An overview of Brody’s Sound Installation Work

Sound Installation work

Citing influences from Joseph Beuys, Charles Ives, Samuel Beckett, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, along with the story and folklore collecting traditions of Studs Terkel and Alan Lomax, Brody uses oral history to create word and sound-orientated narratives from documentary material. “A story is a melody and a melody is a story,” Brody explained in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel. His installation work generally examines the relationship between voice-melody and identity and the notion of home. Brody believes that while words carry one meaning, the voice-melody can be heard as carrying its own independent narrative. Voices speaking one language with the melody of another language contain infinitely more complex parallel narratives. In addition, the voice-melody reveals both impersonal and personal information: origin, family history, travels, but also emotional state and physical condition.

Brody’s first major sound installation was featured at the Jewish Museum Berlin’s 2011 Heimatkunde (local history) Exhibit. Five Easy Pieces explored the notion of home by asking people who live in Berlin to describe how they view themselves in relation to their adopted city. The installation includes Swiss filmmaker Dani Levy, Afro-German writer Katharina Oguntoy, Indian curator Mini Kapur, teachers Anna and Helmut Franz, and Brody himself. While the Berliners describe their place in Berlin, their voice-melodies reveal much about where they come from and their emotional state. The museum built a surround sound room to display the exhibit.

Brody created a surveillance art piece, Five Families Listening: An Eavesdropping Installation (2015), for the NK art space in connection with the Transmediale Festival for Art and Digital Culture. The piece explores the acoustic spaces of living rooms through secret recordings of families talking.

Brody’s Art Accompanying Noise (2016) for the Prinz-Georg Art Space is a pivotal work, exploring the narrative quality of sounds that artists make while they work. The materials and tools an artist uses to create a picture or a sculpture all create a soundscape. For example, the sound of glass being chipped and wood being cut. Even the sound of paint smeared on canvas has a particular acoustic quality, revealing the work process, a kind of narrative. These sounds are recorded, along with the artist talking about his or her inspiration for the piece being made. The recorded sounds and the voice of the artist are used to create a musical sound installation displayed in a container for the artist’s work. The artwork itself is secondary to the sounds used for the installation, therefore the by-product of the noise becomes the subject of focus, while the finished objects of art are secondary.

Talking Melody-Singing Story (2016) was done as Brody’s Artist-in-Residence project for the Munich Kammerspiele. The piece is based on an opera’s two main components, the aria and the recitative. For Talking-Melody, Brody recorded singers recalling the moment they discovered that their voices were special. The stories are used to create arias based off the voice-melodies of the singers. For Singing-Story Brody recorded people in three different cities describing what opera is to them. The answers were accompanied by a recitative accompaniment, and the interviews include vocal stars Anna Prohaska, Laurent Naouri and Lorin Sklamberg. A mini opera house was built to contain the installation. The Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

Talking Melody – Singing Story’. Der knapp zwanzigminütige Hörfilm des amerikanische Musikers Paul Brody reißt die oft so perfekt inszenierte Oberfläche der Kunstform Oper auf, lässt etwa Sänger intim plaudern oder befragt Strafgefangene in Alabama zu ihrem Verhältnis zur Oper, genauso wie deutsche Passanten… Brodys Klanginstallation fängt diesen Moment des Intimwerdens wunderbar auf: Opernsänger, die über ihre ersten bewussten Erfahrungen mit ihrer Stimme plaudern – die meisten dieser Sängern fangen dann prompt an, Kinderlieder zu singen – nicht erzwungen, mehr als klangliches Beispiel für ihre Anekdoten.

