artist: / berweck / gloger / maierhof / marcoll / rona / schüttler / seidl
titel: Various Artists 2009 (compilation)
cover art: Claudio Pfeifer & Stephane Leonard format: CD
general: naivsuper NASU 015
aufgenommen vom 23.-25.02.2009 im Sendesaal des Hessischen Rundfunks, Frankfurt a.M.
Produzent: Stefan Fricke
Tonmeister: Christoph Claßen
Toningenieur: Thomas Eschler
Gemischt von Christoph Claßen
»Samstag Morgen - Berlin Neukölln. Studie. Und Selbstportrait. Mit Hirsch.« gemischt von Christoph Claßen und Maximilian Marcoll
»Box« gemischt von Christoph Claßen und Hannes Seidl
Produziert von in Koproduktion mit dem Hessischen Rundfunk
Veröffentlicht auf naivsuper
p + c 2009 naivsuper &
all rights reserved

1. Martin Schüttler »schöner leben 1 (music for K. C.)« für Countertenor mit E-Piano, Megaphon, Verstärkungen, Zuspielungen, Maske & Pistole (2008) / Daniel Gloger: Countertenor / 10:32 min
2. Michael Maierhof »splitting 15« für Viola und Zuspielung (2006) / Jessica Rona: Viola / 11:25 min
3. Maximilian Marcoll »Samstag Morgen - Berlin Neukölln. Studie. Und Selbstportrait. Mit Hirsch.« / für Klavier und Zuspielungen (2007) / Sebastian Berweck: Klavier, Zuspielungen / 12:26 min
4. Martin Schüttler »schöner leben 5 (>Nix verstehen ist besser als gar nichts.< - M.K.)« / für präparierte Viola mit Verstärkungen und Zuspielung (2007/2008) / Jessica Rona: Viola / 8:42 min
5. Michael Maierhof »daily songs 2« / für Stimme, Flügel und mitschwingende Systeme (2008) / Daniel Gloger: Countertenor
Sebastian Berweck: Flügel / 7:31 min
6. Hannes Seidl »Box« / für Viola, Countertenor, Geräuschemacher und Elektronik (2008) / Jessica Rona: Viola / Daniel Gloger: Countertenor / Sebastian Berweck: Geräuschemacher / 14:38 min

A work unfettered by compromise or concession - Martin Schüttler sees these as the ideal prerequisites for his compositional activity and thus criticizes the kind of extrinsic determination that is increasingly being regarded as unavoidable. The autonomy of the aesthetic process is subjugated to pragmatic stipulations: who will be the interpreters? Where will the performance take place? What is expected? - in the end, the composer finds himself in a web of demands and conventions that, to a considerable degree, marginalize the fact that his artistic activity is intended to do more than merely satisfy a service industry. His cycle schöner leben, which has occupied him since 2004, is intended as a counter-model which emphasizes the self-determination of the composer: »The pieces come about because I want to write them, and because they appeal to performers whose work I value and with whom I wish to collaborate.« Thus schöner leben 1 is a musical scene for a countertenor, whom Schüttler has imbued with the aura of a droll cabaret-style entertainer. He accompanies himself on an electric piano and fumbles with a megaphone. The subtitle of the piece »music for K. C.« - makes reference to the chosen text, which consists of freely combined fragments from an interview with Kurt Cobain, one-time front man of the grunge band Nirvana, who committed suicide in 1994.

