Über David Roesner

David Roesner ist Professor für Theaterwissenschaft mit Schwerpunkt Musiktheater an der LMU München. Er forschte und lehrte bisher an den Universitäten Hildesheim, Exeter und Kent. 2003 erschien seine Dissertation Theater als Musik, 2007 wurde er mit dem Thurnauer Preis für Musiktheaterwissenschaft ausgezeichnet. Zuletzt publizierte er die Monographie Musicality in Theatre (Ashgate, 2014) und arbeitet jetzt an einem Buch zur zeitgenössischen Theatermusik.

Buchvorschau “Theatermusik. Analysen und Gespräche”. Teil 4: Nils Ostendorf

Ein kurzer Auszug aus dem im Oktober 2019 erscheinenden Buch Theatermusik. Analysen und Gespräche (Roesner, Theater der Zeit 2019):

DR: Wie hast du gelernt, was du heute brauchst?

Nils Ostendorf: Viel learning by doing auf jeden Fall. Was auch hilft, ist ein großes Interesse an unterschiedlichsten Musikstilen zu haben: Jazz, klassische und zeitgenössische Musik, ganz abstrakte experimentelle Musik, elektronische Musik, Weltmusik. Viel Hören und einen großen musikalischen Horizont haben gehört zu den Voraussetzungen. Was die Fertigkeiten betrifft, braucht man natürlich auch technische. Man muss die Musik in Eigenregie produzieren können, das muss man sich irgendwie draufschaffen. Ansonsten kommt es eben darauf an: Wenn es für eine Produktion ein Streichquartett sein soll, dann muss ich eben schauen, wie man für Streichquartett schreibt.

Das höre ich häufiger, dass sich die Musiker*innen von Projekt zu Projekt neue Dinge erarbeiten.

NO: Das macht es ja auch interessant, weil man ständig neue Sachen lernt oder sich mit einer bestimmten Musikrichtung näher beschäftigt, mit der man sich sonst nicht unbedingt auseinandersetzen würde.

Gibt es für dich typische Funktionen von Theatermusik?

NO: Ich persönlich versuche, eher intuitiv und räumlich als konzeptionell oder dramaturgisch zu arbeiten. Ich versuche schon, Situationen zu unterstützen und Atmosphären zu schaffen, in denen der/die Schauspieler*in agieren kann, statt kontrapunktisch zu arbeiten und mit der Musik Stimmungen im Raum zu brechen. Ich mache auch lieber Musik bzw. Sound unter den Szenen als zwischen den Szenen. Es interessiert mich mehr, Sound und Sprache und Schauspieler*innen zusammenzukriegen, als jetzt diese typischen Szenen- und Aktübergänge zu schaffen, die man wahrscheinlich als eine klassische Funktion von Theatermusik definieren würde: Wie komme ich von Szene A zu B? Wahrscheinlich bin ich seit jeher aber auch mehr vom Film beeinflusst und wie Musik da eingesetzt wird.

Buchvorschau „Theatermusik. Analysen und Gespräche“. Teil 3: Julia Klomfaß

DR: Was sind Inspirationen, Auslöser für dich, an denen sich deine Ideen entzünden? Sind das eher atmosphärische Dinge? Sind das bestimmte Emotionen? Sind das bestimmte Tonfälle, Rhythmen? Sind es Räume?

Julia Klomfaß: Oft sind es Bilder, die eine Emotion in sich tragen. Also beim Macbeth[i] z. B., wo man weiß, das spielt in Schottland; da hat man Weite; da gibt es etwas Mächtiges, Großes, mit Königen und Gewalt und eigentlich auch einer riesigen Traurigkeit. Dann ist man schon sehr schnell in einer Klangvorstellung. Es gibt aber auch einen Autor, Axel von Ernst, und einen Regisseur, Marlin de Haan, mit denen ich viel gearbeitet habe[ii] – Axel schreibt sehr extreme Texte, die schon einen Rhythmus vorgeben und auch viel an Melodien. Da ging das gar nicht über eine Emotionalität, sondern nur über die Struktur des Textes und etwas, das plötzlich aus einem herausgesprudelt ist. Mit Marlin und Axel habe ich sehr viel so gearbeitet: Sehr performativ mit der Sprache arbeiten und den Absurditäten dieser Sprache. Und da ist es natürlich spannend zu sehen, was dann in den unterschiedlichen Konstellationen für ganz verschiedene Dinge herauskommen.

DR: Was steht dabei am Anfang? Womit beginnt eine musikalische Idee bei dir?

JK: Ich glaube, es ist tatsächlich zum größten Teil der Klang. Und die Melodien entwickeln sich dann meistens aus dem Instrument, das ich als erstes benutze. Also bei Macbeth wäre ich niemals auf eine Gitarre gekommen, bei einem anderen Stück [Treibsandkasten[iii]] aber eben schon. Aber da war das ganz klar in der Rolle angelegt: Ich war da eine Eisverkäuferin, die in ihrem Stand steht und singt und Gitarre spielt. Aber entscheidend ist für mich, mit welchem Instrument man anfängt – Stimme oder Klavier oder Gitarre oder eine Cello-Linie bei Macbeth – bis man merkt, das wird etwas. Dann kommen bei mir oft noch schräge Instrumente dazu, die nur Klänge machen und die dieses Psycho-Ding [lacht] bedienen.


[i] Macbeth von William Shakespeare, Regie: Huseyin Michael Cirpici, Theater Krefeld/Mönchengladbach, Premiere am 30. Januar 2016.

[ii] Gemeinsame Projekte von de Haan/von Ernst/Klomfaß waren z. B.: High Definition. Der Avatarismus der Gegenwart auf der Bühne von de Haan/von Ernst/Klomfaß, Sophiensaele Berlin, Premiere am 14. März 2008; Das Unerforschliche der Thermodynamik von de Haan/von Ernst/Klomfaß, Forum Freies Theater Düsseldorf, Premiere am 23. Februar 2012; Where are you from? Ein Heimatabend mit Gesang von de Haan/von Ernst/Klomfaß, Forum Freies Theater Düsseldorf, Premiere am 9. Januar 2013. Siehe auch https://www.dehaanvonernstklomfass.de/ (zuletzt aufgerufen am 5. Oktober 2017).

[iii] Treibsandkasten von Inken Kautter und Julia Klomfaß, Regie: Andrea Bleikamp, Freies Werkstatt Theater Köln, Uraufführung am 20. März 2015.

Buchvorschau “Theatermusik. Analysen und Gespräche”. Teil 2: Bert Wrede

Ein kurzer Auszug aus dem im Oktober 2019 erscheinenden Buch Theatermusik. Analysen und Gespräche (Roesner, Theater der Zeit 2019):

DR: Was steht in Programmheften vor deinem Namen? Einfach nur »Musik«?

Bert Wrede: Genau. Oder Komposition, oder Bühnenmusik. Mir ist egal, was dort steht. Ich habe Komposition studiert, deshalb habe ich keine Scheu davor, mich Komponist zu nennen, auch wenn ich mal nur Gequietsche, Gewaber oder Gewummer mache – so nennen sie es zumindest manchmal in den Kritiken. Es hat aber Sinn, wenn ich das mache – nicht, weil mir nichts einfällt, sondern, weil Gewummer vielleicht die adäquate Übersetzung eines Gefühls zur Bühne oder zum Stück ist.

DR: Was sind für dich wichtige Funktionen von Theatermusik, was vermeidest du eher?

BW: Was ich nicht mag, ist, wenn die Musik dem/der Zuschauer*in sagt, was er/sie fühlen soll. Das ist ja eine Sache vom Film. Im Film ist die Aufgabe der Musik, Gefühle zu erzählen, im Theater: Fantasieraum zu schaffen. Das ist wirklich ein eklatanter Unterschied. Ich mache ja beides, daher weiß ich das mit Bestimmtheit. Es macht überhaupt keinen Sinn, so eine ausgefüllte, ausgemalte Musik im Theater zu spielen, weil sie keinen Raum mehr für die Gedanken lässt, für das, was man selbst als emotionales Erlebnis durch das Schauspiel hat. Im Film fehlt es, wenn die Musik das nicht leistet.

Buchvorschau „Theatermusik. Analysen und Gespräche“. Teil 1: Matthias Krieg

Ein kurzer Auszug aus dem im Oktober 2019 erscheinenden Buch Theatermusik. Analysen und Gespräche (Roesner, Theater der Zeit 2019):

DR: Wie nennst du das, was du tust? Komposition, Theatermusik, Musikalische Leitung?

Matthias Krieg: Diese Begriffe sind alle notwendig, die sind oft auch nicht vermischbar. Ich habe heute erst wieder darüber nachgedacht, dass ich das häufig klar für mich trenne, weil es verschiedene künstlerische Bereiche und Funktionen sind, in die ich beim Arbeiten am Theater reingehe. Z. B. hatte ich vorhin eineinhalb Stunden Gesangsprobe mit den Schauspieler*innen der hiesigen Produktion The Re’search[i] und da bin ich in einem vollkommen anderen Modus, als wenn ich auf der Bühne bin und spiele. Wenn ich pädagogisch anleite, muss ich da eine Energie reingeben, mit der ich das Gegenüber erspüre, um möglichst genau zu wissen, wo es gerade ist. Die meisten haben ja keine musikalische Theoriebildung oder musikalische Vorbildung im Allgemeinen, da muss man einiges von dem, was man als Ergebnis vor Augen hat, anders erklären und z. B. in Bilder übersetzen. Das macht zwar unheimlich Spaß, fühlt sich aber vollkommen anders an, als als Künstler oder Performer auf der Bühne zu sein und dann so etwas wie Kunst zu machen. Ich fühle mich nicht einfach nur als Theatermacher, sondern als irgendwas dazwischen: Musiker, Arrangeur, Performer, Künstler, Produzent, Toningenieur … vielleicht sogar nur Gast. Musiker als Gast im Theater.

DR: Und wie wichtig ist dir der Begriff ›Komponist‹?

MK: Im Zusammenhang mit Theatermusik wird mir das immer weniger wichtig, weil sich mit den Jahren der kompositorische Anteil auf musikalische Module beschränkt, die ich dann in der Zeit des Produzierens der Bühnenstücke ›on the fly‹ erweitere und ergänze. Komponisten*innen durchlaufen Schulen, die sie zu dem machen, was sie sind. Ich sehe sie eher als Musiker*innen, bei denen es vorrangig um ein ganzheitliches musikalisches Werk geht: Ich bezeichne, was ich tue, ungern als Komposition, sondern eher als Skizzen, die ich dann anwenden kann, die in viele Richtungen flexibel sein müssen, im Prozess mit den Schauspielern veränderbar sein müssen, manchmal nur ein flüchtiger Ausgangspunkt für etwas ganz anderes sind. Vielleicht spricht da gerade viel mehr mein Gefühl zu dem Schreckenswort ›Komponist‹ als mein Verstand.


[i] The Re’search von Ryan Trecartin, Regie: Felix Rothenhäusler, Münchner Kammerspiele, Premiere am 29. Oktober 2016.

Listening to theatre music(ians)

Paper for the Working Group Sound, Voice and Music, TaPRA Exeter 2019, 4 Sept 2019

David Roesner, LMU Munich

There are many taxonomies of listening out there – and worryingly they often come in „threes“: from Roland Barthes’ three modes of listening via Michel Chion to Barry Truax’s three modes.

