Simone Keller – forgotten piano music rediscovered

Simone Keller brings music history’s hidden gems to light

Black, gay and provocative: Julius Eastman (1940-1990) shredded the surface of cultivated minimal music. With his confessional music, he burst into the bubble of New York’s white avant-garde. With the Kukuruz Quartet, Swiss pianist Simone Keller made a significant contribution to his rediscovery and is also committed to other “forgotten” piano music.

 

Portrait Simone Keller © Doris Kessler

Corinne Holtz
At the time Julius Eastman improvised for over an hour in Zurich’s Rämibühl auditorium, Simone Keller was three years old. The painter Dieter Hall had invited the unknown pianist, composer, singer and performer to make his Swiss debut back in 1983, before he himself would immerse himself in the buzzing metropolis for decades.

Eastman left a “disturbed” audience behind and presented his host with a sketch entitled fugue no 1, which the Kukuruz Quartet will analyse years later together with other transcripts, photos and recordings. The “Eastman passion” set in. It promoted arrangements and interpretations of pieces “that were not yet known even to insiders”, says Simone Keller.

These include Buddha (1983), which imposes 20 individual voices to be realised simultaneously by performers without specifying particular instruments or number of performers. The Kukuruz Quartet has opted for preparations that enable sound surfaces in pianissimo on the threshold of audibility.

Gay Guerrilla (1979) with its wild mix of jazz harmonies and Luther chorale, a reflection of Eastman’s questions about life, is completely different. “I struggled with God for a long time”, he said in an interview and he hoped to make peace with him one day. His pan-religious spirituality also found its way onto the stage. In 1984, for example, he performed the solo The Lord give it and the Lord take it away, a 15-minute prayer in deep earnest.

 


The Kukuruz Quartet performs Gay Guerilla by Julius Eastman in 2019 at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

 

Crossing boundaries, styles and conventions

Eastman transcends the boundaries of styles, genres and conventions and leaves behind music which can be defined as protest turned into sound. This is particularly true of the ‘Evil Nigger’ trilogy, the title of which caused African-American students to protest on the campus of Evanston’s Northwestern University (Illinois) in 1980. They demanded the “N”-word to be removed from the programme. Eastman addressed the audience before the concert and gave historical reasons for his linguistic racism. He used the offensive word to visualise the role of African Americans in US history. “The foundation of the country’s economic rise is built on the labour of African Americans, especially field niggers.” For 250 years, slaves had generated wealth for whites, while they – as black people – were generally being denied both ownership and education.

Eastman was punished by his own community for speaking his mind. Is there a mechanism at play that we encounter in the cancelling of unwanted opinions to the present day? “No,” says Simone Keller. “Eastman wanted to provoke and demonstrate why it is important to think about these titles and their explosive power.” It is true that in the course of “cultural change, we are becoming more sensitive” to traditional racism, including in language.

 

Run-down pianos make painful beauty audible…

The Kukuruz Quartet was the first to discover Eastman for Europe and initially played his music in clubs, bars and breweries – on four “run-down” pianos that have already survived many preparations and, with their “battered resonating bodies, offer enough resistance” to be able to show the “repetitive fury” with simultaneous painful “beauty”.

They thus did justice to music fuelled by drug excesses that resounded through the streets during the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrations and can now be heard in established concert halls. MaerzMusik in Berlin kicked things off in 2017, and the Lucerne Festival Forward recently followed.

We do not know what this visionary eclectic would say about the establishment’s recognition. He ended up spending the last years of his life in a homeless camp in Tompkins Square Park in New York and died forgotten in a Buffalo hospital in 1990.

 

St. Gallen – Portrait of the pianist Simone Keller on the occasion of receiving the IBK Prize for Music Mediation © Lisa Jenny

 

“As a white musician, I also feel obliged to play music by people of a different skin colour,” says Simone Keller. During her studies, she only played music by white men, even in the 2000s, when a few white female composers had already been rediscovered, such as Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn and Lili Boulanger.

It’s high time to remember African-American female composers such as Irene Higginbotham and her most famous composition Good Morning Heartache (1945) and to make “inequality and power relations” visible, says Simone Keller, titling her latest CD and book ‘Hidden Heartache’.

 

Irene Higginbotham (1918-1988), Good Morning Heartache, interpreters Simone Keller, Klavier and Michael Flury, Posaune, 2024.

Unlike Julius Eastman, Julia Amanda Perry (1924-1979) belongs to the forgotten composers. The African-American pianist, composer and conductor celebrates her 100th birthday on March 25. After her basic training at Westminster Choir College Princeton, she studied in Europe with Luigi Dallapiccola and Nadia Boulanger, was a Guggenheim fellow in Florence and conducted famous orchestras such as the BBC Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic between 1952 and 1957. Nevertheless, hardly any doors were opened to Perry back in the USA. With ‘Hidden Heartache’, Simone Keller points to the structures of this forgetting and sheds light on piano music by those excluded from music history.
Corinne Holtz

Julius Eastman (1940-1990), Irene Higginbotham (1918-1988), Olga Diener (1890-1963), Lucerne Festival ForwardFestival MärzMusik.

