A passion for sound in nature

Interview with Daniel Ott, co-initiator and member of the artistic committee Festival Neue Musik Rümlingen

“A l’ur da l’En” – INNLAND – AUsLAND 

Neue Musik Rümlingen 2016 © Schulthess Foto

Gabrielle Weber
“Neue Musik Rümlingen” is a small festival, originally from the outskirts of Basel, but this year it will be hosted in the Lower Engadin. Pioneer in the field of staging sound in nature, it has been a sought-after insider tip for almost thirty years. This conversation with Daniel Ott, co-initiator and member of the artistic committee, revolves around staging music in public spaces, dealing with the unpredictable and the subjectivity of music.

Daniel Ott, with the upcoming festival edition you’ll be taking the Rümlinger idea from the Basel region to the Engadin: How did this visit come about?

Rümlinger “excursions” have a certain tradition; we have started to be itinerant and visit Basel and its surrounding villages from very early on. In 2013 the festival took place in a completely different location, as we hiked from Chiasso to Basel, played with local ensembles on the go and cooperated with likeminded festivals such as Klangspuren Schwaz (Tyrol – Austria), located very close to the Lower Engadin. At that time we started considering the idea of a stronger collaboration with Schwaz, which will come about this year. Together we’ll be offering two different “sound paths”, which can individually be covered in one day, one in the Lower Engadin, curated by Rümlingen, the other from Tyrol to the Engadin, curated by Schwaz. Other partners are the Fundaziun Nairs of Scuol, for visual installations and the Theater Chur, which will be holding its season opening in the Engadin. As highlight for the two “sound paths”, we meet in the middle, for a joint evening concert and celebration in Scuol.

Neue Musik Rümlingen 2016, Daniel Ott: “CLOPOT – ZAMPUOGN”

In 2016, you and Manos Tsangaris took over the artistic direction of the “Biennale für Neues Musiktheater” in Munich, giving it a kind of urban environment approach: Where does this passion of yours for connecting sound and nature or public space come from?

There is a small background history to this: 20 years ago Peter Zumthor invited me to develop music for his “Klangkörper Schweiz”, the Swiss Pavilion at Expo 2000 in Hanover, and started reacting architecturally to the results of our common sound experiments. But it is neither realistic nor sustainable to have a new space built for each and every musical idea. That’s why I started to deal with sound in given situations, where I cannot influence all of the parameters. I started to considerate the resulting uncertainties as an asset and appreciate them. I am referring to John Cage, among others, who included coincidences in his compositional approach, in order to enable a greater variety of sound and music.


Festival Neue Musik Rümlingen, Ausschnitte 2017

Where do you locate the audience in this context of sound in public space?

People will always experience music in a subjective way. I would like to enable individual approaches and rather use the visual arts – where audiences always decide by themselves at which pace to perceive the works – as my guideline. Each part is representative and all points of view are valid.

“A piece is complete, even if one couldn’t hear or see its integrity.”

Landscapes bear stories; people hand down stories from generation to generation. Every single life is a novel. It is important to translate this into art. Art is communication.

Daniel Ott © Manu Theobald

What can we be particularly looking forward to in the Engadin?

To mark the entrance and set the frame, Peter Conradin Zumthor will wrap the church bells of Lavin in sheepskin, for his piece “Con Sordino”, which is a remake of a work previously presented in Rümlingen. The resulting sound is alienating and more reminiscent of electronic music than church bells.

We were able to persuade Beat Furrer to write music for a cycle of poems by Leta Semadeni, a Lavin poet who has been writing in Valader, the Lower Engadine Romansh, for decades. The premiere will take place in the beautiful, unadorned chapel of Sur En d’Ardez.

Peter Conradin Zumthor will immerse the old bridge of Lavin into fog, turning the wooden bridge into a fog-bridge.


Peter Conradin Zumthor, Grünschall7 (Rüttler) Solo Drums, 2019

A new Engadine version of Christian Wolff’s legendary “Stones” from 1968, will be performed with stones from the river Inn. In addition, Jürg Kienberger himself will present “Innehalten”, a theatrical play.
Many stations will be performed several times for small groups of listeners, which leads to very personal as well as different interpretations.
Interview Gabrielle Weber

Neue Musik Rümlingen, Klangspuren Schwaz, Fundaziun NairsTheater Chur

Festival Neue Musik Rümlingen:
14./15. September 2019 Unterengadin; 16. November 2019, Epilog Kirche Rümlingen:

neo-profiles:
Neue Musik Rümlingen, Daniel Ott, Beat Furrer, Peter Conradin Zumthor

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

 

The alchemy between analog, digital and the body

Charlotte Hug talks about four new CD releases.

