Review: Cepromusic



by Krzysztof Stefański

With nearly nine million inhabitants, Mexico City is the biggest city in North America. And yet, due to our Euro-centric perspective, we know hardly anything about its music scene. In its 70 years, Darmstadt Summer Course has never hosted a Mexican ensemble. Until now. Ensemble Cepromusic was invited this year to present pieces by their nation’s most prominent composers.

María Misael Gauchat’s Azimut began with the glassy sounds of sul ponticello strings. Dripping with microtonal harmonies, the sound kept swelling in a series of crescendos. Listening to the rich sonorities, you could close your eyes and let your imagination take over. From this fantastic sound-world we ventured to Julio Estadas ensemble’yuunohui, an open form made of several solo parts than could come together as an ensemble piece. The virtuosic aspect was prominent, especially in the strings, but all the parts used extensive tremolos and oscillations.

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Introducing: Nature Theatre of Darmstadt

by N. Andrew Walsh

“Anything goes here. All are welcome!” That’s the motto of the master of ceremonies at the ominously isolated Nature Theater of Oklahoma at the end of Franz Kafka’s fragmentary Amerika. The rallying cry encapsulates both the myth of America as a land of boundless and egalitarian opportunity, and the ambiguous end of Amerika’s protagonist as he vanishes into the theatre – and has long held a privileged position in German culture. Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, woefully neglected in recent years but formerly one of the forerunners of the European avant-garde, sparked what was at the time called the greatest scandal of 20th-century opera when he took Kafka’s vision seriously and produced a fractured, surreal operatic version of Amerika in 1964. It was so furiously protested at its premiere that the production was struck from the Berliner Festspiele after only two performances.

Amerika’s apocalyptic surrealism has faded in the intervening years, leaving behind only the book’s warm glow of all-embracing openness. Now the Nature Theater in all its complexity serves as a utopian model for an eclectic event presented by the Darmstadt Summer Course’s percussion/composition workshop.

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Review: Série Rose

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Centralstation, Darmstadt

by Anna Vermeulen

Sex sells, even in new music. Glancing at the programme of Série Rose, I had high expectations. Vocalist Frauke Aulbert and pianist Malgorzata Walentynowicz were about to shed light on an exciting yet underexposed aspect of music: erotica. I imagined harpists gently caressing their instruments, dirty beats that would make me want to dance like Beyoncé, musicians fetishising the sensuality of sound. Unfortunately, the concert didn’t probe very deeply into the relationship between sound and sex.

In her 2005 piece, (your name here), Jennifer Walshe invites us into the intimate world of a teenage girl. Recordings of a woman reflecting on her 15-year-old self feature ramblings about boys and early kisses, while Aulbert – in a princess silhouette that brings to mind a burlesque show – blows bubbles, tries to kiss a tiny frog and dances with increasing liberation. When the tape stops, Aulbert and her violin mimic the sounds of an orgasm. It might be because of Aulbert’s delivery, or it might be the structure of Walshe’s piece, but the performance lacked continuity between the tape and what was happening behind the screen.

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Review: OurEars



Park Rosenhöhe, Darmstadt

Centralstation, Darmstadt

by N. Andrew Walsh

At a certain point in our promenade through an expansive French-style garden, I have the disquieting feeling of being hunted. Vladimir Gorlinsky’s Rosenhöhe. Apollo leads us through the park behind Elisa Medinilla of the Belgian Nadar Ensemble. She pauses every few steps to play a few notes on a melodica, amplified through a small speaker hanging from her head. Medinilla leads us along a path through the park’s villas with a certain ritualistic deliberateness, sometimes cutting unexpectedly across the veldt or through a break in the trees. Meanwhile, percussionists from Nemø Ensemble are tailing us: their movements through the brush, the occasional glimpse of a black-clad percussionist running in the distance, is the source of the unease.

Gorlinsky prefaces Rosenhöhe. Apollo with a statement on environmentally determined concerts (“as soon as we’ve established the bird’s schedule, we can invite the audience”), but hedges that the performance itself might be something else entirely. We end where we began – at an artist’s studio – for a video of an awkward, Jim-Jarmusch-y ironic riff on an interview with Medinilla. The wheels are clearly coming off the interview and it breaks off mid-sentence. An ensemble member invites me to decide whether this was the end. The gesture seems a bit precious and try-hard.

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Review: Tarzan

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Orangerie, Darmstadt

by Ane Marthe Sørlien Holen

The performance starts in the gardens of an 18th century orangery. Or does it start? Round tables with white tablecloths are awaiting us. Fruit, drinks, live harp music – all we have to do is to find the right place to sit. I have a brown ticket in my hand, and I walk between the tables, trying to find the one that has my colour on it. But there are no tables with brown. Eventually, I’m told to sit outside the restaurant area, on some benches closer to the park.

Divided into three classes or castes, we experience this part of the performance from very different perspectives. In front of me an absurd, amplified badminton match is going on between the Darmstadt festival director, Thomas Schäfer, and a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. (The relevance of her ethnicity will become clear.) As entertainment at the restaurant, a black woman dressed in white is acting as some kind of human fountain, pouring tea over herself while doing a sensual dance to the non-sound of a miming string quartet. But these things are barely visible from where I sit on my designated low-caste bench. Around us, a group of musicians dressed in black jogs around holding instruments as weapons, imitating a military drill exercise.

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Introducing: Voice Electrification

by Krzysztof Stefański

If you were at Centralstation late on Saturday night, you’ve already seen her sticking eyes all over her body, pulling tape out of her mouth or wearing a Medusa-style headpiece of elastic tubes which she proceeded to blowing air into. Composer-performer Julia Mihály has a fierce stage presence, her purple hair only adding to the image. She whispers, sings and speaks – and, through the extensive use of electronics, her voice gets multiplied, processed and distorted. But Mihály didn’t come to Darmstadt just to give us an electric performance. Over the last couple of days, she’s been working with a bunch of composers and vocalists to make pieces that combine voice – the most primal of all the instruments – with modern technology.

When I swing by her workshop, the very first thing I see is a man with cables coming out of his mouth chewing on some controllers with which he is able to freeze a pre-recorded tape. His face itself seems frozen in one expression, bringing to mind the image of an ancient Greek theatre mask. Struggling with some technical issues, Ben Zucker, a young American composer, also attempts to perform a spoken part of his piece, which is not an easy task given all the electronics stuck in his mouth.

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Introducing: Série Rose

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by Hannah Rosa Schiller

It is impossible to keep track of how many times sex and romance feature as central themes in popular culture. Think of the last movie you saw, or the last song you heard on commercial radio; it’s more than likely that some element of the movie revolved around a character’s sexual or romantic attraction to another character, and some aspect of the song dealt with how the singer feels empty and lost without a lover.

What about new music? In comparison to more mainstream cultural counterparts, sex and romance seem all but absent. In fact, the only example I can think of in the Darmstadt festival thus far is Julia Mihály’s use of touch and her own body as a source of sound. So why haven’t sex and love filtered into new music more? Is sex not “serious” enough for new music? Does our focus on intellectualism make us fearful of exploring more emotional and vulnerable themes?

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