These are all useful first orientations and distinctions in trying to structure the complex phenomenology of the process of directing one’s aural attention to theatre, music or indeed the world, but far too crude. They have thus invited critique  such as George Home-Cook’s caveat, that listening should – with reference to P. Sven Arvidson – be considered a much more dynamic process, a process also in a sphere of attention that is not separate from our visual attention, and a process that is embodied. Katharina Rost  has, with a similar interest in phenomenology of sound in performance, additionally pointed out, that most taxonomies of listening usually map out normative forms of reception with an ideal recipient in mind, but often fail to capture the plethora of modes of attention actually at play in live performance.[1] Here, auditory attention is, as Rost puts it, “plural, diverse, differentiated, incoherent and paradoxical” (2014, 393).

I’d like to shift the attention a little within this short paper towards another aspect: I will address listening not as a phenomenological entity but as a discourse threads. In other words, I will look at how people talk about their auditory attention, conceptualize it, and describe it. The reason is simple: In the past three years I have spent a lot of time listening to a particular community of musical practice (Kenny). These roughly 20 people have in common that they all compose, produce, record, perform and design theatre music, which has long outgrown its former name “incidental music” in my opinion. Both historically and currently they are, as Millie Taylor and Leah Broad have very helpfully pointed out, marginalised by academia and critics alike and it is time to listen to their music and also to what they have to say.

To begin with their occupation already provides an interesting listening dispositive, not quite alike that of other composers/musicians:

  • Their music may be instrumental during rehearsals but not make it into the performance
  • Even in performance their music is often not (consciously) heard
  • They develop their music in a constant feedback loop of listening to: the actors’ lines, the noise (Kendrick and Roesner) of the performance, the instructions of directors, the advice (or sometimes rejections) of sound technicians, the acoustics of the performance space and the potential of its sound system
  • They listen to their own music again and again when mixing and producing it
  • They often negotiate between listening to their own unique voice as composers and to the wealth of available music for inspiration or as a direct quotation to form part of the intermusicality (rather than: intertextuality) of theatre music
  • Today, their music often never exists in a final definite form: it often is a QLab or Ableton software file, which hold many tracks and instructions, but may well play differently at each performance.
  • Also: the music may not exist in a format that can listened to anywhere else than in the performance venue, since theatre musicians often use multi-channel setups and produce neither written scores nor stereo mixes which would allow for readers or listeners outside of the theatre to have access to it.

All this fascinated me and I have thus conducted a range of semi-structured interviews with about 20 theatre musicians and composers, which will come out as a book in October 2019:

For this paper I have revisited the material to see how and when “listening” gets mentioned, what place it occupies in their discourse and how this accentuates different aspects of auditory attention. Rather than hoping to form yet another taxonomy, however, my focus will be on using the differentiation of “listenings” to learn more about theatre musicianship and the unique aesthetics of their music and sounds (a distinction that is very blurry particularly in this field).

One final brief preface: as you may know the German language works with many pre- and suffixes to words and the word “hören“ is no exception! So on occasion that brings concepts into play that might not be this obvious in English. Here is an indicative list for orientation – no worries, we won’t go through them all, but I will come back to some. From the interviews I have picked five different aspects from within the discusive thread

Listening as analysis and associaton (Heraushören)

Here are three statements which point in the direction of a form of listening which is both analytic but also associative:

Nils Ostendorf: I read the play and see what it triggers in me. The first impression is often a starting point for the music. It is a kind of sound basis, which I hear, or a musical idea of the director, which we agree upon.

Octavia Crummenerl Gloggengießer: The first table read is an important moment, as it is the first time I hear how the play sounds and get a sense for whether my impresssion of its rhythm while reading it is confirmed.

Lars Wittershagen: I buy many new albums, listen and dissect them and file them under particular playlists on my computer.

In all these instances, theatre musicians are both listening intently for something yet to be determined by the material but also act in reaction to what they hear. This resonates with Home-Cook’s idea of „(aural) attention as creative response“ (which is in itself his response to Bernhard Waldenfels) 2015, pp. 48-49). It also is a form of listening which is intentional and directed on the one hand and intuitively hovering on the other. It is being attentive for what might grab one’s attention. It is sometimes pre-verbal: A certain actor’s voice pattern may lead to an association, to an instrument, a rhythm, a melodic interval without any detour via language. In other cases, like in the instance of labeling playlist to prepare and collect material one might play with or draw inspiration from, it uses labels although these often are shorthands, which may capture only a certain superficial quality as a reference point like „brass“ or „fast“ or „retro“.

Osmotic hearing (Nebenbei hören, Durchhören)

From preparation to full rehearsals I came across this interesting notion, that in German-speaking theatres, theatre musicians are now often almost continuously present during the rehearsal process, both due to the lack of a job distinction of composer and sound designer, but also, because the current dramaturgies and performance styles develop in such close partnership with the music – be it live of pre-produced (a distinction that is also increasingly blurry).

Asked where and when she works, Julia Klomfaß responded:

A lot happens during rehearsals and I’m just there and listen when the actors read or do anything and then I develop something or search for sounds. That’s always quite exciting, I find, when you have the actors’ tone of voice around you, and you take that on board, into the key, in which you works, or into that which acts as a counterpoint or into the small sounds that you suddenly find in a Logic-File and then work on.[2]

Thomas Seher reports a similar mode of working:

Improvising in my case means that I work with headphones on while the director communicates with the actors next to me. It seems to be important, that I don’t do this at home, but that the music develops at the place where it happens. I absorb particular atmospheres or irritations and find a stylistic pathway which helps me and embeds me into the piece.[3]

I call this ‚osmotic hearing‘, since the theatre musician seems to form a kind of selectively permeable membrane (by means of cognitive directing of attention or by technical means like a set of headphones), which allows for enough of the acoustic environment to leak in to imprint itself on the compositions, but equally the musician frequently leaks his/her music into the rehearsal space to leave an imprint on the dialogue, gestures, movements, atmospheres even if – eventually – any direct traces of either may no longer be detectable in the final result to an outside eye and ear.

To render audible / intelligible (hörbar machen)

Another notion that came up in a few instances, was the question when a piece of music is actually aubible or rather „listenable“ enough for it to able to be merited within the creative process. „Hörbar“ here does not mean audible in the sense of loud enough to register, but something that is realized or accomplished to the extent that it can communicate what it aims to (to a non-musical) creative team in rehearsals?

While many directors are, for example, well versed in understanding a costume from a drawing or a piece of stage design from a model to scale, many struggle with a piano version or a basic MIDI rendering of an ensemble piece of music. Jörg Gollasch reports, that he sometimes spends a lot of time to simulate a certain listening experience, particularly when a theatre piece hinges on a compositions, which he has written, but for which the musicians may only come in to play it late in the rehearsal process. „ I can’t say to Karin Beier for her opening production as the new artistic director of the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg: ‚there will be a 20 Minute piece of music at the beginning which you will hear first time at the dress rehearsals‘!“

Conversely, he and others also express frustration, when actors or directors don’t have the the patience to allow for the necessary rehearsal time to develop and shape a piece to a point when its Gestalt becomes tangible enough to appreciate its merits for the piece. There is a threshold of becoming „listenable“, before which ideas can be dismissed too hastily. Directors are trained to ignore rudimentary stage or costume design in early rehearsals, or actors who aren’t off script, but may lack the ability to listen imaginatively and completingly („sich zurechthören“) to early stages of the music.

Listening habits (Hörgewohnheiten)

It was noteworthy that many of my interview partners referred to listening situations outside of rehearsals and performances as formative influences on their work. Their own listening habits and musical enculturations were often cited and referred to, but also their intentions towards the presumed listening habits of their audiences. There were two broad tendencies, I found: On the one hand, a quest for the unheard sound, the blank sonic canvas (Malte Beckenbach e.g. speaks of trying to develop music which is beyond the listening habits of the audience, so that they have to find their bearings and figure out, where they are, creating „narrative moments which feel new to both the performer on stage and the audience“). On the other hand an interest in referential sounds, in the quality of a pop song as a capsule of time, space, zeitgeist, etc., which forms an intermusical shorthand, like this one:

Within a few minutes of music and sound (even without the visuals), one is transported to a very specific time and place and a rich context of personal and social history, politics and Zeitgeist is evoked. The German pop theorist Diedrich Diederichsen describes this phenomenon as follows:

Music is a piece of world, just like architecture, but which, in contrast to architecture, one can expand and extend much further via quotation and imitation. Music starts as a world, as a quotation, as an acoustic photograph and is then transformed into something else, a painting. Most music of today, particularly pop music, is both: world and tapestry, inanimate object and yet rendered alive, reducible to broken intentions and weird passions and fetishes. From there, one could lead it into theatre and then somewhere else altogether. Start with a familiar function then grant this purely functional music autonomy.[4]

In this context it is not just important, what musicians listen to – current or historic mainstream to be familiar with listening hegemonies then and now or, experimental fringe material to expand one’s palate and pallette and surprise mainstream audiences or appeal to niche target groups. It is significant how they listen: on vinyl or spotify, on iPhone speakers or high end monitor speakers („Abhörer“), which dancing, jogging or commuting. All these instances of listening as musicking – to use Christopher Small’s ever-useful coinage – become nodes in a continuously expanding web of intermusical references, both personal and shared.

To sound like xy (Sich anhören, wie xy)

Finally, given the somewhat conflicted role of theatre music between both autonomous contribution and utilitarian background, theatre musicians have to negotiate between being at service and recognisable, using and imitating styles or musical worlds and developing one’s own signature sound, being heard or unheard (with a nod to Claudia Gorbman’s seminal book on film music, Unheard melodies). In German „sich anhören wie“ includes the notion of listening but means „to sound like…“. So this concern about the recipient’s listening, is embedded in this discourse: Beckenbach puts it like this:

When someone asks me to create something that sounds „pleasant“, some of my colleagues would be offended. I try to see this as a challenge to focus on this notion and try to achieve this effect in a way that is still interesting and artistically valid and ideally to still make it sound like a Malte Beckenbach track.

Lars Wittershagen, who also works a lot with adapting existing songs or styles puts it this way: Despite having to a great variety of musical idioms he has a signature sound based on the selection of sounds and timbres, an atmosphere of melancholy at the heart of his arrangements, which makes him recognizable. Whether it is football chants, brass band, Bossa nova or Dubstep – it all has to „go through his computer“, he says.[5]

Theatre musicians thus marry their own listening habits, preferences and personal style to the kind of auditory experience they and the creative team feel the theatre piece and performance concept in question call for and the kind of musical attention they aim to achieve by their audience.

Conclusion

What this brief list of instances and processes of listening indicates, is how theatre production and performance are pervaded at each and every stage with processes of aural attention which are layered and multi-directional. For theatre musicians there are multiple interesting tensions to navigate, to consider and to thrive upon as composers, musicians and performers:

  • Between listening to the sound world of the text and ones inner sonic imagination in response
  • Between listening to the actors’ utterances, gestures and noises and making them listen to one’s own musical utterances, gestures and noises
  • Between one’s own listening habits and those imagined to be the audience’s.
  • Between the necessity to work with musical mock ups and imperfect renditions and the risk of one’s idea not (yet) being heard
  • Between stylistic malleability and maintaining one’s own stylistic signature

I have thus tried to sketch out a listening dispositive which is different to that of an audience member, and to explore how this is manifest in a small sample of discourse fragments and positions from a relatively neglected creative force in theatre making.


[1] See e.g. Rost who critiques the underlying normative ideals of listening, which are fundamental for the handbooks: concentrated listening (e.g. in speech perception), structural listening (e.g. in music reception) and listening-to-signals (e.g. in noticing significant sounds and noises) (2014, 103; 192; 290). These notions privilege forms of listening based on an awake and investigative focus with an aim of understanding over the many ways in which our auditory attention is distracted, drifting, unconscious and unfocused.

