— my shadow, too

Haiku preview

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Twelve Haiku by Robert Spiess

Written for Katarina Hiller and Göteborgs Vokalensemble
Instrumentation: mixed choir SSAATTBB and guitar
Duration: ca. 10 minutes
First performance: Göteborgs Vokalensemble, 19th August 2014, Kungsbacka

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Recording with Göteborgs Vokalensemble and Sebastian Caldas:



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Instrumentation: orchestra
(flute, alto flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet in eb, clarinet in a, bassoon, contra-bassoon
2 horns in f, piccolo trumpet in a or d, trumpet in bb, alto, tenor and bass trombone
violins 1/I–1/III, violins 2/I–2/III, viola I–II, cello I–II, double bass I–II)
Duration: 8 minutes
First performance: SNOA, 28th april 2012, Göteborg

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Recording with the Swedish National Orchestra Academy:

White light is composed of the continuous spectrum of all frequencies of visible light. To make this visible a prism is used in which the different wave lengths are refracted and thus all colours appear next to each other as in a rainbow.

Just as white light is made up of the continuous spectrum of all visible light, white noise is a continuous spectrum of (all audible) sound. But music consists not only of pitch, other parameters – such as rhythm, timbre, dynamics – are just as important for the musical result. Applying a prism in a musical context must therefore result in much more than just a glissando over the whole ambitus of the sound.

The initiation of PRISMA is white noise: A chromatic total through all registers of the orchestral instruments with every instrument individually repeating a small number of pitches at a different tempo. But what lies behind this energetic noise, which musical possibilities can be found in this undirected energy?

In several filtering processes different aspects of the initial sound like rhythm, timbre and melody are examined and developed. Coming from the original, chaotic noise, different stages of noise and clarity are discovered, displayed and combined.

This filtering process however overstrains the system. The filters begin to leak; holes, scratches and tears appear. Sounds that should have been erased by the filters get through the system and a background noise emerges which over time evolves and becomes more and more present. Simultaneously the filtering processes that happen in the foreground become unstable, disappear into the background noise which now has become the main focus, a new filter has emerged through the leaks that appeared in the system.

Chorfantasie über »O Tannenbaum, du trägst ein’ grünen Zweig«

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Instrumentation: SATB, partly split into up into 8 voices SSAATTBB
Duration: 4 minutes
First performance: Göteborgs Vokalensemble, 16th December 2012, Göteborg

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Recording of a rehearsal with Göteborgs Vokalensemble, conductor: Katarina Solén-Hiller:

During my first two years at the music university in Karlsruhe I had the great pleasure to participate in the lessons of Peter-Michael Riehm, a great music theorist, composer and teacher. He opened my eyes to very special aspects of music and aesthetics in general. Sadly he died very suddenly in January 2007, just before I was about to begin studying music theory with him.

One of the things he taught me was about the nature of real folk music. To explain this he used two German christmas carols: O Tannenbaum and O Tannenbaum, du trägst ein’ grünen Zweig. The theme of both carols is the fact that fir tress do not lose their leaves in winter. Their character however is very different: While O Tannenbaum nearly resembles a march with its strong, punctuated rhythm, O Tannenbaum, du trägst ein’ grünen Zweig is much softer, following the shape of a fir with its melody. Right at the beginning it leaps upwards – just like a tree trunk – followed by a slow descent which takes nearly the shape of branches.

The Chorfantasie is based on this song, I wrote it as a dedication to Peter-Michael Riehm.

memento mori

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Instrumentation: SATB, partly split into up to 8 voices SSAATTBB
Duration: 13 minutes
First performance: Vokalensemble Chorioso, 21st May 2011

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Recording of the first performance with Vokalensemble Chorioso, conductor: Matthias von Schierstaedt

The idea to write a piece of music on the basis of the medieval text memento mori has preoccupied me for several years, before I finally started to work on it in spring 2010. It is less the content of the text but rather the very special language – a mix of old and middle high German in a very certain dialect – that fascinates me.

It is a penitential sermon which tells about the corruptness that leads man to sin and to go into hell when he dies. On the other hand it also shows that everyone can withstand these temptations and thus reach paradise.

Two aspects make it difficult to use the text for a composition that uses words in a traditional way as I did: Firstly it does not have a continuous meter or a real rhyme structure. Although the text is a series of couplets these are only seldom perfect, often two words that are supposed to rhyme are only very loosely related. This gives the whole text a very prosaic feel. Secondly the text does not have a continuous form. Instead it changes randomly between the promises of heaven and the threats of hell, repeats ideas with nearly the same words, and no development can be found.

I tried to find a musical language and form that corresponds to the prosaic text by being very narrative, following the sequentiality without losing a form that works. I decided not to develop motifs, melodies or any musical ideas in the music. Although repetitions of whole passages or parts of these can be found in the piece, they do not undergo a development, are merely adjusted to the needs of the words, thus picking up the narrative form of the text. As the text, the music can be seen as being rephrased in theses sections.

In order to find an entire form I split the text into two parts, the first having a larger emphasis on the corruptness of the world, the second concentrating more on man’s chances to reach paradise and his or her legitimate hopes of success in the course to do so. This fragmentation gave me the possibility to make a clear cut within the piece without losing coherence, and by building links between the two parts – e.g. through repetitions of musical motifs and ideas – I was still able to create a composition in which both parts belong together and do not appear as separate pieces.


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Instrumentation: snare drum, organ
Duration: 4 minutes
First performance: Leander Franke (organ) and Johan Renman (snare drum), 8th March 2012, Göteborg

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Recording with Malte Fischer, organ and Timo Gerstner, snare drum:

The basic concept behind Proportionen is rather simple: A certain amount of time, i.e. the duration of the piece, is split into several parts by musical events. The listener’s attention is drawn onto these musical events and what effect their timing has. This is achieved by creating a continuous layer, which, being not interesting enough to function as a musical foreground, moves into the background very quickly. Thus musical space for the proportioning layer is opened. This layer consists of short musical events that succeed each other unpredictably in their timing.

Proportionen is the result of a series of studies carried out by visualising various examples of proportionings on paper and making them audible by very simple means afterwards. In these pre-studies the continuous layer was represented by the constant blowing into a microphone, the short musical events were a single pizzicato of a double bass. These were then put together on the computer, so that different proportionings could be tested and compared. In a first step I tried out various orders of lengths that were multiples of the shortest. Having decided on an order I then made the lengths more complex, e.g. relating to the Fibonacci numbers, the square roots of the first natural numbers or the first numbers of Pascal’s triangle.

I then wrote a music that is able to carry for a longer time by making the continuous layer more interesting. With its permanent sound the organ appeared to me as a very suitable instrument for the duration layer. It is separated into three voices. The voices begin on the same note, drive apart from each other slowly, converge again, drive apart, converge etc. until they reach the first note again in unison. The voices never break off and two voices never move at the same time. The harmonies being reached appear completely random – although they are very well planned.

In order to disturb the sacral aura that the organ almost inevitably creates, especially when playing a very quiet and gentle part like in this piece, I chose the snare drum and as a playing technique the rim-shot for the proportioning layer. The extreme contrast between these two sounds, the constant flowing of the organ versus the brutal noise of the drum, is not bound to any traditional music and makes it obvious that this piece is not part of any tradition but wants to stand alone, being only what it is, a musically interesting  experiment on the proportion­ing of time.