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

Wien Modern playing with no audience

17 new streaming productions during lockdown: 6.-29.11.20

Gabrielle Weber
The city of Vienna is going through troubled times. Hit hard by the pandemic and declared quarantine region at an early stage, then locked down at short notice during the month of November. Not to mention the outrageous terrorist attack. The unique Wien Modern music festival happens to be, both in terms of time and geography, in the midst of it, as it’s usually staged in various locations of the city centre throughout the month.

Konzerthaus Wien without public ©Markus Sepperer 

Under the slogan Stimmung (‘mood’ as well as ‘tuning’), the festival traces the current 2020 mood in complex and diverse ways. 44 new productions and 85 new pieces should have been performed, over 32 days, but only the opening weekend could take place in front of an audience, showing six productions, a mere 14% of the total programme.

On the third (as well as second-last) evening, the premiere of Edu Haubensak’s “Grosse Stimmung” could be presented. Wien Modern spared no effort and – almost in anticipation of what was to come – the Wiener Konzerthaus’ auditorium was emptied for eleven differently tuned grand pianos. The audience was, of course, still present – but in the stands only.

This allowed Haubensak’s work to be experienced live and in its integrity for the first time. After partial performances, the planned integral premiere at the Ruhrtriennale had to be cancelled in summer due to the pandemic. Despite quarantine, the three Swiss pianists Simone Keller, Tomas Bächli and Stefan Wirth were there to perform.

Edu Haubensak, Grosse Stimmung © Markus Sepperer

Then came the lockdown with its banned events and curfew. The quick decision in response was that a total of 24 events, i.e. more than half of the concerts, will now be performed without an audience and streamed free of charge.

Five days only after the lockdown was declared, the first streaming concert took place in front of an empty Musikverein hall on the 6th of November: the world premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s long-awaited new orchestral work “Der Zorn Gottes” performed by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO) and directed by Oksana Lyniv. The planned premiere at the Salzburg Easter Festival with the Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann had already been cancelled after several postponements.

The fact that it eventually premiered online is of significant importance given the situation as well as the terror that Vienna had to endure. Gubaidulina sees the performance as a sign of peace in times of increasing hatred and “a general overstrain affecting civilisation”.

Klaus Lang: tönendes Licht

Livestream from Stephansdom Wien: Klaus Lang, tönendes Licht, world creation 19.11.20

Other important highlights are a concert with three world premieres on November 18, in the Vienna Konzerthaus. In addition to new works by Friedrich Cerha and Johannes Kalitze, a piece by Matthias Kranebitter, winner of the Erste Bank Composition Prize, will be premiered – “a new encyclopaedia of pitch and deviation”. Performed by Klangforum Wien and directed by Kalitzke himself. On November 19, live from Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the premiere of  the “giant organ concerto” (cit. Wien Modern) “tönendes licht” by Klaus Lang, for a space wise dispersed Vienna Symphony Orchestra, directed by Peter Rundel.

20 years Ensemble Mondrian – Anniversary concert in Vienna:
This production has unfortunately been postponed to 2021, due to Swiss quarantine regulation guidelines.

Portrait Mondrian Ensemble & Thomas Wally © Markus Sepperer

There is also something to be heard from the Swiss side: On November 21, the Mondrian Ensemble will mark its 20th anniversary by presenting works by Martin Jaggi and Thomas Wally, both long-time collaborators of the Basel based ensemble.


Ensemble Mondrian, Thomas Wally, Podcast

Premieres of Andres Bosshard with Zahra Mani and Mia Zabelka, however, had to be postponed to November 2021. Same for Basel ensemble Nikel’s concert with works by Thomas Kessler and Hugues Dufourt.

Bernhard Günther, artistic director of Wien Modern, made the following statement in a in-depth reflection on the lockdown and the cultural mood in Austria: “The current mood here indicates that clear signals are urgently needed to prevent culture from being perceived as a victim of the health system, winter tourism in the mountains and Christmas shopping. A captain must of course try and avoid the iceberg, but at the moment he must also do everything he can to prevent the ship from sinking on the opposite side”.

Through streaming, Wien Modern now tries to maintain Vienna’s cultural life and make part of it accessible. Perhaps – to stick with the festival’s motto – the actual mood can be somewhat improved, even if this doesn’t diminish the life threatening situation that cultural production is currently facing.

