"Nomadic Broadcasting" is an umbilical work by composer Marcus Schmickler. The term umbilical work refers to musical or cinematic works which frequently refer exclusively to themselves within an oeuvre, while also serving as a blueprint (and key reference) for other works.
"Nomadic Broadcasting" came about three years after the then controversially discussed closure of the legendary WDR studio for electronic music and on the birthday of its former director Karlheinz Stockhausen. Schmickler sat on the steps of this Cologne-based broadcaster"s "Funkhaus" in 2004 (the WDR is the largest continental public broadcaster in Europe) and held a concert using a local FM radio transmitter. The audience had been asked to bring along their own portable radios, and thereby became receivers and transmitters of the information at the same time. They could hear the sound waves of the other radios and at the same time continued to perpetuate that sound.
The concert as a form of protest and a citation of equally subversive manifestations draws on the musical tradition of composers (including those from Cologne) who revolutionised music in the middle of the last century, transforming it inside out while implementing modernist obligations. Technological progress was expressed in the works by electroacoustic musicians such as Daphne Oram, Karlheinz Stockhausen or Iannis Xenakis. Their workplace was suddenly the modern studio with its technological means including filters, modulation instruments and artificial sound generators – just like that very studio for electronic music by public broadcaster WDR. At the same time, Schmickler"s work wasn"t just an activist intervention, but also a concert in its own right spatialised through the radios that were brought along, rather than through two speaker towers. The public broadcasting medium, which primarily spreads on loudspeakers and in private space, as opposed to the usually public concert, resonates as a hermeneutic level for Schmickler.
Transmitter and receiver – the musical world of Marcus Schmickler (born in Cologne in 1968) is always inhabited by such Janus-faced tensions: by pros and cons, by dialectical approaches. They are joined by such intertwined pairs as near and far, up and down, contingent and planned, loud and quiet, composed and improvised, digital and analogue. All of these are vectors that also play a role in his work entitled "Entwurf einer Rheinlandschaft" (Draft of a Rhine Landscape) for the Monheim Triennale.
„Could You Patent the Sun?“
A first impression of "Entwurf einer Rheinlandschaft" was presented in 2020 during the 20-minute sound production "Could You Patent the Sun?" It was created and performed on location in times of Covid (and the subsiding first wave). With this performance, Marcus Schmickler referred to the famous statement by the inventor of the polio vaccine, who – unlike today"s chemical and medical entrepreneurs – did not patent the life-saving vaccine and thus made it easily and cheaply available throughout the world. Participating performers were Monheim Triennale artist Jennifer Walshe (vocals), brass players of Ensemble Musikfabrik as well as Korean cellist Okkyung Lee – whose voice, quoting foreign codes, was transmitted acoustically from Seoul during her Corona lockdown to the performance located on the river Rhine by means of an LRAD loudspeaker. LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Devices) are generally used by security authorities for "crowd control", for example against demonstrators during protests at the G8 and G20 summits in Toronto.
This preliminary version, later recorded again by Marcus Schmickler with the Ensemble Musikfabrik, included a quartet playing on brass instruments with double funnels enabling them to switch between two different timbres. This detailed sound control of the acoustic instruments was accompanied and amplified by Schmickler"s electronics, anticipating the droning wind movements – the winds colliding with electronic sounds, so to speak. Interspersed were the sounds by the vocalists, which can be interpreted as alienated linguistic utterances. This 20-minute preview gave a first glimpse into the 2022 full-length concert production. Some aspects will also be featured on June 22, 2022, when "Entwurf einer Rheinlandschaft" will finally be performed in full length.
From local to global and back
Like many works (especially in recent years) by Marcus Schmickler, "Entwurf einer Rheinlandschaft" follows suit to the tradition of electro-acoustic and computer music, which was initially shaped in Cologne, among other places. Schmickler"s fascination with this practice and musical approach dates to his childhood: “As a child, I was extremely impressed standing in a quarry and listening to weird music”, as he recounts his first contact with music by Karlheinz Stockhausen, who was performing a composition in Kürten"s quarry back then.