Charlotte Hug: Portrait ©Alberto Venzago

Gabrielle Weber
Charlotte Hug, composer-performer, viola player, voice- and media artist, navigates between composition and improvisation, intertwining music and visual art. Four new CDs reflect her diversified artistic personality. In this interview, she describes them as “harvest” of the recent years.

Charlotte, in your performances you push the boundaries of your instruments – viola and voice – to their limit, adding a strong combination with visual aspects. Can you tell us more about the connection between these three elements?
Solo work is an important starting point for me, but I am always in a state of dialogue. The voice and the viola communicate with each other. They often disagree. To me, music is about being in communication with people.

“The viola and I are looking for new dialogues day by day.”

The connection to the visual aspect is something I achieve through the so-called “Son-Icons”, a combination between music and image (or Sounds and Icons). I capture the music I perceive  – whether heard or imagined – as well as random ambient sounds with my hands, like several pens dancing with each other on semitransparent paper. The results can be small picture boards, meter-long paper sheets, room installations, animated video scores. With Son-Icons I created a composing procedure.

“Eye and ear often decide in different directions.”

The Son icons are stimuli and inspiration for music and make the energy of its origination visible.


Portrait Charlotte Hug, Son-Icons ©Art-TV 2016, Michelle Ettlin 

Improvisation is an important foundation of your work. What does improvisation mean to you?
Improvisation is an artistic elixir of life, especially the magic of musical encounters with other artists such as Lucas Niggli (CD Fulguratio). Improvisation means creating in the moment. When I play with the London Stellari String Quartet, which I founded in 2000 (CD Vulcan), every performance leads to new creations. The London improvisation scene has influenced me heavily for almost twenty years. First as permanent member, now as guest and guest conductor, I regularly played with the London Improvisers Orchestra (CD 20th anniversary).

On the basis of this interaction-notation you developed, you elaborate intermedial compositions for orchestra and choir. How do these collaborations concretely look like?
I draw an individual Son-Icon for each musician. It can be turned and reversed, mirrored, read as “Krebs” or “Umkehrung”, on the same principles as J. S. Bach’s or the Second Viennese School’s compositions. I then hold individual coaching sessions and every musician develops his or her own musical material based on the Son-Icon.

“Interaction-Notation enables musical encounters at eye level, the use of various artistic resources, precise interplay without cultural barriers.”

The Interaction-Notation is a structuring method. An interface combines conventional western notation, Son-Icons, graphic notations, movement symbols, or plays live recordings. This creates the framework condition for musicians with different cultural or interdisciplinary backgrounds to interact with each other.

Charlotte Hug, Son-Icon ©Alberto Venzago

How do you work as a conductor in intermedial settings with larger ensembles?
I see myself as a giant ear. I create an ambiance and a state of trust and acceptance, so that courageous things can happen. If routine creeps in, I stimulate awareness through the unexpected.

The new Son-Icons CD features intermedial compositions. How can this connection between visuals and sound translate to a “sound-only” medium like the CD?
An intermedial performance on stage is a celebration, an immersive sensual experience one can dive into, a state of aggregation. But Son-Icons do also work in exhibitions as “visual music” without sound. They awaken inner music.

Charlotte Hug, Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble, Lucas Niggli ©MAMM 2018 

On the other hand, as recordings don’t carry any visual impulses, the music awakens the listener’s inner images. The advantage of a CD is that you can take it with you, listen to it on your own, play it again, immerse into it more than just once.

“Music and Son-Icons are self-sufficient – they act as different states of aggregation.”

Tell us about your upcoming projects, do you have a dream project?
In my solo work I am mainly researching with live electronics, particularly focusing on the alchemy and connections between analog, digital and the body.

On the other hand, there is this coming together of Son-Icons with scenic-intermedial elements as well as dynamic musical dramaturgy   have in mind – perhaps some kind of “commedia dell’ascolto intermediale interculturale”…Interview Gabrielle Weber

CDs:
Fulguratio Duo Niggli-Hug, Label: Sluchaj
Son-Icon Musik von Hug für Chor und Orchester (Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, via nova Chor München), Label: Sluchaj
-CD Vulcan, Stellari String Quartet, Wachsmann, Hug, Mattos, Edwards Label: Emanem
-Doppel-CD Twenty years on London Improvisers Orchestra 

London Improvisers Orchestra, Via Nova Chor München

Broadcasts SRF:
Swisscorner, Musikmagazin, Annelis Berger zu CD Fulguratio, 27.4.19
Die grosse Nachtmusik, Passage, 9.12.11 

neo-profilesCharlotte Hug, Lucas Niggli, Lucerne Festival Academy, Lucerne Festival

