Yello – Swiss art project receives the 2022 Swiss Grand Award for Music

2022. After forty years and 14 albums together, the duo consisting of sound tinkerer Boris Blank and frontman Dieter Meier, with his sonorous voice, has been radiating from Switzerland to the world.

 

Portrait Yello zVg. Yello ©Helen Sobiralski

 

Gabrielle Weber
The rhythmic-groovy sound and word creations like “Oh Yeah” or “Claro que si” have left their mark on a whole generation of people who grew up in the eighties. Forty years later, Yello’s rhythms, word and image creations still have an impact, even though they seem to have changed very little – but only in appearance.

1981 – in ‘The evening’s young’ video, dancing, colourful glow sticks form the word Yello. A close-up of a  young man’s face: Boris Blank – from the front, from the side, his whole body in shadow play, rapid cuts, different perspectives, strong colours, then Dieter Meier at the microphone, monochrome colours changing in the background. Everything is coloured over, flows away and starts again. Cross-fades, cuts, light and colour. The sound is rhythmically varied, accompanied by spoken word singing on one pitch. An audiovisual art product that exploits its possibilities musically and visually in an experimental way but without overdoing it: simple, playfully light, elegant, self-confident and self-ironic.

 


Yello: The young, Video 1981

 

This is how Yello presents itself through the years: Blank creates the soundscapes from samples and rhythmic patterns, while Meier provides visuals and voice. Meier likes to say of himself that he is an amateur, that he has never learned anything artistic and that everything happens by pure chance, Blank, on the other hand, describes himself as a sound painter and lovingly gives his samples individual names.

If the video for The Evenings Young can look homemade, ‘Bostich’ from 1984, the song that topped the worldwide charts as a “natural born hit” on vinyl Maxisingle, is more sophisticated: with Blank and Meier as main characters, this time accompanied by rhythmically dancing devices and machine parts. It comes across as very light, with an indie touch.

 


Yelllo: Bostich, Video 1984

 

The eighties also saw the birth of Music Television, MTV, in New York: with some 50 regional spin-offs, the new distribution channel consolidated numerous pop careers. Yello’s audiovisual orientation is naturally suited to this new medium and the duo exploits it not “only” for music videos, but also to spin humorous and subversive bizarre stories, such as in the performance Dr. Van Steiner from 1994, where Blank, as rainforest researcher interviewed by Meier, plays hidden sounds and mimics them.

 


Yello Video@MTV: Dr. Van Steiner, 1994

 

These videos are cult, all the more so because Yello – in contrast to many other bands – deliberately avoids live concerts: after a few early gigs in Zurich, still as a trio – with founding member Carlos Peron – and a first legendary gig in 1984 at the Roxy DJ club in New York, Yello made itself scarce until 2016: for the album toy, when major sold-out gigs started again at Berlin’s Kraftwerk with a wind ensemble.

The fact that Yello was labelled Swiss export pop band, also through this new medium, does the duo hardly any justice, as Yello is an art project that defies common classifications and Blank and Meier were part of the experimental scenes before that. Meier attracted attention with absurd actions in Zurich and New York in the 1970s or at the Documenta in Kassel in 1972 and even represented Switzerland at the Swiss Avantgarde show in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1971. His subversive side can be heard in some of Yello’s music. Blank is an electronics pioneer and sample virtuoso, who started out in Zurich’s and London’s experimental electro-underground scene, inspired by jazz and new music legends such as John Coltrane, Pierre Boulez and György Ligeti. He displays the spirit of innovation into Yello’s sound paintings, to which Meier adds his deep voice.

 

Prizes from different corners

The prizes the duo has been awarded with over the years have come from different corners: Art Prize of the City of Zurich in 1997, Swiss music award for the album touch yello in 2010, Echo Prize for 35 years of Yello in 2014, to name just a few. The thick anniversary volume “Oh Yeah!”, published in 2021 with a simple black-and-white cover, Yello artfully looks back on 40 years of joint history, both musically and visually.

In the music projects that Blank and Meier pursue alongside Yello, the two explore other sides and personalities. Meier uses his voice differently in his band Out of chaos, which he founded in 2012 and for which he also composes, while Blank integrates other voices into his own projects and digs into his rich sound library with a different focus. In 2014, for example, he worked closely with singer Malia for the album Convergence, or – in the same year – he recycled and digitised old analogue pieces from the pre-Yello era for a limited special edition in all formats – vinyl, DVD, CD, cassette, in combination with own videos for Electrified. With today’s digital tools, he likes to experiment both visually and acoustically.

