Rozalie Hirs


On Tenderness (2017)


1. Listen
2. Program notes
3. Technical details
4. Performances


An excerpt of the premiere recording will be published soon.

Program notes

On Tenderness for solo piano and electroacoustic sounds (2017) is a tender exploration of sound and touch. The pianist walks her or his hands through several harmonic fields spanning either parts or the entire register of the piano. The harmonic fields are reinforced through the simultaneous appearances of electroacoustic sounds, triggered by the pianist with help of a MIDI pedal. The sounds were recorded inside the piano, in close proximity to the strings, allowing for the listener to partake in the inner resonance and interference of each harmonic field, and thus witness its sustain and decay in more detail. The pianist animates the appearance and ceasing of the sounds in larger gestures, amplifying, and interpreting them in an ongoing dialogue.

On Tenderness (2017) was composed by Rozalie Hirs to be premiered by Megumi Masaki, at Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, on 14 February 2017. Masaki also played the try-out of the composition at the Rolston Recital Hall, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, on 2 December 2016. On Tenderness is dedicated to the Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain aka Sleeping Buffalo.

The composition was researched and composed during Hirs’ residency at the Banff Centre with the generous support of Banff Centre Artists’ Award. The sounds were recorded by Hirs on a Steinway concert grand piano at the Rolston Recital Hall and on a Yamaha baby grand piano at the Rice Studio, Banff Centre. With special thanks to Stuart Bremner for technical support, and to Bert Picknell and Mark Cramer for piano tuning and advice.

Technical details

7′ ca.

midi pedal & laptop with the Max stand alone player installed (to be obtained through the composer or Donemus Publishing)

The electronic sounds are custom-made sounds by Rozalie Hirs for the composition On Tenderness, and are to be used only and exclusively during concert performance of that composition. ©2016-17 Rozalie Hirs, all rights reserved.

On Tenderness is dedicated to the Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain aka Sleeping Buffalo (honoring the sacred grounds of the Stoney Nakoda, on which the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity has been built).

further technical requirements
1.) Max standalone player installed on the above mentioned laptop
2.) Amplifier and mixer in the concert hall
3.) Stereo loudspeakers, to be placed next to or near the piano on the podium


14 February 2017, 20:00, Brandon University, Manitoba, Canada, Megumi Masaki (piano)
14 March 2017, 19:00, Edmonton New Music Festival, Edmonton, Mikolaj Warszynski (piano) or Zuzana Simurdova (piano)

Pulsars (CD, 2010)


1. Tracklist
2. Liner notes by Samuel Vriezen: Birds, words, and stars



Pulsars (2006-07) 30’22”
elektroacoustic composition, based on own text
Rozalie Hirs (voice)

In LA (2003, English version 2010) 18’30”
elektroacoustic composition, based on own text
Arnold Marinissen (voice)

Bridge of Babel (2009) 7’55”
elektroacoustic composition, based on own text
Rozalie Hirs (voice)

Liner notes

Birds, words, and stars – Rozalie Hirs and the composition of inner life
Samuel Vriezen

‘what is inside? / inside a word you mean?’, ask the opening lines of Rozalie Hirs’ text for her electronic composition, Pulsars. Apt words for a composer whose work shows a marked interest in the inner workings of sound and language, on the physical level of acoustics and perception as well as on the level of expression and meaning. In fact, for Hirs, “meaning” itself is a physical phenomenon, always being produced and received by the neurology of our bodies. That makes words physical entities, not only because they are, as sounds, subject to the laws of acoustics, but also because meaning itself is a process that happens within the body, and is therefore produced by nature. Thus it is nature that we can find at work “inside” words.

At the same time, of course, meanings are cultural – they are the means by which we communicate. That aspect, too, can be found within the lines quoted: the questions are addressed to a ‘you’. This ‘you’, however, appears only after the main question: what is inside, inside a word? Which might suggest that culture follows nature: the nature of our bodies and our neurology makes it possible for us to have words and meanings, and on the basis of that, culture.

However, the situation is a little more complicated than that. We might hear the text as dialogue: a second speaker responding to the first line with a question, ‘inside a word, you mean?’; but also as monologue: a speaker following up on her own first line with ‘inside a word you mean?’, with ‘you’ not referring to a specific person but indicating a generic ‘you’. In this second case the nature of the word itself becomes dependent on this ‘you’s’ act of meaning, and suddenly nature shows itself to depend on culture as much as culture depends on nature. In fact, it is this very feedback-loop between nature and culture happening within words – words as natural, acoustic and neurological phenomena, and words as cultural meanings and communications, the two levels being inextricably entwined – that makes for their rich and dynamic inner life. It is an inner life beyond the difference between nature and culture, and even beyond the difference between monologue and dialogue, between one voice and two voices, between a specific and a generic address.