On March 25, 2024, Julia Amanda Perry’s birthday, a book as well as a double CD with 100 minutes of piano music from the last 100 years will be released, including works by Julius Eastman, Julia Amanda Perry, OIga Diener, Jessie Cox and others, Intakt records.
CD: Kukuruz Quartet, Julius Eastman, Piano interpretations, Intakt records 2018.

Simone Keller: Hidden Tour, march 19.–27. 2024.

Julia Perry Centenary Celebration & Festival, New York City, march 13.–16. 2024.

broadcasts SRF Kultur:
Musik unserer Zeit, 17.1.2024: Erst vergessen, heute ein Hype: Julius Eastman (1940–1990), editor Corinne Holtz.

neo-profiles:
Simone KellerKukuruz QuartettJessie Cox.

Music is always political! Luigi Nono 100

Celebrating the 100th birthday of composer Luigi Nono.

Luigi Nono (1924-1990) is considered a central figure of the musicalal avant-garde. A portrait by Florian Hauser on his 100th birthday, January 29, 2024.

Florian Hauser
They all turned up, every single one of them. Several thousand workers gathered during their break in order to hear what Luigi Nono has created on the basis of their sounds and noises. He had recorded the blaringly loud roars and hisses of the blast furnace of their steel factory and was now presenting his tape collage to them. Afterwards, the workers discussed it and began to ponder about their working conditions. ‘La fabbrica illuminata’ is the name of the piece that Luigi Nono dedicated to the steel workers in Genoa in the mid-1960s. A prime example of participation, one would say today. Ultra-modern, even to this day. That has always been Luigi Nono’s aim: he made music to create political awareness.

 

Luigi Nono, On November 12, 1976, at the Rote Fabrik in Zurich, Nono presented electronically processed original sounds from a factory and discussed his works with the audience. © Keystone.

 

Luigi Nono was born into an educated Venetian middle-class household. When he was one year old, Benito Mussolini became the fascist dictator of Italy, which characterised Nono’s entire development, indeed his whole life. He wanted to fight against oppression, war and social injustice. The fact that he did is as a composer – he states – is only a coincidence, as he connected with the musical avant-garde after the Second World War.

It is a time of great change. A young generation of composers wanted to create a new musical world; the old expressions had had their day, clear structures were needed, as well as new compositional techniques and tools such as electronics.

Darmstadt in Germany became an important centre of the new emerging avant-garde.

 


Luigi Nono, Incontri für 24 Instrumente, UA 1955, in house-production SRG/SSR.
In 1955 – Nono was already firmly involved in the Darmstadt Summer Courses – he wrote a musical love declaration to his future wife, Nuria, Arnold Schönberg’s daughter: ‘Incontri’ for 24 instruments, the encounter of independent musical structures. ‘Just as two independent beings, different from each other, meet and though their encounter cannot become unity, it is still a meeting, a togetherness, a symbiosis’. After the premiere in Darmstadt, Nuria Schönberg and Luigi Nono became engaged and married shortly afterwards.

 

Three composers become the central figures at Darmstadt’s so-called ‘International Summer Course for New Music’: the Frenchman Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, from Germany and Luigi Nono.

What initially began as a wonderful and intense artistic friendship soon changed and differences became apparent. Nono did not wish to make “l’art pour l’art”, like his colleagues. He wanted to get out of the ivory tower, onto the street, to the people. And set, for example, farewell letters from resistance fighters sentenced to death to music….

“The human, the political cannot be separated from music” 

“The human, the political cannot be separated from music”, Luigi Nono used to say. He tried ever more urgently to put his finger on social grievances, using all musical means at his disposal: wild orchestral impulses, sounds on the verge of silence, collages, electronics or music that spreads throughout the room.

“To awaken the ears, eyes, human thinking, intelligence, the greatest possible inwardness’” these are the words Nono used to describe his eternal goal in 1983, ‘”to bear witness as a musician and a human being”.

 


Luigi Nono, No hay caminos, hay que caminar, UA 1987, in house-production SRG/SSR: Nono had read the phrase ‘Caminantes, no hay caminos, hay que caminar’ (Wanderer, there is no path, you just have to walk) on the wall of a monastery in Toledo. This became his last orchestral work and the title could almost stand as a motto for Nono’s entire compositional work. No hay caminos, hay que caminar. The dynamics and tempo are extremely restrained, with dramatic cracks in the sound emerging only for brief moments. Nono uses only the note G, with quarter-tone increases and decreases, i.e. seven notes at quarter-tone intervals in all octave ranges. The differences between pitches and timbres disappear; it is a magical game that radically rethinks the relationships between parameters.