— Süddeutsche Zeitung July 8th 2016. online
Voices of Help (2016-2017) was a three-room documentary sound installation at the Youth Museum Berlin. The piece explored concepts of help through interviews with community and social workers around Berlin’s so-called Rote Insel, or Red Island, an erstwhile socialist stronghold in Schöneberg. The recording of each voice received an instrument that brought out the personal qualities of the interviewees. The first room was dedicated to hearing the stories of how helpers began; the second explored the tools of professional social workers through collected narratives; the third investigated those expanding the system of help, mostly by volunteering to help refugees in ways meaningful to the helpers themselves. The exhibit was inspired by a Studs Terkel-like curiosity about the neighborhood—where Brody lives—the knowledge that help is not as prominent in American culture as it is in Germany, and by the people who had helped Brody’s mother decades before when she escaped Nazi Vienna on a Kindertransport (Children’s train) at age 13.

Ensemble Work

Brody’s solo ensemble projects where he can be heard as a composer and soloist are Paul Brody’s Sadawi ( Tzadik and Enja Records)  Bern, Brody & Rodach.  He has been part of the following ensembles or performed with:

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Deutschland Radio/Prix Europa

Talking Melody-Singing Story

 An Operatic Sound Installation by Paul Brody

The installation has been selected as a radio art feature for DEUTSCHLAND RADIO and for the PRIX EUROPA – The European Broadcasting Festival – Europe’s largest annual tri-medial festival.

 

Talking Melody-Singing Story was originally created as a sound installation for Brody’s 2016 Artist in Residence project for the Munich Kammerspiele Opera Department summer festival.

The piece is based on the two main components of opera: aria and recitative. Part one, Talking-Melody, features singers recalling the moment they fist discovered that their voices were special. The voice melodies of the singers are used as a compositional base to bring out the melodic quality of them speaking.

In other words, stories they tell about melody are transformed into an aria-like composition. The interviews include vocal stars such as Anna Prohaska, Laurent Naouri and Lorin Sklamberg.  A mini opera house was built to contain the installation.

The second part, Singing-Story, contains recordings of people in three different cities describing what they associate with opera. The interviews are from the street around the Munich Kammerspiele, people in rural Alabama, and an Italian woman living in Berlin. Those talking about opera are given a recitative style accompaniment, the story telling part of opera. This mini documentary about opera is both an exploration into operatic form, and into the story telling voice itself.

The background of this sound installation adopted for radio is from Brody’s work

dedicated to inspiring his listeners to hear the narrative-musical quality of spoken language. He has produced installations exploring story telling and voice-melody and identity for the Jewish Museum Berlin, Transmedialle Festival NK Art Space,  Maxim Gorki Theater, and the Prinz-Georg Room for Art.

Süddeutsche Zeitung Kritik:

“Talking Melody – Singing Story”. Der knapp zwanzigminütige Hörfilm des amerikanische Musikers Paul Brody reißt die oft so perfekt inszenierte Oberfläche der Kunstform Oper auf, lässt etwa Sänger intim plaudern oder befragt Strafgefangene in Alabama zu ihrem Verhältnis zur Oper, genauso wie deutsche Passanten…Brodys Klanginstallation fängt diesen Moment des Intimwerdens wunderbar auf: Opernsänger, die über ihre ersten bewussten Erfahrungen mit ihrer Stimme plaudern – die meisten dieser Sängern fangen dann prompt an, Kinderlieder zu singen – nicht erzwungen, mehr als klangliches Beispiel für ihre Anekdoten.

Critique translation:

South German Newspaper

Talking Melody – Singing Story.”  The almost 20 minute listening-film by the American musician, Paul Brody, tears off the often perfect veneer of the operatic art form. The singers chat in intimately about singing, prisoners in Alabama and Germans passing by on the street tell about what they associate with opera… Brody’s sound installation wonderfully captures moments of intimacy: opera singers tell about their earliest memories of experiencing their voices —most of them break out into a children’s song — not because they’re asked to, but naturally, to give a musical example to their anecdotes.

