Remix-Asyla: A project of Zukunft@BPhil

Zukunft@BPhil is an initiative of the Berlin Philharmonic that aims to make the work of the orchestra available to a wider audience. During the educational project "Remix — Asyla," students from the Hermann-Köhl High School created their own version of Thomas Adés' orchestral work "Asyla," a piece that explores the various connotations of the word "asylum." The project culminated in a live performance of the remix in the foyer of the Berliner Philharmonie.

Twenty students created the piece over a two-week period, using Ableton Live to experiment with the original samples, to create new sounds and loops, and to perform their remixed version of "Asyla." They worked under the leadership of composer and international performer Hubert Machnik. Ableton talked with Machnik to learn more about the group's experience with Live for this project.

Mr. Machnik please tell us about your own experiences with Live and why you chose Live for "Remix — Asyla."

My basic consideration in working on orchestral music with teenagers was to meet them where they were, or where I assumed they were--at more beat-oriented music. My intention was to approach the matter in a playful but nevertheless serious way. It was a rather complex mission that required tools that were clear and easy to use--especially since we didn't want to take up too much of our time learning software instead of composing music. I had worked with Live before, and it was an easy decision to make. We're grateful for Ableton's generosity in supporting this project. Thanks again!

Tell us about the special requirements of "Remix — Asyla" and how the pupils used Live in the project.

As I said, we didn't have a lot of time, and we wanted to start playing and composing as soon as possible. Learning the basic functions of the software was handled quickly and was combined with an introduction to musical and rhythmical terminology. I mention this here because none of the kids had any previous knowledge of or experience with musical creation. Waveforms, bars, sampling, etc.--these were all mysteries.

After the introduction we worked in groups of two. The first step was recording and editing samples for grooves and mapping them to the keyboard. According to the spectrum of the percussion part of "Asyla," everything from tin can to "Gran Cassa" was possible. At the end of each work phase, the groups played their grooves and experimented with different arrangements and sequences. Along with the grooves, the pupils created a song, a rap, different spoken texts as well as something that I refer to as "Sound-Clouds." These Sound-Clouds are composed of samples from the orchestra work that have been played back in free combinations and thickened into "Clouds."

All this was later performed live on color-tagged keyboards during the final concert in the foyer of the Berliner Philharmonie. This workflow wouldn't have been possible without the easy-to-use MIDI-mapping and handling in Live.

How did the students respond?

I was pleased with how focused they remained throughout the project. They volunteered for overtime, and, at a follow-up meeting two months later, were asking, "When we can do the next project?" The pupils had a good time.

Do you plan to use Live in your future projects?

The tools I use depend on the content of the pieces I am working on. I appreciate the variety of possibilities with electronic tools, but the instruments I studied (guitar, clarinet, and tombak) are also very strong influences in my projects. Combinations of many kinds of software are rather common in my works. In the theatrical piece of Heiner Goebbels', for example, I use a digital audio workstation that represents the composition part plus a MAX/MSP program I created myself, which controls all the robotic elements (MIDI-pianos, motors, lighting, etc.). That's why I am really happy and excited about your recently announced collaboration with Cycling '74. At the moment I am using Live for a new film score.

Thank you for the interview and good luck with your upcoming projects.

About Hubert Machnik

Composer and guitarist Hubert Machnik has performed in various ensembles and orchestras, mainly Neue Musik. He was a member of Ensemble Modern from 1981-89, and he composes piano and chamber music, music for theater, dance, film and audiovisual installations, computer music, electronic music and "radio pieces." He has performed concerts worldwide, with shows in Tokyo, New York, Montreal, Toronto, Sao Paulo and many European cities. Recent activity: Professorship at the Giessen University (Computer Music/Multi Media Applications), collaboration with Heiner Goebbels (Geneva/Lausanne), The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Education Dept., Berlin/New York), Blindman Saxophone Quartet (Brussels), Deufert/Plischke (Vienna/Antwerp/Graz/Hamburg) and The William Forsythe Company (Berlin/Frankfurt/Stuttgart/Munich/New York).