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


»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)