 

 

 

 

Production originally for the Kammerpiele Munich Opera Department Summer Festival 2016 Artist in Residence project. Edited for Deutschlandradio 2017 Composition: Paul Brody except for the ‘Italian woman’s story’ at the end uses a section of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi Special thanks to the singers and David Marton: Kevin Conners- Bavarian State Opera Jelena Kuljic -Munich Kammerspiele Opera Department Laurent Naouri -Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, The Metropolitan Opera Anna Prohaska -Salzburger Festspiele, Royal Opera, London Lorin Sklamberg -Klezmatics Musicians: David Moss and Paul Brody Intro voice and trumpet Verena Vehrling -viola Mark Kovnatsky -violin Jan Tilman Shade -cello Jan Roder -bass Paul Brody-trumpet, piano, trombone Gerald Meyers -trombone Rachel Susser -flute Christian -Dawid-clarinet Christian Koegel-guitar Michael Rodach -guitar Valentine Butt -accordion Elena Graupe -drums Clara Hinterberger -Announcer Production: Cupcake Studio Berlin Mix: Jens Troendle Studio Berlin

Grundgesetzland: WDR

Was bedeutet es den Deutschen, in einem Land mit Grundgesetz zu leben? Bekommt das Wort “Würde” eine andere Bedeutung, je nachdem in welcher Kultur man aufgewachsen ist? Der amerikanische Komponist Paul Brody befragt
Menschen, die in Deutschland zu Hause sind, nach ihrer Sicht auf die ersten fünf Artikel des Grundgesetzes. -Von

WDR 3 Hörspiel:
Autor, Regie, Komposition: Paul Brody
Redaktion Leslie Rosin;
Produktion WDR 2017
Stimmen von: Hassan Akkouch Norbert Bolz Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff Elena Graupe Christian Gedschold Ljiljana Vulin-Hinrichs Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit Mini Kapur Vivien Lee David Marton Carmen Sitter Teilnehmer des Salons der Sprache Ewa Struszczinska-Wille Jelena Kuljic Hüseyin Yoldaş Ulrike Offenberg, Tarik Ercan, Dagmar Wegener Frauen vom Nachbarschaftsheim Kinder von Keistpark und Passanten Musiker: Ulli Bartel-Geige Paul Brody- Trompete, Klavier, Posaune Jan Tilman Schade- Cello Uli Kempendorff- Klarinette Jan Roder-Bass Rachel Susse- Floete Production,
recording, editing: Paul Brody Additional editing, mixing: Max Knoth Music mix: Jens Troendl
Salon der Sprache Aufnahme: Sebastian Meissner

Composition Commission 2018

The Munich Kammerspiele is producing  a theater piece based on the voices of the translators working at the Nurnberg Trials. Brody will compose music based on the voice melodies of selected archive recordings. Music will be used as a kind of translation into an abstract emotional language. Continue reading

Growing Hope: Alabama Prison Arts & Education Project

Growing Hope is an extension of another WDR (West German Radio) documentary, Most Wanted Poets. While visiting prison classes with Kyes Stevens, the head of the education program, I was moved by many of the talks with both students and teachers, and found them to be a valuable resource for those interested in learning about how education and art are key to human survival, to humanness itself.

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Artist in Residence 2016 Munich Kammerspiele

Talking Melody-Singing Story

 An Operatic Sound Installation

by Paul Brody

Talking Melody-Singing Story was originally created as a sound installation for Brody’s 2016 Artist in Residence project for the Munich Kammerspiele Opera Department summer festival.

(In 2017 it has been selected as a radio art feature for DEUTSCHLAND RADIO and for the PRIX EUROPA – The European Broadcasting Festival – Europe’s largest annual tri-medial festival and competition)

The piece is based on the two main components of opera: aria and recitative. Part one, Talking-Melody, features singers recalling the moment they fist discovered that their voices were special. The voice melodies of the singers are used as a compositional base to bring out the melodic quality of them speaking.

In other words, stories they tell about melody are transformed into an aria-like composition. The interviews include vocal stars such as Anna Prohaska, Laurent Naouri and Lorin Sklamberg.  A mini opera house was built to contain the installation.

