Walking through autumn leaves surrounding Schloss Solitude, Jeffrey introduced me to Undine, the water spirit. Although she is not a human being, some aspects of her life correspond with the daily experience of highly sensitive humans; those who seem to get stronger sensory input from the environment than the average human does. Undine finds herself in a world that she used to observe from underwater. Then, love made her appear on earth in the body of a human female. But everything that makes this world go around crashes into her perception. Although Undine speaks and looks human, she still perceives things with the soul of a water-spirit. Like highly sensitive people, she feels like she doesn’t fit the role given to her by society. Although sound waves move more slowly in air than in water, her way of communicating with human beings works through sung words.
My part was designing the sound that carries her voice, and defining a sonic atmosphere that corresponds to her interfered, disrupted perception of life on land. Just as Undine’s soul toggles between two worlds throughout the piece, I chose two methods of audio production. First, all social artifacts that make her suffer are sonificated bended data. Data-bending describes the process of manipulating a media file of a certain format with software designed to edit files in another format. I chose a video of a highly sensitive youTuber’s channel and imported its raw data with audio software. This predetermined digital error produces sounds at the extreme range of audible frequencies, which can be even painful to listen to. Second, her sung language, understood equally by humans and spirits, would always go along with the warm sound of analogue magnetic tape. Like a shimmer of the past, she plays her favorite parts of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s opera Undine on an old tape machine and sings along with it. Finding a sonic accompaniment of Undine’s voice and that of her companions was the biggest challenge for me in this production. Apart from being a classical piano accompanist during rehearsals with singers and actors, I made a couple of weird experiments with Lisa as Undine in my home studio. Step by step we reduced Hoffmann’s music to a minimalistic harmonic framework. In the end of this process we even decided to go for all or nothing: All parts are either performed a capella or along with a whole orchestra on analog tape. Then, played on the old worn-out machine, slow lyric passages arise like a modal drone that guides Undine’s soprano, like in her very last aria. Her nervous companion Vodnik always tries to warn her of the dangers of human love and communicates with her by creating haptic sounds with amplified objects and singing through a megaphone. However, his aria turned out to be a badass trippy lo-fi hip-hop track.
Back to my first encounter with Jeffrey: The first sonic association connected to the topic of hypersensitivity which came to my mind was the image of a thin needle scratching its way in the valleys of a vinyl recording. Jeffrey and I immediately started looking for a recording of Hoffmann’s opera in the online oceans of eBay and Amazon. Finally, we found a set of three vinyls in an American dealer’s online store, who would not ship his goods to Europe. Therefore, we ordered the vinyl set through a forwarding company in Texas, which should then send the package to Germany. Unfortunately, they mixed up our address with a Finnish client, whose order (three comic sets) was apparently sent to us, but actually never arrived. Since the old magnetic tape brought much better results than my first experiments with vinyl. It turned out that the package, as well like the initial idea to use vinyl in the piece, never made it to its final destination.
Goldstaub team during the Brennender Schnee/Burning Snow production:
Jeffrey Döring – artistic director
Mariam Haas – set designer
Johana Gomez – set designer
Felix Nagl – sound designer
Iris Schwarz – motion designer
Simon Greiner – motion designer
Elmar Mellert – designer of the art book
Lisa Ströckens – soprano/ actress
Laila Richter – actress
Johannes May – actor
Pascal Zurek – bass baritone/ actor