The present CD is a document of the profundity of engagement in Rozalie Hirs’ work with the inner life of sounds, words, physical reality and meaning. Or, one might say, with inner life as such. This engagement gives the works featured on this disc an unusual sense of intimacy, or closeness. These works invite the listener to let himself or herself be embraced by their presence, their intricate sound worlds, their processes and the play of their meanings. Ideally, they would minimize the distance between listener and sound, so as to take place within the listener’s own head – indeed, the composer has suggested that these pieces might best be listened to through headphones.

This closeness puts these works right at the heart of Hirs’ artistic practice, at the meeting point of the two disciplines within which she has chosen to work – composition and poetry. Besides being the author of four books of poetry, Hirs is an acclaimed composer of concert music including chamber works, pieces for ensemble and orchestral music. In those works, too, we encounter a composer fascinated by the acoustic and psychoacoustic properties of sound, timbre and harmony. But the immediacy of the electronic medium itself sets the pieces on this disc apart from the concert works. In a concert setting, there is a distance between listener and performer, but with electronic music, certainly when listened to within the comfort of one’s own home or using headphones, such distance can be minimized and the relationship between music and listener become immediate. It is a more intimate, private situation, akin to reading a book – that deeply private form of artistic enjoyment, taking place entirely between the reader’s head and his or her hands.

In poetry in particular, such closeness can play an important role. If narrative prose projects the presence of a virtual person, the narrator, in poetry it is not always so clear who is speaking. In general there will not be an identifiable narrator. Instead, the words are enacted within the reader’s mind, becoming the reader’s as much as the book’s, and the reader will experience the language by identifying with it. As a result the lines separating reader, speaker and text are not always so clear-cut.

A notable feature of Hirs’ electronic pieces on this CD is her poetic use of text. Three pieces feature words in multiple, simultaneously spoken layers – a form that is reminiscent of polyphonic poetic forms such as were explored by experimental poet Jackson Mac Low or composer Robert Ashley, among others. But if those works were generally geared towards performance in public by a group, with the individual layers spoken by different voices, in Hirs’ pieces the text is always spoken by the same voice, using multiple recordings mixed together.

It is striking how this mode of recitation enables a far-reaching disembodiment of the text. The use of a single layer would have established a speaker identity, and use of different voices would have established multiple speaker identities; but here, one voice is at the same time multiple voices, so that the identity of the layer or ‘voice’ that an individual word belongs to becomes ambiguous. As a result, voice as such recedes into pure medium, becoming the space for every word to function as an entity on its own within a multi-dimensional stream. Resultant ‘diagonal’ texts may emerge from the combination of layers, and words may function in multiple ways at the same time. The words show their intrinsic dynamic potential for combination and meaning. Thus Hirs’ single-voice counterpoint leads to an insight into the inner life of words.

Indeed, the text that appears in Pulsars‘ spoken section presents a contrapuntal meditation on words, meaning, and how words act physically, emerging from breath and acting on the ear and the neural system, and in the end, the mind. In one line, the firing of neurons involved in language is compared to the activity of pulsars – a class of very quickly rotating neutron stars that emit strong beams of electromagnetic radiation, acting as astronomical “lighthouses”. Thus, by punning metaphor Hirs links neuron and word to neutron and star, suggesting another set of connections between the inner life of words and nature, here on the scale of cosmology.

Most of Pulsars, however, is given over to the exploration of the inner life of a different kind of “word” appearing in nature: bird song. Hirs has used fragments of recordings by composer and ornithologist Magnus Robb (of the species Locustella fluviatilis, Catharus guttatus, Troglodytes troglodytes, Ammomanes cincturus and Luscinia luscinia), and has stretched these, to obtain abstract harmonious sounds of great beauty and with a subtle living quality. But the genius of Hirs’ sonic concept lies in the treatment of this powerful material. By means of intricate layering techniques Hirs has managed to project the pulsation of firing neurons and neutron stars into the sound of the birds. Just as the layering of one voice leads to fields of meanings that open up the inner life of words, here the layering of a single birdsong excerpt leads to sonic textures of great rhythmic vivacity.

Many minute and periodically varying pitch-shifts, of just a few Hertz at most, were applied to the stretched recording, and all these versions were mixed together. These many tiny and ever-changing pitch differences between the layers then lead to an extraordinary web of beats – the acoustic phenomenon of a rhythmic throbbing that is produced by two tones very close in frequency, at the speed of their difference in Hertz. This technique is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Alvin Lucier or Phill Niblock, but as the gradually shifting patterns of beats interact with the stretched birdsong, shifting the ear’s attention between harmonic development, timbral detail and continuously transforming rhythmic patterns of beats, the sound world produced is one all of its own. The result is a breathtaking combination of natural sounds, acoustic technique and free interplay of words and meanings that links birds, words and stars together into a powerful poetic vision.

Bridge of Babel seems like an outward extension of Pulsars‘ textual concerns. Written to be part of an installation at an Amsterdam bridge to sound while the bridge is up for boats to pass through, the piece interprets waiting in public as an opportunity for random people to meet and exchange “small talk, small bits of communication and every-day thoughts,” as the composer puts it. The part of Amsterdam where the bridge is located is a highly multicultural area, with a great number of different languages being spoken on a daily basis. This has inspired Hirs to create a piece in which languages meet. Excerpts of poetry in twenty different languages were chosen, read and recorded by the composer, interwoven and superimposed into dialogues, streams, clouds and bursts of languages, embedded within abstract electronic sounds that are related to the material of Hirs’ Roseherte for orchestra and electronic sounds.

