rwh 1-4

Stephan Buchberger in Conversation with Mark Andre

The first complete performance of Mark Andre’s ›rwḥ‹ cycle will be given by six Hanover’s choirs and Ensemble Modern at the Kuppelsaal in Hanover in May 2022 as part of the KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen under director Ingo Metzmacher, followed by a further performance at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. As with his composition ›üg‹, which Ensemble Modern premiered in 2008, here again Mark Andre is working with ››acoustic photos‹‹ known as echograms. These barely audible sounds – acoustic reflections of the space that are recorded and measured – are modified using live electronic techniques and mixed with the acoustically pro- duced sounds.

Stephan Buchberger, dramaturge of the KunstFestSpiele, talked with Mark Andre about this process, the cycle’s thematic background and its overall design.

Stephan Buchberger: In 2018 you came to Hanover to see us, to take a look at the Kuppelsaal and to investigate it using echography. What does that mean and what does it involve?

Mark Andre: Echography comes from the world of fundamental physics. A time-space is excited either with analogue or with digital impulses.

SB: So with sounds, with noises?

MA: Yes, with what’s known as a sweep* in a spectrum between 20 hertz and 20,000 hertz, which we can perceive with our ears and with our body.

SB: Does that mean resonances that occur in a space – and that you record?

MA: Exactly. It’s about investigating a space’s acoustic signature. Every space has its own acoustic signature, it’s an instrument.

SB: What does that mean for your composition process?

MA: My compositional approach relates to an investigation of the space’s acoustic design. I used two pieces of software to determine the space’s responses, its resonances. This involved seeking a basic sound, the »fundamental detection«, and using different techniques to derive pitches and rhythmic patterns. I also had my own on-site »antennae«, my ears.

SB: And that then directly impacts on your work, as the basic material from which you compose?

MA: The instrumental material and all the sounds sung by the vocal ensembles and by the children were developed using this method.

SB: The composition is in four sections.What distinguishes the individual sections from each other?

MA: From the outset it was my intention to compose a cycle. The firstsection is an instrumental piece with electronics, with a spatial configuration. The second section is performed by two vocal ensembles facing the audience. The third, the shortest section, is purely instrumental. And then the fourth section brings everything together, the five vocal ensembles and the instrumental ensembles.

SB: The title ›rwḥ‹ (pronounced: rú-akh) is something we could also talk about perhaps? In relation to this you sent me a quotation from St Mark’s Gospel about the Holy Spirit. Can you tell us something about this thematic background?

MA: According to Christian tradition,»rwḥ« in Aramaic is how Jesus of Nazareth articulated the word »spirit«; there are many traces of it in the Gospel. And this opens up an enormous semantic field: wind, breath, air, soul,life and spirit. What’s important is that these concepts are all inseparable. I’m also thinking of a place in St John’s Gospel where it says: »The windblows where it wishes, [...] but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.« You can’t tell whether anything is actually happening while in fact it is happening. It’s something very fragile, faint and delicate but also extremely intense.

SB: You’ve already shown me a sketch of the composition as you have it atthe moment. It struck me that only two vowels, a and o, are sung by the choral voices and that you’re not using any text. There’s a connection here with another of your pieces, your music theatre work ›...22,13...‹, which relates to a place in the Book of Revelation. Could you explain that?

MA: Yes, it refers in fact to Revelation Chapter 22 Verse 13, where Jesus of Nazareth says: »I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.« This seems to me to also belong firmly to the semantic field I mentioned, the Alpha and the Omega.

SB: Now, of course, the space also comes into play: the big distances in the Kuppelsaal and the spatial constellations. We have five choral groups distributed in the space, and seven ensemble groups in various formations. What happens when the material that the space provided to you, as an echo as it were, is played out into that space again? It must produce a different kind of »feedback«. What’s happening there for you?

MA: Yes, it’s also about that to some extent. Feedback in the sense of a dialogue with oneself. I was able to experience that with ›üg‹ at the Hagia Irene in Istanbul, the first time I used echography in a space and worked with this compositional approach. But determining the acoustics of a space like the Hagia Irene or the Kuppelsaal is only ever a depiction, a representation of the space; the original space is much more complex than what you record.

SB: You often talk about interspaces too. How are they significant?

MA: If you determine a response from the Kuppelsaal using the same software but with different parametrisations, you get completely different results.

SB: And by interspaces you mean the gaps between those results?

MA: Yes, because what we’re dealing with is an artefact. It’s not necessarily my area, I’m a composer, not a scientist, but I’m particularly interested in this fragile instability of cognition.

SB: As well as the instrumental elements and the choral elements there’s also an electronics component that you’re still developing with the SWR Experimentalstudio in Freiburg. Perhaps you could also say something about that?

MA: One aspect we’re working on is different typologies of tonal and temporal design. Specifically we’re using the echograms of the acoustics in Hanover to make convolutions. That means that the responses we recorded in Hanover are sent as impulses again and respond in turn. But there’s no live transformation and no amplification either. Everything is done with sound files that are played back as part of the performance. In addition there are also recordings of the wind, of breathing etc.

SB: This level will be very high up in the space, which will be organised, won’t it, from the bottom where the stage is, to the first level where the choirs are, right up to the top where the electronics are. Is it important for the composition that you’re thinking vertically with different levels?

MA: Yes, it plays a really central role because it corresponds with a kind of suspension of the sound-time body, with this extremely unstable, grainy, granulated sound design. Observed or perceived from the choirs’ and ensembles’ analogue spatial perspective, the dissemination of electronic sounds at the very top means yet another layer of material is unfolding but also being suspended, as it were.

SB: With an unfolding of the space at the end. Is that an inhalation or an exhalation?

MA: That’s a really central question. But in any case I always and for various reasons let the music and the time-sound spaces be observed in the process of disappearing, as the music inhales and exhales. And it’s not a psychological disappearance. It’s a direct reference to the story of the Supper at Emmaus: when the risen Jesus was recognised, he vanished.

SB: So we’ll have to listen very carefully and try to catch the sound formations before they vanish. We’re all thrilled that with your composition we’re able to realise such a huge project in Hanover. Thank you very much for this conversation.

MA: Many thanks to you all for your commitment and your support.

* A sweep is an alternating voltage with a constant amplitude, whose frequency periodically and constantly scans a given range. Sweeps are a popular method in the field of audio measurement.