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by Ioannis Paul

CURATING CONTEMPORARY MUSIC ONLINE Premieres in Private Spaces and Muvid-19: Two Exemplary Artistic Responses to the Covid-19 Pandemic

1. Introduction
December 2019 marked the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which in a matter of weeks fundamentally changed life as we knew it. The art world did not remain untouched. For the first time in people’s lifetimes, physical audience and visitor activities were prohibited, leading to the cancellation or postponement of all artistic projects. During these challenging times, the art industry had just two options: either a temporary hiatus or a kind of continuation through alternative digital pathways.

Curating contemporary music online, due to a temporary concert ban, is far from a simple task to undertake. The online world is a quite different cosmos and despite some concrete advantages that it provides, it can never really replace vital elements of the cultural experiences that are not inherently ‘born digital.’ Under considerable pressure, most new music curators decided to present video recordings of concerts online, a decision that was in some ways reasonable, but at the same time, it can be argued, quite problematic. On the other hand, some cultural actors chose a different path by focusing on the new means of communication and creating something new. In the following text, two projects of that latter category will be analyzed, one initiated by a freelance ensemble and one by an institution. After a brief description of them, an analysis of the creative responses by the participating composers and creators will follow, but also an analysis of the basic curatorial decisions made in each project. In the end, common detected patterns of both projects (from a curatorial perspective) will be elaborated in the hope that they could potentially serve as practice steps for similar future projects.

2. Premieres in Private Spaces by lovemusic
The response of the collective lovemusic to the pandemic was a new collaborative project, which involved working and creating with composers, without a live concert as a result. It included a series of five audiovisual works (each piece is accompanied by an interview) in collaboration with five composers, released online on various platforms from June to September 2020, which were created as virtual pieces and not intended for live performance.

2.1 The Basic Curatorial Decisions
One of the basic characteristics of the project was the curatorial decision to work in new ways and not recreate a concert experience but rather “a creative reaction to extraordinary circumstances,”[1] as it is stated in the general project description on the website. It furthermore explains: “We wanted to undertake a new project in which we can once again engage creatively but without pretending or emulating ‘normal circumstances’—if we can’t play together in the same space, why pretend we are?”[2] The collective was not only aware of the problems of online concerts that were flourishing at the time but felt a sense of responsibility as well. Collective member Adam Starkie explains in his talk with Kelly Sheehan: “It seemed a shame to take away the live element of being in a concert hall with the musicians and we thought that might be detrimental to the future of the arts.”[3]

The project’s adaptability is showcased by two main decisions: 1) the time constraint,

“because people’s online behavior is obviously slightly different to a concert hall”[4]; and 2) the “free-scored” form, to allow those who don’t have access to their usual instrumental equipment the opportunity to be part of the project.

Great importance was given to the element of collaboration. One basic question that led to the project was “how to keep a li nk between performers and composers with the audience and how to keep commissioning.”[5] The considerable freedom that the composers had led to interesting and diverse results, as we will see below. This freedom, combined with a few well-communicated guidelines, allowed the composers to figure out the rules of this new kind of project for themselves.

2.2 What Glows Is Fuchsia by David Bird

Concerning the pandemic, David states in the interview that he tried “to take advantage of the situation.”[6] Some of the instructions given to the interpreters provide an interesting insight into his creative response:

  • “Choir: sing long tones sitting at the computer at night, so only lit by the computer screen.

  • Miscellaneous media: share four or more images, videos, or sounds representing something or someone you miss during

  • Share two still video perspectives looking out of the window of your home. Nothing within the home should be in the frame.”[7]

For David, the exchange between composers and instrumentalists was important, and through the various instructions, he also tried to compensate for the impossibility of being physically together with the players and to make this pre-compositional material the piece, with him acting more like the one who creates the frame.

Further reflections on the impossibility of being in the same space could be seen in his treatment of the photographic material received from the players. He tried to place many of images in space, creating 3D illusions, also trying at the same time “to think gestural situations with these media that could reflect certain things,”[8] but also a tendency toward the depiction of visual textures that evoke the feeling of “touching” to the viewer (i.e., the constant repetition of the image of a “digitalized fluid”) can be observed.

fig. 1. David Bird, What Glows is Fuchsia, 2020. Video still.