To express our solidarity, SRF 2 Kultur and neo.mx3, are pleased to inform their public, users and listeners regarding the different streaming possibilities and details.
Gabrielle Weber

Portrait Bernhard Günther © Wien Modern

All streams on: Wien Modern or (partially) on Musikverein and ORF RSO 

Broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur

Kultur kompakt Podcast9.11.20: Theresa Beyer, “Der Zorn Gottes” entlädt sich im Stream zur UA Wien Modern, Sofia Gubaidulina:

Neoblog, Corinne Holtz: Wenn aus Leidenschaft Subversion wird – Portrait Simone Keller

Kontext, 21.10.20, Corinne Holtz: Zehn neu gestimmte Klaviere

In Musik unserer Zeit21.10.20: Florian Hauser / Gabrielle Weber:  zu neo.mx3: Simone Keller & Edu Haubensak

Neo-profiles
Simone Keller, Stefan Wirth, Wien Modern, Edu Haubensak, Mondrian Ensemble, Martin Jaggi, Thomas Kessler

When passion turns into subversion

A portrait of Simone Keller – pianist, curator, music mediator @ Festival Wien Modern & Edu Haubensak: Grosse Stimmung 31.10.20
by Corinne Holtz

2020 begins with tightly scheduled concerts. For Laptop4, an instrumental play by Lara Stanić, Kukuruz Quartet also used a camera and a microphone, while for Ensemble Tzara and world premieres by Patrick Frank and Trond Reinholdtsen, Simone Keller is featured at the piano. On March 12th, the day before the lockdown is announced, she and the thélème choir present a whimsical programme of vocal music ranging from Guillaume de Machaut to Francis Poulenc.

Portrait Simone Keller © Lothar Opilik

Then the lights go out… the premiere of Grosse Stimmung by Edu Habensak for differently tuned pianos is also affected. The Ruhrtriennale is cancelled, but the Wien Modern festival is scheduled for the end of October. The parquet chairs in the great hall of the Vienna Konzerthaus have to be moved apart, in order to create space for a total of ten differently tuned concert pianos.

Simone Keller, Samuel Bächli and Stefan Wirth are determined to play the cycle, which lasts over three hours, on October 31st. The finale is a newly commissioned tutti, featuring students of the University of Music and Performing Arts.

“Yes, we will go to Vienna, unless there is really a travel ban on entry. We would also accept the quarantine. I played at the Wiener Festwochen in early September. The organisers were extremely careful regarding rules and measures, so that the performances could take place”.

A woman’s advice: “show less emotions and discuss your hairstyle with a man beforehand…”

Simone Keller is also candid when it comes to the financial consequences of the pandemic. She has been able to cover 80% of the work losses in recent months, thanks to government support measures. The new Covid law, which became effective in September, guarantees compensation for work loss until June 2021, but only to those who can prove a loss of at least 55% compared to 2015-2019. “This is of course ridiculous when, like me, one earns some 40’000 francs a year… which means you can barely get by even at 100%”.

Simone Keller in Lara Stanic, Fantasia for Piano-Solo and electronics, 2020

The crisis is existential. Are women harder hit than men? “As a freelance artist, I am at the bottom of the food chain anyway, where it’s probably not a gender-based classification anymore.” Things are different when women stand on a stage and send signals that the audience evaluates. “An advice given to me by a woman in a high management position was eye-opening to me. She advised to show less emotions when making music and to always discuss my hairstyle with a man. She herself would always ask her husband what he thought of her appearance before an important meeting”. Since then, Simone Keller has also been taking a closer look at “sexism among women”.

Simone Keller plays Julia Amanda Perry © Wiener Festwochen 2020 reframed

“turning the impossible into possible “

She explores herself by revealing little-known repertoire as well as daring refreshing forms of programming, for example in the context of the carte blanche granted to her by Zurich’s Moods Jazz Club. “Turning the impossible into possible”, says the pianist and curator on the sold-out opening night of the ‘Breaking Boundaries’ festival. Her driving force seems to be passion and subversion at once, carried by the flame of finally being able to play in front of an audience again.