As in Pulsars, everything is read by the same voice, thus putting all the languages on the same level, in the medium of the composer’s voice. The procedure opens the languages up to each other, though on a more exterior level than in Pulsars. Rather than opening up the inner life of words, Brug van Babel weaves its music out of the different rhythms and fluxes that characterize languages, and what we hear is a polyphony of fluxes, a music of the process of globalization.

Thus Pulsars explores language at the micro-level of its inner life, and Brug van Babel explores the macro-level of global polyphony. In LA then explores the meso-level: it explores language as a support for memory and personality. The title refers to composer Louis Andriessen, with whom Hirs studied, and the piece is a re-enactment of what happens inside him. The text for the piece (the only piece not to use electronic sounds at all) was constructed out of memories and thoughts from an interview that Hirs conducted with Andriessen. Hirs then laid the text out in a metric notation, while inserting repetitions of words and fragments of words – this score was published in Hirs’ third book of poems, Speling (2005).

The composed text acts as the basis for a composition in six parts, again spoken by one voice which is layered and spatialized electronically. The text itself is recited by a central part, while other parts removed from the centre at different positions are speaking different fragments of the same text. Thus, the text is constantly being interwoven with itself, generating new connections and meanings. Hirs has described the work in terms of a cacophony of competing voices, as an image of the inner workings of memories in the brain. For the act of remembering the composer has found a metaphor in the so-called “cocktail party effect”, which is cognitive scientist Edward Colin Cherry’s term for the ability of listeners to focus on a single speaker within a multiplicity of simultaneous conversations. The spatialisation of the voices corresponds with the multiplicity of the areas in the brain in which memories are stored, with a centrally positioned main voice being flanked by five subsidiary voices. For Hirs, this central voice represents an actualized memory emerging from the virtual polyphony of memories that exist in the brain when an act of remembering is taking place, just as the voice of a single speaker can emerge from a polyphony of conversations during a cocktail party.

Intriguingly, in In LA, the polyphonic cocktail party hubbub builds a portrait of a single consciousness, that of Louis Andriessen. Again, the difference between one voice and many is nullified. But this does have the paradoxical effect of de-personalizing what is intensely personal, and of course this effect is strengthened by the fact that it is not Andriessen’s voice that we are hearing at all. The text itself is based on Andriessen’s words but was written by Hirs; the first recorded version, in Dutch, was in the voice of Hirs herself; the present English version is in the voice of percussionist Arnold Marinissen.

Finally, as we grope for narrative and meaning among the six layers, we incorporate the process of being Andriessen, and we make the voices of Marinissen, Hirs and Andriessen our own. If the details of the text are intensely personal, perhaps at times even uncomfortably so, at the same time what is portrayed goes beyond the personal: it is the dynamics by which the great polyphonic mass of words, each with its own inner life, comes to build a narrative. In this way Hirs’ work invites us again to experience and join the supra-personal, natural process of being someone.

Published on: 2010-11

Curvices (2013)


Download Curvices PDF [English]


1. Program notes
2. Technical details
3. Opening, entrance

Program notes

Curvices (2013) is a digital application, a virtual poetry and sound installation for cell phones, that accompanies you on your walk through the museum park Klankenbos/ Sound Forest in Neerpelt, Belgium. By changing location you codetermine the development of the music and the poetry. Where are you? What do you hear? Is it indigenous birds that are singing in the forest or do you hear birds from Portugal through your cell phone? Is it a siren you hear or is it the wind? By exploring the terrain you probe sounds and words, you make a journey through the forest, around the world, in as many steps as you like.

The forest has been divided into ten zones, virtual spaces, each with their own composition and animation, that have been composed, designed, and programmed, respectively by Hirs, Cox & Grusenmeyer and Yvan Vander Sanden. The soundapp Curvices registers your location through the GPS on your cell phone or tablet. If you enter a new zone, the corresponding composition sounds and the animation becomes visible. If you are between zones, you hear a recognizable interlude full of birds and sparkling overtones.

