Production diary
Helga Pogatschar »MARS Requiem«

Automatic translation:

The following texts are not intended to give “instructions for use”. Your actual concern is therefore not pure information, or even a final, complete analysis. Instead, the reader should be given an insight into the development of unusual music. Firstly, because none of the musicians involved would have the necessary distance for analysis immediately after production. On the other hand, because in such working notes it may be possible to communicate more about the play than from the editor’s distance.
Alexander Carpenter, September 1995

21.06.1995 - Meeting with Helga Pogachar. She plays me the first instrumental parts of MARS. I am not aware of any similar attempt to combine such sample sounds with a classical solo vocal ensemble. It shows me sampled sound walls, musical surfaces of astonishing overtone richness, but also tricky rhythmic combinations in the arrangements. In addition slender, strangely melismatic songs, especially in the gradual and in the agnus. Two stylistic worlds that seem to be very contradictory at first glance.

This music does not obey any of the usual aesthetic strategies, at least none I would know. It can’t be classified into the classical avant-garde any more than into the field of experimental pop music. On the one hand, it realizes classical disciplines such as polyphonic voice leading, variation techniques and rondo-like song forms. On the other hand, apart from these techniques, the completely unmistakable sound samples of the individual pieces belong no less to the innermost core stock of the material; without these sounds and their completely specific physiognomy MARS would be inconceivable.

This means, however, that this music defines the old material ideas completely differently: the basic building blocks of this requiem are no longer only specific intervals or melodic-harmonic motifs, but also the specific sounds from which the form, as well as the dramaturgy of the music results.

It took half a year for Helga Pogatschar to develop these sounds. Months of searching, in which dozens of variations were discarded until sounds were finally created that had exactly the structural and emotional effect she was looking for. The long preparation was worth it.

MARS Patitur

24.06.1995 - MARS - a martial title. What for? Perhaps because today one can hardly remember death without commemorating violence. Perhaps because this century so often had to bury not only its dead, but also its faith, its ideals and sometimes every consolation.

How will later centuries look at this twentieth century in which we live? Perhaps as one that escalated the war into boundlessness by driving it far beyond human measure. Perhaps also as a turning point in the face of the last nuclear catastrophe.

03.07.1995 - Today came the score of MARS. After we talked so much about this piece in the development phase, now finally notes: readable, tangible, playable. And lo and behold, the first time I played through it, it is very different from the picture I had taken in the course of the conversations. Some things seem simple, unadorned, almost too simple, others brutal and ruthless.

There is always something mysterious about it: a piece that has never been played before. “New” music in the literal sense: none of us yet know how it actually sounds.

05.07.1995 - A topic in the background of MARS is that of power and faith and of the innermost entanglement in which both lie together.

This was and is the hardest to convey to an outsider until he knows the piece. For what on earth should a Requiem have to do with war, manipulation and power? But anyone who has ever been allowed to attend Catholic masses in dark church rooms as a child will probably not be unaware of the suggestive power of the ecclesiastical rite.

Characteristic of the rite is the repetition. The congregation knows the formulas it has to say and says them with obedience: “Lord have mercy on us! Christ have mercy on us!” Again and again.

The Enlighteners condemn this and mockingly call God’s “little sheep” sheep - and then (how often!) convert on their deathbed.

MARS is not about pronouncing judgements for or against religious beliefs. What is important, however, is to show how close ritual and indoctrination have always been and how related the religious phrase of the doctrinal phrase is.

Luck brought the composer the encounter with old shellac recordings by Oscar Schellbach in the early phase of MARS. A rarity: early experiments with professional, systematized autosuggestion from the Nazi 1930s, forerunners of countless exercise cassettes for autogenic training and all kinds of modern meditation. What distinguishes these early recordings from their epigones, however, is their brutal, undisguised commitment to authoritarian education, power and the exercise of power. Quote: “Only as a higher man do you have reason to exist, otherwise you are lazy and sick and deserve to perish.”

