”

What are the challenges of international cooperation? 

Already existing contacts are essential. Many things can only be achieved by joining forces – with partners in one’s own country, but also abroad. As for Impuls Neue Musik, the main questions are: how high is the potential to exit one’s own comfort zone and what are the specific reasons that make a project meaningful and working in the mentioned countries. But curiosity can also be a factor and produce something that no one had foreseen.

… you don’t often get to meet across borders in order to brainstorm.

With regard to climate and climate change, I think it is important to carefully think about why people should meet and when other communicational means might be insufficient. The quality of a meeting primarily depends on how much thought both sides have given it in advance, not on how often one travels from A to B.

What about sustainability – does it make sense to work together just once?

Sustainability plays an important role in cooperation. In not planning single projects, but focusing on long-term cooperation for instance. The longer the planning, the more artistic benefit the partners involved will enjoy.

What do co-production projects achieve better than others?

In co-production projects, the nature of contact has a different quality. Creation is supported as such and in the early stages of a project, the specific peculiarities and characteristics of the participants are strongly taken into account.

We find ourselves in a special situation, with national borders exceptionally closed – do you consider this a threat to the basic idea of Impuls?

I believe that ‘wanting to connect’ across borders is something that is firmly rooted in our minds since the digital revolution at the very latest, especially among younger generations. The current situation calls for a new way of approaching basic questions like: how to make art, how to show art, what is the meaning of art? But also: what new ways and forces could be found in order to connect and cooperate? We have to dwell into digital approaches and interactions – keeping in mind that the digital world also has its limits.

IScreen, YouScream!, Brigitta Muntendorf, Ensemble Garage, Eclat Festival

Which direction could Impuls take in the long run? What is your vision?

Borders between art forms are becoming increasingly blurred – like between music and performance, or music and transmedia. The concept of composer and musical material are also changing. I believe this is where Impuls neue Musik should position itself more strongly and there is an even more sustainable funding project I have in mind, built upon long-term relationships with artists.

Interview, Gabrielle Weber

New jury members 2020:
After studying in Bremen, Cologne, Paris and Kyoto, Brigitta Muntendorf has been awarded numerous prizes, including the “young talents” GEMA Music Authors’ Prize in 2017. She holds a professorship at the Cologne University of Music.

Anne Montaron, Germanist and musicologist, has been working as an author at Radio France (France Musique) for more than 25 years.  Her most famous format is her weekly programme on improvisation: A l’Improviste.

Impuls neue Musik was founded in 2009 on the initiative of the French Embassy in Germany, the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, SACEM and Bureau Export de la musique française.  In the meantime, various partners from France and Germany joined the fund’s committee and its financing. Since 2020, the Institut français (Paris) acts as responsible institution, while the fund is managed in Berlin (Director: Sophie Aumüller).

Switzerland joined in 2018 with Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia as partner. Jury members for Switzerland are Xavier Dayer, composer, Thomas Meyer, freelance music journalist and Bernhard Günther, artistic director of the WienModern and ZeitRäume Basel festivals.


Shaker Kami, Nik Bärtsch und Percussions de Strasbourg, Jazzdor 2020

Funded projects are regularly shown and enthusiastically received at the most important international festivals. To name a few examples, the French-Swiss co-production between Eklekto, Geneva Percussion Center and the vocal ensemble NESEVEN for the opening of the Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik 2019, the Joint Venture project with Marseille’s Ensemble C Barré and the Neue Vocalsolisten at the Eclat Festival Stuttgart 2020 or the world premiere Shaker Kami project, with Nik Bärtsch and the Percussions de Strasbourg at Jazzdor Festival in Strasbourg.

Deadline for applications regarding this year’s funding is May 1, 2020 and only transnational projects with a performance date not earlier than August 1, 2020 will be considered.

Brigitta Muntendorf
Impuls neue Musik / gesamte Jury / neues online-Antragsverfahren,

Neo-Profiles:
Impuls neue Musik, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, Nik Bärtsch, Stefan Keller, Xavier Dayer, Trio Saeitenwind

From violin to drums

The legendary “Concours de Genève” celebrates its 80th birthday this year, with the disciplines of composition and percussion. Founded in 1939, this contest is one of the major landmarks in contemporary music.