[2] „Viel passiert auf der Probe. Ich bin einfach oft da und höre zu, wenn die Schauspieler*innen lesen oder irgendwas tun, und dann entwickle ich zumindest schon mal etwas oder suche nach Sounds. Das ist immer ganz spannend, finde ich, wenn man die Stimmlagen von allen Schauspieler*innen neben sich hat, dann nimmt man das tatsächlich schon auch mit, finde ich, in der Tonart, in der man sich bewegt oder in dem, was dagegen steht, oder in kleinen Klängen, die man plötzlich in einem Logic-Album findet und dann bearbeitet.“

[3] „Das Improvisieren sieht bei mir so aus, dass ich unter Kopfhörern arbeite, während der/die Regisseur*in neben mir Gespräche mit den Schauspieler*innen führt. Das scheint wichtig zu sein, dass ich das eben nicht zu Hause mache, sondern dass die Musik an dem Ort, wo es passiert, entsteht. Ich nehme bestimmte Stimmungen und Irritationen auf und komme stilistisch irgendwie auf eine Spur, die mir hilft und die mich auch in das Stück einbettet.“

[4] Der vom Theater längst geahnte Umstand, dass Musik nicht einfach eine weitere, eventuell korrespondierende Kunst ist, hat sich mittlerweile herumgesprochen. Musik ist ein Stück Welt, genauso wie Architektur, das man aber, im Gegensatz zur Architektur, über Zitat und Nachbildung hinaus noch wesentlich weiter ausbauen kann. Musik beginnt als Welt, als Zitat, als akustische Fotographie und verwandelt sich dann in etwas anderes, ein Gemälde. Die meiste Musik der Gegenwart, zumal die Pop-Musik, ist beides, Welt, Tapete, unbelebtes Objekt, und dennoch hervorgebracht, rückführbar zu kaputten Intentionen und seltsamen Leidenschaften und Fetischismen. Von da aus könnte man sie hereinführen ins Theater und dann ganz woanders hin. Mit einer vertrauten Funktion beginnen und dann dieser rein funktionalen Musik Autonomie verleihen. (Diederichsen, Diedrich: »Fülle des Wohllauts. Ein guter Popsong bleibt auch im Theater immer er selbst – von der Rolle der Musik bei Thalheimer, Christoph Marthaler, Alain Platel, Frank Castorf und manch anderem«, in: Theater heute 10 (2003): S. 18 – 25, hier: S. 24.)

[5] LW: „Ich glaube, was von mir gefordert wird, ist teilweise extrem unterschiedlich. Mal sind es Live-Chöre, mal Einspielungen, verschiedene Stilistiken und so dachte ich lange von mir, dass ich gar keine eigene Handschrift habe, weil ich eben in so unterschiedlichen Feldern arbeite. Oder höchstens, dass die Handschrift darin besteht, dass ich so flexibel bin. Aber mittlerweile denke ich das nicht mehr: Ich glaube, es ist zum einen der melancholische Charakter, von dem ich vorhin gesprochen habe, und eine bestimmte Auswahl an Sounds und Klangfarben, sowie der elektronische Charakter meiner Kompositionen, die einen Wiedererkennungseffekt haben.

DR: Ich kann da bei dir auch nicht den Finger drauflegen: Es gibt einerseits eine enorm große Palette von Idiomen, mit denen du spielst – von Blaskapelle über Fußballchöre bis zu Bossa-Nova und Dubstep …

LW: aber alles muss einmal durch meinen Computer [lacht]. “

Genetics of ‘Incidental’ Music

by David Roesner

(Based on a presentation at the international conference “Tracing Creation”, Antwerp, 9-11 March 2016)

Abstract: In 2010, I collaborated with the actor and writer Bella Merlin (UC Riverside, California) and director Miles Anderson as the composer and sound designer of Merlin’s one-woman show Tilly No-Body. Catastrophes of Love. The project was an episodic portrayal of the famous Austrian actor Tilly Wedekind (1886-1970) and her troubled marriage to playwright Frank Wedekind, whose muse and leading lady she became at the expense of other engagements as an artist. In this post, I will reflect on the slightly unusual creation process of this highly musical piece of theatre across two continents and a range of technologies. Using concrete examples from the production process, I want to analyze the different kinds of dialogic relationship between music/sound and acting/writing/directing and will seek to tease out some wider implications for the relationship of theatre and music in theatre-making processes.

One of my current interests is to investigate processes and aesthetics of contemporary incidental music, theatre music or sound design (see my comments on the distinction between those terms in Roesner 2018), particularly in European theatre practices. This is an often marginalized area in both theatre and performance studies and musicology – the former tends to feel it lacks the specific competence for analysis, the latter often dismisses it as mere “Gebrauchsmusik” or “utilitarian music” without sufficient musical merit. (A colleague, who writes and performs incidental music very successfully in Germany, Ingo Günther, made a very pithy comment about the notion of utilitarian music: he asked, so what is utilitarian acting, utilitarian directing or utilitarian stage design, then? (Helmig 2015)

In 2008, a special issue of Theatre Research International entitled „Genetics of Performance“ was published, which introduced this term to highlight an increasing interest by theatre and performance scholars in rehearsal practices, development processes and the nature of creative work in their field of research. From such a perspective, the music written or adapted for theatrical performances is an interesting case in point, not least because as a discipline/field of work it has seen particularly drastic technological and aesthetic developments in the past two to three decades and has started to leave a wealth of digital traces. So before discussing a case study of a particular sound design I worked on a few years ago, I’d like to sketch out some of these developments.

Theatre Music and genetic research

  1. Incidental Music or Theatre Music, as I prefer to call it (since ‚incidental‘ already seems to suggest a marginal role), has become much more neatly fitted to the individual production and much more closely intertwined with its processes of creation. While historically, theatre music was either was a frame (with an opening overture, entr’actes, which separated acts and/or scene changes, and a finale), which had no or merely a passing relationship to the play at hand, or a score produced in relation to a particular play (but not necessarily a particular production) – Beethovens Music for Goethes Egmont [1809], or Mendelssohn’s Music for Shakespeares Midsummer Night’s Dream [1826/43] are famous examples –, today’s theatre composers tend to generate music which is tailored to a specific production and is an integral part of its structure, aesthetics and conceptual design.
  2. Since music production is often (but not always) digital nowadays, creating a score for a show often produces many successive files in sound editing software such as Logic Pro, Cubase or Ableton Live. Like edits in the dramatic text or devised script, these layers of drafts document changes in the dramaturgy, the timing of scenes, the developing aesthetics of performance. They also may give us access to rehearsal strategies, as many directors – from Meyerhold to more contemporary examples – use music in developing scenes, atmospheres, characters and subtexts, while the music itself may well no longer be present in the final performance.
  3. Many theatre musicians nowadays are present throughout the rehearsal period and often even earlier, which means that they no longer primarily re-act to a largely finished product (like most film-composers do), but influence the dramaturgical development and the conceptual ‘reading’ of the material throughout the creative process significantly. This may manifest itself in strong musical assertions, such as musician Bert Wrede and director Michael Thalheimer’s decision to use the film theme of Won Kar Wei’s In the Mood for Love, for almost the entire production of Emila Galotti at the Deutsches Theater Berlin in 2001.
  4. In a post-modern world, theatre music has increasingly become intertextual (again, the clip we have just seen demonstrates this) and with its web of references and citation thus also often documents what films, composers, rock artists etc. were influential points of references for the creation process and left traces on the theatrical imagination.
  5. In terms of performance genetics, theatre music is also interesting due to the complex materiality and mediality of its traces and the related forms of communication. It is a mixture of metaphors (how else to describe music) and very concrete, quantitative data (length or volume of a track), a paradox of the immaterial nature of music and the very tangible means of production and reproduction of instruments, recording and amplification devices, interactive sound design set-ups, etc.

Now I’d like to turn to the case study in question, in which I was involved as a sound designer with the aim to examine our process in relation to its outcome.

Tilly No-Body

Tilly No-Body (Davis, CA, 2010) was written by Bella Merlin who – after playing Lulu as a young actress in London – became fascinated by the first actress to play this part, Frank Wedekind’s much younger wife and muse, Tilly. Tilly had a troubled marriage with Frank and a roller-coaster career on the Weimar stage.

Bella Merlin with a photograph of Frank and Tilly Wedekind. Photo: Barry Schwartz

Bella researched and wrote the script, often using Tilly and Frank’s original texts from plays, letters and Tilly’s autobiography: Lulu – Die Rolle meines Lebens [Lulu The Role of My Life].

It was consciously designed as a one-woman-show with a distinct circus-aesthetic, a range of ‘attractions’ (see show programme below), which cast snapshots on key aspects of this relationship.

A core theme was the question of identity: Bella writes in her blog: “Who are we as actors? What lies beneath the mask? How do we peel away our social, professional, personal, domestic masks to prepare a blank canvas for creating a role? In fact, once we do peel away the masks, does anything lie beneath?” As Tilly was forced by Frank to be exclusively acting in his plays, she was limited to speaking his lines, becoming a mere voice/mouthpiece to his thoughts. The theme of a complex and ‘composed’ personality and its conflicting layers was reflected in the idea of sloughing skins like a snake. Bella wore five costumes underneath each other, shedding them one by one as the performance progressed.

On of Tilly’s many iterations. Directed by Miles Anderson, costumes by Maggie Morgan, stage design by John Iacovelli, lighting by Thomas J. Munn. Photo: Barry Schwartz

Music was already a major feature of the project from its planning stages: Bella herself is a singer-songwriter and had written a number of original songs for the play. She also had very clear ideas about musical moods and sounds for a soundtrack that would help set the scenes in this fast-paced kaleidoscope of locations and interactions. For some of the songs she accompanied herself on a lute (see below), on others, I prepared a backing track for her. Soundscapes, non-diegetic music, live and recorded accompaniment were often neatly interwoven.

Bella Merlin singing her original songs to words/themes from Tilly Wedekind’s life. Photo: Barry Schwartz

The full show can be seen here:

The unusual element of our collaboration, however, was the geographic distance during our collaboration and the need to work together almost entirely virtually.

A Virtual Genesis

With the exception of a first meeting in person a couple of months before rehearsals started, Bella and I had to collaborate across 8 time zones or 5000 miles, since she was working in Davis, California and I was in Exeter, United Kingdom. We only met again for the final week of dress rehearsals and tech runs in Davis. At our first meeting, Bella already had a pretty clear sense of where she felt the show would need music and she had already written four original songs for the piece (inspired not least by Wedekind’s own proclivity for cabaret style couplets), which I later underscored, but also used as a melodic and harmonic basis for most of the scenes.

Contrary to the more wide-spread practice of developing and adding music in reaction to rehearsed scenes, I started developing the music ahead of any rehearsals and had in fact devised most of it by the time rehearsals started. What this meant was that quite against my dearly held convictions about the necessity of an early presence of the theatre musicians at rehearsals and a close co-development of the music with other elements of the mise en scène. I didn’t spent any time in rehearsals, but instead had to rely on Bella’s descriptions via email, filmed excerpts on YouTube and a good dollop of intuition.