 

His life, just as his music and music-making, is exhausting… and Nono was ultimately broken by his own demands. ‘I proceeded to self-destruction,’ he would say at the end and when he died in his mid-60s, he had to realise that even music cannot trigger revolutions.

What could be considered his legacy? His uncompromising attitude. His motto. Ascolta! Listen up!
Florian Hauser

 

Luigi Nono (1924 – 1990) conducting his piece ‘Canti di vita e d’amore: sul ponte di Hiroshima’ in rehearsal at the Royal College of Music, London, 7th September 1963. © Erich Auerbach/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

broadcasts SRF Kultur:
Luigi Nono zum 100: Helmut Lachenmann und seine Erinnerungen an Luigi Nono, Musik unserer Zeit, 31.01.2024, editor Florian Hauser.
Er vertonte die Abschiedsbriefe von Widerstandskämpfern, online-Text srf.ch, 29.01.2024: author Florian Hauser.
Zum 100. Geburtstag: Luigi Nono: Fragmente – Stille. An Diotima, Diskothek, 29.01.2024, editor Annelis Berger

neo-profil:
Luigi Nono

Sound art and music by Martina Lussi: It happens very casually

Lucerne born Martina Lussi studied art and through listening she got into producing sound art and music herself. She explores nature and everyday life with microphones and an audio recorder and taking her impressions back to the studio, she condenses her listening experiences into installations, performances and studio albums, as well as field recordings and soundwalks.

Friedemann Dupelius
At the beginning of our Zoom conversation, Martina Lussi admits that she feels a bit disorganised. She is currently working a lot in an art library, so she is lacking time to listen and engage with sounds, which is a very important aspect to her. “Listening is something that happens very slow. You can’t just quickly listen to something – you have to start from the beginning and absorb it, otherwise you lose the context. Who really has time to listen these days?”

Martina Lussi © Calypso Mahieu

To get in the right mood for our conversation, she has turned her routine route around Lake Lucerne into a soundwalk this morning – in other words, a walk during which you actively listen to your surroundings. She reads out her listening log to me like a shopping list: “Trolleys, conversations, a jogger running past, my jacket, a dog breathing, ship masts, a person imitating a duck…” We both realise that we can imagine the individual sounds, but that such a description lacks one thing: the spatiality and simultaneity of the scenery. “My music thrives on the fact that many different sounds combine and flow into one another. It’s like a stream in which sounds are suddenly very close, only to dissolve into something else again.”

Frogs or wood?
At the end of 2019, Martina Lussi spent a residency in the Brazilian rainforest, where she was able to immerse herself in an unknown soundscape. “Some of the sounds were unsettling because I didn’t recognise them, especially at night. There was a frog for example, that sounded like wood – someone had to explain that to me first.” Her composition Serrinha Do Alambari Soundwalk is based on an audio walk in the village of the same name.

Listening as a shared experience: Martina Lussi and her soundwalking group in the Brazilian rainforest © Karina Duarte

Footsteps of a group of people crunch on uneven ground and set the rhythm, over which one can hear various birds chirping. Gradually, a synthesiser rises like wafts of mist from the soundscape of the rainforest and merges into gentle tropical rain, until at some point the frogs chatter. Martina Lussi is not interested in reproducing the environment as it apparently sounds in reality – she adds artificial sounds and thus creates new sound spaces, such as dreamlike memories. She sometimes does not bother to cut out the wind that blows into the audio recorder. Some field recording purists would consider this a bad recording, but not Martina Lussi.


The composition Serrinha Do Alambari Soundwalk was released on vinyl in 2020 on the label Ōtium, along with a piece by Loïse Bulot.

Coat or birds?
On the contrary: she repeatedly incorporates unwanted background noises into her compositions. In her piece The Listener, these even become the sole material. It consists exclusively of sounds produced by coats. They became the focus of Martina Lussi’s attention while making recordings in nature as part of a research project on bird sounds: “You imagine it to be so idyllic, but early in the morning it’s often so cold that I’m freezing and have to keep moving. As I’m wrapped up in a thick jacket, it just resonates.” She realised that these sounds often sounded like the voices or even the beating of birds’ wings. She took four jackets, improvised with each one for ten minutes and used them to create a four-channel installation and composition.


The piece The Listener is part of the compilation Synthetic Bird Music and was released on tape in 2023 on the label mappa.