It seems to me almost pointless to ask why Helga Pogatschar has integrated sampled excerpts of these historical recordings into MARS. Too obvious is the innermost kinship of these suggestions, recited with holy seriousness, with that holy wrath from which the Mother Church was for centuries dissenters and heretics, but also harmless sinners with punishment and annihilation on their heels.

What is ghostly, however, is that today one can escape the suggestive effect of the Schellbachtexte with the mind, but that these texts still exert something like a dark, magical pull on another level. At the same time disgusting and fascinating, they are almost ideally suited as a metaphor for the ambiguity of the liturgy.

27.07.1995 - (After the first rehearsal.) Perhaps the most important thing is already done: the musicians are convinced of the piece. In this first hot rehearsal today everyone clearly felt the difficulties that this music presents us. A lot hasn’t worked out yet. But what is striking is that everyone very quickly understands the inner movement of the music, the direction it takes; everyone feels where the notes want to go. We don’t need to talk much. It is enough to listen carefully.

28.07.1995 - Often the sounds of the arrangements are a kind of sonic commentary to the sung lyrics. In the introit, for example, the deep sung bass line on its own would only be dark and full of dusty solemnity. Together with the almost obscene samples, however, the result is a subliminal sensuality, almost subversive. Musical in-between worlds - I like that.

29.07.1995 - The Kyrie causes difficulties. The male duet at the beginning is clear: subliminal aggression, a lurking tone. But the quartet is still evading. It consists of two vocal levels. Like pillars again and again the Kyrie in the forte, tense, openly aggressive. And above it the staggering, slightly Arabizing melisms of “Eleison”; like vocal threads. But what do they mean? How do we approach them? We tried hysterically, but it’s not that.

31.07.1995 - This “Eleison” in the Kyrie is something completely different musically from the “Kyrie” eruptions. Night-walking: rapt souls singing with their eyes closed. We took it softly, very gently and quietly. And suddenly it made sense.

05.08.1995 - Late evening - We are very tired. Rehearsals for Mars are now over. From Monday we start recording in the studio. Everything has gone well so far. Helga’s music grabbed us and at work it quickly became clear that MARS is much richer than everyone thought. Nevertheless, there is a deep restlessness that I could only half forget when rehearsing.

These are the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On television, pictures were taken of the destroyed cities 6 months after the disaster: Colour photographs of the Americans, who at that time conscientiously documented the extent of the destruction. I’d never seen anything like it. Desert, flat and empty, where a city had been before. Sunlight on all pictures. People who did cleanup work where there was actually nothing left to clean up. No columns, no wreckers. Few people just collecting firewood or standing indecisively in the rubble. This annihilation exceeded all their imagination. How is this supposed to be understood? And yet it has happened.

In Krajina there is now a real war going on: Croatia against the Krajina heritage. They used to go there on holiday. In front of my window the tree swings in the nightly breeze, my dear Thalkirchnerstrasse cherry tree number 82, I have the feeling that I understand very little. A piece from MARS goes like this: “sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus”. Only slowly, in the course of my life, the sense for such sentences grew in me.

06.08.1995 - Sequentia, Dies Irae.
One always associates a Requiem with lament and grief. But some of the traditional Latin requiem texts have little to do with grief. Instead, the ancient Catholic claim to power over mankind manifests itself in them. Perhaps this is most clearly expressed in the Dies Irae. There the punishment of eternal damnation is threatened, from which there is no escape. There speaks a man whose most prominent characteristic seems to be his deep guilt complex and whose dominant attitude is indeed that of submission. In MARS the Dies Irae is accordingly the most ironic piece: a garish sacred “pop song” with clear musical allusions to the whole tumble cult spirit.

10.08.1995 - Sanctus
At the beginning of our work there is a reference from the composer: “The Sanctus is a monument. Think of a mausoleum!”