As for their sonic qualities,the pieces of the series schöner leben emphatically deny that which Peter Ablinger once called the »integrity of outer appearances.« Martin Schüttler refuses to demonstrate craftsmanship and instead counts on the immediacy of simple, profane, and occasionally clichéd materials. Onesuch »trivial« material also forms the basis of Schüttlers composition schöner leben 5 (2007), which bears a quote from Martin Kippenberger as its subtitle: »Nix verstehen ist besser als gar nichts (Understanding zilch is better than nothing)«. Schüttler identifies the work as a »study on the by-products of media«. The viola part and the accompanying recorded material are derived from MIDI files of mobile phone ringtones which are themselves based on mainstream pop standards. The individual tracks of the files are separated and individually fragmented; an additional degree of alienation is attained through preparations of the viola as well as an extremely slow tempo.
Michael Maierhof is similarly concerned with »keeping the composer anchored in reality.« In his music he attempts to distance himself from the »self-imposed rules« mentality into which contemporary music has increasingly withdrawn. Instead he re-defines the task of the composer as one of exploring acoustic experiences within an aesthetic framework, while simultaneously developing the formal processes appropriate to such a »transference«. Thus Maierhof´s conception calls for a drastic expansion of the material disposition of contemporary music. It doesnt matter »whether the composer borrows his material from canonical sources, or whether he is dealing with pop music or even the acoustic protocol of a refrigerator springing to life.« Despite this fealty to everyday reality, however, Maierhof in no sense intends his music as a mere illustration, in the sense of »transplantation« of day-to-day sounds onto the concert stage. Rather, the analysis of these particular sound qualities is only a point of departure for an explicitly musical approach.
In splitting 15 Maierhof focusses on the complex internal structures of one everyday sound and one instrumental sound; the sounds of a bottle-filling machine are confronted by the sub-tone sounds of a prepared viola. Maierhof avoids bringing these sounds into dialogue, however: any sense of interaction, in the sense of a gradual transformation from one sonic state to another, is strictly excluded. The sounds thus attain the status of objects, whose individuality is presented without mediation - instead of narrative structures Maierhof relies on a discontinuous, silence-ridden exposition: »In this framework the sounds refer back to themselves and thus draw attention to their own complexity.«

In daily songs 2 it is everyday objects that are themselves transformed into sound producers and filters. The singer works with a kind of »analog Vocoder« in the form of a plastic cup filled with glass marbles, which modifies the sound of the voice to varying degrees - from mild interference effects to maximal sympathetic resonance. The grand piano is also played with a peculiar kind of resonator: the lowest string is equipped with a nylon string extension, which itself is attached to a plastic cup; this preparation is then made to resonate using a moist sponge. Instead of the isolated demonstration of a sound, as in splitting 15, Maierhof here deals with the complexity of combined sound objects, but without giving up the sense of concentration upon a reduced material.

Similarly, for Maximilian Marcoll, the principal appeal of composition is the opportunity it provides to communicate with his acoustic surroundings and to incorporate everyday noises into the artwork. That a composer can offer new aesthetic concepts for experiencing everyday reality seems to perpetually be regarded as a deviant notion. Marcoll, however, regards precisely this deficit as a challenge, which brings with it a new - or more precisely, a less mystical - conception of the activity of »composition«. Composition is - just like any other form of artistic production - primarily a type of labor, and is only rarely characterized by moments of brilliant inspiration. In his work Samstag Morgen - Berlin Neukölln. Studie. Und Selbstportrait. Mit Hirsch. (2007), the point of departure is a recording from the courtyard of his apartment building. Birds are heard chirping - albeit not as a chorus in the classic sense; more as isolated sounds. The recording was then digitally manipulated: the sounds were dissolved from their background, the ambient noise eradicated, the focus sharpened. The suppressed environmental sounds are replaced by another layer: a recording of the composer in his studio, at work on the piece itself. This recording grounds the entire course of the piece; it forms a basis for everything else that takes place. On this foundation the two sound-producers assume their positions: the playback with manipulated bird recordings as well as a piano, which plays transcriptions of this material. Maximilian Marcoll´s piece takes the difference between original and transcription, between an object and its imitation, as its theme. Although bird voices, i.e., »nature sounds« are the point of departure for the piece, the actual material of the piece is only attained through what Marcoll calls »artification« - in this case through electronic defamiliarization. Conversely, the piano sound undergoes no such process, yet it plays nothing more than transcriptions of the bird artifacts. The resulting music demonstrates the crosscutting, similarity, and interchangeability of its component parts, and on no level distinguishes between noble and ignoble, essential and expendable materials.

