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Marta Blažanovic

The Splitter Orchester – 2nd round

After about a four month break following the outstanding concert in Radialsystem in November last year, Das Splitter Orchester met again on March 30th in WABE for the first of the new cycle of their monthly rehearsals. The mentioned concert was actually not the first large-scale performance of an orchestra of improvisers under the name of Splitter. Already in October 2009, as a part of the festival Hybrid Arts Fest – Australia, the then-called Berlin Splitter Orkest was presented to the Berlin audience. The line-up of the orchestra was different and only a few days of rehearsal preceded the concert. I remember it as not being that convincing back then, rather restrained in sound and attitude, where each one of the musicians seemed to lack courage to take a risk and really play. Luckily enough, the idea did not stumble after that first confusing try. Soon afterwards, a slightly different group of 24 musicians, most of them active in the so-called Berlin Echtzeitmusik-scene, assembled under the name Das Splitter Orchester. The orchestra started to meet and work together months before the above mentioned concert in November, which proved essential for the success of its collective music-making. The results were a highly differentiated and detailed, but still compact and decided sound, as well as coherent and comprehensible forms, both reflecting a high level of mutual understanding and listening between the members of the orchestra.

It must be quite a challenge to balance out an orchestra of 24 people without them reading a score or being led by a conductor. Apart from the fact that some agreements and some rules have to be made and possibly some parameters set in advance, the time the players spend playing together and getting to know each other is certainly one of the most important factors determining the quality of the collective improvising. In the time preceding last year’s concert in Radialsystem, the orchestra has indeed succeeded in developing “self-organizing processes” (Beins) which make sure a certain (high) level is always maintained. The players have gradually learned to hear each other, their sounds and ways of musical behaviour as a part of a whole, which is a precondition to sense further interesting possibilities. Being one of twenty-four most certainly presupposes a lot of self-control, attentive listening, as well as responsibility. But Das Splitter Orchester seems to balance the urge for individuality and a feeling for collectivity very well.

The new cycle of monthly rehearsals of Splitter Orchester did not begin with some specific intention or program with regard to last year, as Clayton Thomas explained: “What we did was, as usual, play a piece, and then look at what happened in the music, and what ideas are sparked for further development.” Rehearsals usually consist of playing for a while, then discussing issues, ideas, suggestions, proposals, concepts, then playing again, experimenting and trying out different strategies and possibilities, even almost “rehearsing” some concepts like, for example, how to begin. Sometimes the whole time of the rehearsal is devoted only to one specific aspect: “What we worked on this week can be defined in two ways: how to play two or three simultaneous and clear layers as a group. Or: How do individuals / or small groups react differently to the same musical situation, and how does the ensemble allow those visions and outcomes to co-exist.” (Thomas) In this sense, the orchestra offers an extraordinary working and exchange platform where a musician has the opportunity to gain experience in a large group and meet the aspects and issues that are not present within smaller improvising ensembles, as one of the orchestra members, Burkhard Beins, points out. The fact that not all the members of the orchestra are always there for the rehearsals is only enriching, since one is always posed in a slightly different situation, and besides, “something that has been worked out in such a subgroup or, collective experience made there, seems to affect the whole orchestra positively” (Beins).

There are no wishes or intentions within the orchestra to take the role of interpreters of scores or compositions, although the realization of and improvisation on some concepts certainly belong among the strategies of the orchestra. There are no specific goals to achieve, nor the pressure of progress. “The process is really the aim” (Thomas) and it continues on 18th May in WABE.

Marta Blažanović was born in 1981 in Zagreb, Croatia. She finished her studies of musicology in Zagreb with a thesis about experimental electronic music in the 90s and its connections to media theory and the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari. She is currently living in Berlin, where she is writing a PhD about the Berlin Echtzeitmusik scene at Humboldt University.