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

Nature’s superiority

Eiger, a new opera by Fabian Müller, will be premiered by Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn on December 17. Christian Fluri spoke to the composer before the premiere about his relationship with this mountain, which fascinated him for a long time. 

Christian Fluri
“The story of the second attempt to scale the Eiger’s north face can hardly be topped drama wise,” says composer Fabian Müller enthusiastically about his work. In 1936, two German climbers, Toni Kurz and Andreas Hinterstoisser, along with two Austrian colleagues, were the first to attempt to scale the mountain’s mighty north face. They failed and all four died. The film and opera director Philipp Stölzl already devoted himself to this story in his 2008 film Nordwand, now writer and librettist Tim Krohn and Fabian Müller are giving it another go. When asked if they had been influenced by the movie, Müller denies. “We tell the drama from a completely different angle and although the historical framework is the same, the story allows a lot of freedom.”

 

Portrait Fabian Müller rehearsing Eiger zVg SOBS 2021

 

 

The story of the Eiger opera tells the initial enthusiasm with which the climbing tour began, through the looming failure, all the way to the battle against death, which even expert Toni Kurz loses in the end. “The opera is about powerlessness of men against nature’s superiority.” Müller gives the mountain a voice – a woman’s voice. “As it were the song of the mountain, which, towards the end of the opera, gazes in bird’s-eye view over the storm, the drama and the weather’s wildness. The dying man is torn between last attempts to save his life and the mountain’s seductive song, which makes him slip more and more into a surreal, otherworldly state.”

 

At the foot of the Eiger

 
16 years before the premiere of the opera, Fabian Müller had already been dealing with the Eiger and its north face. In 2004, he was commissioned by the Interlaken Music Festival to write
Symphonische Skizze Eiger and did so in his composer’s cottage, a chalet in Grindelwald, at the foot of the mountain, where he had spent his holidays with his parents as a child and teenager.

 

Fabian Müller, Eiger – Eine symphonische Skizze, UA 2004, Latvian Symphony Orchestra, Dirigent Andris NelsonsMüller integrates music history in his compositions. In his Symphonische Skizze Eiger (2004), he partly used serial techniques.

 

 

“Since my childhood I have been connected with the mountain landscapes around Grindelwald” says Müller about this place of inspiration. After his training, the chalet became a retreat where his creativity could flourish. When he wrote his symphonic sketch in 2004, “the Eiger looked down on me, watching me scribble my notes on the paper,” he says.  

 
Even at that time, he thought that the 1936 drama would make excellent operatic material. “Now, starting from the sketch, I have developed the music into the opera and used everything that is in the sketch in some way – although rarely identically,” he explains.  
“I encounter many of my former pieces like a stranger and in general, it’s often quite hard for me to dive back into an older composition of mine. The
Symphonische Skizze Eiger, on the other hand, has always remained present. Perhaps because the opera was still to be written.” However, the opera’s composition hardly ever took place at the foot of the Eiger, but mostly at home in Zurich.
 

The lyrics’ musicality


Müller began his composing work with Tim Krohn’s libretto on his table. He has great confidence in the musicality of his librettist, with whom he is already working for the third time: “Tim Krohn has an affinity for music and a great understanding of the musicality that a libretto must have. There was nothing in his text for which a musical solution could not be found.”  Even tricky passages became a delightful challenge. Of course, he maintained an intensive exchange with Tim Krohn; but “in the end, we didn’t make a single change to the libretto.”

 
Both German and the Austrian alpinists of that period showed closeness to National Socialism in their thinking and often in their acts as well which is also a subject of Tim Krohn’s libretto. It draws the characters in their ambivalence, Müller notes. “Their political stance resonates in the drawing of their characters. It also becomes a problem when it comes to trust each other, which is essential in climbing. This characters’ ambivalence also finds expression in my music.”

 

Portrait Tim Krohn zVg SOBS

 

While Müller was still in the composing process – for the opera with a large orchestra – he received a commission for Eiger from Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn (TOBS). After completing the score, he therefore wrote an additional version for chamber orchestra, which will now be premiered in Biel in a production by Barbara-David Brüesch and directed by  Kaspar Zehnder.

 

Letting music happen 

But what does Müller’s music sound like? He is certainly not one of the experimental composers, nor does he want to be. He is convinced that the tonal possibilities of a symphony orchestra are exhausted today. But something new can arise in the combination and the connection of sounds and sound figures.  
 
In his compositions, Müller always keeps music history in mind: he is not afraid to use traditional harmonies or sound structures. His points of reference are Gustav Mahler, young Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, as well as the French music of the early 20th century and feels related to today’s Scandinavian, Eastern European and Anglo-American composers, to name but a few.

 


Fabian Müller, Munch’s Traum(a) für Violine Solo, UA 2010:Müller’s music is about emotional expression. He cites Gustav Mahler, young Arnold Schönberg or Alban Berg, but also György Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen as music points of reference.

