2. Program notes
4. Technical details
Dreams of Airs (2017-18) is a cycle of poetry and music by Rozalie Hirs. Its sound world features eight musicians, a singer who speaks, and electronic sounds. The visual artists Boris Tellegen and Geert Jan Mulder designed a live video installation for the performance. The duration of the performance is around 60 minutes.
Thanks to the Netherlands Performing Arts Fund and the Stimuleringsfonds Creative Industry for financial support. Thanks to MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and Maison Dora Maar for their generous and indispensable residencies and fellowships. With special thanks to Johan Reyniers (dramaturgical advice) and Martín Mayo (amanuensis).
Rozalie Hirs – music (score, electronic sounds), poetry
Boris Tellegen, Geert Jan Mulder – moving image
dreams of airs: the longing of language – spoken word, binaural beats, brain waves, mirror neurons
The new full-length composition dreams of airs (2017-18) by the Netherlands-based composer/ poet Rozalie Hirs offers a unique listening experience. The listener is guided through mesmerizing accelerandos and rallentandos in a lounge-like environment. The combination of spoken word, music, and visuals serves to stimulate various senses at once. The audience is seated around the room, as are the musicians, to ensure unencumbered interaction. This intimate concert setting can also be regarded as a visual installation, including moving images by Boris Tellegen and Geert Jan Mulder.
Spoken word is the bedrock of Rozalie Hirs’ new cycle dreams of airs (2017-18). The completed work will fully integrate music and poetry in various forms. The text is at times a conveyor of meaning, at times it serves as pure sound poetry. The instruments emulate the speaking voice. First they shadow it, to then take up an autonomous role in constant dialogue with each other and with the voice. The composer-poet has performed her own poetry since 1991 and has developed an inimitable elocution style down the years. Hirs refers to the underlying, intrinsically musical, structure of language as the longing of language. In the poetry cycle long at present longing in her fifth poetry book gestamelde werken (Amsterdam: Querido, 2012) Hirs uncovers this phenomenon through Markov chain analysis, a mathematical statistical model revealing the underlying patterns within any structure.
Like the musicians, the listeners are seated around the room so they can more easily relate to the players and their physical gestures via the process of automatic imitation; a staple of everyday communication due to the mirror neurons that are constantly firing in our brains. This phenomenon, which we associate with empathy, reinforces the notion of the listeners that they understand the music and words ‘from within’. The moving images provide an additional visual connection between performers and audience.
Everyone has two ears but only a few people are aware of the fascinating universe hidden behind those auditory canals. For example, binaural beats are created when our left and right ears simultaneously hear two specific tones that differ only slightly in frequency, causing the brain to generate an illusory pulse. Specific frequencies produce brainwaves that match certain mental states such as waking, sleeping, focusing, learning, dreaming or meditation. Rozalie Hirs’ new work activates binaural beats that correspond to patterns that we associate with, for example, lucid dreaming and creativity. The binaural beatings create flow and help listeners to be in the moment. A plethora of binaural beats to which many beneficial characteristics are attributed can be found online. Binaural beats are known to aid sleep and increase one’s energy, motivation, and IQ. Come, listen, and experience for yourself what it does to you!
©2017 Rozalie Hirs
A song it no longer poetry, it is music
Rozalie Hirs (1965) is multi-talented. She has made a name for herself as a poet and as a composer. For her cycle dreams of airs she wrote the poems as well as the instrumental and electronic music. The cycle is inspired by the physical phenomenon of binaural beating: when your left and right ears are offered two almost identical tones, your brain creates a third (phantom) tone that consists of the difference in frequency between the two. When the frequency differences are small enough, the resulting tone, perceived as a beating, may evoke different moods and states of mind. Dreams of Airs was premiered in November Music, Den Bosch, The Netherlands, in 2018, and will be again performed in TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht, on Sunday 6 January 2019.
Hirs was born in Gouda and studied chemical engineering at the University of Twente and composition at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, with, among others, Louis Andriessen. In New York she continued her studies with the French spectralist Tristan Murail at Columbia University. In 2007 she obtained her ‘Doctor of Musical Arts’ title (DMA) with a dissertation on spectral composition techniques and the composition Platonic ID.
She has written six Dutch collections of poems, all published by the Dutch renowned publisher Singeluitgeverijen|Querido, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She also writes in English and German, and in 2017 her multilingual collection gestammelte werke was published by the German KOOKbooks, Berlin. Her poetry and music are both lyrical and innovative. She often combines traditional instruments with electronic sounds and collaborates with visual artists and graphic designers. Though Hirs regularly performs her own poems, whether or not embedded in music, dreams of airs is her first concert-length poetry and music cycle.
Where does the title come from? What does it mean?
The working title for the cycle was dreams of breathing, because breath, and air for that matter, are at the very basis of our existence and communication, our voice’s uttering of words. Air is also the archaic English word for song or melody, so the title also means ‘dreams of melodies’. For me, this alludes to melodies of speech, including the phrasing of sentences, text, and rhythm. For me, a song is no longer poetry, it has become music because of the composer’s interpretation, shaping his or her reading experience into music. With spoken language one stays closer to the original poetry, and its implied melody of speech. One still hears the inner melody and rhythm of language, which have not yet become singing.