For a researcher of the genesis of performances, who in Josette Feral’s words tries to “facilitate the preparation of pertinent and well-informed analyses of the production, studies that take the creative process into account by linking it to the final product presented onstage” (2008, 226) this might lead to a number of reasonable assumptions regarding the relationship of music and theatre in this production. On the one hand, the music preceded the production, but it closely followed the text and its implicit staging, which Bella in her multiples roles as writer, dramaturg and prospective actor had exceptionally clear ideas about. It would be fair to assume this context would lead to a certain compositional coherence, structural clarity and for the music to play an integral role in the subsequent staging.

In contrast, the relative absence from the process and the modelling of pieces of music to filmic snippets as well as in reaction to email instructions, however articulate, would suggest the music might have been more a servant, a filmic underscoring, an afterthought, at worst at kind of illustration or ‚mood enhancement‘ to the piece.

I would, however, argue that despite a genetic process that did suggest otherwise, the music was in fact notably closely integrated and interwoven with the performance and in constant flux between following and leading the action and the continuous construction of character that was so central to the piece’s theme. It also was often deliberately contrapuntal. Bella Merlin reflects this:

David often works against the dramatic texture of the scene: if the scene is already melancholic, then he finds a pulse or a key that counterpoints that to add to the audience’s emotional journey. If the scene is frenetic, he finds an atmospheric cranking up of tension in a different time signature from the written text. In this way, he weaves a whole new thread into the fabric of the production. There are times when the sound acts as a partner to the actor: Frank Wedekind’s spirit is often conjured up by the soundscape. Other times, Tilly’s inner state is revealed. Some of the melodies that I have written for the cabaret songs are reconfigured in motifs within the music. Sound effects are given a life that renders them more than just a ticking clock or a tram screeching or a train bell clanging.

Merlin’s production blog for the production of Tilly No-Body, 2010

What a focus on the genesis would also reveal (not least because many exchanges happened in writing) is that due to the time difference and distance certain musical structures and ideas actually prevailed, as we couldn’t change them instantly there and then in the rehearsal room to fit the performance. So by the time I could have made edits and change the length of a piece of the timing of a cue within it, Bella had found an acting solution to match her performance to the score.

And finally, the music was certainly quite eclectic (see examples below) and despite casting a reasonably careful net of motifs and melodic throughlines, it was also characterized by a certain playfulness and ‘ad-hoc-ness’ rather than coherently through-composed. This was not just in response to the dramaturgy of “attractions”, which Bella had developed for the script (see programme notes above), but also due to the material circumstances of the music production. This perhaps suggests another angle on the genesis: a cultural materialist account on creation.

Tilly dances. Music: David Roesner
Backing track to „Girl on an elastic rope“. Music: David Roesner
Tilly as puppet. Music: David Roesner

Cultural Materialism

This approach would suggest that all art is born out of a set of material conditions which leave a mark on their process and result: Theatre music is, more than I wanted to acknowledge, subject to the ‘means of production’ (in Marxist parlance) available at any given time. These became, if I am honest, quite an important sideshow in my process and remind me that even if I tend to give meaning to all artistic choices as expressions of theatrical purpose, performative coherence, dramaturgical structure etc. when writing about practical processes or analyzing performances, there were other drivers at play, too:

One of my concerns was (and is) that given my restrictions of time, equipment and experience I was limited to using readily available software and audio and would fail to make the result sound ‚professional‘. I was acutely aware of the material limits and abilities at my disposal and one creative impulse that was entirely external to the show and its theme or dramaturgy, was how to sound ‘good’ (see also: Curtin and Roesner 2016). But where does this notion ‘sounding good and professional’ come from and what does it entail?

In theory, I embrace each and every discourse about the imperfect, the ready made, the ‚cheap but sexy‘, the appeal of the trashy, the amateur as a quality etc. etc. Indeed, reference points that occasionally came up between Bella and me due to the cabaret and circus metaphors of the misé en scence were artists like Tom Waits or the Tiger Lillies, who would each run a mile and then some from sounding ‘good and professional’ on the face of it. (Needless to say, a great deal of care goes into their respective sonic scruffiness.)

I did rediscover that ‘finding a sound’ is essential in theatre music, arguably more than any harmonic or melodic considerations: In the digital age, ‚orchestration‘ is still important, but it has shifted towards technology, which is at the same time liberating (as it put the means of production into the hands of the creative worker), but at the same time limits them to the choices made available by the affordable software packages. I fell in love with some of the sounds available through Garage Band such as the Glockenspiel (much to the amusement of the creative team), and detested others, mostly brass instruments, still using them as they were called for by the piece.

My other limit and chip on my shoulder that I felt I had to overcome is that I don’t play the piano – which is a real handicap. Luckily, I had a midi pickup for my guitar, which allowed me to play some of the virtual instruments (such as the double-bass and others) with some degree of musicianship. But this means that the music is influenced by my specific instrumental sensibilities and by a number of quirks that happen when you play a virtual saxophone through an electric guitar. (Here, ‚incidental music‘ as a term makes sense again due to the accidents and incidents that may shape the final result.)

I guess what I am trying to say here, and what a cultural materialist’s awareness would highlight, is that a great deal of my creative choices were an inextricable mixture of musico-dramaturgical ideas and concepts, music-technological limitations and opportunities and some largely extra-musical anxieties born perhaps out of my dual professional personality as an academic and artist, with an emerging heavy imbalance towards the academy. The latter, however, would probably remain largely invisible to the cultural materialist unless he/she was able to offer a thick description and was privy to insights also into some of the immaterial factors going into artistic processes.

So, the point I am trying to make with my perhaps rather narcissistic account, is that there are some rather interesting and unusual factors to consider in genetic research and that theatre music is a particularly interesting prism though which to look at these processes:

  • Theatre music occupies an intersection between temporal and spatial dramaturgies;
  • It is related to structure, atmospheres and characters alike;
  • It is both immaterial and highly technical;
  • It is influenced by considerations of concepts, abilities, and material conditions;
  • It follows a good deal of intuition and taste
  • It negotiates the coherence of the performance with a musical coherence.

Conclusion

I will pause and finish on this last point: Creating theatre music and sound design is perhaps a more intuitive process than I wanted to admit: it is determined by body memory (in relation to instruments) and habits with the various interfaces one uses – usually the computer. Despite many conceptual and dramaturgical considerations (many of which fell by the wayside eventually), a musical ‘instinct’ often takes over, which I find difficult to attribute meaning to, when wearing my academic hat.

The process or „genesis“ is then characterized by emergent dramaturgies and processes. Jeffrey Goldstein defines „emergence“ as follows: „The arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems“ (Goldstein 1999). Theatre music could thus be regarded the result of a process between human and non-human agents, by which structures, relationships, motifs, sounds etc. come to the fore and fall into place; a process which couldn’t have been thought of or determined in advance, and also could probably not have been fully articulated at the time. But how, then, as researchers do we frame and analyze the serendipitous, emergent, playful, intuitive and arbitrary? Any comments or suggestions?


„Great minds…

…think alike“, is a saying in English (and is always used with a bit of self-deprecating irony, when used to include oneself!). And so I recently discovered a blog entry by musicologist Dr Leah Broad from the University of Oxford, which succinctly raises and eloquently discusses some of the very questions and themes that we seek to tackle in our DFG research project. In fact, the parallels between her observations – even though focussing on 19th century incidental music – and the introduction to my forthcoming book on contemporary theatre music are striking. 

Broad is also puzzled by the mismatch between the „sheer volume of incidental music written in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries“ and the lack of scholarly and artistic interest in this wealth of material: „Why“, she asks, „[has] incidental music received so little attention until now?“

She gives some very plausible answers to this question. In the tradition of musicology and classical concert programming a number of factors work against an appreciation of theatre music: the myths of the autonomy of music and the cult of the „solo genius“, the particularly strong dependence of theatre music on its context, and the challenges it presents to publishing and performance. All this she develops in more detail and I highly recommend reading it in her blog entry „Why incidental music?“ directly.

She summarizes (and I couldn’t agree more):

Prioritising incidental music means questioning many of the values and assumptions that have labelled it as uninteresting, unexciting, and unworthy. It doesn’t just give us new music. It gives us a new way of looking at the music that we already know, of hearing it afresh, and listening to theatre history with new ears. (Leah Broad)

The only thing to add would be to say: an appreciation of theatre music not only opens our ears afresh for theatre history, but equally for the theatre of the present and the future.

I look forward to discussing our mutual interest further at this year’s meeting of the working group Sound, Voice and Music at the TaPRA (Theatre and Performance Research Association) conference in Exeter.

Notes on Incidental Music: Musiturgy of Initial Conditions

A Guest Blog Entry by David Megarrity

INTRODUCTION

A rich practice as a theatre composer is likely to involve gigs that range across a spectrum: from projects in which music or songs are central drivers (or work alongside other artforms to shape meaning in process and product) to more traditional formulations of music’s role in western theatre. I prefer the former, but the latter is much more common.

Unfortunately mainstream theatre often follows cinema in its use of music, in that it’s ubiquitous, but apparently not integral to proceedings. In mainstage, western drama it’s standard practice for the script, director and other production elements to instruct composers who work separately from the creative team, and for music to be incorporated late in the process, ensuring its status as an end-stage add-on, “a kind of sonorous sticking plaster” (Cook 1998, vi). Many theatre productions utilise music under, or interstitially between scenes, echoing the entwined encoding of music and film, which Cohen (2012, 3) describes as being like “…an invisible orchestra transmitting music from some place other than the world the characters inhabit, they are, for all purposes, incorporeal.” Michel Chion (in Herzog, 2010, 6) calls this ‘pit-music’.

While there are exceptions, music in movie is most often typecast in this supporting role, “…composed with the understanding that it will not be consciously attended to” (Cohen in Juslin 2001, 249). A similar backgrounding is standard practice in mainstream theatre, where music“…tends to serve the visual arrangement, or the design. (Kendrick, L and Roesner, D [eds] (2011, xi). However, Theatre’s tendency to evoke, rather than emulate reality means there’s more room for musical experimentation, even within these constraints.

Examining how composition begins rather than how it ends up, this piece includes practical examples from projects in which music is central, and others in which music may ostensibly have been commanded to ‘go play in the corner’, yet still makes a significant contribution to the overall work in performance. To some extent the roles of composer and sound designer are often conflated – with implications for employment conditions. However, the sound design discussed here is more conceptual than technical. 

Seeking dictionary definitions of the word ‘incidental’ will reveal phrases such as ‘not the main focus’ – ‘a minor accompaniment’ –‘likely to ensue as chance or minor consequence’ – ‘happening in connection with something of major importance’. Though I prefer my theater music front and centre, this piece explores incidental music, and how it may be enriched.

HARDWARE AND SIGNAGE

Incidental music may well seem secondary, and serve quite practical functions such as covering real or fictional changes of location, just as music in lifts is intended to ease artificial transitions between floors. It assists an audience to structure their experience of a segmented performance.

We all know that music is played in shops to offer a sonic branding and bring about an environment conducive to purchase, or simply to add human energy to the dead-eared halls and walls of commerce. Here, music performs like household hardware – not the kind of thing you’d usually notice unless it wasn’t there or was broken. Theatre sometimes uses music to provide energy that it does not have the resources to provide itself.

Incidental music could be used as sonic bookends to support stories or hinges to connect and articulate chunks of action. It can be used as a kind of ‘grouting’ to not only fill little gaps between segments, but also sonically ‘seal off’ the performance from real life, making its fiction watertight as if to say ‘these are the sounds of this world’.

Designed to be hidden, music as underscore or atmosphere in theatre performs as a paint primer: a first coat applied to prepare a surface for the final coat of perception, something that disguises and bonds a rough surface.