2.3 digital love (remix) by Raphaël Languillat

The text of this piece is taken from Venus and Adonis, a narrative poem by William Shakespeare. It tells the story of Venus’s unrequited love and of her attempted seduction of Adonis. This chosen text fits the pandemic, since the poem was written during a period when London theaters were closed because of Covid-19.

The pandemic is also reflected in the main idea of the piece, which “speaks also about people who have been separated, distanced, not only about people in love,”[9] as stated in the interview. This subject of distance and the attempt to minimize it can also be experienced sonically in the piece due to two compositional decisions. First, the whispered reading of the text, which creates the illusion of closeness, and second the decision to keep various bodily events (like breathing and keyclicks) of the performers in the final mixing of the piece, which creates the illusion of closeness as well, but also provides to the listener with an experience that feels close to that of a concert.

fig. 2. Raphaël Languillat, digital love (remix), 2020. Video still.

2.4 Ritual for Changing Times by Tine Surel Lange

The video depicts a beach sunset. After a while, the image splits horizontally into two parts and the same beach appears mirrored in the upper part of the screen as well. Lastly, the screen is mirrored again vertically, thus creating four mirrored versions of the same beach. Through the process of image-splitting, emerging arms and legs appear to perform slow movements. By watching the video, one gets the impression that the differently mirrored screens yearn to connect with each other through moving limbs, an impression that is hard not to perceive as a reflection of the pandemic situation.

The piece was written in the form of an open score with instructions. Each interpreter recorded their part separately and returned an audio file. Then, the composer added them together with the video. This working process, as in the other pieces of the project, was the only possible way due to the pandemic. The composer, after hearing the audio files, stated that “the personality of each player came out”[10] of the described working mode. She stated that various unexpected, weird sounds and noises, which she didn’t know if they were done on purpose or not, were welcome and that she decided to keep them and not edit them, implying also that this was an attempt to maintain a live quality in the piece.

fig. 3. Tine Surel Lange, Ritual for Changing Times, 2020. Video still.

3. Muvid-19
Muvid-19 is also a project that emerged during the pandemic, sharing some interestingly common curatorial decisions with the lovemusic’s project. It is a (still ongoing) project accessible on the Vimeo platform and initiated at the New Music Institute of the Music Academy of Freiburg.

The call is open to all as long as two simple rules are followed:

  1. Duration: exactly 19 seconds;

  2. For the entire duration of the “music video,” one or more loudspeakers that are clearly recognizable as such should be visible. Real loudspeakers, but also a drawing or similar, can be. [11]

Numerous artists responded to the call and created a very interesting compilation. The idea to put the loudspeaker (as an object) at the center of each little film kept the viewers excited as they watch in real time its concept expand and be reconceptualized by every new participant.

3.1 Common Motives in the Use of Loudspeakers
One frequent motive is the attempt to represent the loudspeaker as a separate personified entity. In the videos Lovesong by Clemens K. Thomas and Romanze by Meike Senker, a pair of loudspeakers flirt with each other; meanwhile, in the Covid-inspired video Speakers meeting in the Corona time with Music by So-Jeong Yoo, two loudspeakers try to communicate through a Skype call. In the video Also Rückkehr zur neuen Normalität by Sophie-Youjung Lee, a set of headphone wires play the role of a post-lockdown dog that strolls through a park, while in other videos loudspeakers are dancing, entangling the hand of a conductor, and giving distance-keeping orders.

Despite the concrete definition of loudspeakers, some creators responded quite creatively to the call and used objects that resemble their ability to amplify sounds naturally instead, thus leading to an expanded definition of the notion of loudspeakers, since they appear as music boxes, spheres, human bodies, and glass cups.