Rozalie Hirs (music, poetry, voice)
Cox & Grusenmeyer (design, animation)
Yvan vander Sanden (software design, realization)
Machiel Spaan (spatial design)

Wiek Hijmans (electric guitar)
Patricio Wang (bass guitar)
Martín Ibarburu (drums)
Magnus Robb (birdsong recordings)
Carlos Dalla-Fiore (mixing, mastering)
Mathijs de Valk (technical assistance)

Technical details

Rozalie Hirs: Curvices, Map in detail (design: Cox & Grusenmeyer; spatial design: Machiel Spaan)
The composition Curvices (2013) consists of ten movements and an interlude, which correspond to the ten zones and an interzone within the soundapp:

A Six destinations (2013) duration 3’32”
B Aurora borealis (2013) duration 4’49”
C This singing of tongues (2013) duration 1’58”
D Ladders of escape (2013) duration 3’37”
E Too many snakes here (2013) duration 2’26”
F Climbing a small rock (2013) duration 3’01”
G Substance of memory (2013) duration 2’03”
H Proofs of love (2013) duration 3’40”
J Words roll into brightness (2013) duration 2’44”
K Lines of moving about desert, salt water, cities (2013) duration 1’30”
Interlude (2013) duration 17’32”

speaking voice (A, B, D, E, F, G, K)
vocals (C, H, J)
electric guitar (C, H, J)
bass guitar (A, C, H, J, K)
drums (A, C, H, J, K)
electronic and electroacoustic sounds

The composition Curvices (2013) is composed by Rozalie Hirs on the basis of her bibliophile poetry collection Curvices and Musicles (Bleiswijk: Studio 3005, 2013). The book is designed, set, and hand printed by Marc Vleugels.
Rozalie Hirs: Curvices and Musicles (Bleiswijk: Studio 3005, 2013) Chapbook cover

Lines of movement. Mark six destinations of your
choice on a map of your choice. The destinations may
possess significantly different histories, ages,
numbers of inhabitants, and snackbars. Trace six
different paths of your choice from [here] to each
of the destinations, adding up to thirty-six different
paths. Add one more path connecting all six places,
preferably with the shortest possible distance, taking
into account unsurmountable obstacles such as mountains,
lakes. Buy one pair of new shoes. Pack your backpack.
With what? A tent, sleeping bag, gun?

The total duration of the entire compostion is 47’11”. The duration of the sound walk is determined by each individual visitor.

Opening, entrance

23 November 2013, 15:00 CET, Official opening with a guided tour and lecture by Rozalie Hirs, Cox & Grusenmeyer, and Yvan Vander Sanden.

From 23 November 2013 onwards the installation is permanently accessible to the public, and free of entrance fee. The Curvices sound and poetry app (2013) is available as a free download through scanning the below QR code. Please note that the Curvices app is location specific, hence it only works when actually present at Klankenbos/ Sound Forest, Neerpelt, Belgium.


Commissioned by Klankenbos / Musica, Neerpelt, Belgium. With financial support from a Composition Stipend 2012-2013 from Fonds Podiumkunsten. In collaboration with Wiek Hijmans (electric guitar), Patricio Wang (bass guitar), Martín Ibarburu (drums), Carlos Dalla-Fiore (mixing, mastering), Matthijs de Valk (technical assistance). Special thanks to Magnus Robb for giving permission for the use of his bird song recordings.

Published on: 2013

Anthology of Dutch Electronic Music 1999-2010 (cd, 2011)



Disc 1:
1. René Uijlenhoet: De Voorzienigheid
2. Rozalie Hirs: Pulsars (excerpt)
3. Kees Tazelaar: Crosstalk
4. Hans Timmermans: Aether (Remix)
5. Bas Kalle: Drieluik
6. Huib Emmer: Orbit I
7. Roderik de Man: Marionette
8. Marko Ciciliani: Map of Marble
9. Wouter Snoei: Hysteresis
10. Alison Isadora: Ancient Voices
11. Michel Waisvisz: Rupture (Part 3)

Disc 2:
1. Juan Parra Cancino: Tellura
2. Robert Van Heumen: Stranger
3. Joel Ryan: Frontal
4. Gert-Jan Prins: sub 8
5. Henry Vega: The Hallelujah Drones
6. Thomas Ankersmit: Kleinere Zwerm
7. Anne La Berge: Drive
8. Jan-Bas Bollen: Walker
9. Luc Houtkamp: Uiterste Staat (Part 3)
10. Edwin Van der Heide: Wavescape
11. Yannis Kyriakides: Wordless (Pensioner_0496)
12. Bosch & Simons: Último Esfuerzo Rural I
13. Justin Bennett: The Well (Gold/Drowned)
14. Cathy van Eck: Hearing Sirens
15. Huba de Graaff: PPPouverture (uit: De dood van Poppaea)


Red, White & Blues (cd, 2007)

Red, white & blues (Amsterdam: Attacca Records, 2007)


1. Tracks
2. Review
2.1. Roland de Beer


Disc: 1
1. Leo Samama: Some kind of Blues (2002)
2. Svitlana Azarova: Valentine Blues (2006)
3. David Dramm: Otis Plays Arnold (1996)
4. Rudi Martinus van Dijk: A touch of the Blues (1998)
5. Evrim Demirel: Blues extended (2006)
6. Douwe Eisenga: Growing worm, stabbing his back-part slowly into the blues (2001)
7. Joost Kleppe: Fado Irado (1999
8. Astrid Kruisselbrink: Goin’ down (2006)
9. Daan Manneke: Blues for Marcel (2000)
10. Vanessa Lann: Leaps of faith (2001/2002)
11. Robert Nasveld: Frozen Blues (2002)
12. Christina Viola Oorebeek: Prismatic Blues
13. Mathieu Polak: Der Gasn Nigun (2006
14. Michiel Braam: Worms is back! (1998)
18. Theo Loevendie: The Bar pianist (1997)

