Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Voice and Electronics » Alex Nowitz

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A Solo Concert for Voice and Live-Electronics
(using Gestural Controllers: Wii’s, The Shells)

Homo Ludens brings together works centring around the voice, either solo or in combination with electronic sounds. As a whole the works of the concert Homo Ludens are characterized by a play which vacillates between the two poles of a rapidly discursive “playing off one another” and an organic “playing into each other.”

The works for voice solo demonstrate a great variety of vocal possibilities which ranges between classical countertenor, throat singing (Kargyraa), extended voice techniques and unusual whistle techniques to produce multiphonics as well as high-pitched, piercing sounds, just to name a few. After more than 20 years of practice and researching the possibilities of the voice he’s able to choose from a wide-range repertoire of extended techniques: ‚Mundwerkzeug-Klänge’‚ which are sounds created without the use of the glottis (vocal chords), but with just lips and tongue. Another quite resonant sound is produced by a technique of inhaling while constraining the muscles around the vocal chord, etc. Assuming that the whistling technique is included and therefore one of many voices produced by one and the same vocal apparatus the range of Nowitz’ voice goes from Bb1 up to E8 (actual sounding pitch in scientific pitch notation), which is 6 octaves and a tritonus in total!

With the use of live-electronics he is able to extend his voice even more. Various approaches to electroacoustic sound production and processing are encountered in the works for voice in combination with electronic sounds. Referring to the live-performance aspect (and not to the preparation of it) there are two main sound categories worth to mention:

  1. Sound which is created only in the moment of the performance.
  2. Pre-recorded sound which is used during performance to be played with.

(Pre-recorded sounds can be recorded compositions with acoustic and/or electronic instruments, their manipulations in the studio and other recorded sound material like field-recordings. The copyright of all material used is by Alex Nowitz.)

Alex Nowitz plays an electronic instrument consisting of a laptop, connectivity software (junXion/STEIM), live sampling Software (LiSa/STEIM) as well as sensor and movement-controlled live-electronics. There are two setups which he uses. For the initially developed setup Nowitz plays with two commercially available Remote-Controllers (Wii’s). The second setup is called the Shells, which are built by STEIM (electronics, software, programming) and visual artist Florian Goettke (hardware). The development of both setups, the Wii’s and the Shells, is strongly supported by STEIM, Amsterdam.

The process of music creation during the live-performance act of Homo Ludens is quite complex. It’s either the live voice, the electronic sounds or both which are sampled, re-sampled, manipulated and played with. The procedure can get complex very easily and can be like the following:

  1. Produce the sound acoustically while you simultaneously sample it.
  2. Right after that manipulate and play with the result while adding new acoustic sounds.
  3. Re-sample the whole result again.
  4. Etc.

On top of that, if the time frame of each event is very small – not more than a second f.e. – it will get almost impossible or, at least, difficult for the audience to tell which material is the live produced voice and which is played back by the machine. The line between these two almost dissolves.

All the compositions follow a “player’s instinct”. The musical results are a play of the voice and electronics and their individual and combined potential. The concert is characterized by this playful approach, perhaps validating the reflection that “all playing is a being-played”, as Hans-Georg Gadamer formulated in the 1960s in Truth and Method:

… all playing is a being-played. The attraction of a game, the fascination it exerts, consists precisely in the fact that the game masters the players. Even in the case of games in which one tries to perform tasks that one has set oneself, there is a risk that they will not “work,” “succeed,” or “succeed again,” which is the attraction of the game. Whoever “tries” is in fact the one who is tried. The real subject of the game (this is shown in precisely those experiences in which there is only a single player) is not the player but instead the game itself. What holds the player in its spell, draws him into play, and keeps him there is the game itself.*

*) Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode (first published in 1960), J.B. Mohr Verlag, Tübingen 1990, pp. 108 ff. Translated as Truth and Method (London: Continuum, 2005), Trans. revised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, p. 106.

During the Solo Concert Homo Ludens Nowitz will also present Minotaurus (1st prize of the ECPNM competition - European Conference for Promoters of New Music - in Gothenburg during the ISCM in Sweden 2009).

