Michel Roth

Michel Roth – Im Bau; Decoder Ensemble – Big Data

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

Two discs from the Wergo label have lately been getting me thinking a lot about the relationship between content and meaning. Im Bau is the title of an electroacoustic monodrama by Swiss composer Michel Roth that takes its starting point from a short story by Franz Kafka (Der Bau). Quite apart from the piece itself, there’s an immediate challenge with regards to meaning stemming from the way the recording of the piece is presented. Rather than supplying a translation of the complete German libretto, Wergo has opted instead to provide a short synopsis of what’s going on in each of the work’s 15 “sound spaces” (Roth’s term). On the one hand, that’s simply not good enough, yet it nonetheless contributes something to the general tone of impenetrability permeating the piece.

The story, and Roth’s dramatisation of it, is concerned with the fearful ramblings of a creature that has constructed an elaborate underground burrow to protect itself from the outside world. Yet it’s not at all clear whether this perceived external threat is in any way real, or merely the product of an increasingly paranoid mind. The psychological state of the creature is intensified by a tinnitus-like perception that it experiences which, again, may be entirely internal in origin rather than being evidence of some kind of proximate presence. The work takes on an additional poignancy listened to at the current time, during the locked-down state of much of the world. From that perspective, it’s not difficult to imagine Kafka’s protagonist as someone hiding indoors away from society and all contact with the pandemic – and then going slowly mad. Read more

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