Simone Keller selected three venues for the three programme elements: four concert pianos, each in its own mood for a cross-section of Edu Haubensak’s piano cycle Grosse Stimmung, six pianos for music by Julius Eastman – interpreted with three refugees as fellow musicians – and Moods’ grand piano the for the improvisation by Vera Kappeler with Peter Conradin Zumthor on percussion. “The effort was enormous, we must thank piano manufacturer Urs Bachmann and his team for the commitment, without them it wouldn’t have happened”.

An invitation to listen to colours – a single key becoming a microcluster.

Simone Keller sparks when she gets going. Every tone gets the exact amount of energy it needs and is precisely placed in space and time, shaped by pianistic subtlety. Patterns become comprehensible phrases. Shock moments are as deeply developed as lyrical gestures. The extremely physical music of Haubensak becomes vivid. Haubensak describes the resulting sounds as “noise cubes”: they literally jump at the listener. The whirring of the overlapping vibrations in Collection II, releases colours never heard before. The ear is in the eye of the storm. Haubensak has created his own mixed mood for the scordatura of Collection II, which gives each position on the piano a special character. If all three strings (or tones) of a key are tuned differently, the horizon widens. A single key becoming a microcluster. The piano becomes unbounded when all 241 strings are tuned differently. And the attack on the sovereign instrument becomes an invitation to listen to colours.


Simone Keller plays Edu Haubensak Pur, for piano in Skordatur (2004/05, rev. 2012)

Simone Keller formulates “bold wishes” beyond art: social security for artists, basic granted income with personal responsibility for risk, integrating outsiders into cultural practice. There will be a lot on the plate there, because the crisis has only just begun. The pianist has been leading the artists’ collective ‘ox+öl’ together with director Philipp Bartels since 2014. It runs composition and improvisation workshops for and with children with a migration background and organizing participative concerts with violent juvenile criminals in prison.

Simone Keller is preparing for the uncertain future. This summer, she embarked on another area: an “intensive education programme in sign language, triggered by a music theatre project with deaf people”. Perhaps she will do an apprenticeship and become a sign language interpreter, “a very sought-after profession”. Another possibility she talks about is increasing her socio-cultural work in prison as well as in the refugees sector and play less concerts.”
Corinne Holtz

Portrait Simone Keller

Festival Wien Modern, Edu Haubensak: Grosse Stimmung, 31.10.20

Simone Keller, Wien Modernox&öl – Breaking Boundaries Festival, Philipp Bartels, Edu Haubensak, Tomas Bächli, Stefan Wirth, Ensemble Tzara, Lara Stanic, Patrick Frank, Ensemble thélème, Duo Kappeler Zumthor, Urs Bachmann, Trond ReinholdtsenMoods Club, Kukuruz Quartett

broadcasts SRF 2 Kultur:
Kontext, Mittwoch, 21.10.20, 17:58h: Künste im Gespräch, Redaktion Corinne Holtz

in: Musik unserer Zeit, Mittwoch, 21.10.20., 20h: Redaktion Florian Hauser / Roman Hošek / Gabrielle Weber: Sc’ööf! & neo.mx3

neo-Profiles:
Simone KellerEdu Haubensak, Lara Stanic, Stefan Wirth, Ensemble Tzara, Patrick Frank, Peter Conradin Zumthor, ox&öl, Kukuruz Quartett, Trio Retro Disco

texts:
Thomas Meyer: Edu Haubensak – Das wohlverstimmte Klavier, in: Schweizer Musikzeitung, Nr. 11, November 2011
Edu Haubensak: von früher…von später. Im Dickicht der Mikroharmonien, in: MusikTexte 166, August 2020
Pauline Oliveros: Breaking Boundaries

“Art is a social activity”

Interview with Antoine Chessex @ Swiss Music Prize 2020_1

The mystery is revealed: this year’s Swiss Grand Prix Musique goes to Erika Stucky, singer, musician and performer of the new folk genre.

There are 14 other prizewinners, several of which in the broad genre of contemporary and experimental music.

Neo-Blog will portray them in loose succession, starting with Antoine Chessex, saxophonist, composer, sound artist and sound theorist.