The concert will be presented in a setting for quadrophonic sound projection (4 individual channels and loudspeakers).

Using live-electronics there are two setups which he is working with:

Since 2007 he uses two Remote-Controllers (Wii’s) to generate and control music. (For further information on this see article "Voice and Live-Electronics using Remotes as Gestural Controllers" by Alex Nowitz, published at the Montréal based archive CEC (Communauté électroacoustique canadienne).

In January 2011, at the Schaubuehne Berlin, he premiered the second setup which consists of two controllers which have been built by STEIM (electronics, software, programming) and visual artist Florian Goettke (hardware).

The Shells

Both setups, the Wii’s and the Shells, have been strongly supported and developed at STEIM, Amsterdam.

Alex Nowitz

Alex Nowitz

Alex Nowitz is a composer of vocal music, chamber music, electronic music as well as music for dance, theatre and opera. Ensembles and institutions such as the Kammerakademie Potsdam or the Staatsoper unter den Linden Berlin commissioned his works. In spring 2006 his first opera of an entire evening's length, for vocal ensemble, choir, orchestra, piano, harmonium, toy-piano and theremin, was premiered at the Theater Osnabrueck: "Die Bestmannoper" [The Best Man Opera], which is about Nazi criminal and mass murderer Alois Brunner and Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld.

Furthermore, he is a voice artist, whistling and singing virtuoso who is performing in collaboration with musicians from various stylistic areas as well as interpreting composed new music. He is a tenor and countertenor who presents a great array of extended techniques, which are beyond the scope of purely classical singing.

Since the mid-nineties he gave concerts in Europe and North America at prestigious festivals, such as Warsaw Autumn or Paradiso/Gaudeamus Week Amsterdam, or universities like Newcastle upon Tyne. He also appears in the context of dance such as Screaming Popes (Marie-Josée Chartier/Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Québec-City) and theatre as well like the Summernight’s dream (Thomas Ostermeier/Schaubuehne Berlin, Hellenic Festival Athens, Théatre National de Chaillot Paris, etc.). He has developed a solo show: Studies for a Self-Portrait, a theatrical concert for voice, live-electronics, piano, toy piano and turntable, that he premiered at the Schaubuehne Berlin.

From 2007 to 2009 Alex Nowitz was a visiting artist and since 2010 he is artist in residence at STEIM in Amsterdam. With the composition and performance of his piece Minotaurus in 2009 he won the first prize of the ECPNM (European Conference for Promoters of New Music) in Gothenburg during the ISCM in Sweden.

He appears on various CD productions, such as the New York based, new music label Mode Records (as whistler in George Crumb’s Makrokosmos) or labels for improvised music such as Leo-Records from London. In 2010 he founded his own label: nowitz-records to make some of his music accessible to an audience that appreciates diversity of sound and music and the juxtaposition of heterogeneous, uncompromising and unique material. The first release in 2010 is the CD Homo Ludens which consists of compositions presenting a variety of human expressions and a wide range of vocal possibilities. Instruments performed by first class interpreters of New Music from Berlin (bass and contrabass clarinets, percussion, strings), extended piano, synthesizer and, last but not least, live-electronics using gestural controllers complete the compositions.

Alex Nowitz studied music in Munich, Berlin, Potsdam (USA) und Potsdam (Germany): composition with Gerhard Rosenfeld (GER) and David Heinick, electronic composition with Paul Steinberg (both USA), classical singing with Floyd Callahan (USA), Michael Buettner and Gerold Herrmann (both GER). In 2000 he gratuated "with first class honors" at the Institute for Music and Music Education at the University of Potsdam (GER).

He was artist in residence at the Schloss Wiepersdorf (GER, 2002/06), Kuenstlerhaus Lukas Ahrenshoop (GER, 2003), Leighton Studio - Banff (Canada, 2005/07), EMS (Electroacoustic Music in Sweden/Stockholm, 2009/10) and STEIM (Amsterdam, 2007-2011). For the creation of new works he received long-term grants by the Stiftung Kulturfonds Berlin/Brandenburg, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Berlin and the Ministery for Science, Research and Culture of Land Brandenburg (MWFK).