 

Of course, he has intensively studied the German and French avant-garde of the post-war period and its history – such as the serial technique, which for him, however, clearly belongs to the past. “György Ligeti already overcame it in 1961 with his grandiose work Atmosphères, and the same goes for others of his contemporaries.Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen are important pillars for him. but he also greatly appreciates the composers “who broke new ground in the 1970s” – away from experimental paths, such as the Finn Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016), with whom he was linked by a long correspondence.  

Müller describes himself as an intuitive composer who is always concerned with emotional expression. “Once the composition process has begun, I let myself be guided by the music itself. As to why my music sounds the way it does, all I can really say is that it’s the music I perceive internally when I’m doing what interests me most, namely composing.”
Christian Fluri

 


Composer Fabian Müller introduces his opera Eiger

 

Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn, opera Eiger
Premiere on December 17, 2021 at Theater Biel, further performances during season 21/22

Toni Kurz, Andreas Hinterstoisser, Philipp Stölzl, Tim Krohn, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, György Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen, Einojuhani Rautavaara

neo-profiles:
Fabian Müller, Sinfonie Orchester Biel Solothurn

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.

.


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).

________________________________

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

Pling! Plong! Brrr!

Michael Pelzel

Composer Michael Pelzel is currently polishing the final details of his first opera for the Opernhaus Zurich. In this interview with Bjørn Schaeffner, he talks about the razor’s edge, zero energy states and that certain degree of lightheartedness work sometimes needs.

Michael Pelzel, how’s life?  
Very hectic at the moment, I am reaching my limits and I’m working from home right now. 

You’re on the home straight of your opera “Last Call”.
I can fortunately rely on a great team. It’s a joint effort. As an opera composer, one must always deal with other art forms as well. 

Have there been arguments?
Only on one particular issue. I personally had a dreamwalking final in mind for “Last Call”, some kind of gravity song, reminding both of a church chorale and a vocal quartet in the style of “Manhattan Transfer. I wanted to establish some kind of zero energy state at the end, but my partners Chris Kondek and Jonathan Stockhammer both believed that this had already been fulfilled earlier and wasn’t needed anymore at the end of the opera. They eventually convinced me. 

How did the idea for “Last Call” come about?
Author Dominik Riedo from Lucerne reached out to me and we developed the material together in an inspiring kind of ping-pong working procedure. Riedo’s text approached my music using an onomatopoeic, almost comic-like language. Pling! Plong! Brrr! 

In “Last Call”, humanity loses control over communication media and is therefore forced to dislocate to a distant planet.
I’m sure you’re familiar with this – I experience it day in day out. As soon as you’re done answering your 30 mails, the inbox is full again. We are literally being attacked from all sides and on every possible channel. Then there are tech giants like Amazon or Google, who know more and more about our lives. It makes one wonder. 

The programme brochure defines the opera as grotesquely exaggerated.
Yes, the idea is to get quirky, somewhere between Dürrenmatt’s “Die Physiker” or “Le Grand Macabre” by György Ligeti. I was also inspired by Christoph Marthaler, in whose productions you often don’t really know whether he’s being serious or not. I like walking on the razor’s edge. 

Michael Pelzel, Last Call, UA 28.6.19, Opernhaus Zürich ©Herwig Prammer

How did you approach “Last Call” in terms of composition?
Many composers are in despair, hopelessly trying to harmonise each and every musical parameter. I believe one has to set to work with a certain degree of lightheartedness and knowing that for a 90-minute work, you can’t compose every note from scratch. I therefore developed and dwelled upon already existing themes and worked in theatrical sense of course.

What bothers me in contemporary opera is this latent tragedy and almost clichéd profundity that’s pervading everything. I wanted to work against that, so I took the liberty of being a little cheekier here and there.  

Cheekier?
We slightly altered the “Sendung mit der Maus” melody for example. This is nothing new of course; variations within a composer’s own musical language can be found in Mozart’s works and Wagner sometimes suddenly and surprisingly tapped into baroque elements. 

What can the public look forward to?
I am curious too, about how it will all come together. The child must stand on its own feet and then take flight. But the public can certainly look forward to Chris Kondek’s video art. He has this great way of conjuring a trashy kind of pop art into the opera with very few means. Then there’s the stage design by Sonja Füsti, highlighting video art very well and Ruth Stofer’s costumes everything actually. As said: it’s a joint effort.
Interview by Bjørn Schaeffner

Michael Pelzel, Last Call, UA 28.6.19, Opernhaus Zürich ©Herwig Prammer

Opernhaus ZürichMichael Pelzel

broadcasts SRF
29.Juni 2019: “Musikmagazin“, Kaffee mit Michael Pelzel (auch als Podcast)
1. Juli 2019, “Kultur-Aktualität“, Bericht zur Premiere; “Kultur Kompakt

neo-profilesMichael Pelzel, Opernhaus Zürich, Jonathan Stockhammer, Philharmonia Zürich