The 4-channel sound installation “The Listener” was launched in 2022 at the art space sic! Elephanthouse in Lucerne © Andri Stadler

Martina Lussi does not consciously sharpen her ears with listening exercises before she goes into the field: “It happens very casually. When I go into the forest, I smell the oils from the trees, I can’t see far, I automatically enter an attentive state that I don’t have to prepare myself for.” As vividly as she talks about the Brazilian rainforest years later, it becomes clear that listening goes beyond the moment. It creates memories that last for a long time and that you can draw on even in more turbulent times.
Friedemann Dupelius

Portrait Martina Lussi © Johanna Saxen

Martina LussiMartina Lussi on BandcampSerrinha Do Alambari (Vinyl)Research project „Birdscapes“Artspace sic! Elephanthouse in LuzernCompilation: „Synthetic Bird Music“

Upcoming events:
18.05.2024 – Concert in Tbilisi (Georgia), Left Bank
24.05.2024 – Moa Espa, Geneva (Soundwalk)
18.06., 19:30 Uhr – Dampfzentrale Bern (WP Proximity with Ensemble Proton, + open rehearsal on 17.06.)
23.06., 17 Uhr – Postremise Chur

neo-profile: Martina Lussi

Composing with mobile technology: Lara Stanic – media artist

 

Electronic composition, performance, sound art: Zurich-based composer, performer, media artist and flautist Lara Stanic is hard to categorise. In her concert performances, she combines media, instruments, objects and musicians’ bodies and refers to specific locations and contexts. In this interview, she gives an insight into the creation of her latest works for the Zurich Baroque Orchestra.

 

Lara Stanic in ‘waves’, Festival Rümlingen 2020 © Kathrin Schulthess

 

Gabrielle Weber
I meet Lara Stanic for a cup of coffee at her kitchen table on a snowy Saturday morning at the beginning of January. We talk about her latest composition ‘Du matin au soir’: it was written in summer 2023 for the Zurich Baroque Orchestra and consists of eight sound interventions that were performed between individual symphony movements by Haydn. The concerts took place at different times of day in various Zurich locations: the botanical garden, an outdoor swimming pool and in St Peter’s Church.

Lara Stanic generally uses electronic media for her pieces and often also integrates context-related objects. The selection of specific media is a process, says Stanic. “I let myself be inspired by the context, the performers, the instruments and the way they can be played. This generates sounds in my head and I conceive ways of playing.”

In Sonnenstand, the sound intervention to Haydn’s symphony Der Mittag, the musicians ‘play’ with round portable mirrors that produce sound using smartphones. The idea came from a childhood memory. “As a child, I used portable mirrors to catch the sunlight at noon and create shadows and light reflections on a nearby wall,” says Stanic.

Sonnenstand by Lara Stanic, from du matin au soir, composed for the Zurich Baroque Orchestra, premiered in Zurich in 2023. Botanical Garden and St. Peter’s Church, Zurich, Videos © Andreas Pfister and Philip Bartels.

 

In Sonnenstand, the musicians also capture sunlight with mirrors, but this time turning it into music. Mobile phones are attached to the back of the mirrors. Built-in motion sensors, microphones and loudspeakers capture the movements of the mirrors and convert them into sounds. Stanic explains that this creates a hybrid form of two the media, mirror and smartphone.

Sonnenstand thus also reflects a basic theme characterising Stanic’s artistic work: In electronic music, she is often bothered by the clumsiness of large, almost threatening loudspeakers and mixing consoles. By using mobile devices, she searches for lightness and mobility. Stanic also often appears as performer of her own works. She first tests what she develops on herself. “I always was and still am my best guinea pig,” she says.

Stanic first studied the flute, then music and media art in Zurich and Bern. She continues to play and teach the flute and sees it as her musical home. “My training as a performer and teacher provided me with a foundation and knowledge of compositional thinking. I am equally interested in creating sounds on acoustic as well as electronic instruments.” Her first access to music was through radio and television during her childhood in former Yugoslavia. Even back then, she was fascinated by the amount of emotions sound waves could trigger. The connection between music and electronics was therefore obvious, she adds with a laugh: “Of course, I didn’t realise it being about sound waves at the time.”

 

Lara Stanic Performance ‘Spielfeld Feedback’ 2003 © EDITION DUMPF – Florian Japp

 

Humour and playful lightness also characterise her works with everyday objects. In Kafi, another sound intervention, this time for Haydn’s symphony Der Morgen, an oversized Bialletti espresso machine becomes an instrument. Two concert masters brew coffee on stage and ‘play’ with the sounds of the bubbling. “When I get up in the morning, I make my coffee in a Bialetti machine. It sounds very nice and I always associate the smell of coffee with that sound. I remember the sounds and smells from my childhood. And then an orchestra always has to drink coffee during rehearsal breaks. So there’s a very practical side to it as well…”
Kafi, another sound intervention by Lara Stanic from Du matin au soir, composed for the Hayn Symphony Der Morgen, Zurich Baroque Orchestra, premiered in Zurich in 2023, at St. Peter’s Church, Video © Andreas Pfister, Renate Steinmann.

 

Kafi is all about transformation, the sound and aroma of coffee being transformed into music. In addition, there is an electronic extension of classical instruments, as the violin bows of the concert masters are equipped with motion sensors. They use them to touch the coffee machine like magic wands, which are then swung through the air. This amplifies the sound of the bubbling, spreads throughout the room and mixes with the beginning of the symphony. In her own words: “The violin bows become magic wands, which in turn transform the aroma of the coffee into music”.