Sometimes incidental music is like a sign on a toilet door. It’s simply functional. It serves a particular purpose, offering information that orients the listener in a space, and signals without language where they’re likely to be going later in the evening.

All of these analogies for incidental music are deliberately mundane. Incidental music may seem to be predetermined as a wallflower at the theatrical dance, but the application of concept and craft, experimentation and exploration can result in a kind of enrichment by stealth.

It’s been my experience working as a composer in both theatre and film that the more music is ordered around, and cut to fit the hard corners of the overall work, the less useful it becomes. Its essential power (the reason why you’d have music in theatre in the first place) is attenuated every time it’s trimmed or squeezed into an existing structure, and it begins to resemble the ‘walk-on part’ it plays in television.

Sometimes the obvious choices that present themselves for any given musical solution must be considered. Cinema, television and advertisers in any form define this territory for us very well, and have entrained the ears of artists and audiences to be ready for the cliché or quick fix of ‘production music’, which is written and recorded specifically for synchronisation with audiovisual works. These are intertextual short cuts, relying on known tropes to evoke a set of ideas or actions unrealized onstage. Here, music performs as emotional lubricant.

Theatre audiences arrive with ears full of pre-conceived ideas about the role music usually plays in gluing together narrative chunks. Is a human interest story shifting location? Play marimbas in fifths over a sped-up shot of the city. Movie trailers are filled with deep booms and bangs, horns of doom, backwards cymbals, strategic silences and selections of pop and rock, with sound and music drafted in to build significance, add energy and cover for a lack of story. Imagine them without it. Imagine Seinfeld without that awful synthesized bass playing in-between scenes, and even between lines of standup monologue. It’s hard to believe that each of these riffs is carefully composed by Jonathan Wolff to respond to the show (as he says) ‘designed not to interfere’ but nevertheless highly identifiable as a brand.

There’s a real art to servicing style and genre-driven composition, production music demands, but why hire a composer if you can simply download something suitable for your scene and pay for the rights? Even basic video and slideshow editing software often has options to include computer-generated music that “adds humor, excitement and drama.” Hopefully, even if a new production wants music to play a conventional role, they want it to be bespoke: something that belongs solely to the performance.

But what happens first? The descriptors, experiments, exemplars and reference points exchanged in early creative negotiations will form the crucible for composition, and therefore greatly influence process and product.

However ‘incidental’, the music must have its own life force in order for it to converse in a stimulating way with the other elements of the performance. Incidental music can become integral. If the initial conditions that launch its creation are carefully attended to. I’m now going to focus my attention on selected projects I’ve composed for, and how they started.

Demos

I like to provide my directors with demos of potential works. I don’t read or write staff notation so that’s how I compose anyway – by playing and recording music. These experiments are put together quickly, sometimes in response to briefs, sometimes there’s a freer play involved. This small body of work opens up discussion, and allows the music to settle in, being free-range, rather than battery-hen in how it may service the emerging show.

The cutting room floor often ends up crowded. Approaches discussed, but not explored, as well as discarded experiments, and other inaudible compromises form an essential component of the final product.

These samples need to be named. Sometimes these denominations might relate to the sequence they’re intended to soundtrack. Sometimes I’ll lift a title from the text of the piece, so it sounds more like it could belong. Once it inhabits a performance, it will be homed and nameless but you have to call it something in the first place, a title that offers a potential placement or flavor for the wordless music, and enables you and the team to talk about the music.

Tom Oliver plays crockery in The Empty City (2013)

AUREALISATION AND INITIAL OFFERS: THE EMPTY CITY (2013)

Sometimes non-musical creatives will have a sense of the kind of music they’d like as they’re dreaming up a performance, and these early discussions fundamentally influence the process of composing incidental music.

There’s a relationship between the director and composer that leads to the aurealising of a work. I just made that word up. David Fenton, director of The Empty City (2013) had presented me with general ideas as to the ‘feel’ of the music that might inhabit the work. His suggestion of Mark Mothersbaugh’s ‘Let Me Tell you about My Boat’ from The Life Aquatic (2004) led me to compose The Busy City, a piece with a similar optimistic rush and simple harmonized climbs and falls. His enjoyment of this piece acted as confirmation of a compositional approach. I knew I was on the right track, and this riff became a motif in the final work. Music became a very active player in the process of creative development.

Notably, when it came time to release the soundtrack as music alone, many pieces of incidental music were removed – they simply didn’t stand up when separated from their theatrical context.

 

Brian Lucas in De Profundis, 2015 (Image Dylan Evans)

RESEARCH AND COMPOSITIONAL CONCEPTUALIZATION: DE PROFUNDIS (2015)

When it came to a performance adaptation of the mountainous DeProfundis, this same director was up-front in saying he ‘couldn’t hear the work’. This laid down a challenge. Naturally he was focused on the demands of reinventing Oscar Wilde’s radical text. It was clear the emerging production concept was going to be post-dramatic; not a ‘staged bio-pic’ but rather a performance that knew it was a performance. Obviously standard musical conventions would not suffice. My initial thought was to create ‘beds upon which the text could toss, turn and luxuriate’.

As well as reading the original text, I researched around the work, looking into what music Wilde himself liked, or wrote about, and in what form he may have listened to it. With an awareness of his place in history I had a hunch that he was writing around the advent of recorded music.

Within De Profundis, Wilde made reference to a particular ‘aesthetic quality [he was striving for] – the ‘cry of Marsysas’Marsysas was a mythical figure who essentially challenged Apollo to a musical duel, reached the point where he had ‘no more song’ and was vanquished, then punished horrifically. It is this mysterious ‘cry’, Wilde says that he senses in much (for him) ‘modern art’ – Verlaine, Baudelaire, and “the deferred resolutions of Chopin’s music.” (2015, 57) I felt no need to prove these ideas musically, but considered it a key source of inspiration in a process of turning concepts into composition.

In addition to being a kind of music-focussed dramaturgical research, this is a kind of compositional algebra, with a number of unknowns, including my own ability to play music like this. I wanted to push my own limits and find the sounds rather than design and execute them. Here the indeterminacy is deliberate: what kind of music do you make when you have no more music left in you? This led me towards the unfamiliar piano as an instrument, and an idea that I’d explore with unresolved music through improvisation. I also experimented with looping fragments of Chopin as part of the process. I visited a local decommissioned jail built around the same time as the prison that held Wilde, to get a sense of the place, and its reverberant qualities. I even considered recording there, but budget didn’t allow so decided to conduct my initial experiments in a church hall, limiting my instrumental and technological palette to sounds I could fit in the boot of a car.

 

THINKING WITH YOUR HANDS: CREATING DEMOS FOR SCRIBBLE (2004)

For a much earlier piece called ‘Scribble’ (2004), a non-verbal work for children which contrasted industrial and organic approaches to creativity, part of the brief was about the ‘gaps’ between these two worlds. The job of the music was to assist in the creation of the environment as well as to structure the experience narratively. The sonic palette was of contrasting crude rural instruments such as banjos with early domestic synthesizers. Part of the design and narrative involved a fiddler, who played violin while floating around the set in a self-propelled boat. My job was clear. I needed to provide an underscore of musical ‘sea’ for the fiddler’s white caps of melody to crest. These ‘wefts’ are often the most maddeningly subtle part of a composer’s work. It feels like blowing glass – subtle differences in sonic components result in a wildly different texture.

Jan Van Dijk and Jonathon Oxlade in Scribble (2004)

As the work emerged a new recurring sequence became a feature: the sending of messages between worlds. This performed a gap, not only between rural and urban, but between narrative segments. This idea of suspension I played with through layers of high tensile slide guitar, pizzicato uke, banjo and toy glockenspiel in a simple chord progression. Once we got in the theatre, witnessing the low-tech design solution of a two-dimensional miniature aeroplane, wobbling on a wire, as the music played, the tune seemed absolutely right for the moment, and was remixed several times to support each recurring action.

The flimsy cardboard plane, squeaking on its pulley, given lift by the visible wire and the music I’d created, under the gaze of the actors and audience, encapsulated the idea of incidental music as messenger.

To some extent the ideas in each of these instances emerges from the musical materials, a kind of ‘thinking with your hands’. Your sonic palette is determined not only by the initial conditions of the theatre work, but also the resources available to the composer. I composed the soundtrack to Scribble on acoustic instruments and toy keyboards in a laundry-strewn spare room during my (then toddler) son’s nap-times. I was lucky the ‘cardboard-and sticky-tape’ sound, as I called it then, well-suited the design world of the theatre show it supported.

 

WHAT MAKES IT THEATRICAL?

Sometimes these initial demos have no substance. They’re dull genre-play, in which only the expected is to be expected, or they’re not fully coherent within themselves. These are left behind. Others seem to pulse with their own life, lifting out of the circumstances of their creation into their own power. These seem like songs without words that are too vibrant and individualistic to be pulled back into line and collected into a suite of incidental music designed to serve an overarching purpose. Others seem to respond to the emerging world of the place they may end up belonging, or speak to their companion pieces in an interesting way. They’re interesting to listen to, but seem like they could be part of something else. Those are the ones you chase.

I’ve coined a couple of words here, and though you’ll find them elsewhere, they don’t describe the same ideas I’m trying to capture, and I’m interested to know how they sit with other theoreticians and practitioners. To me, the aurealisation of a piece of theatre represents the various processes a composer, sound designer, and other creatives engage with to work out what a performance is going to sound like. This may involve a very specific kind of praxis – musiturgy, by which I mean theoretical, conceptual, compositional and practical dramaturgy with a specifically musical lens. This is the heartland (and headland) of a theatre composer given a level of free rein to create original incidental music.

There are a complex set of decisions to be made in terms of what kind of musical language the performance is going to speak, and how these sounds, signs and symbols may be interpreted by its audience.

Deciding what makes a piece of music theatrical is entirely subjective. Your compositions must encounter the other elements of the production before this multivalent quality can be determined. Everyday usage of the word ‘theatrical’ (in English, at least) in relation to a person supposes a flamboyance – a quality of drawing attention to oneself that is unlikely to benefit incidental music. Sometimes as a composer you’re highly conceptual, turning symbols into sound. Sometimes you’re instinctive, thinking with your hands, just as a designer might pick up a pen and take a line for a walk.

For one student production (Australian Drama, 2015) which I wrote and directed, I tuned a transistor radio to an AM station and arranged it to be placed onstage and switched on and off to cover shifts of timeframes and scenes, playing whatever happened to be broadcasting at the time, in real time.

 

Nominally the radio belonged to ‘an unseen cleaner’ whose sounds filled the empty space, and therefore could be considered quasi diegetic. Less incidental than coincidental music, it was fascinating to note the number of connections one could infr between a relatively random selection of interstitial music and sound (songs, advertisements and announcement) with the dramatic action that surrounded it.

Perhaps context is all, but even when there’s no actual composition, there’s always an element of curation. The retro ‘hits and memories’ format offered by this station I chose enabled the play to be soundtracked by Billy Joel, Simon and Garfunkel and advertisements for armchairs and automotive dealers. A Classical music station would have offered a completely different set of coincidences.

The root of the word curation is ‘cura’ – to show concern and care, take responsibility for – this is the role of the composer in creating and placing incidental music. Though it may be as mundane as music in a shop or lift, or dull as hardware like hinges or grouting, uninteresting surfaces such as paint or carpet (even a sign on a toilet door) you mightn’t appreciate their derivation, craft, function or beauty, because they’re designed not to command your attention. Yet you wouldn’t be without them.

Indeed without that sign on the toilet door you could end up in very much the wrong place.

