A set of islands, emerging from the seafloor, standing isolated from one another above water. In Inseln, this image manifests itself musically as combinations of long tones. Sung by countertenor Rupert Enticknap, layers of these tones fade in and out, overlapping in everchanging permutations to form islands of sound in a sea of silence. This new work by Cenk Ergün is realised as a 6 channel sound installation in the historic Zionskirche. A dialogue sculpted from a single voice and the sonic architecture of the church, the work offers a space for contemplation, presence, and connection to the self and the ’other’, opening a conversation that everyone can be a part of.
The title is also a reference to the experiences of isolation, emptiness, silence we have all been going through. The past year – being unable to perform, or to sit in a room with others and listen to others perform – further emphasized the importance of the human element in music. We have been reminded of the significance of the psychology and the experience of the listener in the act of sound making.
–Byung-Chul Han, The Expulsion of the other
The installation is the outcome of a year-long exchange between the composer Cenk Ergün and the countertenor Rupert Enticknap. It is an exploration of the different registers, notes, bodies, and breaking points of the human voice within the spatial surrounding of the sonic architecture of the church. The piece is composed without a score. A series of sung pitches and sustained notes are recorded and used as material to construct the actual sound of the piece in multiple channels. The composer becomes a painter, working directly with the recorded material and arranging it to build the piece.
Cenk Ergün grew up in Istanbul until he was 17, when he moved to the US. Most recently, he relocated from New York to Berlin.
“In New York, not only are there are so many people, but there are so many kinds of different people. That is what is most thrilling about it. Here in Berlin, the musicians are rich in a sense, because they have something which most New Yorkers don’t: time. Time to think, time to feel, time to sleep, time to have fun, and time to do nothing. That’s been the greatest difference. In Berlin, I sit and think – staring at the wall, or watching the street from my balcony.” – Cenk Ergün
– Byung-Chul Han, The Expulsion of the other
In a time of closed theatres and concert halls, the operatic or projected voice almost becomes defunct. No stories are being told or sent out to an audience over an orchestra. The voice, however, remains and a new context develops. It is reclaimed from the space of the theatre and the recreation of works, which hold an expectation of how they should sound. In the same way as air flows through an organ pipe, so breath flows through the body. Reducing the vocal technique to its most basic elements – breath and phonation – offers a new space of expressivity when offered as compositional material. The focus becomes on creating pure sound, one that did not exist before and only exists in the moment. The microphone acts as a partner – an instrument to capture another instrument. The poetry reveals itself in the sounds the instruments find, and by doing so a new sonic being evolves as they interact. From silence arises unknown colours and voice(s) familiar, yet unacquainted.
On unlearning the operatic voice:
“Forget all the ways you have sung before. Forget the aria, the story, the text, the projection. Unlearn and discover. Concentrate only on creating. Creating a sound, one that did not exist before and only exists in that moment. Return to the body, the muscles, bones, flesh and cartilage that respond, respond to an intake and release of air and emotion. Trust the body, and love it. Find this relationship between breath and sound which is pure vibration. Let the body become an instrument – no longer a vehicle for representation and recreation. It is only what it is. Vibrations. We sang before we spoke. The voice is there and always was. Dig into that. Like a string player finds their position on the fingerboard and then goes into it. Find that tone, that vibration. Discover your true voix humaine. Explore all of its properties, its angles, its curves, its arrivals and departures. The question is: what can be found, rather than what can be achieved?” –Rupert Enticknap