Ιn December 2016 I got the news that the Performing Arts Fund NL granted me the subsidy Nieuwe Makers, becoming an artist in residence at the Gaudeamus Music Week in Utrecht, who is going to be my collaborator for the next two years. Gaudeamus is more than a new music festival; it is as well a network of composers, performers, makers and new music institutions across Europe and abroad.
My focus within this residency is music theatre. What is it for myself as a maker? What is it for the performers and for today’s audience? Am I going to end up trying out new forms of opera, sound theatre, staged concerts? My interest during the last few years has been to migrate from writing music to exploring the space between being both a composer and a stage director.
In this post I’ll be sharing impressions and notes from the festivals and the artists I’ll be visiting as part of the 2-year-long residency. Most recent texts will appear first.
Holland Festival takes place every year throughout the entire month of June, and it was, as expected, a month full of performances to watch and listen to. There is a very unique tradition in this festival of hosting a good amount of music theatre performances, something I really enjoy. But above all, I enjoy the fact that the audience can attend performances of important music/dance/theatre companies from all over the world.
As part of the Nieuwe Makers programme, I contacted the HF and managed to attend the few rehearsals of some of the festival’s productions. First performance to attend was Dimitris Papaioannou‘s Inside, which was presented as a video installation. Then Romeo Castellucci‘s new production Democracy in America, however without attending the rehearsals – same happened with The Nation (1-3) by Eric de Vroedt and the Nationale Theater. Then a production by Ensemble Musikfabrik in collaboration with Mouse on Mars. Interesting to be at the dress rehearsal and check the time needed for all the soundcheck. Later on I attended two rehearsals of Dmitri Kourliandski‘s new opera production in collaboration with the Stanislavksy Electrotheatre, quite a large production with many people on and behind stage, however he didn’t use any musical instruments – only voices and electronics. Then I jumped in to Dimitris Papaioannou’s new production The Great Tamer, of which I attended all preparations and both performances. Intense two weeks during which I got a lot to think about artistically, as well as on the practical side of things.
May was a very busy month project-wise, however, I managed to join a day of the FIBER Festival in Amsterdam. This year’s edition had the title PRIMA MATERIA, with a quite inspiring conference that mixed alchemy with today’s technologies. I find that when technology is blended with a spirituality (let’s say of any kind) or the essence of consciousness, the results are always interesting (even if uncanny). How do we (co-)exist in a technological world of our times – and even more the times to come -, while leaving behind the rational, square and hierarchical relationship between us and technology; a relation that was created back in the industrial era (the mind as a newtonian machine)?
Moving on with the residency, in March I had the chance to visit STRP biennale in Eindhoven and take advantage of a trip I made to Athens, to meet artists in whose work I’m interested and attend some of their rehearsals.
In Athens I was lucky enough to attend a concert by the Arditti Quartet that I had missed in Amsterdam during Sound Acts past January, playing the piece by Jennifer Walshe EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT. In this piece of hers the composer performs on stage together with the string quartet. The day after the concert Jennifer Walshe gave a lecture about her work, during which I felt very close to her ways of creating and composing pieces on stage. I have to contact her again in the near future.
Next came a coffee talk I had with one of Greece’s most interesting composers in the field of music for theatre. Dimitris Kamarotos has collaborated with most of Greece’s theatre directors, always being present throughout the entire process of making a theatre play. What I am interested in is the way he works together with a theatre director, in many cases applying compositional tools and strategies to the staging process.
My trip ended by attending a couple of rehearsals. The first was a rehearsal of the Divine Comedy, a theatre adaptation of Dante’s massive work by the theatre company Vasistas. The company is interested in the music of language and the physical presence on stage. I’ve been following their work for the last 5 years and I see a gradual transition towards more musical results, searching for a balance between a narrative and abstraction – something that bothers me as well. I guess it has to do with the presence of textual meaning and how to explore ways to work with it. The second rehearsal was the one of TITANES, a new production by theatre maker Euripides Laskarides. I’m very interested in his work, which combines physicality, movement, sound, set, costume and light design, putting everything together in a dialogue; contrasts, counterpoint, homophony, change of stage rhythm. Everything soldered under an ambivalent sense of humour, sometimes funny, others strange and weird. The performance will make a European tour, passing as well by Julidans in Amsterdam coming summer.
After returning to the Netherlands, last stop for March was STRP biennale in Eindhoven. I attended both days of the Conference for the Curious, where I had the chance to listen to lectures of quite a few very interesting technology artists, hackers and scientists from all over the world. A highlight at the conference was Kevin Kelly’s keynote. I must mention as well Sissel Tolaas, a smell artist and chemist who made a strong impression on me, both with her work and her attitude; quite inspiring. The second day was led by the VPRO medialab, dedicated to the storytelling of today. My colleague at I/O, set and light designer Roelof Pothuis, joined me. It was nice to have someone to discuss with about all this input. Among the program’s conference we found some time to go visit the biennale’s EXPO. Food for thought, especially when asking ourselves why some pieces had certain similarities (in design, space usage, artistic decisions), how does the EXPO dialects with its audience, how does an installation become extrovert and communicative towards an audience.