Live-Stream of the final concert percussion: 21.11., 8pm:

Gabrielle Weber
34 young international percussionists have been invited to compete on the basis of videos they submitted to prove their skills. Only three of them will make it to the final concert of November 21. Their solo performance with the “Orchestre de la Suisse Romande” in Geneva’s Victoria Hall could turn out to become a gateway leading into the international music scene.

25-year-old Till Lingenberg, born in Valais, is one of the lucky participants and give us his insights on how it feels to perform in front of a highly valued jury, the criteria regarding the choice of the repertoire and drums in contemporary music.

The competition having a high reputation internationally, an invitation to the “Concours de Genève” is already kind of an award. In addition, the studying of the repertoire is a very enriching process. “Preparing for the contest forces one to rehearse many new pieces and bring them to a stage-ready level – after all, we are talking about a two and a half hours performance”, says Lingenberg. “Participating in the final concert would be the icing on the cake and open up career opportunities, allowing me to enter the professional world. This competition is very important for launching a solo career”.

Portrait Till Lingenberg

Lingenberg found his way to percussion through the violin – when he received his first violin lessons at the age of five, he was more interested in hammering on the violin than in producing beautiful sounds… so one thing led to another. He never regretted the change, as the drums are so versatile. “You’re not playing just one, but actually numerous instruments”.

Any role models? “I was never actually fascinated by the people playing the drums, but mostly by the instruments themselves. I admired them and it fascinated me to touch them and try things out, as far as I was allowed to”.

Lingenberg loves the contemporary repertoire – and considers himself lucky, because: “we have almost no choice but to play this music, given a repertoire that is never older than a century”. For the Concours, Lingenberg chose ‘Moi, jeu…’ for Marimba (1990) by Bruno Mantovani, a complex piece in which Mantovani “breaks the codes of the instrument” as Lingenberg puts it.

In ‘Assonance VII’ by Michael Jarrell (1992), the second piece he chose, the performer finds himself in the very heart of a percussion instruments park or playground. Vibraphone, Tamtam, gong, cymbals, bongos, wood-blocks, triangle etc. “It’s a fabulous piece, showing all the possibilities of multipercussion and radically different ways of playing, it experiments with resonances, sometimes almost to the inaudible”.
Interview: Benjamin Herzog / Gabrielle Weber


Michael Jarrell, Assonance VII (1992), Interpret: Till Lingenberg

The three finalists of the composition competition have been determined in a preliminary round. The “Lemanic Modern Ensemble” directed by Pierre Bleuse will present their pieces together with oboist Matthias Arter at the Studio Ansermet in Geneva on November 8.

Two special events complement the Concours: on November 14, Philippe Spiesser and the Ensemble Flashback will combine music, video, electronics and science at CERN and on November 20, the Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center will be presenting works by Alexandre Babel, Wojtek Blecharz and Ryoji Ikeda in the Alhambra, Geneva.

Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center ©Nicolas Masson

The qualifying rounds will take place from November 8 to 11 and are open to the public. The final concerts of both competitions will be broadcasted via live stream (video) on neo.mx3 as well as RTS Espace 2 on November 8, (composition) and November 21, (percussion).

Live-Stream of the final concert composition: 8.11., 8pm:

Émissions RTS Espace 2:
En direct:
8 novembre, finale concours Composition au studio Anserme:
Présentation par Anne Gillot + Julian Sykes / Prise d’antenne 18h30 – 22h30

21 novembre: finale concours Percussions au Victoria hall:
Présentation par Julian Sykes / Prise d’antenne 18h – 22h30

Magnétique:
-13 novembre, 17h, , Interview avec Philippe Spiesser, président du jury de percussion: Présentation par Anya Leveillé
-11 – 17 novembre: reportage sur les candidates, présenté par Sylvie Lambelet
RTS Culture: article avec video avant la finale percussion

Sendung SRF 2 Kultur:
16. / 17. November: Musikmagazin / aktuell, Redaktion: Benjamin Herzog

Concours de Genève, RTS Culture, SRF 2 Kultur

neo-profiles: Concours de Genève, Lemanic Modern Ensemble, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, Till Lingenberg, Michael Jarrell, Alexandre Babel