Ensemble Contrechamps Geneva – Experimentation and legacy

Interview with Serge Vuille, Artistic Director Ensemble Contrechamps Geneva

Serge Vuille

Gabrielle Weber
After
spending ten years in London, Serge Vuille, percussionist and former director of the contemporary music ensemble WeSpoke, is back in his native Romandie (French-speaking part of Switzerland), where he has taken over the artistic direction of the ensemble Contrechamps”. In this interview, he tells us about the ensemble’s positioning within the contemporary music scene and the first concert season under his direction (starting in September 2019)  

Serge Vuille, as a young musician-percussionist and programmer, your background is rather experimental. Now you’re leading the most important as well as steeped in tradition ensemble of this part of Switzerland. What is your position regarding the ensemble’s tradition and history?
Contrechamps40-years strong history is a legacy I consider to be very important.
The historical side of a contemporary ensemble consists in regularly playing and fostering important masterpieces of the repertoire, which is crucial. On the other hand, the ensemble’s take on creation, research and experimentation is a critical aspect too. I enjoy combining and linking these two angles in my programmes.

Contrechamps being an instrumental ensemble in the traditional sense, how do you position yourselves in relation to the interdisciplinary and multimedia trends?
This is a key point within the regular activity of an ensemble like Contrechamps: What place do acoustic instruments occupy within the scope of 21st century sound and music experimentation? I’ve noticed that there is still great fascination for such things as instrumental music, the concept of virtuosity and even simply acoustic sound.

“There is something that remains absolutely magical about sitting in a silent room and hearing the sound of an instrument.”

It is important to find a balance between the repertoire, which is part of the history and DNA of the ensemble and innovative solutions in order to create instrumental or hybrid music, in a musical landscape that went through major revolutions over the past ten years. For this upcoming season, we will not only invite classical composers, but also artists and dancers approaching the concept of composition.

Concert, Maryanne Amacher, Geneva, May 7, 2019, Ensemble Contrechamps

In this current season, you have scheduled two concerts that will be linked with two of the main aspects of your work during the past few years: the collaborative space between visual arts and instrumental music…
The first one is called Sculptures sonore (Sound Sculpture), for which I invited the sound sculptress Rebecca Glover. The musicians find different placements around the audience during the concert, while Rebecca interacts with her electronic instruments. The programme also included works by Rebecca Saunders, Alvin Lucier and Paula Matthusen.

Rebecca Saunders, Concert Sculptures sonores, Genève 1.11.2018 ©Contrechamps 

The second concert featured Marianne Ammacher, an American composer working with sound perception and the physiological awareness of listening, with a significant part of electronics, in a unique combination with the instruments.

“If I had to name the things I like best in a programme, those would be the kind of creations that are highly risk-taking and focused on experimentation, but still framed in  contemporary music’s  historical context and relating to its  canon.

One thing that is clearly noticeable when looking at your programmes, is your commitment towards gender balance. 

Gender balance is more of a general, societal issue, not specifically related to contemporary music. Arts must also act as role model in society. Finding balance, however, requires a target-oriented approach. Being convinced by my research’s findings, I believe that the quality of my programme is achieved through this balance.

You are particularly interested in the social aspect of the concert, the ritual that comes with it…
The social side of artistic approach is constantly neglected in the contemporary music world. We have to find formats that encourage daring contents while allowing spontaneous exchanges. My experience as curator of the Kammerklang series at the “Café Otto” in London has proved that it is possible to create a relaxed atmosphere, whilst keeping the necessary focus. But one must pay attention to it. 

Concert Sculptures sonores, Genève 1.11.2018 ©Samuel Rubio

What can we expect from the upcoming season?
The season is called résonance par sympathie (sympathetic resonance), a physical process through which instruments placed close to a sound source begin to resonate even if they are not being touched. In Geneva, I was able to meet with many partners and I could feel this kind of resonances taking place and starting to vibrate. A major part of the season is based on this concept.

There will be twelve concerts, many creations and a lot of experimentation, for example an opera by Mathieu Shlomowitz, in collaboration with the Grand Théâtre de Genève. 
As for the compositions, we invited Christine Sun Kim, a deaf-mute visual artist, the electronic musician Thomas Ankersmit, Geneva composer Jacques Demierre, Canadian Chiyoko Szlavnics, the Geneva-based Punk-Rock band Massicot and many more. For three concerts the ensemble Counterchamps has been invited to the “Gare du Nord” in Basel.  

The season will start with a pre-opening, on August 25th, at six in the morning at Les Bains des Pâquis with Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps; at sunrise, by the lake, outdoors, in a truly magical atmosphere….