At first we associate large, static sounds, chords, like Gothic pillars. But with the recordings it soon turns out that this path is the wrong one. Five singers can’t simulate a big choir, and when they do try it, it sounds forced, troubled and not very convincing. But how else to realize the “size” that this piece requires? What does greatness in music mean anyway? Volume? Or intensity?

The question is: What can an ensemble that remains closed to a choir?

The answer was clear: in contrast to a choir, a solo vocal ensemble has the ability for absolutely flawless intonation. Although it is naturally inferior to the choir in sonority, it can drive the purity of sound even further than even the best choirs. A five-part vocal chord, which is so purely intoned, has an unheard-of penetrating power and tonal presence instead of volume.

Finally, we experiment with an apparent turnaround in interpretation: the singers largely remove every vibrato from their voices and never cross the dynamic limit beyond which the purity of intonation and lack of vibrato would be endangered.

The tonal result amazes us all: what previously sounded fat now has crystalline hardness, what was previously simply loud is now concentrated. A sanctus of ice. Every movement, as if solidified into a picture. An icy monument, flooded with light - but this light does not give off any warmth.

09.08.1995 to 18.08.1995 - The Agnus Dei.
What an unusual sentence. From the beginning, light and wide, unlimited space. And longing.

Our inner ear is boundless. We are not satisfied with anything - not me, not the singers. We work as if possessed to create peace and space within ourselves and are repeatedly caught up by gravity. We take steps, but we don’t reach the goal. After all, we record some things very well.

But sometimes it’s worth waiting for. Days later, we’ll resume. Suddenly everything is there: Stefanie’s solos still swing wide and big, but to the effortless vastness comes the calmness of sound. Even the ensembles, previously still far too dense, are now losing the heaviness, the compactness. Now you almost want to fold your hands with the music.

10.08.1995 - vocals: We talk too much. We’re not singing enough. Take a word, a sentence. How easy it is to say. Give him a tune, give him sounds. How enraptured he is, how difficult it will be to sing him. It becomes precious and difficult to recapitulate. In singing we understand the presence of every word.

12.08.1995 - What a summer. Helga’s grandmother died last night. This is very strange, for this Requiem would never have come into being without their help. For months, she’s been the one who stood behind Helga’s work. She helped with money and encouragement and love. Now it becomes their requiem. What strange connections life sometimes brings.

14.08.1995 - “Though I walk in the shadow of death….” This gradual is so simple that it is difficult again. A single movement runs through the whole piece. You can hear children whistling in the dark forest and how they take heart and move on. We don’t master this piece on the first take either. Here, too, it takes time for the “adult” to disappear from it, this “made” in which it doesn’t matter how good or badly done it is, since one is not allowed to hear it one way or the other.

17.08.1995 - Among others we recorded the soprano solos of the offertory. They consist almost only of vocal glissandi and that in high position. Helga adds that the notation of the score is to be understood here only as a suggestion. This means that it is also about improvisation, and thus about empathy and instinctive expression.

These glissandi: errant lines, Nachtmare for solo soprano. We had hardly rehearsed this, because rehearsals cannot be done. Instead, during the breaks we talked from time to time about how to do this. All tricks are eliminated in advance: no screaming, no freaking out is targeted. The sow, who is so often let out today, remains locked up.

Finally, Gerlinde dares a first take. One shot pretty close. Short criticism, short concentration and then a second take: I sit enthralled, fascinated, what a wide range of expression a voice can go in such a short time: so exalted lasciviously still at the beginning of the first solo - and so thread-thin, so dead exhausted and completely abandoned then at the end. She sings the dying of a voice. When it ends, it is completely quiet in the studio for moments.

19.08.1995 - Quohelet - A farewell.
End and departure. Sadness instead of grief. Purity and hoarseness, feeling and hardness. I have to think of the Israelis, of Yom Kippur and the Shoa and still of the humour of the Jewish Talmud. Something that’s true is never black or white.

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