Disc: 2
1. Dolf de Kinkelder: Gejaagd door de kwint
2. Ron Ford: Lachrymae (1997)
3. Rozalie Hirs: Source of Blue (2005)
4. Loek Dikker: South Side Ground Zero Boogie Blues (2003)
5. Otto Ketting: Palace Hotel (1998)
6. Hanna Kulenty: Drive Blues (2000)
7. Vincent van Warmerdam: Cradlerockin’ Blues (2000)
8. Misha Mengelberg: Blues Na Piet (1997)
9. Guus Janssen: Blauwbrug (Bluebridge) (1996)
10. Ana Mihajlovic: A Sad Smile Blues (2000)
11. Toek Numan: Hitch (2003)
12. Martijn Padding: Laid Back (1996)
13. Bart Spaan: Blank (2004)
14. Bob Zimmerman: A Can of Blues (1999)
15. Sinta Wullur: Bali in Blue (1999)
16. Jacob ter Veldhuis: Honky Tonk Blues (1999)
17. Jacob ter Veldhuis: Off & On Situation Blues (1999)


Roland de Beer: In de ban van de Blues

De uitgeverij van Nederlandse muziek Donemus heeft in de duinen een bunker waar werk wordt bewaard van tientallen componisten. Stel: Nederland loopt onder, alleen de duinen steken nog boven water, en Groenlandse archeologen graven het over driehonderd jaar op. Nederland blijkt in de ban te zijn geweest van de blues. De gevonden oeuvres bevatten bijna allemaal een bluesachtige compositie. Soms meerdere. A touch of the blues. Blues extended. Blues for Marcel. Vooral deze laatste titel intrigeert. Who the hell was Marcel? Een snuggere promovendus vindt de sleutel: Marcel Worms. Een Amsterdamse pianist, die bij iedere componist die hij tegenkwam een bluescompositie lospeuterde. Worms blijkt tot ieders verbijstering van zo’n 160 componisten uit vijftig landen bluesstukken te hebben gekregen. Het leeuwedeel, zestig stuks, afkomstig van Nederlanders of buitenlanders die in Nederland woonden. Red White & Blues, heet de dubbel-cd waarop Worms anno 2007 32 stuks uit die Nederlandse categorie bij elkaar heeft gelegd. Ruim de helft klonk al eens op eerdere cd’s. Maar omdat Worms nu tien jaar bezig is met zijn project, werd het tijd voor een best of-collectie. Het is een merkwaardige bluesbox. Improvisatie ontbreekt – tenzij je de tien jaar oude, nog altijd leuke bijdrage van Misha Mengelberg onder improvisatie laat vallen. Zijn Blues na Piet, een van de beste stukken van de verzameling, varieert op een Memphis Slim-achtig dum-tadum-tadum-motief. Het zijn variaties met slimme wendingen en rare afbrokkelneigingen, totdat de speler het niet meer lijkt te weten, en de beweging stagneert zoals in een Valse oubliée van Liszt. In Mengelbergs boogie oublié bepaalt de speler de volgorde van de variaties. De rest is, om met Robert Nasvelds Frozen blues te spreken, bevroren in stijloefeningen en gelaagde impressies. Sommige classico’s doen popi met loopjes en 12-matenschema’s, en komen niet veel verder dan een scholier op een feestje met een blues in F. Anderen confronteren de blues met oud muziekintellect als van Schönberg, die niets met de blues had (David Dramm, grappig: Otis plays Arnold). Of met Debussy, die wel iets met de blues had. Blank van Bart Spaan is een Cathédrale engloutie van de blue note. Sinta Wullur mixt blues met Bali. Ver van de oervormen verwijderd, maar intrigerend door zijn langzame puls en zwevende harmoniek, is Martijn Paddings Laid back. Van aparte bekoring is ook het recente Source of blue van Rozalie Hirs, zwevend tussen camp en oprechte poëzie. Hirs speelt een knap spelletje met oude, bijna Chopinesk klinkende, maar modern vertekende jazzclichés. En laat er de pianist af en toe een woordje bij zingen. Liefde. Helaas. Want Marcel Worms, een verdienstelijk pianist, al zou je hem een energiekere linkerhand toewensen, is geen love zingende Bessie Smith, laat staan een Eartha – ‘llawwwwwah’ – Kitt.