»Aesthetic empiricism«, the presentation of an object for the sake of creating an experience. This is an apt, if pointed, description of the intent of Hannes Seidl´s compositional work. He contemplates the function of music and the way in which it is perceived, coining the term »strategies against hearing« to describe his purposeful disruptions of an effortless, incidental perception, which in its manner of operation absorbs music as a commodity. In Seidl´s interpretation, functional music is not so much a genre as a kind of listening - the perception of music as a stimulus, a soundtrack, the perfunctory accompaniment for particular situations, which flattens complex sonic events into a comfortable, comprehensible structure. For Seidl, finding »strategies against listening« means developing methods, through which art music engages critically with functional music.
Seidl describes the composition Box (2008) as a superimposition on the composition Gegenkontrolle (2004), for four-channel electronics and percussion. The older piece takes the notion of »letting fall«, which is suggested by music as a consumer product, as its theme: Seidl claims that »the employment of functional music is intended to bring about a trance-like state. It invites us to let ourselves fall; the room is inundated with sound, becomes transformed, consecrated.« In Gegenkontrolle, a much more literal meaning of the term »letting fall« is juxtaposed: objects are noisily dropped to the floor, an action in which Seidl identifies a »real-izing effect« in relation to the spaces in which the actions take place. In opposition to the previously described »consecration«, the space is instead profaned and its real acoustic characteristics are showcased.
In Box, an additional layer is superimposed upon the space established in Gegenkontrolle. »The formless sound of the falling object,« Seidl says, »stands in opposition to the sustained tones of the viola and countertenor. Also, these various layers correlate with different spaces: the various reverb levels of the electronics, the very close sounds of tongue clicks, a little further away the sustained sounds of viola and countertenor, and finally the noise-maker who performs his part in an »adjoining room.« These spaces are in turn mixed with the environment wherein the recording is presented. The ambient sound does not disrupt the piece, but rather constitutes a further layer of it.

text: Michael Rebhahn
translation: Philipp Blume


The Watchful Ear

Which brings me neatly to the disc, where grit, resistance, dirt and ugliness are all very much present. is a loose collective of composers and performers, mainly German, who´ve been around since 2002, though their new disc on the naivsuper label was the first time I had come across them.  In some ways they are like the punk wing of Neue Musik, using a deliberately provocative choice of materials and sound sources.  Though they claim not to represent a school or a single ideology, much of their music is about challenging conventional notions of beauty as something sublime and otherworldly, thrusting the listener´s nose very much in the mess and superficiality of the everyday.  This determination to shock the establishment could be tiresome, but I have found the results on their new cd both challenging and engaging, and - tellingly - although there are parts that I don´t like, I have come back to their disc much more than to Carol Robinson´s Billows.

There are six tracks by four composers, all including some use of electronics, and performed by one or more of three interpreters from the collective: Sebastian Berweck (piano), Jessica Rona (viola) and Daniel Groger (countertenor).

The first track is from a series of compositions by Martin Schüttler, typically and provocatively entitled ´schöner leben´ (beautiful life).  On "schöner leben 1" the vocalist has been "imbued with the aura of a droll cabaret-style entertainer" and ´sings´ cut-up extracts from an interview with the Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain while fumbling with a megaphone and accompanying himself rather inexpertly on electric piano, alongside an accompanying electronics track.  At first I didn´t like this piece much, but after repeated listens I´ve grown bizarrely fond of it.  It´s certainly ugly in parts, but perversely this has become part of its attraction (do ´ugly´ sounds become ´beautiful´ when you find yourself enjoying them? - one of the questions that the consistently beautiful Billows never asks).  It could be seen as clever-clever, too capricious, or conceptual, or juvenile, but several listens in I simply like it.

