Birkenkötter, Jörg (*1963)
"Jörg Birkenkötter's music reveals something akin to a breakdown or pulverization of form, including the overall formal design. As the work proceeds to interrupt itself - or perhaps we should use the word ,shatter' - it calls itself into question. All the same, this breakdown of form also brings about a new florescence of musical shapes that have not yet hardened into convention, or at least have nothing discernibly conventional about them."
(Hans-Peter Jahn, 1997
Photo © by Charlotte Oswald, Wiesbaden
|1963||Born in Dortmund, Germany, on 19 May|
|1982-1989||Studies at the Folkwanghochschule in Essen: composition with Nicolaus A. Huber, piano with Detlef Kraus and Catherine Vickers|
|1989/90||Studies at the Künstlerhof Schreyahn with a fellowship from the state of Lower Saxony|
|1990-1994||Specialized training in composition with Helmut Lachenmann at the Musikhochschule in Stuttgart|
|since 1990||Teacher of music theory at the Musikhochschule in Dortmund|
|1994/95||Fellowship holder of the Villa Massimo in Rome|
|2002||Fellowship holder of the Villa Concordia, Bamberg|
|2002/03||Subsitute professor at the Musikhochschule in Frankfurt/Main|
|2005||Guest professor at Hansei University in Seoul |
Conducts master class for composition at Yonsei University in Seoul
|2006||Lecturer at the Young Composers' Forum of the German Society for Contemporary Music (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Neue Musik)|
|since 2011 ||Professorship for composition at the Bremen Musikhochschule |
|Career||Numerous awards, including the Beethoven Prize (Bonn), the Gaudeamus Composition Prize, the Schneider-Schott Music Prize |
Performances at many festivals and in many concert series in Germany and abroad, including Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hanover, Melbourne, Munich, New York, Oslo, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Stuttgart, Warsaw, Witten, Zurich
Jörg Birkenkötter is a most alert person. Without kowtowing to the art industry which so often revels in the superficially spectacular, this composer goes his own way with success and deliberate constancy. His music is like a cordial invitation to roam through the endless reaches of sensual experience with open ears. It sees itself as a constantly renewed invitation to reflect. It sensitizes our powers of perception and allows us to track down the subtleties of the particular in what appears to be ordinary. It opens up uncommon perspectives which lead us to the heart of the priceless moment while showing us glimpses of vast horizons. It takes a definite stance against the strategies of superficial effects and the frenzy of our media-permeated civilization so overwhelmed by sounds and images. Instead, it propagates a measured search for relevance and truthfulness. Birkenkötter's two teachers Nicolaus A. Huber and Helmut Lachenmann supported, cultivated, fostered and furthered what they sensed had long been a part of the young man's intrinsic aesthetic disposition: the combination of a virtually seismographic, sensitivity for sounds with a structurally oriented, analytical-critical compositional perspective. Whereas Birkenkötter tended to explore the inner forces of pointilistic tonal aggregates in his earlier works, in his more recent ones he has given more weight to the idea of a process developing in time. This idea of process, of course, has nothing to do with stringent linearity: its paths are intricate. It arises, to paraphrase Luigi Nono and Antonio Machado, while (compositionally) moving. Fragmented events, evocative at times of sculpturally hewn splinters, are brought into new relationships with one another. Sometimes the musical ductus begins to liquefy, and sometimes it abruptly solidifies. But the musical horizon continues to grow little by little, and the paths lead onto a landscape filled with possibilities. As Goethe once put it, ?33$(DIf you strive for infinity, look to every side of the finite.?33$(D
What Birkenkötter often finds stimulating for his compositional fantasy are ideas of works that are informed a priori by a certain polarity of forces, for example by a conflict of perspectives of musical development. However, work titles such as "zur Nähe - voran", "Spiel/ Abbruch", "gekippte Genauigkeiten" or "gekoppelt - getrennt" never mirror a congealment into traditional-dialectical formal patterns such as, for example, a modern-day variant of the sonata "first-movement" form. The unfolding of a specific work always occurs in a condition of dependence upon the selected materials and upon the areas of interplay which result from the resources of the instruments selected. The compositional strategies are focused differently each time and lead to ever new and diverse form-generating adventures. In a sense, every process of creation of a musical work is regenerated with itself.