The process behind it is very simple though. First there is the idea, then a sound, in this case the bubbling of the coffee and then she looks for solutions as to how this can be connected to the sound of the instruments. The performative actions of the concert masters form a bridge for the audience between the sounding everyday object and the instruments. Based on this simple principle, Stanic transforms everyday objects into music and leaves a lasting impression on my morning coffee.
Gabrielle Weber


Lara Stanic, Du matin au soir, Video collage of the eight sound interventions for the Zurich Baroque Orchestra on Haydn symphonies, world creation Zurich 2023, Video © Andreas Pfister, Renate Steinmann, Philipp Bartels.

Lara Stanic is co-founder and member of the trio Funkloch featuring also PR and SH, which invites six composers each year to an experimental studio concert broadcasted live on air, or the GingerEnsemble, a Bern-based composer-performer collective. She composes for soloists, ensembles and orchestras, as well as for her own performances, which she regularly performs at international festivals and has been a lecturer in Performing New Technologies at Bern University of the Arts since 2011.

FunkLoch celebrated its sixth anniversary on Saturday, 20.1.24, 17h at Kunstraum Walcheturm with works by Annette Schmucki, Daniel Weissberg, Svetlana Maraš, Dorothea Rust and Joke Lanz.

Features SRF Kultur:
MusikMagazin, 10.2.2024: Cafégespräch with Lara Stanic by Gabrielle Weber, editorial Benjamin Herzog.
Zämestah, 21.12.2020: TV-Portrait Lara Stanic
Musik unserer Zeit, 21.09.2013: Spiel mit urzeitlicher Elektronik: Das Ginger Ensemble, editorial Lislot Frey

neo-profiles:
Lara StanicFunkloch OnAir, Kunstraum Walcheturm, Sebastian Hofmann, petra ronner, Annette SchmuckiDaniel WeissbergSvetlana Maraš, Joke Lanz, Neue Musik Rümlingen.

Self-taught musician with a soft spot for poetry: Christoph Gallio

Saxophonist, composer and event organiser Christoph Gallio has been shaping the Swiss and international free jazz and new improvisation scene for almost 40 years. In this interview with Friederike Kenneweg, he reveals how he moved from improvisation to composition and what role poetry plays in the process.

 

Christoph Gallio spielt Saxophon vor einem Mikrofon. Foto von John Sharpe
The saxophonist Christoph Gallio. © John Sharpe

 

Friederike Kenneweg
Young Christoph Gallio (*1957) used his first self-earned money to buy a soprano saxophone and taught himself to play. Even though he later spent a year at the Basel conservatory and at some point even completed a degree, he has remained true to this attitude of self-taught musician who simply does it and finds out how best to do it – as an improvising musician in free jazz, among other things, as a composer, as an organiser and as the operator of the PERCASO label.

Looking for new impulses

In order to develop further on his unconventional path, Christoph Gallio has always looked for new stimuli on the outside.

“It’s the crux of the self-taught artist, at some point one has to do something new. I can’t always be alone with my idiosyncrasies. I always need new inputs.”

After his time as a saxophonist in the Swiss jazz scene and after musical encounters with greats such as Irène Schweitzer or Urs Voerkel, for example, a change was needed.

 

From improvisation to composition

“I always and only improvised freely, going into free jazz to some extent. But at some point that no longer satisfied me, as there was this danger to go round in circles, without getting any further and only ever come up with the same things.” In contrast to the many irretrievable moments of improvised music, Gallio wanted to create something that could be repeated – and began composing. At first, he mainly wrote for his own band projects, such as the trio Day&Taxi, which has been with him for 35 years. Over time, commissioned works for other artists were added.

 

Die Band Day&Taxi, Schwarz-Weiß-Foto in urbanem Setting, Foto von Jordan Hemingway
On average, ‘Day&Taxi’ has changed its line-up every seven years since it was founded in 1988. Silvan Jeger (bass), Gerry Hemingway (drums) and Christoph Gallio (saxophone) have been playing together since 2013. © Jordan Hemingway

 

On Day&Taxi‘s 2019 album Devotion, poems by Friederike Mayröcker served as a source of inspiration for Christoph Gallio, with bassist Silvan Jeger taking on the vocal part.

 

Merging miniatures into a whole

Christoph Gallio prefers to use texts as starting point for his music – especially poetry, for example by Robert Filliou or Gertrude Stein.

“If I have a text as a basis, it just works. Without a text, it’s much more difficult for me to compose.”

In the piece The Ocarina Chapter for string trio and voice, which the Mondrian Ensemble premiered with baritone Robin Adams in June 2022, one characteristic of Gallio’s music is particularly evident: his work with miniatures. These arise from his preference for short, lyrical, often humorous texts, which inspire his compositions.

“What I like about small pieces is the seemingly unimportant, the everyday. Why not do funny things too, why not bring humour into the music, why is most music so strict and serious, why do certain people who make music take themselves so seriously?”

