Music & clubs

Mouthing off: Ultraschall

Festival for new music Ultraschall tests the limits of the human voice, yodelling included, for its ninth go starting Jan 18-22 at venues around the city.

Image for Mouthing off: Ultraschall
Jennifer Walshe. Photo by Blackie Bouffant

New music festival Ultraschall tests the limits of the human voice, yodelling included.

What ever happened to the good old avant-garde? The degree to which today’s “new music” has actually felt innovative and fresh has been steadily decreasing while musicians on the pop fringes have increasingly been taking the lead. With festivals like CTM stealing audience members away, decidedly less hip avant-classical showcases like Ultraschall have to open up to a little playfulness and self-conscious irony.

This year’s ninth edition is all about the human voice, both as an instrument and a transmitter of meaning. Although the emphasis of the five-day event organised by Deutschlandradio Kultur and RBB Kulturradio is still on more ‘serious’ investigations and experiments in sound, Ultraschall has some options for those without degrees in music theory, but with an interest in the wonderful and emotive properties of the human voice.

After opening with the obligatory ageing white guys (Mauricio Kagel, Erhard Grosskopf and a commission from Johannes Kalitzke at Haus des Rundfunks, Jan 18) the fest gets interesting on January 19 as the composer Mischa Käser attempts to approximate lava through vocalisation (LAVA, 22:00, Heimathafen). On January 21, head to Radialsystem V for Sergej Newski’s Pazifik Exil, a narrative sonic adaptation of Michael Lentz’s novel about six German artists exiled to LA in the wake of the Nazis’ rise to power (20:00). Right afterwards, the Dublin-born Jennifer Walshe, best known for singing Twitter posts and writing musical scores on Snapchat, will perform her composition All The Many Peopls.

A more geographical approach is taken on January 20 at Heimathafen (19:30) when the vocal ensemble PHØNIX16 presents a musical and historical mapping of the Balkans, with pieces by Iannis Xenakis and Ivo Malec. The following day (Radialsystem V, 17:00), we are taken to northern Europe to hear works inspired by folk music – including Nine Nights, Karin Rehnquist’s exploration of Scandinavian yodelling. And then, presumably, a round of Ricola for everyone.

Ultraschall, Jan 18-22 | Various venues, full programme at