Portrait Antoine Chessex ©Pierre Chinellato

Antoine Chessex was born in Vevey in 1980. After residencies in New York, London and Berlin, he now lives in Zurich and is considered one of the most innovative young musicians in Switzerland. Chessex is not afraid of genre boundaries and moves fluently between composed and improvised music, noise and sound art. In addition, he is an internationally active author, lecturer and curator and raises awareness regarding socio-political issues such as inequality or precariousness in the artistic creation realm.

In this interview he talks with Gabrielle Weber about sound and hearing.

Congratulations on being awarded first of all! Were you surprised?

I am very happy thanks and I was a bit surprised I admit. Especially since my work is rather on the edge of the commercial music scene and cannot be assigned to any genre.

What does this award mean to you?

The prize is a sign of recognition that my professional practice, which has now been going on for twenty years, is being acknowledged. I was not trained in an institution, but in real life and through practice. Receiving the prize as an individual artist, however, is kind of ambivalent though, as my music mainly develops in a collective practice and there are often several people involved.


Antoine Chessex / Eklekto: écho/cide, Ausschnitt

Does the price have a special meaning in these peculiar times of corona pandemic? The topic of precariousness in music creation is central to many and you draw attention to it in your magazine “Multiple”…

The current situation shows how fragile and precarious the whole system is for many freelance artists in Switzerland. Many musicians are professionally forced to live in a state of improvisation. They only make ends meet by combining different (cultural) works. If one element is missing or gets lost, the whole situation quickly collapses. The complexity of the matter is also due to the fact that artists need a lot of time to experiment and research and to always be “productive” therefore becomes problematic. In my opinion, art is not a service, but rather a social activity, so the real question today is under what circumstances art and music creation as a profession can still exist.

 “It’s like sonic fiction, letting imagination unfold”

You question the romanticised sound image of nature in music. Some of your works have been compared to ” primal elemental forces “, like earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions.

My music perhaps represents nature more metaphorically, as I whish to deconstruct clichés portraying nature as just beautiful, calm and harmonious. Nature is also chaotic, violent and loud. In works like “The experience of limit” the piano sounds like a storm at sea. It’s like sonic fiction, letting imagination unfold. I’m tonally interested in phenomena like seismic activities, tornadoes, snow avalanches or heavy rainfall for instance.


Antoine Chessex / Tamriko Kordzaia, The experience of limit

You associate sound and hearing with power and plead for critical listening: What is it all about?

Music is culturally constructed and embedded in various historical traditions. Basically, however, I am mostly concerned with the relationship between sound and hearing. Hearing is never neutral, but always situated. There are complex mechanisms at play and it is about power relations: The tradition of the European avant-garde, for example, excluded many voices. It takes debate to uncover the boundaries of the audible and the term “critical listening” invites us to listen and question power relations as well as social dimensions.

Music scenes and institutions often operate homogeneously, while reality is highly heterogeneous.

Your works live between improvised and written music, noise and sound art – without any fear of contact between musical genres: how does this work in the practice of the institutions?

When it comes to sound and hearing, music genres become obsolete, although cultural institutions are usually organized according to them. In the independent scene, music functions differently than in the institutional contemporary framework and sound art requires different spaces. Music scenes and institutions often operate homogeneously, while reality is highly heterogeneous. The more artists move between the different scenes, the more structural changes can take place.

You are not “only” a composer and musician, but also active as curator, e.g. for the “Textures” festival at legendary Café OTO in London. Do your composing and curating activities influence each other?

Curating is mainly about other artists and bringing people together. Composing, curating, but also improvising and artistic research are connected in many ways and represent different aspects of my practice.

Portrait Antoine Chessex @Londres © A.Lukoszevieze

A new composition by Antoine Chessex will be premiered at Festival Label Suisse in September, interpreted by Simone Keller on church organ and Dominik Blum on Hammond organ.
Interview: Gabrielle Weber

Antoine Chessex / Schweizer Kulturpreise BAK / Festival Label Suisse / Café OTO London

Broadcasts SRG: RSI/NEO, Redaktion Valentina Bensi, 28.7.20, 20h: incontro con Antoine Chessex

neo-profiles: Antoine Chessex, Swiss Music Prize, Simone Keller, Dominik Blum, Tamriko Kordzaia, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center