Sophisticated, catchy rhythms and soundscapes, combined with crisp lyrics and colourful visuals that come across as unpretentious, mixed with subversive irony and light elegance. Yello maintained this tone and image throughout 14 albums and successively, the duo adopted new technical tools and played with digitalisation.

 


Yello, Wabaduba, point, Video 2020

 

Yello, Wabaduba, point

2020: On Wabaduba their latest release and 14th album, Meier and Blank dance in sync: both around seventy years old, in a simple computer-animated, black-and-white sci-fi big-city backdrop, Meier in a suit and Blank in James Bond look, black turtleneck sweater and sunglasses. The world passes by – Meier and Blank stay – and surprise us again and again.

Regarding Yellofire, an app with which anyone can generate Yello-like sounds, developed by Blank and launched only a few years ago, Dieter Meier says: “Maybe there will be live performances with it – we still have some 30 years ahead of us.”

The two gentlemen are cool and remain true to themselves. A brand that changes gently with the times, skilfully exploits each and every new media development and yet always remains unmistakable: that’s what makes Yello trendsetters and a comprehensive art project to this day.
Gabrielle Weber

 

Portrait Yello zVg. Yello ©Helen Sobiralski

 

Yello’s and Boris Blank’s neo-profiles contain previously unreleased videos, including for example ‘The pick up’, where Boris Blank blends autobiographical material with sound and image experiments to form a personal narrative.

40Jahre Yello – Oh Yeah!: Ed. Patrick Frey; Boris Blank: Electrified 2014; Boris Blank&Malia: Convergence 2014; Malia; Dieter Meier: Out of chaos; Label Suisse, Carlos Perón

Grand Prix Musik: Yello
Other Swiss Musikprices:
L’Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp
Fritz Hauser; Arthur Hnatek; Simone Keller; Daniel Ott; Ripperton; Marina Viotti
Spezialpreise Musik:
AMR Genève; Daniel “Duex” Fontana; Volksmusiksammlung Hanny Christen

The price celebration will take place on September 16th September in Lausanne during Festival Label Suisse.

broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 27.7.22.: Yello – Gesamt-Kunstprojekt erhält Grand Prix Musik 2022, Redaktion Gabrielle Weber
MusikMagazin, 14./15.5.22: Yello – Das Schweizer Elektropop-Duo bekommt den Grand Prix Musik, Redaktion Annelis Berger

neo-profiles:

Yello, Boris Blank, Swiss Music Prize

Of swarms, bells and insects

Michael Pelzel, Composer in Residence at this year’s Musikfestival Bern, shows the range of his compositional work through numerous world premieres. He can also a renowned organ player and interpreter. A conversational portrait by Friederike Kenneweg.

 

Portrait Michael Pelzel zVg Michael Pelzel

 

Friederike Kenneweg
When I tried to arrange an interview with Michael Pelzel in mid-July 2021, he was not easy to reach and there’s a good reason for that: the works to be premiered featuring him as Composer in Residence at the Musikfestival Bern are piling up on his desk. “It’s one after the other,” he tells me, when we finally manage to talk. The piece that is in front of him as we speak on the phone is called Aus 133 Fenstern. Although “composer in residence” in Bern doesn’t mean that you actually have to be there for an extended period of time, the conditions at the festival venue have inspired Michael Pelzel to create a special spatial composition.

From the multitude of windows that open out from the PROGR Cultural Center onto the courtyard, the audience is treated to bells, triangles, lotus flutes and ocarinas, played by children and young people and even if the target of 133 musicians is not quite reached, there is no doubt that a unique spatial and sound event awaits the audience.

 

Probe zur Uraufführung von Aus 133 Fenstern für 133 Musizierende, UA im Progr am Musikfestival Bern ©Martin Bichsel / zVg Musikfestival Bern

 

The piece is composed and written out in detail. Pelzel however does not expect the amateur musicians to manage to play in synch with each other under the special spatial circumstances. “Even professionals can’t manage to hit the percussion instruments at exactly the same time,” says Pelzel. But it is precisely this blurring tonal effect, the composer is particularly interested in. “Composers are, after all, always on the lookout for new, unheard sounds and the choral use of these metal percussion instruments is – in my opinion – not yet been explored in its full potential.”

 

“Micro Arpeggios”

 

Pelzel’s fascination with metal percussion instruments comes to the fore in several occasions during the festival. In composition Glissomaniac for two pianos and two percussionists, for example, where tubular bells produce this kind of blurs as the two percussionists and pianists play in unison. “Micro-arpeggios” is how Michael Pelzel defines the result. “It’s a bit like a river delta. Many little tributaries, each one with its peculiar course, but all with a common direction, flowing towards the sea.”