(Volkskrant, 12 juli 2007)

Date: 2009-09
Performers: Marcel Worms (piano, voice)

Platonic ID (CD, 2007)


1. Tracklist, musical excerpts
2. Liner notes by Anthony Fiumara


Platonic ID (2005-06) 17’59”
for 13 instrumentalists
Asko Ensemble & Bas Wiegers (conductor)

article 0 [transarctic buddha] (2000) 7’54”
for solo percussion: pitched metals and pitched natural stones
Arnold Marinissen (percussion)

article 1 to 3 (2003) 11’12”

for piano solo
Dante Boon (piano)

article 4 (2004) 10’02”
[landkaartje – la carte géographique – map butterfly]
for violin solo
Anna McMichael (violin)

Book of Mirrors (2001) 12’04”
for 19 instrumentalists
Asko Ensemble & Stefan Asbury (conductor)

Liner notes

The soft gleaming skin of sounds
Anthony Fiumara

Purified, as if washed clean—that is one way one might characterize the music of Rozalie Hirs (1965). Her work is presented with the greatest clarity; she creates a world in a few gestures. Within that world, sonic beauty is of greater importance than the display of technique or structure. Indeed, though Hirs’ points of departure are almost always austere and sober, she permits herself a great measure of intuition. The listener hears a number of associations that occur within the limits of the plot she has laid out for herself. This is not to say that the Dutch composer only works intuitively when constructing her works–quite the contrary. At first hearing, her gestures may seem simple but beneath them refined methods are hidden, rooted in mathematical or physical ideas. Perhaps this has something to do with Hirs’ background as a chemical engineer, her training before she devoted her life to the muses.

The unwary listener need not, in fact, be occupied with the mathematical framework underlying her music. Hirs seems to be most eager to show you the soft, gleaming skin of her sounds. Each successive piece becomes more and more soulful and warm-blooded – as exemplified by the most recent work on this CD, Platonic ID (2006), which Hirs wrote for the Asko Ensemble.
In Platonic ID, Hirs took the overtones described by Plato in his Timaeus as a point of departure: frequency relations that are, for Plato, the expression of the World Soul. The composer used these pitch relationships to create her harmonies: a number of fifths and octaves impart to the piece its particularly consonant character. Platonic ID elegantly unfolds in rustling waves of quick notes, with moments of repose where the chords are heard sounding out in the piano, or in which short, luminous chorales suddenly shine forth. ‘Usually, I’m looking for fluid transitions in my work, but in Platonic ID I chose to work with blocks that can be clearly distinguished. Within those blocks, the music is intentionally very fluid again’.

Not content to be only a former engineer and a composer, Hirs is a poet as well. Recently, her third collection, Speling (Leeway) was published, as in the case of her first two collections Locus and Logos, by the renowned literary publishing house, Querido. ‘I first took up poetry’, Hirs says when asked which art form she practiced first. As long as I can remember I have been fascinated with words and sound. Already, when I could only write my own name, I wished to rearrange the letters, just to see what it might say. Written language to me was a code, a mysterious thing whose workings I didn’t yet fully grasp’.
‘My first serious poems I wrote when I began my chemistry studies. At that point it didn’t occur to me to attend conservatory. In my upbringing my parents always emphasized the importance of learning a trade. As an emancipated woman, I thought I would enroll in a science program and keep music and poetry only as side interests. I sang in bands and I took classical singing lessons at the music school. I diligently passed my chemistry exams, but music and poetry turned out to be my real life’.
After graduation, Hirs took a year off in order to find out whether she really wished to take the big step into music. She did, and applied to the Royal Conservatory at The Hague. ‘I wanted to go there, because it was where Louis Andriessen was teaching, and I greatly admired his music’.
Hirs describes her time at the conservatory with Diderik Wagenaar and Louis Andriessen (and her subsequent studies with Tristan Murail in New York) as a period of discovery. Furthermore, during her first year as a conservatory student she took part in the poetry competition of the Pythian Games at Enschede, where she ended among the finalists, as a result of which Querido poetry editor Jan Kuijper invited her to submit some of her work, and Querido published Hirs’ first collection Locus in 1998.

When asked what poetry and composing have in common, Hirs says: ‘In both, you need distance, so as to think abstractly, and perspective, so as to see what you have made. On the one hand, creating is expressing yourself, but on the other hand you need this distance to improve yourself. The capacity for self-reflection is among the best qualities of any good artist’. This almost scientific attitude is also found in her Book of Mirrors (2001), in which Hirs connects the use of acoustical laws of overtones, sum tones and difference tones to how a listener perceives sound. ‘If you hear two tones at the same time, it turns out that the brain automatically adds certain others. I was wondering how I could use this fact to produce a harmonious and homogeneous sound’. Hirs wrote Book of Mirrors as music for an abstract film by Joost Rekveld. The ‘mirrors’ in the title refer to the prime numbers and the mirrored structures that form the foundations of the work, making Book of Mirrors into a kaleidoscope of ratios. Starting from the lowest level of the tones, through the chords and the tone-colors up to the level of time structures, everything is fixed by numerical measurements and their mirrorings. These correspond to the time structure of Rekveld’s film and to particular details, for example the use of color.