Although we are constantly surrounded by loudspeakers, for the most part we don’t actively reflect on the way the sound is actually produced, that being through the vibration of a membrane. That bodily aspect of sound production is another common pattern used by a lot of the creators (i.e., in the piece Sandbox by Carlo Philipp Thomsen and the piece stillleben by Morgaine Faller, where grains of sand and soil are placed respectively on the membrane of a loudspeaker and bounce through its vibration).

Namely, some other motives of loudspeaker use are friction with other objects, as a decorative addition to a backdrop, and videotaping them in places where they are normally hidden, while others are still forming themselves as the project unfolds in real time.

fig. 4. Meike Senker, Romanze, within the Muvid-19 project. Video still.

3.2 The Basic Curatorial Decisions
Concerning the core curatorial decisions of the project, perhaps the most obvious one was to make it as timely as possible. By doing so, the project managed not only to produce a relevant response to the situation but also to turn it into something positive. This was accomplished by creating an open call for video miniatures (that were to be perceived as creative entities that are somehow the opposite to the Covid viruses. As stated in the project description: “Covid-19 ist klein, aber keine Kleinigkeit – Muvid-19 sind Miniaturen, Kleinigkeiten ohne Viren”[12]).

The element of relevance can also be seen in the title of the project, which refers to the word movie, and it also automatically draws necessary attention and curiosity, since it is also a paraphrase of the word Covid. A playful way by which the project also connected to the situation was by drawing inspiration for the first rule of the game (the duration) directly from the name of the virus. Besides its reference to the pandemic, this time-constrained rule fostered the creative process of the videos, and it increased the participation probability and also the probability of viewing them online.

The second rule was a very good curatorial decision as well, for two main reasons. Firstly, it gave a strong identity to the project. A “unique identifier” was also needed so that the whole project attained a concrete character that unified all the diverse videos into a big mosaic. Secondly, it offered the potential to view a quite familiar object in new ways and to experiment with the way we perceive it.

The decision to primarily host the first stages of the project in a university proved to be reasonable since people there predominantly connect and exchange ideas. These characteristics were abruptly lost through the pandemic, creating a huge gap, and in a way, the project managed to recompensate a little bit artistically.

4. Conclusion: Principles for Future Projects
Although the projects are different in nature (commission vs. open call), their common curatorial attributes suggest that there might be something right on a fundamental level, which could perhaps also potentially be described as principles for other future projects.

a) Find a strong basic idea that suits the medium and relates to the current situation.

At their core, both projects share the same mentality. They experienced an unforeseen situation, one that took a great toll on the world of the arts, and decided to find a way to compensate for it. They didn’t follow the norm (videotaping a concert and presenting it online), but instead they took the time, grasped what was needed, and came up with an strong original idea that had the potential to turn the situation into something positive, also taking into serious consideration the nature of the new medium. The good and timely ideas of both these projects, perfectly contained in their titles (Premieres in Private Rooms and Muvid-19), laid a solid foundation on which the rest of the project's creativity was built.

b) Keep it short.

The curators of both projects took seriously into account the viewers’ online behavior and their ability to concentrate online and made a careful decision concerning the duration (something that also affected the contexts of both projects). With the goal of having many videos, the Muvid-19 project chose a rather short duration, while lovemusic decided that the five commissioned pieces should last about five minutes each. These decisions made the videos easy to watch, which met the current needs of most of the digitally oversaturated audience at that time.

c) Span your project through time; don’t create just a one-shot single event.

lovemusic created five events with an approximate distance of two weeks in between, while Muvid-19 chose a virtually infinite amount, which continues as long as the open call makes sense. This decision achieved several goals at the same time. Firstly, they adapted to the characteristics of online platforms. The spanning of the projects through time, and thus their repetition, was a kind of antidote to the short memory of the online presence. This time spanning also enabled the development of a relationship with the viewers, which was also a strategy to create anticipation and enabling them to accumulate more audience or exposure along the way. Lastly, it allowed them to create a transition from the online to the physical world (lovemusic by planning a concert where the five videos will be combined with new concert commissions of the same composers and Muvid-19 by creating a movie-mosaic with all the pieces and premiering it in various cinemas).

d) Play with the medium and the context as the material itself.