 

Michael Pelzel already combined vocal ensemble and percussion in 2019 in the piece Hagzusa zum Galsterei, premiered by the SWR Vokalensemble at Eclat Festival Stuttgart.

 

Michael Pelzel also relies on this effect in the vocal composition Luna for eight singers and percussion, with not only the percussionist using instruments, but also the eight singers playing triangles of different sizes. Due to the minimal temporal shift in the attack, metal sound clouds of different dimensions and never entirely predictable arise again and again.

Luna is a work commissioned by KlangForum Heidelberg as part of the ensemble’s series of works “Sternbild: Mensch” (Constellation: Man) and was actually to be premiered elsewhere. But as so often, had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

The work has already been premiered, but so far only in digital form. The “analogue” premiere in front of a physically present audience will now be able to take place in Bern: a special highlight in the context of a concert entitled Ferne Lichterschwärme.

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Michael Pelzel, La Luna, KlangForum Heidelberg, ‘Uraufnahme’ online june 2021

 

In combination with Pelzel’s piece La Luna, the programme also includes orchestral works by Georg Friedrich Haas (born 1953) and György Ligeti (1923-2006) and Pelzel’s compositions will be presented together with works by Haas and Ligeti also during other concerts. Probably because there is a certain affinity between the three composers, as – just like Ligeti – Pelzel appreciates intricate micro-rhythms and shares a passion for microtones with Georg Friedrich Haas. Accordingly, the combination of his works with these two greats suits him perfectly: “Between Georg Friedrich Haas, who was my esteemed teacher and György Ligeti, an important musical reference for me in many respects, I feel very comfortable”.

 

Michael Pelzel, in memoriam György Ligeti: intricate micro-rhythms link the works of György Ligeti and Michael Pelzel, inhouse production SRG/SSR

 

György Ligeti also plays an important role for Michael Pelzel as an organist. Accordingly, the organ concert with Michael Pelzel as part of the festival will feature Ligeti’s organ work Harmonies from 1967. The composition …stream of debris… by Michael Pelzel, which he will premiere himself, is seen by the composer as part of the same tradition. “It’s also a bit of a tribute to Ligeti, who worked a lot with clusters in his organ music. When I improvise on the organ myself, I also take clusters as a starting point, but I try not to simply repeat that, but also to further develop Ligeti’s approach for the present times.”

Streamed Polyphony for strings, which will be premiered by CAMERATA BERN, is appropriately announced in the programme as a “swarmig piece” in line with the festival motto “swarms”. “Swarming is not actually correct,” says Pelzel when I ask him about it. “I rather thought of three insects buzzing around a light source while composing it.”

That is why the distribution of the musicians in the room plays an important role in this piece, allowing the sound of the strings to literally buzz around the room. Even if the title of the composition no longer suggests the association with insects: perhaps the swarming and buzzing effect will still be recognizable to the listeners during the CAMERATA BERN concert.
Friederike Kenneweg

 

Michael Pelzel © Manuela Theobald / zVg Musikfestival Bern

 

 

This year’s Bern Music Festival will take place from September 1 to 5 under the motto “schwärme” (swarms) with works and world premieres by Salvatore Sciarrino, Fritz Hauser, Jürg Frey, Johanna Schwarzl, Hans Eugen Frischknecht, Pierre-André Bovey, Thomas Kessler and Jean-Luc Darbellay, among others.

The festival also features a cinema matinée on György Ligeti (documentary: Wenn die Zahnräder Menschen sind, 1996) followed by a discussion between Michael Pelzel, composer in residence, and Thomas Meyer, music journalist (Thursday, 2.9., 10h).

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World creations by Michael Pelzel:
Aus 133 FensternMittwoch, 1.9. 17h
Streamed Polyphony, in concert: Open the Spaces, Mittwoch, .1.9. 19h
Glissomania, in concert: Durch unausdenkliche WälderFreitag, 3.9. 21h
La Luna, in conczert: Ferne LichterschwärmeSamstag, 4.9. 19h
Harmonies / ...stream of debris… in concert: Con Passione, Sonntag, 5.9. 17h

Neo-Profiles:
Musikfestival BernMichael PelzelCamerata BernGyörgy LigetiGeorg Friedrich HaasThomas KesslerJürg FreyJean-Luc DarbellayFritz HauserPierre-André Bovey