The composer as collector

In Jannik Giger’s work, the boundaries are fluid between the visual and acoustic processing of material, regardless of whether it's historical or new.

Moritz Achermann - 2017-09-26
The composer as collector -
The composer as collector -

First, Jannik Giger simply listens. Born 1985 in Basel, this composer and video artist has been collecting sounds that fascinate him since his student days. Over the years, the archive of samples he has thereby amassed has served both as his inspiration and as the concrete material for his compositions.


Contemporary historicity and transformations of the past

In his new score for the classic silent film Nosferatu – a symphony of horror (1922), which was given its world première at the Bern Music Festival in 2017, Giger draws on fragments from soundtracks to films by David Lynch or Alfred Hitchcock and from the Romantic sound world of Franz Schubert. These reminiscences wander like ghosts through his score. Some figure as samples, while others are newly (re-)composed for fourteen instruments, thereby uniting the historicity of the film with the contemporary setting of its showing.


In transforming these traces of our sounding past and juxtaposing them with live music, Giger blurs the boundaries between real and virtual sound generation. He dissolves the conventional orchestral sound of film music by writing over it with a sound collage of alienated orchestral sounds. This creates a music of intoxicating sensuousness that integrates skilfully with the poetic imagery of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, underlining the dramaturgy of his film and yet retaining an individual unity of meaning. Furthermore, Giger’s score time and again reveals its quotations for what they are, and thereby becomes a reflection on the very nature and impact of film music itself.



The idea of challenging both the medium and the production of art is something that can be traced throughout the work of Jannik Giger. It can be seen to emerge clearly in those of his works that cross the boundaries between different genres. In his performance Maestro (2016), he had three musicians from the Zurich Retro Disco Ensemble make music to historical recordings of Igor Stravinsky rehearsing his own orchestral works. The result was a fictive dialogue between the dead composer and the musicians who perform Giger’s composition on these fragments of speech.


The video installation Gabryś and Henneberger – Transformations (2014) engages with the question of authorship in contemporary music and the dependency between the conductor and the performer. We see Jürg Henneberger projected on a screen as he conducts Giger’s work Clash, which he first performed in 2013 with the Ensemble Phoenix Basel. On a second screen we see the double bass player Aleksander Gabryś, who improvises to this soundless sequence of conducting gestures and movements. In other words, we hear a new interpretation of Giger’s music through the hands of the conductor and the imagination of the instrumentalist.

Jannik Giger in the Klingental exhibition hall in front of his installation «Gabryś und Henneberger – Transformations»


Giger employed a similar procedure in his work Intimate Sketches (2016/17). Here, sketches and fragments by the Czech composer Leoš Janáček were performed and varied by the musicians of the Mondrian Ensemble. Giger filmed the musicians during their work and in conversation about Janáček’s music, and created a concert installation from this in which his composition – based on improvisations by the performers – is juxtaposed with the film recordings. Through Janáček’s intimate sketches, we are provided with an insight into the intimate rehearsal space and working processes of the musicians.


Music theatre in Berlin and Basel

Giger’s compositions comprise the organic incorporation of foreign material – whether by Janáček, Schubert or Béla Bartók – into his own musical language. He lets their tonal and harmonic echoes shimmer through, but complements them and plays around them skilfully with microtonal shadings and noise-like sounds. He gives these different sound worlds the space to unfold, letting them collide with enthusiasm and ultimately grow together anew.

Currently, Jannik Giger is working on a music theatre production to a text by the German author Rainald Goetz, in a collaboration with the sound and performance artist Leo Hofmann and the director, performer and dramaturge Benjamin van Bebber. It will be given its first performances in autumn 2018 in Berlin and in the Gare du Nord in Basel.