My residency started with a crazy February full of new input, visiting Transmediale in Berlin, the Impuls Academy in Graz and the Brandstichter and Sonic Acts festivals in Amsterdam.
This year Transmediale celebrated its 30 years with the festival ever elusive, which took place at the just-renovated Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Starting as a video festival, it gradually shifted from film to VHS and into the digital era, focusing on the contemporary media culture and new technologies in the performing arts. The festival’s conference brought together thinkers, scientists and artists from many different fields (technopolitics, technosurveillance, technoecology, machine learning, AI, anthropology, sociology, etc.). Central theme was the relation between human and non-human ontologies today, and our position in a world of emerging interactions among us and the machines, as well as among the machines themselves.
The festival included numerous events every day (in combination with the CTM festival) and the attendance was so high that we had to be in the cue 15′-20′ in advance to ensure we could enter the sold out talks and panels. Big plus is that all events were broadcasted live, so all smartphones, tablets and computers in the corridors and the foyers were tuned in.
You can listen to all talks and panels on the Transmediale’s audio archive.
Brandstichter took place in Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg throughout February with multiple performances by the German collective of stage directors Rimini Protokoll. I had the chance to talk with Stefan Kaegi,one of the three stage directors, about how he works, what he thinks about performers, how he thinks of music in his projects, how it was studying with Heiner Goebbels, and about his background in journalism.
Among other productions of theirs, I managed to attend (because the verb watch is not really appropriate) Situations Rooms and Nachlass, both being a hybrid between an installation and a theatre play. The audience enters the set and becomes either a performer or a listener who’s able to explore the space and have the chance to be in the position of the story teller. Rimini Protokoll do documentation theatre avoiding using performers on stage, collaborating with specialists who will to share a story with an audience.
The Spraakmakers event during the festival was a very good idea, bringing us on an empty stage together with the collective. The makers talked about some of their most important projects and shared with us concerns and insights about the way they work. Fun moment was when Stefan Kaegi did chat roulette with us all on his laptop’s camera and random people on the other end being totally puzzled.
The Impuls Academy was such a busy place. Over 250 composers and performers with lectures, reading sessions, rehearsals, private lessons, workshops and concerts taking place simultaneously at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz. The great Klangforum Wien musicians played in various concerts and reading sessions, alongside the instrumentalists tutors of the Academy. Renowned composers gave lectures and private lessons as well, such as Enno Poppe, Mark Andre, Rebecca Saunders, Simon Steen-Andersen, Dmitri Kourliandski, Stefan Prins and others.
The tutors and the participants came from all over the world, and of course I met there lots of people I already new, from the Netherlands and abroad – in lectures, concerts and bars. Lots of beer and discussions over music. My skype call with Beat Furrer included sharing of thoughts on music theatre, what can music theatre be, who are our performers, how different ways of preparing/rehearsing lead to different results.
It’s touching to see that the musicians of Klangforum Wien, who have reached such a high level of music making – especially in the field of new music – are so nice and curious people, open to new ideas, wanting to express themselves through music and carrying no boastfulness at all. Makes me think of younger (or older as well) new music ensembles across Europe that try to give value to themselves by looking back to older decades and to older attitudes towards music, when everything had to be strict, conceptual, with an obsession in being emotionless and abstract. It is very interesting to see how things are changing, how communication on stage becomes nowadays very important – at least for those who are open to listen what is really happening today around us. It’s not a coincidence that in one of the panels Enno Poppe leaded the discussion towards emotions.
Being exhausted from all the lectures, rehearsals and performances, I decided to attend one of the three days of Sonic Acts and still I found myself nocked out after 14 hours of conference talks and audiovisual performances. The conference took place in Brakke Grond, funny enough one of the lecturers was a lecturer in Transmediale too. It was anyway clear these two festivals share a common ground. The performances of the festival’s 3rd day took place in Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ. Once again we all enjoyed the versatility of the venue – not only of the main hall, but of the entire building as well. I had to leave at 00:30 – the program continued in Bimhuis till 04:00.
It feels good to have a festival of this kind in Amsterdam, which invites numerous artists and thinkers/scientists from all over the world while involving institutions such as, among others, the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam’s contemporary art museum), Muziekgebouw (a high-end hall dedicated to new music) and Brakke Grond (Amsterdam’s Flemish cultural centre).