After her years with Louis Andriessen, Hirs studied for some time with Tristan Murail at Columbia University. ‘Murail’s music I found to be very beautiful. What attracted me in his work was the way it was highly concerned with harmony and timbre, and with the psychology of time perception. His gestural style may be closer to a late-romantic idiom, whereas Andriessen, who is more of a classicist, interested in clarity of form. In addition, Murail is a phenomenal orchestrator, who takes the overtone structures of the instruments into consideration when writing. This way, he is capable of giving a small ensemble an almost symphonic sound. What I learnt from Murail built upon my studies with Andriessen: how to listen carefully, elaborate and notate things—and why they should be that way. Every detail must be right, every note must be good’.

This eye for detail is most clearly found in Hirs’ series of solo works, each entitled article. Hirs primarily intends ‘article’ in the linguistic sense. ‘The pieces are meditations on the articles of language’, the composer explains. But ‘article’ might also be taken in the sense of ‘writing’ or ‘textual fragment’. Then, one might see Hirs’ articles as essays in sound – experiments, trials or treatises, like those of Montaigne – which treat some clearly delimited subject. Take, for example, article 4, in which Hirs lets go of the grammatical principle and takes a butterfly for her subject matter. ‘By way of the (grammatical) articles I came to the Hebrew alphabet in article 1 to 3. At that point, it was a small step to get to the map butterfly of article 4 and the buddha (article 0 was added to the cycle a few years after it was written)’, Hirs explains.

article 0 [transarctic buddha] is the first work that Hirs composed during her studies at Columbia University with Tristan Murail. This piece for percussion is an answer to Morton Feldman’s The King of Denmark. If in Feldman’s work the performer is given great freedom in the choice of instruments, in Hirs’ piece these are fixed, comprising of metal instruments and a set of 23 tuned slabs of stone (Belgian bluestone and marble). The stones reminded Hirs of a sculpture of a person and of a ritual. Thus the Buddha, who, for the composer, is of similar stature as Feldman. The adjective ‘transarctic’ was a free association on her transatlantic sojourn in New York. Stone and metal (the other material in the work) gave Hirs, as she puts it, ‘a cold sensation’: arctic, so to speak. transarctic buddha is a journey around the old, cold, bald head of a stone Buddha, around his crown; a terrestrial globe with ice on the poles, that keep sea and land invisible until the temperature rises above freezing point’.

The solo piano composition article 1 to 3 (2003) is in three movements. This work explores the harmonic spectrum of a low B, situated far below the range of the piano. At the same time, article 1 to 3 is an examination of the properties of this particular string instrument. Part 1, titled [the], concerns itself with the resonance of the instrument, the vibrations caused by the strings and the body of the piano. The second movement is a ‘meditation on the keyboard of the piano, on the relative position of the keys and on weightlessness’, says Hirs. In movement three the composer quotes a short rhythmic motive from Feu d’artifice, one of the 24 preludes composed for piano by Claude Debussy. Fireworks indeed: Hirs wrote article 1 to 3 for the occasion of her parents’ fortieth anniversary.

article 4 [landkaartje – la carte géographique – map butterfly] from 2004 is an exploration of violin harmonics, overtones that sound when you half press the string at certain nodal points. It is interesting to see that Hirs notated her score for solo violin on two staves – the instrument is usually given one staff only. The lower staff notates the musician’s fingering while the upper staff shows the sounding result of his actions. The ‘fingering staff’ is only seen by the player – the listener doesn’t hear it. It’s also a kind of phantom voice that plays an inaudible bass note for every sounding tone. The violin is like a virtuoso viola d’amore, or (according to the title) a butterfly flitting about and casting volatile shadows on the ground which travel along with it, ‘in a mysterious conjunction of body, light and motion’, according to Hirs. The map of the pitches comes into existence as the butterfly flies across the fingerboard. The harmonics and their ‘ground shadows’ were used again by the composer as a point of departure for the harmonies in Platonic ID.

One further point: in spite of her fascination with the shadowy world of the overtones and their harmonic relationship, Hirs doesn’t view herself as a spectral composer: ‘I don’t like the term spectral music very much because it has certain stylistic implications. I do let myself be inspired by spectra as they can be found in nature and analyzed by composers, and by the frequency calculations that we know from electronic music as well. I want to design an architecture of sound. I would like to move through a musical work as through a space. What others call ‘form’ I call ‘sonic space’, given by the relation between tones that built a structure during the compositional process’. Hirs may not want to be considered part of the spectralist movement within which Murail is generally placed, yet a work like Platonic ID has an unmistakably French sound to it. Hirs herself does not disagree with this view, although she was thinking also of jazz figures like John Coltrane. ‘But that association is very personal. May I tell you what seems ideal to me? To write a kind of music that engages in dialogue with physical and psychological processes in the brain. Composers like Claude Vivier, Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail, for example, manage to do that. They literally create sensuous pieces, a music of the senses, which communicates with the listener. In the ideal case, music provides an experience the listener has never had’.

