George: I first heard about Carola from Chaya Czernowin, quite a while ago, perhaps when we were colleagues at UCSD in the early 2000s. Three of the four works on Carola’s Miller Theatre Portrait come from a very fecund period in Carola’s creative oeuvre, which happens to be around the time I first met her, when we both had orchestra pieces on the same program in Stuttgart in 2014. That’s when I first heard her work live. I still remember the measured textures of Brunnen
("Fountains"), for cello and orchestra, which used not only field recordings of fountains, but also plastic tubes and bottles, sponges, buckets, cardboard boxes, electric toothbrushes, industrial sounds, and horns from another ICE, the German Inter City Express train.
Tim: Why did Carola's music appeal to you for the ensemble this season?
George: To be direct, I had been more or less bugging Melissa Smey to program Carola long before I took up my position as ICE’s Artistic Director. I hadn’t heard very much of her work being performed in the U.S., so now, the salutary confluence of Melissa’s vision with ICE’s experimental sensibility makes it possible for a New York audience to experience firsthand Carola’s truly singular way of hearing sound.
Tim:What about Carola's music (and her whole brilliant self) really draws you in?
George: Carola’s work doesn’t “put on airs.” She uses virtuosity to de-heroicize itself. Her work is directly evocative, exoskeletonic, and whimsical (actually, often broadly humorous), but also meditative and introspective. Her work presents new ideas about how one orchestrates the sounds of organic and industrial sound bodies. In Spring 2023 at the Wittener Tage für Neue Musik I heard Vakuum Lieder ("Vacuum Songs"), in which the mouths and voices of members of the Neue Vocalsolisten interact physically and sonically with two Miele canister vacuum cleaner pipes, exhaling and inhaling to realize precisely notated hybrid industrial/human sounds, live in front of us.
“Her work presents new ideas about how one orchestrates the sounds of organic and industrial sound bodies.”
Tim: Is there one piece that really stands out from this program?
George: Over the ensuing years I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter Carola’s work on a number of occasions. One of the most evocative pieces on the Miller Theatre program, Oh, I See, which I heard (and saw) in Oslo at the Ultima Festival, operates out of an intermedia sensibility. A small chamber ensemble with voice and two large balloons creates acoustically enhanced sonorities that resemble the rustlings and grunting of animals. At some point the balloons take on a visual life of their own, becoming two large eyeballs searching in space. Another work on the program, Schlammflocke II, uses combinations of orchestrated factory-like sounds that could be heard as making common cause with the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s extended multi-instrumental excursions with what they called “little instruments,” or John Zorn’s duck calls and disassembled saxophones.
Tim: In our interview, Carola talked about curiosity as a driver for her music, for her life. Can you talk a bit about that in your own work and practice?
George: When we were kids, my Dad used to reply to complaints about being bored by proclaiming, “Boredom is a state of mind”--i.e., your problem to fix. Use your mind, find something to do. The larger implication is that boredom and incuriosity are destructive self-indulgences that we cannot afford. Carola reminds us of this by mining the apparently silent interstices between sounds to find quietly transgressive combinations that pique curiosity in listeners. That exploratory atmosphere resonates in the mind long after the sounds die away.
I often tell people that I want listeners to come away from my concerts thinking, right after, or much later: "Wow, that was really different.” Then, after a moment’s additional reflection comes the subversive, world-changing consequence of curiosity that we and ICE must forever reaffirm: “I wonder what else needs to be different around here.” That’s what Carola Bauckholt’s music does for me.
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