Basel, 31.10.2017 – “Music is our common language and enables us to overcome the ‘Röschtigraben’, that absurd gulf between German and French Switzerland”. – No, luckily nothing of the sort seems to have been the driving idea for those behind the project Protex – Vorton. “Coming together across the ‘Röschtigraben’ doesn’t have to be a sentimental occasion”. – Yes, that seems closer to the approach adopted by Michel Roth, Fernando Garnero and Arturo Corrales when they developed their works for the ensemble proton bern and the Ensemble Vortex. After concerts in the Fonderie Kugler in Geneva and the Dampfzentrale in Bern, these two ensembles have now also shunted into the Gare du Nord in Basel, under the direction of Matthias Kuhn.
Playing instructions against pseudo-individualism
Instead of demonstrating the exceptional performing prowess of the 15 musicians from the two ensembles, Michel Roth from Lucerne prefers to have each of them play alone initially. Music isn’t a universal language; in fact, it’s often enough a means of demarcation. Roth illustrates this in his new work pod, in which he takes a current societal topic as his starting point. What happens if a group of people come together in a room and shut themselves off from each other using headphones?
Roth has declared pod a “Homage to Jacques Tati”, but it’s also a set of playing instructions with obstacles. The musicians choose their favourite music in advance, it’s fed to them through their headphones, and then they have to imitate it on their instruments. What they play is then recorded live and fed through electronic filters. The more precisely they imitate what they hear, the greater the alienation until at the end only white noise remains. Michel Roth calls this experiment an “acoustical eraser” – and it’s one that to the outsider seems to want to “rub out” pseudo-individualism. The audience is confronted with a horde of “self-creators”. The composer provides a clear work structure to ensure that it all does not end in cacophony and slapstick.
Coming together – contemplative and energetic
Junkspace by Fernando Garnero also deals with the coming together of disparate sound elements. Inspired by ideas on the postmodern space and the concept of “junk space” derived from it by the Dutch architect Rem Kolhaas, instrumental sounds produced by the nine musicians are linked up with electronically recorded noise artefacts. The result is a contemplative, wavelike soundscape that does not move forwards. It is stasis in motion, and you can simply, delightfully, plunge into it.
The last piece of the evening, Riff by Arturo Corrales for electric guitar, six instruments and electronics, takes us all the more obviously in a different direction. It is fascinating to hear how this composer from El Salvador succeeds in having the ensemble reflect the sound of the soloist Emilio Guim. Classical strings mime the raw distortion sounds and the rhythms of hard rock and heavy metal. Corrales is a co-founder of the Ensemble Vortex and often works with pop-music references, taking them to extremes. This is an energetic close to the concert – one that bridges a lot more than the “Röschtigraben”.