Mark Andre

A sound is not merely a sound – it can be brittle or smooth, grainy, catchy or perforated to name but a few adjectives that Mark Andre uses to describe the quality of the sounds he explores. He is the kind of person that prefers a magnifying glass to a pair of binoculars, a slow, thorough worker wrestling with each sound, a quiet, almost shy person. A native of the Alsace region he only cautiously intimates why he did not feel at home in Paris – where he studied composition at the Conservatoire under Claude Ballif and Gérard Grisey and where he also did a doctorate at the École Normale Supérieure on Ars subtilior music. The French education system was too superficial for him, too one-dimensional and dogmatic. When undertaking a work analysis of, say, a Mahler symphony, using the dialectical perspective of Adorno was a taboo of the first order and the quiet, brittle, inward-looking language of sound of Mark Andre the composition student was disqualified as a technical fault  and not discussed as an aesthetic quality. His chance encounter with the sheet music of Helmut Lachenmann’s piano concerto Ausklang was a revelation. He went to Lachenmann in Stuttgart. In him he found the teacher he had been looking for: demanding and intransigent in terms of material, sensitive and understanding in his personal manner. He also felt considerably more at home in Protestant Swabia than he did in laical Catholic Paris. A teacher now himself, he holds teaching posts both at the Conservatoire in Strasbourg and at the academy of music and performing arts Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst – attempting to strike the right balance between these still diametrically opposed systems for himself and his students. For some years now, however, Berlin has formed the focal point of his life where he feels at home both in its cultural landscape and lively music scene.

He caught the lasting attention of the public with his three-part music theater project …22,13…, that was premiered in 2004 at the Munich Biennale and staged by Georges Delnon. The title is a Bible reference – Verse 13 of Chapter 22 of the Gospel of St John (“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”) – and this forms the spiritual horizon of the work. He underlays the temporal and rhythmic structure with the time response of the spectacular chess game of 1997 in which Garry Kasparov lost to the IBM Computer Deep Blue. This was a dramatic first conquest of artificial intelligence over man, triggering fundamental discussions on the relationship between man and machine. Andre calls his highly complex piece Musiktheater-Passion and wishes for this term to be understood on various levels: passionate obsession, but also a story of suffering, existential threat and apocalypse. In intellectual terms he also refers to Ingmar Bergmann’s film The Seventh Seal, a cinematic vision of the end of the world. As in many of his chamber pieces, also in this work dark instrumental colors dominate, there being no violins and violas and no woodwind or brass section. Only human voices feature at high pitch. This may be because the deep registers with their rich harmonic spectrums are well suited to live electronic transformation for which the composer developed special software together with Freiburg’s Experimentalstudio.

Many of Mark Andre’s compositions bear titles that defy clarity and allow manifold associations: “ab”, “als”, “in” (from/off, as, in) – he loves the ambiguity of prepositions in the German language. Thus, auf… is also the title of a triptych for orchestra whose last part was performed for the first time at the 2007 Donaueschinger Musiktage, quite rightly winning the title of most remarkable orchestral piece at the festival. The preposition “auf” (= up/away) refers to the momentum of the transition: found as a prefix in many evocative words in German such as “aufgeben” (give up), “aufheben” (lift up), “aufleben” (liven up), “aufhören” (stop), …, but which also means the resurrection of Christ (Auferstehung), also a transition from one state to another. Unlike in the first two pieces in the cycle – each part can be performed autonomously – here the composer can no longer do without electronics anymore. He is concerned with the start and the finish of sound textures and the development of intermediate spaces that are neither acoustic nor electronic. The electronic procedure of  “convolution” developed at the Freiburg studio makes it possible to give acoustically produced impulses conclusions or “responses” that are also based on acoustically produced materials. The impulse is transformed live and in real time and can – if desired – be projected into another sound space.

Mark Andre also wishes to use this procedure for his new work and is very immersed in this ahead of his departure for Istanbul. Here again it is about the definition-defying stage between two states, a situation of transition, certainly to be understood in an existential or metaphysical sense. He has already made sound recordings for this at a Freiburg oncology clinic and was touched and moved by the openness of the patients who allowed him to use their names and voices. Something similar is planned in Istanbul where he wishes to work with Muslim and Jewish patients. The composer is not only interested in the acoustic quality of the spoken sounds that he carefully typologizes and catalogs but also in the etymological origin of the names that indeed hold within them an entire historico-cultural cosmos. With his piece he also wishes to capture the signs of life of people who – though from different cultures – are in a similar existential situation, while taking scrupulous care to avoid any form of voyeurism. Even though his preparatory work is already progressing well Mark Andre will revise much of this during his stay in Istanbul as he sees composing as a dialectical process that always needs to be questioned and which holds ever new surprises.

Heike Hoffmann/Juni 2008