On 17 November 2018, Georg Nussbaumer and hundreds of students will realise a walk-in symphony on the mdw Campus for Wien Modern
“Excuse me, how do I get from here to the State Opera?” – “Practice, practice, practice!” This classic joke instantly conjures up a classic listening situation: emanating from all of the rooms on the mdw Campus, overlapping wildly, close by and far off, one hears the sounds of practising and auditioning. Somewhere there’s a violin being tuned, a couple glistening scales, and from somewhere else comes some slightly off passage from an etude that’s repeated right away—and a bit better. Over there, you can clearly make out a couple of well-known parallel chords from the Waldstein Sonata, while an equally famous snippet from the Mozart Clarinet Concerto drifts down from above; that could be Paul Hindemith over there, the baroque thing is maybe by Georg Philipp Telemann or someone similar, the tango coming from the other direction must be Astor Piazzolla, and now there’s a soft hint of something that might be Johann Sebastian Bach; meanwhile, a smooth, Bill Evans-ish big band briefly makes you yearn for a cool drink, and now someone’s singing “I feel those moments of ecstasy”—then a sudden, loud drumroll from somewhere, something else that’s totally strange, and very briefly a Dmitri Shostakovich string quartet spherically floating along, all of this interspersed with a children’s choir and a persistently funky guitar riff that’s been going on for quite some time now … and which Russian composer do those spooky harp sounds remind us of?
What would it be like if an invisible hand were to conduct this colourfully thrown-together orchestra, spread out as it is over a huge complex of buildings? And if suddenly, as if with a magical snapping of the fingers, everyone would start playing scales—or perhaps something in C major—all at once? Or if everyone would stop or restart simultaneously? And would it actually be possible to squeeze all the mdw’s pianos into a single room and have all of them played at the same time? Could someone please open up all the doors in order to have this wild mix get mixed up even more intensely? How might one make the colours here even more colourful, maxing out all the contrasts? And doesn’t the mdw also have a couple orchestras somewhere that we might add?
One certainly can’t say of Georg Nussbaumer that he ever stopped asking all the strange kinds of questions that children ask themselves. This Vienna-based composer, who was born in 1964 in Linz (home to the Klangwolke [“Sound Cloud”] Festival, by the way), makes music out of absolutely everything: a Mozart ball melting in a singer’s mouth. A concert grand getting pushed through a palace garden by a jackhammer of sorts, ceremoniously rattling along on its three legs. A free-diving Tristan swimming down at the bottom of a Plexiglas tank in the middle of the foyer of the Philharmonie in Luxembourg, being sung at by Isolde from the tank’s transparent edge. In one of his pieces, a cello swims across the water like a swan, while in another (Bogenübung [which can be rendered in English as “Bowing Exercise” or “Bow Practice”—trans.]), a cello is hung up on the wall and repeatedly pierced by arrows like St. Sebastian. At Wien Modern’s 2016 edition, Nussbaumer buried a concert grand complete with Schubert’s Winterreise beneath a meter-high iceberg—and beneath the stern gaze of the Beethoven statue—in the foyer of the Vienna Konzerthaus. At the Steirischer Herbst festival, he enlisted a real waterfall as part of his instrumental forces. And at the Donaueschingen Festival, he turned a furniture store into a concert hall and sunk Richard Wagner in a barrel of water—so that the Ring des Nibelungen, running parallel to Nussbaumer’s equally long concert installation, could only be heard with one’s head submerged, which most decidedly did result in some dishevelled hairdos among some of the festival attendees.
Georg Nussbaumer is a master when it comes to dishevelment: with an amazingly inexhaustible imagination, with subtle humour, and with an overabundance of references to all kinds of culture both high and low, he constructs his pieces in just such a way that even familiar old standbys of music history suddenly and unexpectedly come around the corner to make an entirely new impression, complete with messed-up hair and smiles on their faces: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, medieval neumes, and again and again Richard Wagner (along with all the characters populating his operatic universe) repeatedly pop up and disappear again in Nussbaumer’s actions, installations, and pieces.
For his Atlas der gesamten Musik und aller angrenzenden Gebiete [Atlas of All Music and All Neighbouring Regions], a “walk-in symphony with hundreds of participants in 85 rooms”, Nussbaumer is composing a three-and-a-half-hour soundscape for the mdw campus. Its world premiere will take place on 17 November 2018 as part of the festival Wien Modern. And all of the music mentioned above will indeed be heard, by the way—as well as hundreds of other pieces submitted by students, mdw ensembles, and cooperating music schools. In addition to the entire Viennese classical repertoire, this melange will include (at least as in inspirations and backstories) even the most arduous of the Mahler symphonies, Handel’s Water Music, the Polytopes by Iannis Xenakis, and both Musicircus and A House Full of Music by avant-garde pioneer John Cage. Hundreds of participants in countless chambers, hallways, and large rooms will invite listeners to show up Saturday afternoon and hang out, wander around, and get lost both in the music and in general. The abundance of things to be discovered will range from the previously envisioned “piano hell” (a plausible working title!) to places of silence, from kilometre-long chains of trills to multiple floors of interconnected scales, and from humdrum everyday practicing insanity (in strictly organised form) to poetic refuges in the unknown depths of this convoluted complex of musical buildings at Anton-von-Webern-Platz. Admission will be free, of course, and maps of the site will be provided for guests’ orientation.
Georg Nussbaumer: Atlas der gesamten Musik und aller angrenzenden Gebiete. Eine begehbare Symphonie mit hunderten von Mitwirkenden in 85 Räumen (2017; premiere: 2018)
A production and composing commission of Wien Modern and the mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna
The mdw at Wien Modern
- All events in detail (in German)
28 Oct. “Bibliosphäre”
Marino Formenti joins numerous students in transforming the mdw Library into an eight-hour-long listening experience that spans the centuries
31 Oct.–12 Nov. “mdw Rahmenhandlung”
Symposium, discussions, and occasional DJing in connection with selected festival events
9 Nov. “mdw Scratch Orchestra”
Gunter Schneider joins students to follow in the footsteps of the Scratch Orchestra, the 1968 generation’s legendary London-based improvisation ensemble
17 Nov. Atlas der gesamten Musik und aller angrenzenden Gebiete
Georg Nussbaumer joins forces with hundreds of participants to fill the mdw Campus with music for three hours (see this article)
27 Nov. “Harakiri”
The Webern Ensemble Wien, led by Jean-Bernard Matter, presents radical music from the wild 1960s and ’70s at the Odeonboth