The second part, Singing-Story, contains recordings of people in three different cities describing what they associate with opera. The interviews are from the street around the Munich Kammerspiele, people in rural Alabama, and an Italian woman living in Berlin. Those talking about opera are given a recitative style accompaniment, the story telling part of opera. This mini documentary about opera is both an exploration into operatic form, and into the story telling voice itself.

The background of this sound installation adopted for radio is from Brody’s work

dedicated to inspiring his listeners to hear the narrative-musical quality of spoken language. He has produced installations exploring story telling and voice-melody and identity for the Jewish Museum Berlin, Transmedialle Festival NK Art Space,  Maxim Gorki Theater, and the Prinz-Georg Room for Art.

Süddeutsche Zeitung Kritik:

“Talking Melody – Singing Story”. Der knapp zwanzigminütige Hörfilm des amerikanische Musikers Paul Brody reißt die oft so perfekt inszenierte Oberfläche der Kunstform Oper auf, lässt etwa Sänger intim plaudern oder befragt Strafgefangene in Alabama zu ihrem Verhältnis zur Oper, genauso wie deutsche Passanten…Brodys Klanginstallation fängt diesen Moment des Intimwerdens wunderbar auf: Opernsänger, die über ihre ersten bewussten Erfahrungen mit ihrer Stimme plaudern – die meisten dieser Sängern fangen dann prompt an, Kinderlieder zu singen – nicht erzwungen, mehr als klangliches Beispiel für ihre Anekdoten.

Critique translation:

South German Newspaper

Talking Melody – Singing Story.”  The almost 20 minute listening-film by the American musician, Paul Brody, tears off the often perfect veneer of the operatic art form. The singers chat in intimately about singing, prisoners in Alabama and Germans passing by on the street tell about what they associate with opera… Brody’s sound installation wonderfully captures moments of intimacy: opera singers tell about their earliest memories of experiencing their voices —most of them break out into a children’s song — not because they’re asked to, but naturally, to give a musical example to their anecdotes.

Artist Talk at the Munich Kammerspiele

 

5 Voice Melody-Portraits: Jewish Museum Berlin

Jewish Museum Berlin Catalogue Text in English:

I admit, as a musician I have a bias towards sound. But when I think about Jewish culture, it seems to me that music and storytelling long played a critical role in transporting Jewish traditions. For one thing, visual culture encounters an ambivalence in Jewish teachings. Perhaps more telling, though, is the fact that Jews could squeeze their stories and voices into the most over-stuffed suitcase or bundle. And sling a violin or trumpet across a shoulder. After a concert at the Felix-Nussbaum-Haus, I noticed a saying painted on the wall: Trees have roots, Jews have feet.

Dani Levi’s Story

 

While the Jewish Museum Berlin has typically showcased objects, the exhibit on the music of Radical Jewish Culture explored how to use aural, not visual media to delve into Jewish identity. Well before Five Easy Pieces, I’d conducted interviews during my first European tour, when I used cassette tapes to record why other US musicians had crossed the Atlantic. On recent travels I’ve conversed with children all over the world for radio shows about music and young people. For this installation, however, Iwanted to take the five oral histories as inspiration for musical compositions.

In Five Easy Pieces, I started with one-minute stories from five people living in Germany. I included myself. The time limit forced the speakers to recount only a few moments from the sweep of their lives as they considered how they saw themselves in Germany. We had all established “homes” in Germany, yet each voice refracted traces of different places visited or inhabited, age and gender, even the echo of a grandparent’s endearment or scolding. To me, the music of speaking, its staccato stutters and chaotic chortles, was as vibrant as the information conveyed.

I use music to throw images into the world, but it feels awkward to tell people what makes my work meaningful. Certainly my music is filtered through ideas or values I hold close; in our human response to life, I believe that we are intuitive – stronger emotionally than rationally. The spontaneous voice, even a spoken fragment, reveals to me the depths of an individual, a real-time sound history framed in feelings, whether acknowledged or suppressed. The stories we tell about ourselves are accompanied by the melody of who we are.

