An interview with Niklas Seidl

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Sounding Now 2018
A Festival of Contemporary Musical Practices
Sunday, 22 April 2018 @ 5pm
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory • Orchestra Hall


Contributed by Noah Diggs

Niklas Seidl is a composer as well as a founding member and cellist of the ensembles hand werk and Leise Dröhnung. His piece Ich Mag Müll (I Like Garbage) for solo piccolo and cardboard boxes – the work exists in multiple version, for instance, piccolo and tape – will be performed April 22nd at the Conservatory Orchestra Hall at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

The piece itself, Ich Mag Müll, is a flurry of activity, using grainy, distorted recordings of drum lines and amateur performances ripped straight from YouTube. The solo piccolo player shreds through the entire range of possibilities of the instrument, from simple folk melodies to virtuosic rips covering the range of the instrument.

Below is a recent interview I carried out with Seidl.

How did the work come to exist in 3 different versions? Is there a version you prefer? If so, why is that?

The original commission was for organ and ensemble hand werk but since there is rarely an organ in a concert hall, I decided from the beginning that I would make a work with several layers.

The piece is basically a piccolo solo with various kind of accompaniments. I made a tape part first, where all the piccolo licks from original songs (carnival-songs, folk-songs, virtuoso music, etc.) were added to a collage. I then recomposed them for piccolo.

The cardboard boxes accompany the flute like in a marching band, the organ (in this case a modified carillon) is another detuned pipe on top. In the version for tape and flute I made a tape from completely different recordings, using drum licks instead of the background layer of piccolo licks.

In the tape version of the piece, at about 6 minutes, there is a recording of a piccolo playing a tune that I recognize as the chorus of the song “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, why that tune?

I found several people performing that song on YouTube in very poor quality and wanted to add it. It’s more the performance of the piece than the piece itself.

In the programme notes for the piece, you acknowledge a large span of influences, from Oscar the Grouch and marching bands to Luhmann’s Theory of Systems. What ties all of these references together for you, and how are they present in your piece, if they are intended to be?

The theory of Luhmann is only a side glance since I was reading some of his texts at the time I composed the piece. It’s not necessary for the piece but it was referring to the critique of Luhmann’s system-theory. The critique says that his theoretical experiments cannot reform society at all, so they do not make any differences in the real world. I doubt that.

The piece was supposed to be descriptive, which is a sociological idea, so there is the connection.

It describes the beauty of hobby musicians performing music that should be performed in tune and in rhythm, but they fail to do so. They try to be perfect but completely fail with their attempt, but what they create is an extremely beautiful result that is completely impossible to notate. So, the piece describes this discrepancy by trying to transcribe the failed attempts. It is only descriptive but tries to point out that the failure turns out to be beautiful, if that makes sense.

In the compositional process of your piece were you writing with Daniel Agi in mind and working closely with him?

Yes, he’s a great virtuoso on the flute and wanted to have repertoire for the piccolo to improve his skills. He can show his virtuosity in that way – he has to play badly on purpose, which is extremely difficult.

Since I couldn’t find online video of a performance, how do you envision the staging for the piece since it is inspired by marching bands?

When performed with cardboard boxes, they stand behind the flutist in a row like a background choir. For the solo version, the flutist should hang a small speaker around his neck for the tape to refer to the poor YouTube recordings.

Where do you see this piece fitting in with your other works, notably in regards to the relationship between electronics and live performers in your music? Your pieces Maderijaal and Tierversuche 3 come to mind immediately.

It is a very concrete form of using existing musical material and transforming it. I often use existing music but transform it much more, so it won’t be heard that much. Maderijaal uses madrigals from Gesualdo. This piece is more about microtones and sampling the voice instead of performing it live or mixing live and recorded sound. Tierversuche 3 is more a music-theatrical work and shows my interest in daily life actions more in a visual way.

I guess, viewed from outside, my music definitely has its style or something, but I try to do many different things so to not get bored by myself.

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