 

In The Ocarina Chapter (2021), Christoph Gallio brings together poems by Annina Luzie Schmid (*1983), Markus Stegmann (*1962) and Peter Z Herzog (*1950).

 

Each miniature is a picture in its own right

In The Ocarina Chapter, thirty miniatures, some purely instrumental, others with words set to music, are put together in a sequence of almost forty minutes. The rapid changes this requires are a particular challenge for the performers.
“The musicians have to practise a lot with these miniatures. Each one being a picture in its own right. One has to be sung one way, the next differently, there has to be shouting, then whispering, without much transition time in between.”

 

Freedom for interpreters

Christoph Gallio finds the right sequence for the individual sections by putting the pre-sketched miniatures together differently on the computer until everything sounds right. The space between the individual parts is also important in order to create the desired effect. Particularly in those places, Gallio does not dictate everything to the performers of his pieces for the performance, but leaves the exact arrangement up to them.

At the premiere of The Ocarina Chapter, violinist Ivana Pristašová specified the length of the pause between the sections. “Ivana simply conducted it and made decisions about how long the ensemble should wait and when it should continue, showing the right instinct.”

The volume levels are not notated in the composition either; the ensemble had to make its own decisions about the piece’s dynamics.

“I want to give the musicians a lot of freedom in the hope that they will enjoy the piece. This works fully when they realise to have the freedom and the opportunity to work it out the way they please.”

Needless to say, Christoph Gallio takes the same kind of freedom for himself again and again on his journey.
Friederike Kenneweg

Robin Adams, DAY&TAXI, Silvan Jeger, Gerry Hemingway, PERCASO, Ivana Pristašová, Irène Schweitzer, Urs Voerkel, Annina Luzie Schmid, Markus Stegmann, Friederike Mayröcker

neo-profile:
Christoph Gallio, Petra Ackermann, Karolina Öhman, Mondrian Ensemble

Forging improvisation: Willisau Jazz Festival 2023

 

SRF-Video interviews of How Noisy are the Rooms? and Der Verboten

Since its foundation in 1975, Willisau Jazz Festival has been an important hub for improvised music. Every year in late summer, improvisers from all over the world gather together in the Lucerne hinterland, where they perform in intimate settings or as larger acts in the festival hall. SRF 2 Kultur portrays them every year in various programmes. This year, SRF Kultur music editors Roman Hošek and Luca Koch also conducted live video interviews with various bands and artists. Luca Koch presents two of the featured bands in our neoblog: Der Verboten and How Noisy Are The Rooms?

‘Der Verboten’: Antoine Chessex, Christian Wolfarth, Frantz Loriot, Cédric Piromalli

 

Luca Koch
Anyone who discovers the band name (Der Verboten) in a programme might immediately think of a white, round sign with a red border or even think the name is a typo. Does it mean “das Verbot” (prohibition) or “die Verbotenen” (the forbidden) or “Der Vorbote” (the precursor)? What appears to be grammatically incorrect originally arose from a joke, as the quartet featuring Christian Wolfarth, Frantz Loriot, Antoine Chessex and Cédric Piromalli rehearses in both German and French, including translation errors. The name has stuck, because who defines what is right and what is wrong? Like music, our languages are made up of rules and structures that can be broken. Der Verboten’s music of is free of rules, intertwined, and it’s precisely this interplay that drives the band.

 

Der Verboten: Refinement instead of innovation

Exploring new sounds or expanding the individual instruments’ sound is not the focus of the ensemble, they try instead to sonically merge and deepen their collective sound. In the interview, Christian Wolfarth repeatedly emphasises how important it is to find the right bandmates. This quartet is like an old friendship, even if they haven’t rehearsed or played on stage for a long time, they pick up exactly where they left things when they last met.

Time merging

In order for piano, drums, viola and tenor saxophone to grow into a single musical organism, the band needs one thing above all – time. The desired form of interwoven interplay only emerges during long improvisation sessions. “I think I can say that we manage to achieve it during every concert,” says Christian Wolfarth in the interview. The ensemble played a total of two pieces in their one-hour set at the Willisau Jazz Festival and the break in between served as an opportunity for everyone – especially for the audience – to catch their breath. Slow developments and barely noticeable changes meant that the audience in the concert hall kept wondering how Verboten had musically moved from A to B.

 


Christian Wolfarth and Antoine Chessex before their concert in a live interview at the Jazz Festival Willisau 2023.

 

The band performed on stage with the same calm and reflective approach as in a conversation. They transported me into their world of sound to such an extent that during the concert I no longer knew whether twenty or just two minutes had passed.

Another band that plays with the audience’s sense of time is How Noisy Are The Rooms? In contrast to Der Verboten, however, the minutes seem to run by, as their sound aesthetic is shaped by high tempos and high density of sounds.