After Schmickler had played in various bands as a teenager and learned to play several instruments, he quickly realised that he could not train his musical signature “on an electrically amplified instrument, as the possibilities were too limited. The studio as an instrument proved to be the real form of music creation for me.” His interest and his own ambitions were intensified while he was still at school where he met a circle of friends who were involved in electro-acoustic and new music. This association was to become a-musik, the important distribution and record shop, label and general place for deeper exploration of sound and music as an art form in the heart of Cologne.
Nowadays, Schmickler"s own studio is in the city centre of Cologne, hidden in a side street of the Ursula district. In the "Piethopraxis Tonstudio", he wrote and writes numerous pieces of computer music, for orchestras, ensembles, and choirs. This is where he develops the sounds for his multi-channel works, installations, and concert productions.
Since about 15 years, Schmickler has been composing with sonification, the transfer of scientific data and models into sound. The results are always aesthetically appealing and yet conceptually challenging. For example, the sonification of astronomical data in "Bonner Durchmusterung" or the acoustic survey of number classes in modern mathematics in Politiken der Frequenz".
“It has always been important to me to work on whatever grabbed my interest at the time, without having to pay attention to how this might fit into the bigger picture,” Schmickler adds while we talk about the fact that his projects and productions are multifaceted and manifold. They nevertheless all have one thing in common, and that is the enigmatic play with and the overcoming of opposites and intertwined pairs.
Monheim Triennale 2022: An acoustic survey
Marcus Schmickler"s composition for the Monheim Triennale, "Entwurf einer Rheinlandschaft", thrives on dialectical overrides, overcoming contradiction through music, combining positive elements of opposites in a synthesis. With this concert production, he refers to Central Europe"s great myths and to worldwide financial transactions. At the same time, he stages in situ, very specifically on location: On the river Rhine, in Monheim, its promenade, its riverbank, and also across the river itself. The tension between local and global becomes evident.
The structure of "Entwurf einer Rheinlandschaft" is complex but can be broken down. It is an acoustic survey and analysis of the wide-ranging conditions on the river Rhine bend. Some of the musicians will perform the concert on two boats on the Rhine, a chorus will quote from Foucault"s "Heterotopias", there will be electronics, two brass quartets, the heroic baritone Lucia Lucas and the vocal artists Stine Janvin and Janneke van der Putten.
Above all, the work focuses on the relationship between near and far. How do sounds of varying genesis (wind instruments, vocals, synthetic sounds, etc.) progress over distance, and what forms of transmission exist, actually? Which problems can occur when transmitting over long distances? These questions have even led Marcus Schmickler to king penguins, since “...there are studies on their communication behaviour and required wind conditions for communication over long distances. The extraordinary conditions on the river Rhine in Monheim make it possible to address this question and to fathom the difference between the audible and the visible. These are joined by exomusical narratives: The story of the Rheingold and the Nibelung saga, as well as the fact that Carl Leverkus moved his chemical companies to the upper Lower Rhine because he suspected the Nibelung treasure there – and how Leverkusen, Dormagen and Monheim subsequently became a worldwide centre of dyeing, (petro)chemistry and medical drug production.
According to Schmickler, this location provides a number of constants that open up reference spaces from which one"s own distance or proximity can then be explored. This applies equally to Richard Wagner"s "Ring" cycle, which manifests itself nationally and mythically on the river Rhine and to Elfriede Jelinek"s modernisation thereof.
Indeed, at sunset the Rhine often shimmers romantically in such a way that one could suspect the existence of gold in it – quite appropriate, considering its role in Central Europe"s history as a "liminal structure" and geographical border.
Incidentally, the original idea for "Entwurf einer Rheinlandschaft" and the preview "Could You Patent the Sun?" has changed since 2020. “The world has moved on and a lot has happened since. When looking at the situation in Ukraine with the armed conflicts, predicates like near and far take on a new meaning.” Proximity and distance, the Rhine as a border river which has to be "crossed" – as Marcus Schmickler points out, all this has a different connotation now as opposed to a few weeks ago and should be considered further.