Music Theatre

Sculptor of Sound – An Interview with Klaus Schedl and Heinz Friedl

Heinz Friedl and Klaus Schedl in Munich | Photo: Verena Hütter

In a Munich courtyard building near the River Isar, music is being written for the first part of the opera Amazonas. In freezing temperatures, composer Klaus Schedl and the musical director of Amazonas Heinz Friedl explain how destruction can be a form of musical expression, why you shouldn’t violently shake pinball machines, and what Sir Walter Raleigh was seeking in the Amazon, where, about 10,000 kilometers from Munich, the thermometer today shows 30 degrees.

Mr. Schedl, why are bringing the theme of the Amazon to the stage as an opera? Why not as a play or a concert?

Klaus Schedl: A concert can’t adequately convey textual and scenic content. And in a play there’s talk but no music making. The written and the spoken word are always directed to the past or to the future. Only in music do we feel absolutely in the present. Because we feel a strong longing for the present, only music can set free emotions that give optimal expression to the theme of the opera.

Are there several characters in Amazonas, or is the threatened rainforest the only main character?

Schedl: We’re certainly working with characters. Our part of the opera is based on a report by Sir Walter Raleigh, who departed to explore the Orinoco in 1595 because he expected to find there El Dorado, the land of gold. The opera has three characters. They all represent Raleigh.

Rehearsals in Munich for Part One of Amazonas | © Netzzeit Wien

What will the staging look like? Will it be oriented to classical opera staging?

Schedl: Unlike classical opera, we’re working a lot with film and video elements.

Heinz Friedl: The characters never appear as acting persons on the stage, but are always seen only in projections. Often, as in film, only the head is shown. Such close-ups are contrasted with sequences in which the characters are seen in normal size as silhouettes.

The title of your part is “Tilt”. What does it mean?

Friedl: “Tilt” comes from pinball language. Every pinball machine has a motion sensor. If you push and shake it too much, trying to influence the ball, it switches off automatically. That’s “tilt”, an abrupt stop in the middle of action.

Klaus Schedl | photo: privateIs “Tilt” a metaphor for what can happen with the rainforest, a metaphor for the destruction whites have caused in the Amazon region?

Schedl: I wouldn’t speak only of what the whites have done in the Amazon. I’m interested in the mechanism of destruction in general. We deliberately chose Raleigh’s report. It’s not from the time of the conquistadors. It’s much earlier, from the time of the great explorers. The obsession that we’ll someday find the Philosopher’s Stone constantly drives us on, and yet inevitably leads to destruction.

Friedl: The first explorers such as Raleigh went to the Amazon with the best of consciences. All they did was to be amazed by everything they saw and map it. And yet discovery already involves destruction. It’s as in quantum theory: as soon as you observe something, you change it.

Mr. Schedl, you’ve explained your method of composing as follows: In order to express destruction in music, you construct “big tonal rubbish heaps”, which you work on, like a sculptor, by chipping parts off.

Schedl: By “rubbish” I mean “cultural rubbish”. This is very diverse musical material, on which I base my composition. It can be music by Mozart or whatever. I begin by fabricating a sound block that I can’t penetrate. When I listen into it long enough, I can identify certain structures. And then I take something away, now here, now there. It can happen that at the end there’s nothing left of the trash heap but a “boom boom boom”. Using this technique, I want deliberately to avoid a constructive manner of composing that puts together individual sounds.

Klaus Schedl | Foto: Michael Scheidl

Sound samples from Klaus Schedl’s composition for Part One of Amazonas (MP3, 01:38 minutes)

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How can that be conducted?

Friedl: Conducting it is relatively easy. Rehearsal is the problem. The “rubbish heaps” are actually very complex sound surfaces that are the result of a great deal of work and listening on the computer. Their complexity makes it impossible to score them in the conventional manner. How, for example, should we write “Brrrrrrrrrr-ssekk” in musical notation? Some tones in the score are therefore equipped with a sample. At rehearsals we listen to these recordings and try to replay them as accurately as possible. In some places nearly every note has such a sample. You can perform such music only with musicians like piano possible.

What instruments are used?

Friedl: We have a trumpet and a tuba player, an electric guitar, electric bass, double bass, drums, a flute and a cello player. All are equipped with sophisticated electronics. The cello, for instance, never sounds like a cello; it’s amplified, alienated, distorted. Some passages are so complex that you simply can’t play them with an instrument – they have to be done from the tape by pressing a button.

Heinz Friedl | © Netzzeit Wien

Mr. Friedl, you have the task of conducting three very diverse parts that will have to yield a unity. How do you connect them?

Friedl: The three parts of the opera are each self-contained. In between, there will be two pauses. A unity will emerge only from the common themes, which have been selected very carefully and entailed long-term field studies. There’s the attempt to create a whole.

Are you afraid of the conservative reputation of the Munich audience?

Schedl: The Munich audience isn’t so bad as its reputation.

Friedl: We just have to do our work as thoroughly and as well as possible, and then we’ll see.

Schedl: You’re always a little bit afraid the thing will flop. That comes with the territory.

Klaus Schedl | photo: privateKlaus Schedl, born 1966, studied with Hans-Jürgen von Bose in Munich. He has composed solo works, chamber, vocal and orchestral music, and works for musical theater. Co-founder and longtime artistic director of piano possible, a Munich ensemble for New Music, Schedl has received numerous awards, including the Composition Prize of the City of Detmold and the Young Musicians Prize of the City of Munich. From 1997 to 1999 he taught at the conservatories of Coimbra and Viseu in Portugal. He then lived in London and Paris before returning to Munich.

Heinz Friedl | photo: privateHeinz Friedl, born 1965, studied at the Hanover University for Music and Theater and has lived in Munich since 1993 as a freelance conductor, instrumentalist and music teacher. He has supervised numerous opera and musical theater performances, most recently “Die Nacht des Broker” (2010) by Christoph Reiserer and “Regen aus der Erde” (2009) by Klaus Schedl. Together with Klaus Schedl and Philipp Kolb, he leads the ensemble piano possible. In addition, Friedl takes part in communicating New Music to children and young people in the school music project “Music You Can Touch”.
The interview was conducted by Verena Hütter in February 2010.
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“It can happen that at the end there’s nothing left but a boom boom boom”