 

‘How Noisy Are The Rooms?: Almut Kühne, Joke Lanz und Alfred Vogel

 

‘How Noisy Are The Rooms?’ likes to ask questions.

The trio featuring Alfred Vogel, Joke Lanz and Almut Kühne likes to ask questions: How much noise can a room tolerate or can music cause whiplash? Improvisation with lots of energy, punk aesthetics and fast interaction gives the listeners at How noisy are the rooms? concerts the feeling of being flung back and forth like balls in pinball machines. The trio’s creative musical anarchy on stage challenges the audience, sometimes even overwhelmingly. Alfred Vogel emphasises: “I don’t really mean to overwhelm people. Understanding follows listening. You just have to open your ears and, at best, it does something to you.”

Turntables and whistle notes

The driving rhythms of Alfred Vogel on drums with Almut Kühne’s vocal acrobatics lend How Noisy Are The Rooms?’s music an archaic flair, as percussion and voice are probably the oldest instruments known to mankind. Joke Lanz, looping and distorting sound samples with his turntables, brings a performative, electro-analogue and humorous component into play.

 


Alfred Vogel before the concert of How Noisy Are The Rooms? in a live interview at the Jazz Festival Willisau 2023.

 

Alfred Vogel wanted to become a rock star and this energy is still present in How Noisy Are The Rooms? but he is glad that he took a different path, as his current musical output is diverse and rich.

Post-musical hidden object image

The trio’s music consists of eclectic sounds and short, pointed phrases like in hidden object images. There are no clear structures, harmonies or tangible melodies in their soundscape. Nevertheless, the musical disputes between the three musicians conjure up images in the mind: I feel transported to a roaring metropolis or as part of a game animation.

 


How Noisy Are The Rooms? Video ©Denis Laner / Alfred Vogel 2021

 

With their density and abundance of individual musical parts, How Noisy Are TheRooms? capture the zeitgeist of today’s restless world.  Alfred Vogel explains in the interview: “Music or art should always reflect the world we live in. What is overwhelming? Today’s events are also overwhelming. Everything happens at the same time. Everything, everywhere, all at once. It’s the same in our sound”. How Noisy Are the Rooms? is this year’s edition biggest discovery for me at Willisau Jazz Festival.
Luca Koch

 

Cédric Piromalli, Christian Wolfarth, Frantz LoriotAlmut Kühne, Alfred VogelSudden infant

broadcasts SRF Kultur:
Neue Musik im Konzert, 25.10.2023: Anarchie und Energie am Jazzfestival Willisau, Redaktion Benjamin Herzog.

neo-profiles:
How Noisy Are The Rooms?, Joke LanzDer Verboten, Antoine Chessex

Breath flowing at a slower pace: pianist Judith Wegmann on her favourite music

Biel pianist Judith Wegmann gets to the core of time in music. So deeply that it almost ceases to exist. Whether in works by Morton Feldman, in her own improvisations or in her lively ensemble activities: Judith Wegmann is someone you should take the time to listen to.

Portrait Judith Wegmann © Simone Haug

Friedemann Dupelius
“I never used to record anything and was always devoted entirely to the live aspects of music,” says the musician, who was born in the canton of Zug and now lives in Biel. “That changed in 2016 when I was hospitalised for several weeks and therefore couldn’t play the piano for months. I really missed music as both a daily purpose and language.” As a musician who otherwise cultivates a daily relationship with her instrument, this six-month period must have felt almost endless.
“I therefore developed a strategy to still be able to deal with music and guide my thoughts in a positive direction by mentally sketching out concepts for my Le souffle du temps album. When I was finally able to go back to my studio after months, I withdrew for several weeks to realise the album. Without much previous experience, I recorded and mixed it myself.”

In her improvisation Reflexion IV from 2019, Judith Wegmann continues her project Le souffle du temps as an original composition from the moment.

The concept of time in music has been a major focus of Judith Wegmann’s work for over ten years. We all know that music is the art of time. However, Wegmann’s deep chronopoetic drilling takes her to the very core of this simple truth – to the point where time ceases to be measured, or strict metering.
“I’ve started playing very long concerts – two hours on average. It’s important to me to create a cosmos for the audience and for myself, where one can slow down for a moment and forget about everything else.” The pace being fast in this age of social media, for Wegmann, concerts can constitute a calm antithesis.

The breath of time
Judith Wegmann is a night person. She gets active in the afternoon and spends whole evenings and nights playing the piano in her studio. “For me, it is like a spiritual balm – relaxation and slowing down. The studio is on the 2nd basement floor, there’s no phone reception or internet connection, you can’t reach me there. When I play, I don’t think anymore.”

Portrait Judith Wegmann @ Algis Jakstas

Time expansion and deceleration being one of the defining elements of her work – interpersonal relationships are the other, just as important. Le souffle du temps entered its second round with her Réflexion project, for which she asked composers whom she personally appreciates to respond to her music. For example, there is Edu Haubensak, whom Judith Wegmann holds in high regard.