Mini Kapur’s Story

 

After I listened to the stories, I transcribed the melody of each voice note for note, and assigned an instrument to compliment its timbre. In Five Easy Pieces, the instrument first plays in unison with the voice, then moves on – like someone leaving home. The voice is stripped of its words, but the story remains in the essence of the sound.

Creating a piece of music through storytelling was a precious experiment. Now often relegated to a children’s activity, storytelling had been a vibrant part of Jewish culture up until the near destruction of European Jewry. In the postwar years, things like watching television displaced active storytelling – we’ve lost the storyteller reinventing the story for the moment and audience. I wanted to celebrate the music of the voice, to interweave the stories into collective musical portraits of experience and feeling.

For the Heimatkunde exhibition, the music of the voice belies the usual visual cues of identity. Assumptions about belonging and exclusion are often based on physical appearance, especially in this part of the world. In this piece, I wanted to probe our usual patterns of decision-making. After listening to Katharina, for example, her voice a mixture of Zwickau and Berlin, we discover that as an instrument she is bass clarinet. As we move through Five Easy Pieces, we see that Katharina is African-German.

When I walk into a Berlin cafe, I can pass as German. Once I order my coffee, I may need to explain that I grew up outside of San Francisco, studied in Boston, never learned proper German. Back in California, my family teases me about the odd inflections warping my English. Sometimes I forget a word.

Our “homeland” we carry in our voices.

Art Accompanying Noise: Maxim Gorki Theater

Art Accompanying Noise (2016) is a pivotal work because it explored the sounds around each artist working while he or she talks about creative process. The sounds of work reflect the materials used, and tell their own narrative.

The artist discussing their work and the results of the work are secondary to the noises, which are used as the basis for musical composition. The byproduct of the noise becomes the subject of focus while the finished objects of art are secondary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voices of Help Exhibit: Youth Museum Berlin

 

Voices of Help (2016-2917) is a three room documentary sound installation in the Jugend Museum Berlin. The piece explores concepts of help through interviews with community and social workers around a post socialist-communist area of Berlin. (Rote Insel.) The recording of each voice received and instrument that brought out the personal qualities of the interviewees. The first room was dedicated to hearing the stories about how helpers began. The second room explored the tools of professional social workers through collected narratives, the third room was dedicated to those expanding the system of help, mostly by volunteering to help refugees in ways meaningful to the helpers themselves.

The exhibit was inspired by a Studs Terkel curiosity for the neighbourhood where Brody lives, the knowledge that help is not as prominent American culture, and by the fact that people help Brody’s mother when she was put on the children’s transport as a thirteen year old girl escaping from Nazi Vienna.

 

Theater

The David Marton group is a collective of musicians and actors who explore the intersection of music and theater. Currently the group has two productions at the Munich Kammerspiele,

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Four Families Listening: transmediale 2014/NK

Four Families Listening
An Eavesdropping Installation
Technical support by Daniel Dorch

Listening has become a dirty word, especially in Berlin. In the early 90’s, when I arrived here it was mostly used while describing East Germans who had been spying on their neighbors and Russians and Americans spying on each other. Today it’s possible to spy on someone through a mac. What if I whisper Snowden, Saudi, sword fight. Will those words trigger an alarm a thousand miles away? The next time I fly to the States will homeland security question me for hours in a smelly room in the back of Kennedy Airport? Will the cafe where I’m writing be raided?

Particularly because it claims to represent something it calls the free world, and because it claims to be friends with Germany, America, with the most advanced NSA technology, has pushed a potentially beautiful world, LISTEN, further into the dark ages.

Four Families Listening explores listening as one of the most intimate of human qualities. Multi language families have been selected because they enjoy even more levels of listening than single language families, each language having it’s syntax and vocabulary as well as melody of emotion. The families were recorded in the natural acoustics of where they congregate, the dining r