Any wishes left for the Ensemble?
My wish is to present the scene in all its diversity and richness, paying attention to the balance between past, present and future, between genres and formats, as well as between the artists and the public. 

Interview Gabrielle Weber

Ensemble Contrechamps: concert ouverture saison: Messiaen, Quatuor pour la fin du temps, 25 août 2019, 6h, Bains des Pâquis

Emission SRF:
9.10.2019, 20h: “Musik unserer Zeit”

neo-profiles:
Contrechamps, WeSpoke

 

 

Out of the box

Interview with Oscar Bianchi, Artistic Director of the International Young Composers Academy at “Ticino Musica” Festival.

Out of the box: Bianchi@Musica viva, Munich, May 2018 © Astrid Ackermann

Gabrielle Weber
Classical compositions combined with trans-disciplinary formats as well as Dance build the cornerstones of the third International Young Composers Academy within the scope of the “Ticino Musica” festival, while Dmitri Kourliandski and the Ensemble Modern Frankfurt provide for international appeal.
In this interview, Oscar Bianchi talks about some defining aspects of the Composers Academy.

Oscar, three years ago you took over the artistic direction of the International Young Composers Academy from its founder, Mathias Steinauer – tell us about the innovations you introduced?
Since 2018 we have been inviting an established contemporary music ensemble. In addition, each year the focus will be on a different format. This year we will host the Ensemble Modern Frankfurt.

How did the collaboration with Ensemble Modern come about and what is this year’s format?
I already know the ensemble’s energy and commitment from previous collaborations, for example the project Connect in Frankfurt 2016, that was focusing on the interaction between composer, ensemble and audience.

“Personal experience is my filter to bring aboard the right partners.”

The ensemble’s members have a clear musical vision combined with stylistic openness, but most important they are curious regarding young composers’ works and research.

Two categories have been considered for the competition: instrumental works and multidisciplinary projects. There will be two corresponding concerts and we received over 100 applications. Together with Olga Neuwirth, head of the jury, 14 composers from all over the world… Taiwan, Iran, South and North America, Europe or South Africa have been selected and thanks to our collaboration with the “TicinoInDanza“ festival they will get the opportunity to work with dancers and choreographers. These kind of experiences and encounters lead to new perspectives.

“It is important for composers to think “out of the box”.”

14 composers are quite a few. Can you tell us more about workflow and collaborations?
(laughs) Not to mention ten further passive observers…
We explicitly focus on working as a group, which benefits both the music and the exchange of ideas and experiences. Elitist, competitive thinking, in order to elect a winner is not our goal.

“The key concept is “collective project”. Group over elite.”

There will be various conferences and lectures, from which everyone can profit, i.e. with Dmitri Kourliandski and other guests like Katharina Rosenberger or Michael Wertmüller.
Nevertheless, a particularly good composition sticks in one’s mind, goes without saying.

Ensemble Modern &Oscar Bianchi ©Walter Vorjohann

What kind of venues did you pick for these two different concert formats?
The “classical” contemporary Concert is going to be held in the LAC’s (Lugano Arte e Cultura) “foyer”, a venue conceived for various artistic activities as well as crossroad for locals and tourists to meet, whereas the multidisciplinary concert will take place in Mendrisio’s “Chiostro dei Serviti”, an outdoor courtyard.

Couldn’t this choice of a courtyard performance in Mendrisio turn out to be risky? The contemporary music community in Ticino is rather small.
The concert is scheduled to be part of the “Musica nel Mendrisiotto” festival, a recurring event that can rely on an interested and already established public, furthermore its visual components, as well as interactions with other art forms make it suitable for a broader audience.

“The contemporary music scene on a level playing field. That would be my dream.”

Concert Int. Composers Academy 2018, Mendrisio Museo Vela ©Ticino Musica

Do you have other plans and visions for the Composers Academy – where do you see further development potential?
Thanks to the support of the “Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne”, we have been able to invite a top ensemble and award scholarships. My vision would be to make the Academy available free of charge, including travel and accommodation, so that participation would be open to all. Contemporary Music is part of a restrictive system that can lead to exclusion. I’m determined to stop this kind of discrimination.
Interview Gabrielle Weber

Festival Ticino musica, Concerts:
27 Luglio 2019, 18:00, Ticino Musica, Mendriso, Chiostro dei Serviti
28 Luglio 2019,  21:00, Ticino Musica, Lugano, LAC

Synergies: Musica nel Mendrisiotto, TicinoInDanza

neo-profilesOscar BianchiEnsemble Modern, Ticino Musica, Mathias Steinauer, Katharina Rosenberger