(translation: Samuel Vriezen/James Helgeson)
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Performers: Anna McMichael (violin), Arnold Marinissen (percussion), Dante Boon (piano), Bas Wiegers (conductor), Stefan Asbury (conductor), Asko|Schönberg

Published on: 2007-05

Sacro Monte (1997, CD 1999)


1. Program notes, review
2. Sound recording
3. Technical details
4. Past performances

Program notes

Sacro Monte was commissioned by La Nuova Arca, Turin, for the concert series ‘Il Suono dei Parchi’ by the ensemble Antidogma, touring seven natural reserves in Piemonte, northern Italy, in the fall of 1997. Seven composers, hailing from England, Italy, France and the Netherlands, each wrote one piece as a musical reaction to their stay earlier that year in one of these reserves. The reserve that Rozalie Hirs visited was the Sacro Monte di Varallo Sesia, a pilgrimage site on top of a mountain, which includes a path with countless little shrines, inhabited by life-size terracotta statues.

The composition Sacro Monte is a slow and contemplative work, meant to be performed in the basilica on top of the mountain. The ensemble plays long sustained, delicate chords, interspersed with pizzicati in the strings. Piano, glockenspiel and vibraphone occupy a central position with a continuously varying motive that is characterized by large intervallic leaps. Halfway through the piece, the violin takes the initiative with a solo, which is constructed from fast, high figures, as if you are staring at a static mountainous landscape, when suddenly a solitary cyclist passes by.

Sound recording

Technical details

French horn
violin 1
violin 2
double bass

The composition Sacro Monte (1997) is dedicated to Yannis Kyriakides.

10′ ca.

Past performances

10 November 2011, 12:30, Muziekcentrum Frits Philips, Jan van Lieshoutstraat 3, Eindhoven, The Netherlands – F.C. Jongbloed, Arnold Marinissen (conductor)

9 November 2011, 12:30, November Music, MC De Toonzaal, Den Bosch, The Netherlands – F.C. Jongbloed, Arnold Marinissen (conductor)

3 November 2011, 12:30, Conservatoriumzaal, Fontys Conservatorium, Zwijsenplein 1, Tilburg, The Netherlands – F.C. Jongbloed, Arnold Marinissen (conductor)

15 September 2007, 20:00, Dreikönigskirche, Hauptstraße 23, Dresden, Germany – Ensemble Courage, Titus Engel (conductor)

10 April, 2007, 19:00, Konsertti Aboa Nova III, Sigyn-sali, Turku Music Academy, Finland – Musiikkiakatemia NYTT! Ensemble, Erkki Lahesmaa (conductor)

26 January 2003, 20:30, Holland Amerika Lijn, De Witte Dame, Eindhoven, The Netherlands – Ives Ensemble

23 January 2003, 20:30, Holland Amerika Lijn, De Rode Hoed, Amsterdam, The Netherlands – Ives Ensemble

19 January 2003, 15:00, Holland Amerika Lijn, Theater Romein, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands – Ives Ensemble

17 January 2003, 20:30, Holland Amerika Lijn, Lantaren/Venster, Rotterdam. The Netherlands – Ives Ensemble

20 February 2000, 20:00, Columbia Composers‘ Concert, Miller Theater, New York, United States – Columbia Composers Ensemble, J.D. Hixson (conductor)

3 November 1999, (CD recording) Stadsgehoorzaal, Leiden, The Netherlands – Ives Ensemble

24 April 1999, 20:00, Concert IX, Concerten Tot En Met, Posthoornkerk, Amsterdam, The Netherlands – Ensemble Insomnio

5 October 1997, 21:00, Il Suono dei Parchi, Parco Valgrande, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Italy – Antidogma Musica, Raffaele Mascolo (conductor)

4 October 1997, 21:00, Il Suono dei Parchi, Parco Fluviale del Po e dell’Orba, Alessandria, Italy – Antidogma Musica, Raffaele Mascolo (conductor)

3 October 1997, 21:00, Il Suono dei Parchi, Basilica Sacro Monte, Parco Sacro Monte di Varallo Sesia, Vercelli, Italy – Antidogma Musica, Raffaele Mascolo (conductor)

2 October 1997, 21:00, Il Suono dei Parchi, Parco La Mandria, Torino, Italy – Antidogma Musica, Raffaele Mascolo (conductor)

30 September 1997, 21:00, Il Suono dei Parchi, Parco Sacro Monte di Orta, Novara, Italy – Antidogma Musica, Raffaele Mascolo (conductor)

29 September 1997, 21:00, Il Suono dei Parchi, Parco Burcina, Bessi, Biella, Italy – Antidogma Musica, Raffaele Mascolo (conductor)

28 September 1997, 21:00, Il Suono dei Parchi, Auditorium del Centro Giovani, Via Goltieri 3, Asti, Italy – Antidogma Musica, Raffaele Mascolo (conductor)

Performers: Antidogma Musica, Raffaele Mascolo (conductor)
Commissioned by Antidogma Musica and La Nuova Arca, Turijn, Italië, at the occasion of Il Suono dei Parchi (artistic directors: Enzo Restagno, Louis Andriessen, George Benjamin, Gérard Grisey).

Published on: 1997-10