 

BIOGRAPHY

David Megarrity is an Australian writer, composer, musician, performer and academic creating at the intersection of music, performance and projected image. https://staff.qut.edu.au/staff/d.megarrity

 

COMPOSITIONS REFERENCED: SOUNDCLOUD PLAYLIST

 

ASSOCIATED BLOG POSTS

The Empty City

De Profundis

Scribble

Casting Wide- experiments in soundtracking Theatre

 

SHOWS/SCRIPTS REFERENCED

The Empty City (Megarrity, D 2013)

De Profundis (Wilde, adapted Fenton, D Lucas, B 2015)

Scribble (Oxlande, J, Baumann, T 2004)

Australian Drama (Megarrity, 2015)

 

REFERENCES

Cohen, Thomas F. 2012. Playing to the camera: Musicians and musical performance in documentary cinema. London; New York: Wallflower Press.

Cook, Nicholas. 1998. Analysing musical multimedia. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Juslin, Patrick N. and John A. Sloboda. 2001. Music and emotion: Theory and research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kendrick, Lynne and David Roesner, eds. 2011. Theatre noise: The sound of performance. Newcastle upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Herzog, Amy. 2010. Dreams of difference, songs of the same: The musical moment in film. Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press.

Wilde, Oscar. 2015, De Profundis, Open Road Media, Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [25 February 2019].

 

IMAGES

As attributed or as below

Transistor radio CC Jo Haupt

Male toilet symbol – toilet door sign CC

Hinge Fernando de Sousa CC

Blick ins Archiv: „Music as Performance“. Ein Workshop

Workshop by David Roesner given in May 2013 at the Marlowe Studio in Canterbury

As our research on contemporary theatre music often comes across fluid boundaries between „acting“ and „making music“, between „scene“ and „score“, I thought I’d share a little summary of a two-day workshop I gave some years ago.

The workshop was held in May 2013 at the Marlowe Studio in Canterbury as part of ‚Lifting the Curtain‘ — a series of workshops and events organised be the Drama Department, School of Arts, University of Kent, funded by the AHRC. In this workshop we explored the notion of using musical instruments on stage. This video was filmed by Käroli Grenman and edited by Peter John-Morton. It was announced as follows:

Music as Performance — Theatre with Instruments

In this workshop we will explore the potential that instruments can have on stage, and the act of ‚musicking‘ as an act of acting or performing. Music can be theatrical and theatre can have musicality. Avantgarde artists like John Cage, Laurie Anderson, Mauricio Kagel or Heiner Goebbels, but also mainstream theatre productions like the so-called ‚actor-muso‚ versions of Sweeney Todd and other musicals have all set precedents for this kind of work. We will work with improvisations, exploring new playing techniques, placement in space and use of light to unleash theatrical expressiveness and narrative from musical instruments. Please bring your instrument(s), if you have any (you don’t have to be particularly good on them!) or come along without one.

What followed – as I remember – was an engaging encounter with some very motivated and creative people, all of whom were keen, willing and able to think outside the guitar case and sought to breathe new life into a bunch of instruments.

Playlists, Loops und Presets – Theatermusik im Zeichen ihrer Digitalisierung

Auszüge aus einem Vortrag von David Roesner im Rahmen des Panels „Sounds, Klicks, Loops. Szenen des (Maschinen-)Klangs“ bei der Tagung Theater und Technik (Gesellschaft für Theaterwissenschaft, Düsseldorf, 8.-11. November 2018)

Intro

Ein Bereich des Theaters, auf den sich die technischen Entwicklungen der letzten Jahre – unter anderem in Form der Digitalisierung – besonders signifikant ausgewirkt haben, ist die Schauspiel- oder Theatermusik. Ohnehin ist dieses Gewerke zu einem kreativen Motor von Dramaturgien, Ästhetiken und Spielformen zeitgenössischen Theaters geworden, wird aber nach wie vor von Kritik, Publikum und der Wissenschaft wenig beachtet. Auf der Basis von ca. 20 Interviews mit Theatermusiker*innen, die zurzeit inder deutschsprachigen Theaterlandschaft arbeiten, möchte ich die Frage stellen, wie Theatermusiker*innen die Rolle von Technologie für ihre Arbeit reflektieren. Methodisch greife ich dabei zum einen auf Formen von Diskursanalyse zurück, besonders aber auf die in den Sozialwissenschaften und der Psychologie erprobte Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, die besonders für Leitfadeninterviews mit eher kleinen Gruppen geeignet ist.

 The aim of interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) is to explore in detail how participants are making sense of their personal and social world, and the main currency for an IPA study is the meanings particular experiences, events,states hold for participants. The approach is phenomenological […] in that it involves detailed examination of the participant’s life-world; it attempts to explore personal experience and is concerned with an individual’s personal perception or account of an object or event, as opposed to an attempt to produce an objective statement of the object or event itself.[1]

Es wird niemanden überraschen, dass das zentrale Thema dabei in fast allen Interviews die Digitalisierung von Musikproduktion und –präsentation ist. Dieser „game changer“, wie Paul Clark das nennt, hat die Theatermusik der jetzigen Generation nachhaltig beeinflusst und spielt für ihre Arbeitsrealität, ihr künstlerisches Selbstverständnis und ihre Ästhetik eine zentrale Rolle.

Wenn man nun analysiert, wie die Musiker*innen über ihre Arbeit sprechen, scheint es sinnvoll, die Begriffe „Technik“ oder„Technologie“ durch den alten griechischen Terminus der „Techne“ zu ersetzen, der die auch im Titel der Konferenz angedeutete Dichotomie unterläuft. Techne wird eben im Allgemeinen als Verbindung zwischen künstlerischem und technischem Tun verstanden, denkt Ästhetik und Handwerk zusammen. Und der Begriff der Techne beschreibt zudem eine teleologische, d.h. auf einen Gegenstand ausgerichtete Kunstanstrengung, was eben auch Theatermusik von rein selbstbezüglicher Kunstmusik (mitunter als „absolute Musik“ (Carl Dahlhaus) oder als „music alone“ (Peter Kivy) bezeichnet) unterscheidet. (Ich würde nebenbei den oft verwendeten Begriff der ‚Gebrauchsmusik’ auch dringend streichen und stattdessen Harry Lehmanns Idee einer „relationalen Musik“ ins Feld führen – aber das ist eine andere Geschichte).

Die Techne der Theatermusik ist dabei komplex und beinhaltet traditionelle musikalische Fertigkeiten, wie Instrumentalspiel, Komposition,Notation oder Einstudierung und eben heute eine umfassende Beherrschung sogenannter DAW (Digital Audio Workstations) für die Produktion und das Arrangement von Sounds, das Aufnehmen und Bearbeiten von Klängen, das Abmischen und Mastern von tracks, die Toneinrichtung, Mikrophonierung und ggfs. Live-Wiedergabe und Mischung der Klangwelt einer Inszenierung.

Ich werde die wichtigsten Themenschwerpunkte überschriftartig zusammenfassen und versuchen am Ende ein kurzes Fazit daraus zu ziehen.

Themen

a.     Die Rolle des Computers

In den letzten Jahren ist der Computer zu einem professionellen Tonstudio avanciert und zum wichtigsten Instrument vielerTheatermusiker*innen geworden. Die Beziehung zu diesem Gerät wird dabei unterschiedlich artikuliert: einerseits wird der Computer als Speichermedium und Tonarchiv verstanden, durch das sich die Vielfalt und Zugänglichkeit von Klängen förmlich explodiert ist, zum anderen als Aufschreibesystem für musikalische Ideen und Klangvorstellungen (Jörg Gollasch spricht vom „verlängerten Arm”), häufig aber als Partner, der weder vollständig beherrschbar ist nochdessen Ziel es ist, natürliche Klänge oder Spielweisen zu imitieren. Ingo Günther: „Wenn ich überhaupt mit Computer arbeite, dann möchte ich auch, dass er etwas macht, was nur ein Computer kann.“ (Er gibt dabei ein Beispiel aus seiner Musik zum Eingebildeten Kranken.  Hier spielt der Computer bei Tempo 2000 ein präpariertes Cembalo, dass dann nur noch weißes Rauschen erzeugt). Malte Beckenbach spricht vom Computer als „Black Box“, die ihn aus musikalischen Gewohnheiten am Klavier befreit und für Gollasch schafft er anhand bestimmter graphischer Interfaces eine Möglichkeit sich überraschen zu lassen; Neues zu generieren, das man nichtvollständig antizipieren konnte, das aber gleichzeitig nicht beliebig ist. Für Lars Wittershagen macht die persönliche DAW sogar einen Teil des Personalstils aus: Er arbeitet zwar stilistisch sehr heterogen, von Blaskapelle über Fußballchörebis zu Bossa-Nova und Dubstep, aber alles muss, wie er sagt, einmal durch seinen Computer durch. Durch die dort getroffenen Voreinstellungen, Software-Konstellationen, Klangbibliotheken, sowie die erworbenen handwerklichen Gewohnheiten im Umgang damit, entsteht eine eigene künstlerische Handschrift.

b.     Identität: „Seasoning the presets“

Die künstlerische Identität, die gerade in der so oft als rein dienende Kunst missverstandene Theatermusik immer wieder Thema ist, besteht auch darin, dass die Musiker eine kritische Distanz zu den Produktionsmitteln artikulieren. Es sei, sagen zum Beispiel Peer Baierlein oder Paul Clark, zu einfach geworden, mit der am Hobbyraum-Poproduzenten orientierten Software, mal schnell ein paar Tracks und Loops zu erzeugen. Die Vor- und Nachteile digitaler Musikproduktion abwägend, sagt Clark: „The bad aspect of this is that it is possible to be lazy, to be a copy & paste composer.“ Beckenbach ergänzt:

 Oft ist die technische Entwicklung aber auch der Tod der Inspiration, denn wenn es zu einfach wird, dann wird es auch schnell wieder beliebig. Zum Teil beschränkt man sich dann auch mal absichtlich selbst [lacht], und an dem Punkt setzt dann auch die eigene künstlerische Persönlichkeit ein, die man als Theatermusiker braucht.

Als rote Fäden ziehen sich daher zwei Themen durch die Interviews: der Umgang mit sogenannten presets – damit sind hier voreingestellte Sounds und virtuelle Instrumente gemeint – und das Bedürfnis nach einer eigenen Sound-Library. Günther verwendet eine interessante Metapher in Bezug auf presets: Man müsse sie „zum Leben erwecken […] indem man sie nochmal durcharbeitet.“ Das sei wie Kochen: „Es gibt ja so fertige Mahlzeiten mit allen Zutaten, aber da will man ja auch noch mal nachwürzen. Man will das persönlich kriegen.“ Ein zweite Techne, die einige Musiker beschreiben, ist es, durch systematisches Aufnehmen von Alltags-Klängen oder instrumentalen Clips und deren Zurichtung als Samples, d.h. komponierbare Einheiten, die in Echtzeit verwandelt werden können, sich eine eigene Klangpalette zu schaffen. Die persönliche „Library“ gehört hier auch konstitutiv zur eigenen Handschrift und zur Identität innerhalb der community of practice. Zur Techne von Theaterkomponisten gehört also nicht nur das Erfinden von Melodien und Harmonien, sondern von Instrumenten, Aufnahmeverfahren und Formen der Verräumlichung von Musik.

c.    Ästhetische Spannung zwischen Analog und Digital

Bei aller Faszination und intensiver Beschäftigung mit den digitalen Möglichkeiten der Musikproduktion artikulieren viele meiner Interviewpartner*innen eine Sehnsucht nach analogen bzw. akustischen Klängen bzw. nach prä-digitalen Technologien. Viele der Musiker mischen bewusst digitale und akustische Klänge.