 


Edu Haubensak wrote a Réflexion (2019) for Judith Wegmann with the piece Manga. The collaboration between the two will continue in 2024.

And it became an intergenerational project as well. The 86-year-old Daniel Andres is not only Wegmann’s neighbour in Biel, “but also a wonderful and inspiring composer. I have a gut feeling for who I can work well with. I’m almost never wrong. There simply needs to be a common level of basic understanding of life, as individual as everyone is.”


Daniel Andres’ cycle: Souvenir d’un instant was also created as a reaction to Le souffle du temps by Judith Wegmann.

Morton Feldman and Judith Wegmann never got to know each other, theirs is therefore an abstract relationship, fueled exclusively by the music Feldman left behind. In his music too, time and how it can be cancelled out, is an essential aspect. “I’ve even used a calculator to try to mathematically analyse and learn to understand the complex rhythmic structure of Feldman’s music so that I could embody it in the first place. In the end, however, I can hardly explain it. There are numerous repetitions in this music with their immense durations. The experience of them during the concerts as well as the physical changes that occur are incredible.”

Judith Wegmann also worked intensively on finding the appropriate touch for Feldman’s works, which oscillate between the finest piano and pianissimo gradations. Although the piano pedal remains in use at all times, the individual notes still require precise touches to shape the sound.


Judith Wegmann has played almost all of Morton Feldman’s piano works, including Triadic Memories (1981). For the future she has planned the trio For Philip Guston (1984) for flute, drums and piano.

I ask Judith Wegmann whether she noticed an increased interest in contemplative music among audiences in the last few crisis-ridden years – as that is what I’ve noticed. “It’s always been a rather small audience for more experimental programmes, also because I’ve been organising almost all my concerts myself for years. I mainly play in art centres, which is where I feel Feldman’s music and experimental music projects generally fit in best. The audience can move around freely. People are happy to accept that and always do so with a keen sense for the music.”


Judith Wegmann plays Canto Ostinato (1976) by Simeon ten Holt, together with the pianist Simon Bucher (rehearsal recording, 2023, excerpt).

Wegmann’s concerts featuring music by Philip Glass, those with more classical programmes – as well as the ones with Canto Ostinato for piano duo by Simeon ten Holt – were very well received. Completed in 1976, the latter piece is something of a hit in the composer’s native Netherlands. “I came across it through studying the Glass etudes. I think Canto Ostinato is very beautiful, its melodic simplicity really touched me. Anyway, I go to so many different concerts – punk, garage rock, psychedelic, classical and I can draw something from all of them. Canto Ostinato consists of over 100 cells that the interpreter can repeat as often as he likes. A performance could last six hours, but together with my duo partner Simon Bucher we manage about two hours. It’s a very intimate performance situation. Eye contact with the partner decides when the next pattern begins. The piece requires a high level of concentration while playing and is still very quiet to listen to.” When asked about Simon Bucher, with whom she plays Canto Ostinato, Wegmann speaks very highly: “He has such a beautiful sound! Working with him is musically and personally very enriching.”

Judith Wegmann & Simon Bucher © Judith Wegmann (Screenshot from video)

 

Landing on the same note
She has equally affectionate words for pianist Marlies Debacker, her Cologne collaboration partner.


Judith Wegmann and Marlies Debacker on the joint album things in between, recorded in Biel in 2021.

An organiser thought it would be a good idea to put the two of them, unbeknownst to each other, on two grand pianos for a duo improvisation. And the idea was good: “We ended the performance on the same note. No words were needed, that came afterwards. Like me, Marlies is musically versatile. She plays classical, jazz as well as new music and on top of it, she has a good feel for archs of tension. For me it was like a symbiosis right from the start. When we listened to a common recording, I couldn’t always tell who was playing what.”
Friedemann Dupelius

 

Judith Wegmann & Marlies Debacker

Canto Ostinato (1976) by Simeon ten Holt, interpreted by Judith Wegmann, full length

Judith WegmannSimon BucherMarlies DebackerDaniel AndresPhilip GlassEdu HaubensakMorton FeldmanSimeon ten HoltHat Hut Records, Bruno Duplant, New3Art.

Upcoming events:
17.2.2024 Duo with Marlies Debacker, Raum für Musik Zoglau (D)
28.2.2024 Guest performance for Ensemble 5 (4+1), WIM Zürich

Upcoming Releases:
Three new CDs by Judith Wegmann will be released in 2024:
Kont.Takte with Ensemble New3Art features Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte, a commissioned work by Antoine Chessex (Geschichten der Gewalt) and an improvisation, co-produced by SRF2Kultur.
There is also a recording of Philip Glass’ Etudes and the CD univers paralleles II with sound designer und composer Bruno Duplant. All are released by the label Hat Hut (ezz-thetics).

Neo-profiles:
Judith Wegmann, Daniel Andres, Edu HaubensakAntoine Chessex