This time you do not read the poems yourself; the voice part is performed by Nora Fischer.
In the past thirty years I have been performing poetry, while gradually developing my own characteristic speech melody. It has taken me years to translate this typical intonation and speech rhythm into a meaningful notation, so my pieces can be performed by others as well, even when I am not around. Interestingly, during the premiere my mother constantly had the feeling that I was on stage myself, meaning that the notation, indeed, had captured some of the essence of my speech melody.
The speech melody, the rhythm and the intonation are all fully composed and notated, aren’t they?
Yes, but because aimed for a natural kind of speech, I didn’t want to force Nora to imitate the exact register of my voice. So I indicated the pitches with crosses; she simply follows the resulting contour – or Gestalt – in tune with the music, yet may transpose it to match the central fundamental pitches characterizing her own voice. The result sounds natural and simple, but at the same time the speech melody is very specific, because its conception of tonality matches the harmonies present, as well as the phrasing, implied by the sentences, and breathing. All pitches are connected to each other through spectral harmonies, whose central gravities are in a constant flux of transformation. The dreaming in the title refers not only to the meditative, contemplative way in which the poems are expressed, but also to their associative, fleeting content and the way they are treated musically.
Some of the poems are in Dutch, and there are also German and English poems?
Yes, I see dreams of airs as a manifesto for Europe, and the world, for expressing oneself in different languages as a first step towards communication. It is humanistic and idealistic, it is about the freedom of the imagination, about inner seeing and hearing from the individual’s perspective. You can reach out to another person by the attempt to speak their language. This includes not only the speech melody and meaning, but also the mere sounds themselves.
The multilingual libretto begins with an emerging day and ends with a kind of apotheosis, a philosophical reflection on love, based on a book by Erasmus. The binaural beatings serve as to induce a continually changing sound space, bringing the listener into several subsequent states of mind. The left and right loudspeakers produce slightly different tones, resulting in highly spatialized sounds. In my piece I use this electronically induced spatial effect as well as concrete beating pulses. In reaction to this, as scientific research has led us to believe, your brain might create its own inner binaural beatings with frequencies related to different states of mind such as meditation, alertness, creativity, dreams, or flow.
The full ensemble plays during three out of seven movements. Furthermore, an instrumental trio, and several movements with solo voice with soundtrack are part of the cycle.
I started the piece from the fifth movement, infinity stairs, a trio with electronic sounds, scored for flute, bass clarinet, electric guitar. In this trio, composed in 2014, the separate parts also may function as solo pieces, and can be played separately. Infinity stairs is the only movement of the cycle in which the voice doesn’t participate, so the listener gets some semantic rest. The trio revolves around ascending and descending lines, just like the infinitely ascending and descending steps in one of the famous etchings of Maurits Escher. I have tried to translate this optical illusion into an auditory illusion, along with large glissandi and the binaural beating effect I mentioned before.
The other movements were shaped around this center piece?
Yes, the cycle opens with spinning languages, evoking daybreak: bird twittering, a flute solo, followed by solo voice. In the second movement, golden vielleicht, the voice performs together with a few other instruments. The third, who put on my shoes, is a tutti movement, a hyper-lyrical journey through nature, as well as an encounter with death; it serves as an ode to life, the imagination, and independence, my Alice in Wonderland so to speak. The fourth movement at present longing, composed for solo voice with soundtrack, is based on a poem about the urgency of longing and physical desire. The tutti movement waves is about a bottle nose dolphin swimming in the sea. The concluding movement here and nowness is an ode to love, in which all instruments blend together with the voice’s urgent speech in a kind of spectral minimalism.
In essence, dreams of airs can be regarded as one big daydream about the imagination, and how language arises, while speaking, feeling-thinking, dreaming.
©2019 Thea Derks, TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 4 January 2019 (this English translation was revised and expanded by the composer on 1 October 2019).
Download [Dutch; PDF] program notes by Thea Derks
dreams of airs (2017-18) was commissioned by Stichting Iris or Hazel, with financial support by the Netherlands Foundation for the Performing Arts.
Bb clarinet & bass clarinet
a MIDI pedal for triggering the electronic sounds, to be played by one of the musicians, and laptop
further technical requirements
1.) QLAB software, to be installed on the above mentioned laptop
2.) The ‘dreams of airs’ QLAB sampler, to be obtained through Deuss Music.
3.) Microphone and stand for the voice
4.) Amplifier and mixer in the concert hall
5.) Stereo loudspeakers, to be placed within the ensemble
6.) Optional amplification of the ensemble (i.e. microphones, cables)
6 January 2019, 20:00, Rozalie Hirs (portrait concert): Dreams of Airs, Avontuurlijke Muziek Series, Tivoli|Vredenburg/ Hertz Hall, Utrecht, The Netherlands – Spectra Ensemble, Filip Rathé (conductor), Nora Fischer (voice)
10 November 2018, 19:00, Rozalie Hirs (portrait concert): Dreams of Airs, November Music, Willem Twee Concertzaal FKA De Toonzaal, Prins Bernhardstraat 4-6, 5211 HE Den Bosch, The Netherlands – Spectra Ensemble, Filip Rathé (conductor), Nora Fischer (voice) – world premiere