For the current phase of the Linkage! project, composer Sander Germanus has been commissioned to write Im Brettspiel (2019), a piece which will be premiered by pupils of Katharina-Henoth-Gesamtschule and of the OGS of Pater-Delp-Schule Widdersdorf on 20th May in Cologne, at the 70th concert of “Musikfabrik im WDR”. To give insights into his work, Sander Germanus answered some questions about his piece.
You have been commissioned to write a piece for the new project Linkage!. What is the main difference of this commission compared to others?
This commission was completely different than any other. To write music for people without any musical knowledge and without playing on a real music instrument was a great challenge. Because the participants do not know the rules of music, I thought it would be best to use certain rules they probably already know, like from a board game, to come to a collective sound.
Im Brettspiel is the title of your piece which students of Katharina-Henoth-Gesamtschule and Pater-Delp-Schule will premiere on May 20th at our concert “Musikfabrik im WDR 70”. What does the title tell us about the composition?
The title Im Brettspiel, as if the participants were in a board game, refers to this. It also refers to Im Vortex (in which the audience is ‘in a vortex’), my new piece that I wrote for Ensemble Musikfabrik. The participants of Im Brettspiel are, as if they were in a board game, both the players and the game pawns. But in this piece they are not walking in circles, like pawns do in a board game; they sit straight on their chairs in a line, but they’re performing their assignments in circles. At the end, all performers finally break out of the game, after creating a cloud of rolling dice, to be free again.
The only requirement was, the composition has to be “spielBar” (playable), so it can be performed by participants without prior instrumental knowledge. How is your piece “spielBar”?
I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible, still with the possibility for the whole group to come to a collective musical result. The pupils (or other participants) only use simple materials to make music. All pupils have a plate (many different kinds) and two dice from a board game.
There are three parts: in the first, the pupils throw their dice on the plate one after the other, so a rhythm will be created by the whole group. They sit in line, which has a theatrical effect. In the second part, the dice indicate what kind of musical line they have to improvise. Because I thought it was important that there were pitches involved, I came up with the idea to let them sing their own interpretations of little musical assignments, which are linked to the numbers they throw with their dice. In this case, a chaotic sound unfolds as if several radios were mixed together. In the third and last part, they throw their dice again, but now (one after the other) they sing a long note they like or they imitate a note that has already been sung by others. This all ends with a chaos of rolling dice. So a lot can be improvised and no musical knowledge is needed. They just have to follow the rules of the “Brettspiel”.
Please tell us something about the creative process: How did you approach the piece? What was especially challenging?
I imagined a group of adults or children, in an attempt to make music that would work for all of them. The idea of a board game came to my mind because it is played by almost everyone, regardless of one’s age. And the unmistakable sound of the rolling dice would be a great addition to this piece. But to formulate the rules in a way that it is understandable for everyone was a challenge. Hopefully I succeeded. Fortunately, the supervisors of “Linkage!” are present at the rehearsals to ensure that everything is clear and goes well, or to change things a little in a way that it benefits the piece.