music/dance theater for orchestra, string quartet, electronics and 10 dancers
Batailles d’Images reflects on voraciousness: What if we lose our orientation in a reference system of knownness and allow questioning the creative? In collaboration with the Asasello Quartet and the renowned French orchestra Les Siècles and 8 dancers, a ballet is born for the end of the world, a ballet noir, wildly poaching in our cultural history. The monumental and devouring as a symbol of power and patriarchy is artistically intertwined with the attempt instead of the result, with quiet resistance and relinkage to nature.
Batailles d’Images provokes a reflection on the state of permanent overload of images. The starting point is the excellently composed quotation collection of the German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann “Musique pour le souper du roi Ubu” (1968), a musical danger zone of excess, vulgarity and the accumulation of power. Muntendorf reflects in a prologue and an epilog the view on an orchestra as a collective and as human bodies, reflects quotation, club culture and high culture, works with the dancers as a choir and extends the string quartet with live-electronics.
About the composition
B. A. Zimmermann’s “Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu” is for me not only one of the most original pieces of music, it is also highly political and more topical than ever: for as overwhelming and wild as it may come across – it is the subtlety and love of music that can be found in every note and its setting.
With Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu, referential composing was born for me – by means of a deconstructed orchestra, Zimmermann creates a referential system here that goes far beyond a collage and at some point in this music, which consists almost entirely of foreign quotations, tells us more about Zimmermann and his time than about his material.
At some point we get to “overhearing” – we overhear the lapidary as well as the patriarchal in music, our overwork and fatigue cause passing fragments of marches, overtures, earworms, upbeats and downbeats to merge into an over-complex polyphony, perhaps a cacophony – a leveling occurs that first takes something away from us. Zimmermann steals from us the supposed meaning we hope to find for ourselves in familiar musical forms. He tells us a story about how everything that wants to shout meaning in our faces simultaneously lies to us – because it conceals the fact that we are vulnerable, impermanent, mortal.
Zimmermann leaves us alone.
And if we follow this state of “overhearing” and stay with it, then we can suddenly redefine leveling, listen anew and come to the actual moment of “overhearing” as a superior listening in which music speaks to us in references and a constant comparison between what we know, with the situation we are in and the changes we perceive in this situation.
In “six moods to stand kings up” I have brought this moment compositionally into focus and today, 50 years after Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu, I have pursued the question that Zimmermann already pursued: How can sound and connotations, instrumentation and space make our existence as individuals and communal beings tangible and open up a dialogue about self-determination and the collective versus power and powerlessness?
six moods to stand kings up
I used the same instrumentation as Zimmermann – an orchestra without high strings and cellos, but many wind instruments that sound as loud as they threaten to break away in pianissimo. In the first tuning, we encounter the orchestra and the string quartet in space – just as musicians are distributed in space, they share space with us. Perhaps it’s utopia that I formulate here sonically. Hierarchy as a vagrant chord of sound or noise, as individual action or group composition, dynamic, strong and equally fragile. The musicians are behind, next to, depending on the performance space also above or below us. They pass on their sounds, they follow a shadow conductor, they break out, take over, linger, stay behind. I would prefer to hear orchestras only around me – that’s what I want as a composer. But above all, I want hierarchy to be understood and lived as a flexible and dynamic system – that’s what I want as a human being.
II. chiral spiral
In the second mood, “Chiral Spiral,” the string quartet peels out of the orchestra – as a formation of the intimate, initially drowning out the orchestral sound by means of live electronics and amplification, four against 45, asserting itself and completing a transformation just before the Zimmermann begins, in which physicality and presence defy all amplification, transfiguration and manipulation.
III. Composition as a social moment
In the third mood the conductor is displaced from his position by a female musician, the orchestra raises its voices, forms camps and creates a soundscape between a football stadium and a demonstration in the speech composition conductus. I re-arranged conductus from my ballet for Eleven (Ensemble Modern / Donauerschinger Musiktage 2018). With this third voice Zimmermann’s composition is also broken through – he cannot break through his music himself, because the break, the fragmentary is his means. He would hand himself over to his machinery and be incorporated – in this case only another person can break the system, applying Zimmermanns techniques to his work itself and thus relieving him on a meta-level – and this is exactly what is meant – of the accusation of another Roi Ubu on an artistic level. For there is a highly charged conflict here, since Zimmermann’s score states that there is to be no music in the couplets between movements, and at most only one minute of action. However, he does not justify this. I would certainly have done so, but at the same time would have been pleased if someone had passed over this with an impetus that followed my concern.
It is a key moment in the staging of Batailles d’Images – with the boycott, the conductor also falls, finds himself alone on stage, and a dancer takes over the conducting before leaving the podium through his return, displaced or perhaps gently pushed aside. From this point on, the rhythm as a germ cell is carried on by the dancers as they articulate themselves through breath and raise it to the musical-choreographic composition “L’état c’est moi” – polyphonic demonstration whose rhythm overlays Zimmermann’s last movements and outlasts him as an image and sound of his own power.
IV. orchestra machine
In the fifth mood we have arrived in the state of alienation, as well as alienation. Before any organism can reform on stage, I have subjected quotes from Zimmermann – or are they quotes from Wagner, Bach & Co? – to musical (analog) procedures that are omnipresent in pop culture – speeding up, stretching, sampling, looping, Mickey-Mousing, pitch-shifting – and transferred them to the instruments accordingly. An orchestra resounding from the bodies, lip-synced, live and yet played back.
A dancer comes to the fore and lets his countertenor voice sound – for him I wrote the following monody, which introduces the final mood: A great transformation from monody to a punk song transfigured into a ballad, an agitation of the string quartet to an orchestration of Chopin’s Funeral March. Various dancers sing their solos over the Lamento, written on the body and contextualized.
The separation between performer and the person behind is no longer given here. No matter whether in the rhythm compositions of preceding moods, in the ballad or in the funeral march – the dancers’ voices have all been developed and formed in joint work. Only then can the challenge begin, only then does vocal training, speech training, articulation training come in and join the process between composition and development.
VI. collective farewell
The Funeral March by Chopin is heard in a plaintive and continuously abating instrumentation. The march loses its players and thus transforms itself again and again in its sonority as the musicians gradually lay aside their instruments, leave their seats and join a procession on stage. When in the end only harp and four double basses remain, trying to preserve the melody in the highest harmonics, even the suffering in the production of sound can no longer be concealed.
It is the parting that creates connections, it is the realization that meanings are lost, ceaselessly transformed. Beethoven’s Quartet of Eternity, which at this moment has been flying around in space on Voyagers 1 and 2 since the 1970s and is supposed to give extraterrestrials an impression of humanity, is sounded live-electronically distorted by the Asasello Quartet, as if someone had set up a record player somewhere in the room. Vinyl is the language in celebrating the present. I go back almost a century to experience power and powerlessness over music and its reproduction – and also to express my conviction, despair and simultaneous hope that “music history” are connected as inseparable players in the concept of “contemporary”.