What most of Birkenkötter's works have in common is the treatment of familiar or apparently familiar materials, but not in the sense of simplistic, brainless quotations, of a self-service dip into the well-filled coffers of the musical past in a practice that has long since become acceptable in polite musical society. Birkenkötter vividly propels into our consciousness the fact that the sound of an uncovered trombone or that of a cymbal, for example, always projects the aura of a greater context along with it. He obtains new qualities through a carefully conceived structural integration of traditional moments of intervals, tone colors or gestures. The sounds are, in his own words, "taken doubly seriously: as historically familiar sounds and as sounds that can be physically and acoustically disassembled, and thus recomposed and reformulated." At the beginning of the piano piece "Schwebung und Strenge" (1991), for example, formulaic pianistic runs play a role that can be easily identified as virtuoso gestures from many different contexts: arpeggiated chords, dynamically striking, fully fleshed-out groups of meaning with undeniably serial connotations. This use of gestures, however, increasingly betrays its true nature as a superficial foil. The joints of the writing begin to fill out niches, and what one always subliminally sensed is now heard in reality: echoes of harmonics subtly flashing like lightning, or tension-laden stillness as a phase of intent listening or in expectation of the next event. A look into Birkenkötter's calligraphically masterful writing suggestively illustrates how a fragmentation of the musical time takes place here. But only in the reconstruction of the module-like presentation of the resonances and sounds does it become evident that Birkenkötter observes the musical material under a magnifying glass and, ultimately, under a microscope. High resolutions blur contours, and vibrations at the edge of stillness become perceptible. Finally, the impulses thicken again to form delicately hovering chords.
Birkenkötter also always views composing as a means of directly confronting the idea or the imagination with something against which it must rub itself. He does so in the hope that "an idea can develop itself with more complexity when it is a kind of impediment to itself." In the case of the ensemble piece "Spiel/Abbruch" (1993/94) the composer had the original idea of setting the live instrumental performance against instrumental sounds that had been subtly electro-acoustically elaborated. Creeping transitions and soft shadows of sound create a disorienting effect. What are we hearing? Is it still the piano, the accordion, the tamtam - or the virtual reality of the electronic medium? The formal course of the work proves to be here, too, something like the process of a compositional research project that has taken on a concrete shape, and in which the original postulate of the piece keeps shooting off into unexpected directions during its genesis. The result is not an open form, but a form with an open end. There are many interruptions and long rests in the middle section of the multi-layered work. The sounds are given space and, above all, time. By listening intently to the tones that have been swept away, by darkly anticipating diversely elaborated symbols, the recipient's focus inadvertently directs itself along the intensity of his perception. Here, above all, it becomes clear that Birkenkötter's fathoming of the profound universe of the sound and its stillness have nothing to do with superficial mysticism. He is not making an appeal for meditation or withdrawal into one's self here, but championing the act of alert and precise listening, an awareness of possibilities close at hand.
At the beginning of the work "gekoppelt - getrennt" (1997), two solo pianos function as a kind of impulse giver for orchestral sounds. However, this coupling of two different spheres is soon abandoned. It is followed by various degrees of approach and withdrawal of these different paths, as well as by moments of vexation. Birkenkötter runs through the possibilities of the ever new act of beginning and varying the quantification. There may be one-dimensional processes occurring in the test tube; but it is the increasingly complex life of today that is mirrored in this art. In every moment of the music, the aim is to correct the auditory perspective. Hallucinatory moments of recollection are evoked: phases from the opening section recorded on tape are played in the further course of the work. Here, too, there is a play with truth and fiction, with reality and simulation. The borders have become porous and our senses can easily be deceived. But people who are not ready to make themselves comfortable in the padded cells of virtual realities will welcome a sensitizing music of this kind. Of course, Birkenkötter does not engage in a crude critique of civilization; he is suspicious of verbal unequivocalness in connection with his art. At a time when there are no longer any more self-contained global concepts, he focuses on attempts at musical communication. And even in the final notes of a specific work he gives rise to the feeling of being able to continue composing and listening. Whereby every conclusion is a potential beginning. The possibility of being able to fully differentiate a play with sounds underscores openness and freedom. But this freedom "is not simply there, one must work to obtain it."
Helmut Rohm (2000)
(Translation: Roger Clément)
nEUeMusik in NRW/NL, Text für ein Seminar in Bilthoven/NL, Oktober 1999
„Neue harmonische Prozessverläufe“ in Nicolaus A. Hubers „Pour les Enfants du paradis“, in: MusikTexte Heft 108 (Februar 2006), S. 42-46
[Text zur Umfrage: Das neue Jahrzehnt], in: Musik und Ästhetik, Heft 61 (Januar 2012), S. 6f
Writings on Jörg Birkenkötter
Jahn, Hans-Peter: "... das Material aushorchen ...". Einige Bemerkungen zur Musik von Jörg Birkenkötter, in: Portrait-CD Wergo WER 6536-2
Klötzke, Ernst-August: Der Klang hinter dem Klingenden - zur Musik von Jörg Birkenkötter, Januar 1995, Ms.
Zwenzner, Michael: Inmitten von fremden Klängen. Jörg Birkenkötter wurde Gaudeamus-Preisträger, in: neue musikzeitung 1992, Heft 6
Ehrler, Hanno: Schwebende Form. Der Komponist Jörg Birkenkötter, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Erstsendung 12. März 2001
Jörg Birkenkötter - im Gespräch mit Carolin Naujocks, Erstsendung DeutschlandRadio Berlin, 25. Juli 1994