Und in Bezug auf digitale vs. analoge Technologie erklärt Günther:

Das Absurde ist ja: Je weiter sich der Computer entwickelt, desto analoger will er klingen. […] Das ist aber auch irgendwie eine Verarsche, denn Digitalität kann eines nicht, was analoge Medien können: Sie kann keine Patina bekommen, sie kann nicht altern. Wir kennen das bei einem Buch: Ein altes Buch von meiner Oma, das schlage ich auf und das riecht! Oder alte Fotos von früher: Da sehe ich genau, ob das jetzt ein Agfa oder ein Kodak-Film war, je nachdem, wie es vergilbt ist. Wir Menschen stehen ja auf dieses Altern. Die Digitalität versucht uns den Wunsch des Unsterblichen zu verkaufen. Dateien können nicht altern. Und ich hoffe, dass es noch so eine Sehnsucht gibt, dass man an diesem Altern noch Spaß hat. Ich glaube auch, dass die Wahrnehmung sich nicht so schnell verarschen lässt: Als ich noch ein richtiges Klavier hatte, konnte ich ohne Probleme zwei Stunden daran herum klimpern, obwohl es relativ schlecht war und verstimmt. Beim digitalen Klavier ist es so, dass man nach einer halben Stunde keine Lust mehr hat.

Ein dritter Aspekt ist, dass auch in der Ästhetik insgesamt im Bartheschen Sinne ein Bedürfnis nach etwas „Grain“ beschreiben wird, also nach etwas Rauheit, Körnigkeit, oder im Sinne von Ross Brown nach etwas „Theatre Noise“. Fehler im Instrumentalspiel, glitches in der Computer-Technik, Nebengeräusche in der Aufnahme werden bewusst in Kauf genommen und als manchmal besonders produktiv für den Theaterzusammenhang gewertet: der Begriff, der hier regelmäßig fällt, ist der der „Liveness“.

d.     Liveness – Digitalität und die Musik als Mitspieler

Liveness ist auch die zentrale Kategorie, die beim Wechsel der Abspielsysteme von relativ statischen Apparaten – von der Bandmaschine bis zur CD – zur mittlerweile Standard gewordenen Software Ableton Live ins Feld geführt wird. Die Tatsache, dass auch eingespielte Musik nun nicht mehr statisch sein muss, sondern einzelne Stimmen eines Tracks zeitlich, räumlich, dynamisch flexibel abgefahren werden können, hat dazu geführt, dass auch bei Musik, die nach landläufiger Bezeichnung „vom Band“ kommt, die Vorstellung einer „Musik als ebenbürtigem Mitspieler“ zu einem gängigen Topos in den Interviews geworden ist. Weder müssen sich Schauspieler*innen Takte zählend nach festen Musikeinsätzen richten (auch wenn sich das Timing einer Szene in der zwanzigsten Aufführung vielleicht längst verändert hat), noch muss die Musik so dienend zurückhaltend gedacht werden, dass sie der Szene nicht ins Gehege kommt. Ob durch live präsente Musiker*innen – die immer häufiger die Inszenierungen bevölkern – oder durch Ableton: Musik wird, das betonen die Interviewpartner*innen, viel dialogischer gedacht. Viele Theatermusiker*innen verweisen hierbei auch die frühe Präsenz auf Proben: Auch hier spielt die Techne eine wesentliche Rolle dafür, dass während der Probe oder nach einer kurzen Mittagspause die Musik bereits wieder auf die jüngsten szenischen Entwicklungen unmittelbar reagieren kann, bzw. überhaupt erst wesentliche Impulse setzen kann, wo sie sonst viel später und tendenziell illustrierender hinzugefügt wurde.

e.    Institutionelle Konsequenzen

Die Veränderung der Techne der Theatermusik geht einher mit institutionellen und ökonomische Faktoren: Theater leisten sich viel seltener soganannte Hausmusiker*innen, die wie ein Hausdramaturg*in viele Produktionen gleichzeitig betreuen und auf Zuruf und stilistisch vielseitig Übergangsmusiken oder mal ein Lied beisteuern können. Musiker*innen gehören nicht selten fest zum gastierenden Regieteam und bestimmen dessen Probenmethoden und Aufführungsästhetik maßgeblich mit. Das ist nur durch den Computer und die Mobilität und Erschwinglichkeit der Produktionsmittel möglich geworden, hat zum Teil aber auch den Verlust einer verteilten Expertise zur Folge: Während früher u.U. ein/e Komponist*in, Arrangeur*in, Dirigent*in, Musiker*in und Tontechniker*in gemeinsam die Theatermusik verantworteten, fallen heute all diese Aufagben häufig bei einer Person zusammen. Die Tontechniker*innen des Hauses wiederum spielen nicht mehr das Vogelzwitschern ein, sondern fahren zum Teil extrem komplexe musikalische Raummusiken inklusive Live-Mikrophonierungen.

Außerdem ist eine enorme Beschleunigung des Entstehungs-Prozesses von Theatermusik zu verzeichnen, gekoppelt mit hohen Erwartungen an die unmittelbare Verfügbarkeit perfekterErgebnisse.

The technology is a gamechanger. It means that directors can ask for something sophisticated from asound designer and get it. If they had asked 20 years ago, someone wouldhave had to sit in a workshop for two weeks, messing around with tapes totry and get something that probably didn’t sounded as good as what someone cannow do over a lunch break (Paul Clark).  

In anderen Bereichen wiederum sind die Beharrungskräfte des Theater groß. So berichten die Interviewpartner*innen, dass wenn es um Probenzeiten für Toneinrichtung, Ausstattung von Probebühnen oder auch die Bezahlung von Theatermusiker*innen geht, scheint die Institution noch so zu denken, als bringe jemand für die Endprobenwoche ein paar Schallplatten für die Umbauten mit.

Zwischenfazit

Digitalisierung führt in der community of practice der Theatermusiker*innen, so ein Zwischenfazit, zu einer Reihe vonsignifikanten Veränderungen: Sie beschleunigt und ökonomisiert Produktionsverfahren radikal, schließt die Konzeption, Komposition und Produktion von Musik in vielen Fällen kurz und legt die dazu nötigen Produktionsmittel alle in die Hand des Theatermusikers. Sie macht Formen der Notation häufig unnötig und sie erlaubt eine ungleich größere Flexibilität, eine ‚fertige’ Musik auch im Aufführungsprozess anpassungsfähig zu halten – was die Idee eines Werkcharakters als auch einer Analyse von Theatermusik herausgelöst aus ihrem Aufführungskontext ad absurdum führt. Die Digitalisierung erlaubt außerdem die unmittelbare technische Verschaltung gestischer, bildlicher und klanglicher Prozesse durch Trigger-Technologien und die Echtzeitbearbeitung oder Generierung von Klang. Damit gehen Veränderungen in der Ästhetik von Theatermusik, ihrem Stellenwert für Spielweise und Dramaturgie einher, die wir in den nächsten Jahren in unserem DFG Projekt „Theatermusik heute als kulturelle Praxis“ noch viel genauer beobachten und beschreiben wollen.

David Roesner


[1] Smith, Jonathan A. und Osborn, Mike: »Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis«, in: Qualitative Psychology: A Practical Guide to Research Methods. 2nd edition, hrsg. v. Jonathan A. Smith, London 2007, S. 53 – 80, hier: S. 53.

[2] Zu Fragen der Digitalisierung und der Veränderungen im Bezug auf Sound design und Musikästhetik gibt es eine Reihe relevanter Schriften. Zu den wichtigsten zählen dabei – im Hinblick auf Musik und Sound – die Arbeiten von Jonathan Sterne (The Sound Studies Reader, New York 2012), Jörg Becker (Die Digitalisierung von Medien und Kultur, Wiesbaden 2013), Johannes Kreidler (Musik, Ästhetik, Digitalisierung: Eine Kontroverse, Hofheim 2010) und Harry Lehmann (Die digitale Revolution der Musik: Eine Musikphilosophie, Mainz 2013). Mit ihren Betrachtungen zu den Veränderungen von Produktionsweisen, Materialästhetik, sozialen und psychologischen Aspekten im Umgang mit digitalen Klängen und Klangträgern liefern sie einen wesentlichen Kontext, vor dessen Hintergrund die tiefgreifenden ästhetischen und produktionstechnischen Umwälzungen im Bereich der Theatermusik zu evaluieren sind.


Voices from Down Under

An interview with the Sydney-based composers, (theatre-)musicians and sound artists Alister Spence, Mary Rapp, Alexandra Spence and director Michelle St Anne (The Living Room Theatre).

In January 2018, I was involved in the making of a Michelle St Anne’s piece  Lola Stayed Too Long (The Living Room Theatre, Sydney), for which she collaborated with Alex Spence. In anticipation of this premiere, Alex gave a concert together with her father, pianist Alister Spence, and singer and bassist Mary Rapp, using sounds and music from this an other theatre performance as the foundation for two exciting sets of improvised music.

I used the opportunity to talk to all three of them about their experiences with making music for theatre productions. In addition, Michelle offered her perspective on collaborating with musicians. Here are some of their answers:

Given that pathways into theatre music tend to be unexpected, unplanned and often curious, I asked all three about how they got into creating music and sounds for theatre.

Alister on his background
Alex on her background
Mary on her background

Alister also plays extensively in a variety of ensembles and in a range of styles. I wondered how his work for theatre related to this.

Alister

Mary also performs and records a lot outside the theatre and describes some of the frustrations she sometimes has when working in the theatre context.

Mary

Theatre music often negotiates the boundaries between music and sound. As was evident in their concert, all three artists traveled between vocal and instrumental music, extended techniques of playing, prepared instruments, recorded sounds and electronics. I asked them to talk about how they considered the relationship of these ingredients and how they made choices.

Alister
Alex and Alister
Mary

Technology is always a central topic in conversations about theatre music – I was curious to find out what role it played for my interview partners.

Alister
Alex

Given the context of our conversation I asked the musicians and Michelle about the specific nature of their collaboration and their process of creating (which includes some strict rules on use of iPod playlists, as it turned out!).

Alex
Alister
Michelle

I was also interested in how the process translated into the performances: how fixed, how improvised, how live do these tend to be?

Alister

In rehearsals, I also noticed that Michelle uses pre-recorded music extensively. She explained why.

Michelle

Most of the work Alister, Alex, Mary and Michelle have done, has been outside of traditional theatre contexts and institution where the relationships between scene and sound, visual and audio, acting and musicking if often relatively predetermined by convention. I asked them about how they thought about these relationships in their work.

Alex
Alister
Michelle

Das gefundene Zitat IV: Hans Peter Kuhn

Im Hörraum vor der Schaubühne

»We developed, relatively early [in our 18 years of collaboration] a way of collabo- rating that depends on the concept of two separate worlds, one is the visual and one is the aural world, and we both worked pretty much independent of each other. By that [I mean that] the music is not illustrative with the piece but rather parallel to the other parts of the piece.« (Hans Peter Kuhn, 1995)

zitiert in: Julia H. Schröder, Im Hörraum vor der Schaubühne. Theatersound von Hans Peter Kuhn für Robert Wilson und von Leigh Landy für Heiner Müller, Bielefeld: Transcript 2015, 25.

What is good sound in theatre?

Last weekend, I gave a talk at the annual conference of the British Association of Aesthetics in Oxford in a stimulating panel curated by Prof. James Hamilton (thanks!) with Lynne Kendrick and Bence Nanay.