It is not new to use the means by which a piece of art is created/disseminated as its material. Nevertheless, in the digital age where art is disseminated through online mediums, the palette is significantly expanded, since besides all the other elements, the video, the loudspeakers, the recording process, and the online platforms are also added. This complex layering in the digital era mostly functions unnoticed. For both projects, it was crucial that this layer, which is also part of the creation process, would also be incorporated as a material into the works and would make the viewers aware of it in order to spur reflection: a) their timely character (the projects were mainly a response to a situation where concerts could not take place, meaning that loudspeakers were the main source for aural communication), and b) their identity (the response was to be achieved by creating something new and not just videotaping a concert).

In Muvid-19, the loudspeaker as a visual object was already set in the game rules, which ensures that these means of dissemination will always act as a cornerstone for experimentation. In lovemusic’s project, the process of incorporating the abovementioned layer occurred in a more natural way, mostly through the clear communication of the project’s identity and the freedom provided. Perhaps the most common trick that everyone applied resided in the use of the recording process. All five composers welcomed the various accidental sounds in the audio files and perceived them as compensation for not having a live concert with the performers’ gestural actions and as part of creating “an audiovisual piece that has life of its own online.”[13]

e) Grasp the zeitgeist and fill in possible gaps.

Undoubtedly, a major void that Covid-19 created was in terms of connection and communication. As mentioned, Muvid-19 somehow managed to create a very good structure in terms of filling these gaps. In Premieres in Private Space, the duty of filling the connection and communication gap was concentrated a) between players, and b) between the artistic product and the audience.

As mentioned earlier, it was crucial that the interaction between players and composers was not lost, and the numerous online sessions served to compensate for this. With the goals of the project having been clearly communicated, the composers managed in their individual ways to also compensate for the losses Covid caused. The subject of communication and social interaction is predominantly present in each piece. These subjects are strongly present in the sonic environment of the developed pieces, with a tendency to use sounds that create closeness and intimacy (like whispers).

Paul Ioannis is a Greek-German composer born in 1987 in Greece. He studied composition with Prof. Dimitri Papageorgiou at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (bachelor’s degree), and with Prof. Johannes Schöllhorn at the Music Academy of Freiburg (master’s degree). In 2021, he completed the course CAS Curating Contemporary Music in the Music Academy of Basel, Switzerland. He was selected as an active participant in master classes such as Impuls Academy 2017, Mixtur 2018, and Outhear New Music Week 2019 with Μark Andre, Simon Steen-Andersen and Pierluigi Billone, among others. He has curated various contemporary music concerts, mainly with the ensemble for new music False Relationships and the Extended Endings.


[1] “Premieres in Private Places,” lovemusic, accessed  January 6, 2023, https://www.collectivelovemusic.com/ppp.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Adam Starkie, in “Premieres in Private Places – Kelley Sheehan,” lovemusic, accessed January 6, 2023, https://www.collectivelovemusic.com/ppp.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lola Malique, in “Premieres in Private Places – Raphaël Languillat,” lovemusic, video, accessed January 6,  2023, https://www.collectivelovemusic.com/ppp.

[6] David Bird, in “Premieres in Private Places – David Bird,” lovemusic, 2020, video, accessed January 6, 2023, https://www.collectivelovemusic.com/ppp.

[7] David Bird “What glows is Fuchsia”, score, quoted by Winnie Huang in “Premieres in Private Places – David Bird.”

[8] Bird, in “Premieres in Private Places – David Bird.”

[9] Raphaël Languillat, “Premieres in Private Places – Raphaël Languillat,” lovemusic, video, accessed January 6, 2023, https://www.collectivelovemusic.com/ppp.

[10] Niamh Dell, “Premieres in Private Places – Tine Surel Lange,” lovemusic, video, accessed January 6, 2023, https://www.collectivelovemusic.com/ppp.

[11] Muvid-19, accessed January 6, 2023, https://vimeo.com/showcase/7188849.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Starkie, in “Premieres in Private Places – Kelley Sheehan.”  


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