The second track - ´splitting 15´ – is by Michael Maierhof (a composer who might be known to a few Watchful Ear readers through a cd of his compositions released on Werner Dafeldecker´s old Durian label, which contained four other pieces in his ´splitting´ series).   This is more conventional ´new music´ written for viola and an accompanying tape, itself possibly using sounds derived from the viola(?)   It´s an exploration / analysis of the viola and its physical sound-producing possibilities, very much in the tradition of Helmut Lachenmann´s ´musique concrète instrumentale´, and is powerful stuff in an abrasive way, largely using single sounds that start and end without any apparent structure.  Less challenging conceptually than some of the other pieces, but an excellent listen.

Next comes Maximilian Marcoll´s ´Samstag Morgen - Berlin Neukölln.  Studie, und Selsbtportrait. Mit Hirsch.  Für Klavier und Zuspielungen´.   The piece starts from a field recording that Marcoll made in the courtyard of the building where he lives.  Birdsong was prominent on the original recording, but rather than presenting it as such, Marcoll works on the sounds electronically, making the birdsong sound alien, and then superimposing a recording of himself going about his compositional activity (bumps, shuffles and all; this is the ´selfportrait´ element).  All of these sounds are then transcribed for piano, and the treated tapes are played back simultaneously with the piano´s performance of them.  So we end up a long way from a conventional field recording piece, and for me the result is much more interesting.  Again, a lot of it is far from beautiful, and - for better or worse – it probably works much better if you know the underlying processes behind the music, but it´s another track that has consistently grown on me, and is a fascinating way of making a music that is firmly grounded in the everyday.  The sleevenotes talk of "a new - or more precisely, less mystical - notion of composition which in no way distinguishes between noble and ignoble, essential and expendable materials."

The fourth track is another from Martin Schüttler´s ´Schöner Leben´ series.  He describes the piece as a "study of the by-products of media" - the medium in this instance being mobile phone ringtones. The viola part and midi-keyboard track are both based on transcriptions of mobile ring-tones, which are themselves taken from pop standards. The ringtones have been edited / chopped about and the viola sounds are further transformed through preparations, but the material remains in parts startlingly ugly. I could happily listen to the viola part on its own, but for me the piece as a whole remains challenging, pushing - as I´m sure it´s meant to – at my personal prejudices, at the boundaries of what I can accept / enjoy as ´music´.  I don´t resent its being there at all, but after numerous listens I still can´t say that I ´like´ it.

Next up is Daily Songs 2 - a second piece by Michael Maierhof - for voice, piano and tape, which is possibly my favourite on the disc.  As in Maierhof´s other piece, it has the sense of being a scientific analysis of the sonic possibilities of the given materials, but I find it really compelling music on an emotional level.  The countertenor sings through a plastic cup filled with marbles, giving his sounds a pseudo-electric transformation.  Similarly the piano is sounded only through rubbing a nylon string attached to the lowest string, which is itself attached to a plastic cup.  There is no structural development as such, but the basic sounds are great, and their juxtaposition works beautifully for me.

The final piece is by ´Box for viola, countertenor, noise-maker and electronics´ by Hannes Seidl.  It is a reworking of an earlier piece ´Gegenkontrolle´, which consists largely of the sounds of various objects being dropped on the floor.  Here this is the roll of the ´noise-maker´, who ´plays´ in a room adjacent to the countertenor and the violist.  The formlessness of the dropping sounds contrasts with the more conventional and sustained sounds of the viola and singer, as well as the (at times noisy) electronics in a really interesting way, and while always seeming on the point of falling apart, the whole piece holds together wonderfully.

It should be apparent by now that the disc comes from a totally different corner of contemporary music than Carol Robinson´s Billows, the two having underlying aesthetics that are diametrically opposed.  Both are well worth listening to, and together raise interesting questions about the place of beauty and ugliness in music, and of the relation between the everyday and the sublime.  I suppose a lot of people will like one but not the other, but I get something from both discs, and feel that together they define two of the opposing poles between which most of my music- listening takes place.  I´d recommend anyone into new / improvised music to give a listen to both and decide for themselves which they prefer. (Simon Reynell / feb 2010)

about contact mailing list imprint