The talk focused on my conversations with theatre musicians regarding their relationship to sound and sounds and featured answers by theatre musicans and composers such as:

Jörg Gollasch, who started out as part of the creative team at the Baracke/Schaubühne Berlin with Thomas Ostermeier, now works most notably with director Karin Beier and is particularly interested in complex rhythms and extended harmonic structures, which he applies to electric and orchestral instruments, electronics and live singers/choirs. Ingo Günther and Malte Preuß, whom I interviewed together by coincidence, but who have separate careers: Günther’s primary collaborative partner is director Herbert Fritsch, with whom he creates expressionistic, entertaining, and highly successful productions, often adapted from the dramatic canon. Preuß works with a wider range of directors, amongst them Christoph Frick, Albrecht Hirche or Alexander Nerlich in a variety of styles, combining his instrumental skills as a guitarist with a keen interest for electronic music. Julia Klomfaß, who splits her time between composing and performing for the theatre as well as with different bands, has worked with many different directors, amongst them Andrea Bleikamp, Huseyin Michael Cirpici and Katie Mitchell. She is a multi-instrumentalist and singer. Thomas Kürstner and Sebastian Vogel, who, unusually, always compose as a team and have worked particularly with directors Nikolas Stemann and Armin Petras using a wide palette from electronics to full orchestral settings.

You can listen to the entire talk below (approx. 30mins). It is based on a paper I published in 2016 entitled:

Sound decisions: the contemporary praxis of theatre music

Key headings for both the talk and the paper were:

At approx. 20mins there is a music example by Kürstner and Vogel, for which they have provided an instructive description:

„A good example of this kind of interplay between real and virtual or acoustic and electronic is this audio track by Kürstner and Vogel, which they describe as quite representative for their way of working: “The noise at the beginning is from a noise module (see image). It produces white and coloured noise. By means of an envelope (ADSR = Attack-Decay-Sustain-Release), a spring reverb, a filter and a VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) this slowly turns into a “bass drum”, which is only generated from the noise. After that, eleven strings play a harmonic texture on top of this. Electronics thus almost turn into an acoustic sound element interwoven with the strings into an atmospheric sonic texture. A typical piece of theatre music, for us“.

(Personal email to the author on 3 May 2016).

Das gefundene Zitat III

Zitat

»In einer Theatermusik kann der Komponist noch weniger als im Konzertsaal seinen privaten Neigungen nachgeben, er hat vom gegebenen Inhalt auszugehen, und seine künstlerische Subjektivität tritt dort erst ein, wo Inhalt und Form ineinander aufgehen. «

(Eisler, Hanns , Musik und Politik: Schriften 1948 – 1962. Textkritische Ausgabe von Günter Mayer. Gesammelte Werke Serie III, Band 2, Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1982, S. 41)

Ressourcen

In einem eher wenig beachteten Feld wie der Theatermusik sucht man oft vergeblich nach hilfreichen Ressourcen: Bücher, Artikel, Netzwerke, Veranstaltungen.
Wir wollen an dieser Stelle – ohne Anspruch auf Vollständigkeit – Anregungen geben und Quellen sammeln, die für alle Theatermusik-Interessierten (Akademiker*innen, Künstler*innen, Studierende, Zuschauer*innen, Kritiker*innen) von Interesse sein könnten. Dies sind keine von uns geprüften Empfehlungen, sondern lediglich Links zu Theatermusik-relevanten Inhalten, die der eigenen Überprüfung bedürfen.
An dieser Stelle werden wir nicht auf einzelne Theatermusiker*innen und auch nicht auf kommerzielle Produkte wie Equipment oder Software verlinken.
Wir würden uns auch sehr über Ihre/Eure Anregungen und Verweise freuen: Nutzt dazu die Kommantarfunktion!

Handbücher

  • Bruce, Michael: Writing Music for the Stage. A Practical Guide for Theatermakers London 2016.
  • Barker, Paul: »Music and Composition«, in: Devised and Collaborative Theatre: A Practical Guide, hrsg. v. Bicat, Tina und Baldwin, Chris, Ramsbury, Marlborough 2002, S. 75-87.
  • Kaye, Deena/LeBrecht, James: Sound and Music for the Theatre, New York 1992.
  • Leonard, John A.: Theatre Sound, New York / London 2001.
  • Walne, Graham: Sound for the Theatre, London & New York 1990.

Sekundärliteratur / Artikel (Auswahl):

  • Altenburg, Detlef: »Das Phantom des Theaters: Zur Schauspielmusik im späten 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhundert«, in: Stimmen – Klänge – Töne. Synergien im szenischen Spiel, hrsg. v. Bayerdörfer, Hans-Peter, Tübingen 2002, S. 183-208.
  • ———: »Von den Schubladen der Wissenschaft. Zur Schauspielmusik im klassisch-romantischen Zeitalter«, in: Handbuch der musikalischen Gattungen 17/1 und 17/2: Gesellschaftsmusik – Bläsermusik – Bewegungsmusik / Kantate – Ältere geistliche Musik – Schauspielmusik, hrsg. v. Mauser, Siegfried und Schmierer, Elisabeth, Laaber 2009, S. 239-250.
  • Altenburg, Detlef und Jensen, Lorenz: »Schauspielmusik«, in: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 2nd edition, vol 8, hrsg. v. Finscher, Ludwig, Kassel 1998, S. 1035-1049.
  • Augoyard, Jean-François: Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds, Montreal 2005.
  • Bayerdörfer, Hans-Peter (Hrsg.): Stimmen – Klänge – Töne. Synergien im szenischen Spiel, Tübingen 2002.
  • Binns, Michael: »Music, Theatre and Silence«, in: Gambit. International Theatre Review 38, no. Theatre and Music Issue (1981): S. 6-16.
  • Brown, Ross: Sound: A Reader in Theatre Practice, Basingtoke 2010.
  • Chan, Mary: Music in the theatre of Ben Jonson, Oxford 1980.
  • Curtin, Adrian: »Cruel Vibrations: Sounding Out Antonin Artaud’s Production of Les Cenci«, in: Theatre Research International 35, no. 3 (2010): S. 250-262.
  • ———: »The Art Music of Theatre: Howard Barker as Sound Designer«, in: Studies in Theatre and Performance 32, no. 3, 2012 (2012): S. 269-284.
  • Ernst, Klaus: »Zur Theorie der Schauspielmusik in der deutschen Aufklärung. Die Grundlegung einer Ästhetik der Schauspielmusik bei Johann Christian Gottsched (1700-1766)? «, in: Handbuch der musikalischen Gattungen 17/1 und 17/2: Gesellschaftsmusik – Bläsermusik – Bewegungsmusik / Kantate – Ältere geistliche Musik – Schauspielmusik, hrsg. v. Mauser, Siegfried und Schmierer, Elisabeth,Laaber 2009, S. 251-257.
  • Finelli, Patrick: Sound for the Stage: A Technical Handbook, New York 1989.
  • Fiske, Roger: English Theatre Music in the Eighteenth Century, Oxford 1973.
  • Flashar, Hellmut: »Die Anfänge der neuzeitlichen Schauspielmusik«, in: Aratro Corona Messiora. Beiträge zur europäischen Wissensüberlieferung, hrsg. v. Adams, Bernhard, Bonn 1988, S.
  • Gollasch, Jörg: »Historische und systematische Aspekte der Schauspielmusik mit einer daran anschließende Auseinandersetzung mit der Musik in Christoph Marthalers Inszenierung „Faust √1+2“«, Diplomarbeit, Hildesheim, 1997.
  • Kahn, Douglas: Noise Water Meat. A History of Sound in the Arts, Cambridge (MA) 1999.
  • Kendrick, Lynne und Roesner, David (Hrsg.): Theatre Noise. The Sound of Performance, Newcastle upon Tyne 2011.
  • Kowalke, Kim H.: »Brecht and Music: Theory and Practice«, in: The Cambridge Companion to Brecht. Revised 2nd Edition, hrsg. v. Thomson, Peter und Sacks, Glendyr, Cambridge 2006 [1994], S. 242-258.
  • Kramer, Ursula: Schauspielmusik am Hoftheater in Darmstadt 1810-1918: Spiel-Arten einer selbstverständlichen Theaterpraxis, Mainz 2008.
  • ——— (Hrsg.): Theater mit Musik. 400 Jahre Schauspielmusik im europäischen Theater. Bedingungen – Strategien – Wahrnehmungen, Bielefeld 2014.
  • Langer, Arne und Oschmann, Susanne: »Zur Geschichte der Schauspielmusik-Forschung«, in: Musik zu Shakespeare-Inszenierungen, hrsg. v. Langer, Arne und Gesellschaft für Theatergeschichte, Berlin, Berlin 1999, S. 7-11.
  • Lensing, Jörg U.: Sound-Design, Sound-Montage, Soundtrack-Komposition: [über die Gestaltung von Filmton], Stein-Bockenheim 2006.
  • Lid, Tore Vagn: Gegenseitige Verfremdungen: Theater als kritischer Erfahrungsraum im Stoffwechsel zwischen Bühne und Musik, Frankfurt am Main 2011.
  • Meier, Hedwig: Die Schaubühne als musikalische Anstalt: Studien zur Geschichte und Theorie der Schauspielmusik, Bielefeld 1999.
  • Ovadija, Mladen: Dramaturgy of Sound in the Avant-Garde and Postdramatic Theatre, Montreal 2013.
  • Pflüger, Dana: Musik und Handlung. Die Funktionen der Musik in Oper, Film und Schauspiel mit einer exemplarischen Betrachtung von Albert Lortzings Werken, Bern 2018.
  • Roesner, David: Musicality in Theatre – Music as Model, Method and Metaphor in Theatre-Making, Farnham 2014.
  • ———: »Sound (design)«, in: The Routledge Companion to Scenography, hrsg. v. Aronson, Arnold, New York 2018, S. 63-71.
  • Rost, Katharina: »The Shaping of ‘Good Sound’ in Handbooks for Theatre Sound Creation«, in: Theatre and Performance Design 2, no. 3-4 (2016/10/01 2016): S. 188-201.
  • ———: Sounds that matter – Dynamiken des Hörens in Theater und Performance, Bielefeld 2017.
  • Sanio, Sabine, »Aspekte einer Theorie der auditiven Kultur. Ästhetische Praxis zwischen Kunst und Wissenschaft«, in: www.kunsttexte.de (zuletzt aufgerufen am 9. Mai 2018).
  • Scheitler, Irmgard: Schauspielmusik: Funktion und Ästhetik im deutschsprachigen Drama der Frühen Neuzeit, Tutzing 2013.
  • Schmidt, Beate A./Altenburg, Detlef (Hrsg.): Musik und Theater um 1800, Sinzig/Rhein 2012.
  • Schröder, Julia H. (Hrsg.): Im Hörraum vor der Schaubühne. Theatersound von Hans Peter Kuhn für Robert Wilson und von Leigh Landy für Heiner Müller, Bielefeld 2015.
  • Siwek, Simone: »Funktion und Ästhetik der Schauspielmusik in Stücken Bertolt Brechts: der Komponist Paul Dessau«, Bayreuth, 2001.
  • Small, Christopher: Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening, Hanover 1998.
  • Sterne, Jonathan: The Sound Studies Reader, New York 2012.
  • Voegelin, Salomé: Listening to Noise and Silence. Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, New York and London 2010.
  • Volmar, Axel und Schröter, Jens: Auditive Medienkulturen: Techniken des Hörens und Praktiken der Klanggestaltung, Bielefeld 2013.

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