By Werner Durand

This text is musician, instrument designer and composer Werner Druand’s contribution to a series of essays, commissioned by REMAIIN (Radical European Music and its Intercultural Nature) , a project that investigates non-European cultural influences on the experimental, avant-garde and innovative music of the present and the past. It is co-funded by the „Creative Europe” programme of the European Union. 

The essay is accompanied by Durand’s piece  „Soft Turbulences”, played on the Pan-Ney, an instrument of his own design tuned in just intonation. It consists of a bundle of acrylic glass pipes, looking like a huge Pan-Pipe, but played like the Arabic/Turkish ney. A delay patch allows to create dense textures in real time. 

I came to music as a listener, not as a player of an instrument or as a singer. By the time I decided to play saxophone, I was already 19 years old. Since the age of 15, roughly from 1969 onward, I had been listening to jazz exclusively. But just when I had found a teacher in my hometown in Karlsruhe, Germany, I discovered Terry Riley and was so drawn toward this direction that I never learned to play jazz at all. Parallel to my discovery of the composers who, some years later would become known as “minimalists”, I also became increasingly interested in the musics of India, Tibet, Iran, Indonesia etc.

In 1976 I went to live in Paris to study with a French saxophonist whose style seemed to be a perfect symbiosis of Terry Riley, jazz, and Indian music, Ariel Kalma. His teaching method was similar to what I would later encounter with my teachers of Indian music, repeating phrases as if learning a language. I went to study bamboo flute in India in the winter of 1978/79 and after my return decided to move to Berlin, since my Indian teacher told me that his own teacher would be there for a residency.

Berlin turned out to be the perfect place for me, meeting composers and musicians of all directions was very easy, and in 1981 I started to work in a record store that was also a gallery. gelbe MUSIK specialized almost exclusively in contemporary and experimental music, as well as sound art and sounds works relating to visual art forms, including artists’ record works. The record store/gallery presented exhibitions of scores, installations, and performances by artists such as John Cage, Earle Brown, LaMonte Young, Dieter Schnebel, and Christian Marclay, among many others. Over the years, I was able to convince my boss at gelbe MUSIK to include traditional music from around the world in its catalogue, and this became a great success.

At the same time I was also attending many concerts of so-called traditional music, mainly from India, but also from other cultures. I also became involved in the concert association “Freunde Guter Musik” (Friends of Good Music), a somewhat ironic name taken from a classical music record series from the 1950s. The group is perhaps most notable for the series Urbane Aboriginale (purposely named in German, because it sounded a bit clumsy) of which about 20 editions were realized over the years, each of which confronted traditional with experimental artists from different regions, but avoiding the labels of “world music” or “fusion”. A very special one focused on the Amazon, which included a beautiful performance by David Toop that referenced his trip to Venezuelan shamans. Others editions of the series featured southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Japan, Korea, China, Australia and the Arctic.

In a way, the series was continuing a tradition that started in the 70s by Walter Bachauer who

initiated the Metamusik Festival in Berlin, which was presented 3 times between 1974-78, and which, to cite but one example, mixed programs of Indian classical music with the works of Morton Feldman.

My own musical development proceeded parallel to all of these discoveries and exposures. I had started playing around with tape delays and echo machines from the time I began playing an instrument. My saxophone playing was based on what I had learned on the bamboo flute, playing strictly modally, raga based. By the mid 80s I gradually opened up to other influences inspired by the almost polyphonic styles of Evan Parker, Ned Rothenberg, or Jon Gibson. In 1984 I started to create my own instruments. A friend had given me a plexiglas tube to use like a didjeridu, but I tried to play it like a ney, blowing obliquely over the edge. With my newly acquired digital delay, I started to play simple patterns, and after a few days I began to add more pipes. Of course, tuning became an issue right away. I had befriended American composer Arnold Dreyblatt and he introduced me to the principle of just intonation, which he had studied with LaMonte Young. Although I was familiar with the work of LaMonte Young, Harry Partch and others who worked with this tuning system, it was valuable to receive a first hand introduction. After Arnold heard my “Pan-Ney” playing with delays, he told me about the Aré Aré panpipe music from Papua New Guinea. I myself had found numerous similarities in some African musics, such as the flute and horn ensembles from Ethiopia and Central Africa as well as from South America.

I soon realized that I had found a new direction for myself, mixing different embouchures on these pipes – ney, horn, and also single reeds – using saxophone or clarinet mouthpieces. I soon realized that I had found a new direction for myself, mixing different embouchures on these pipes – ney, horn, and also single reeds – using saxophone or clarinet mouthpieces. I also began building other instruments around that time: flutes and clarinets from different materials, usually from PVC, with buzzing membranes attached either near the mouthpiece or the blowing hole, as in Korean traverse flutes, or at the end of buzzing resonators, i.e., larger PVC pipes in which the smaller ones were blown into. These are documented on my solo CD “The Art of Buzzing” from 2001.

In my sound installation “Angeregte Klänge”  (Sympathetic Sounds) from 2014, a collage of music made of buzzing instruments from all around the world, as well as from the experimental or new music context, such as of Cage’s prepared piano, Lucier´s sound on paper or Scelsi´s prepared saxophone from Canti del Capricorno, were all mixed into a 22-channel sound system at the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin.

I had been looking for other musicians to form an ensemble from around 1986 but it took until 1990 when I met Norwegian saxophonist Erik Balke through a project we collaborated in with Danish composer Henning Christiansen. Together we formed THE THIRTEENTH TRIBE, joined in 1991 by Brazilian guitarist Silvia Ocougne, who I met when we were both members of Arnold Dreyblatt´s group. Belgian drummer Pierre Berthet occasionally joined us, playing percussively on the pipes as well as on other percussion instruments, partly created by himself. The group continued until 1997, playing a kind of minimalistic tribal music.

In 1985 I found a teacher for Persian ney in Berlin, which added another important element to my palette of sounds. The technique is completely different from the Arabic or Turkish method of blowing. The sound is formed within a triangle created between the tongue and upper teeth, with the top of the instrument pushed in between the 2 middle teeth. It has a kind of smokey flavor in the low register and a very clean one, similar to the high notes of a clarinet, in the upper register. During the learning process, which was rather frustrating for quite some time, I discovered many unorthodox sounds, bordering on noise, which I treasured and which became an integral element in my solo music as well as in various ensembles including Armchair Traveller or in the current Ensemble Imaginäre Musik, which unites 5-7 different composers/instrument makers and the duo with multi-instrumentalist Uli Hohmann on hand percussion, home-made string instruments and electronics.

          Armchair Traveller was a kind of follow up to The Thirteenth Tribe, but without the use of delays and less rigid. The group, consisting of Hella von Ploetz on glass harp, Sebastian Hilken on cello and percussion, Silvia Ocougne, guitar, and myself, playing my own wind instrument creations, lasted from 1999 until 2012. It was about a kind of imaginary world music, freely associating musical styles from various places without trying to imitate or quote them.

In March 1992 I met the Italian singer Amelia Cuni, who had studied the oldest from of Indian singing – Dhrupad – as well as Kathak dance for 15 years in India with various important teachers of the Dagar as well as Mallick families. We formed a personal as well as artistic partnership that led to several projects until she was forced to stop in 2015 due to health issues. We performed as a duo or trio with percussionists such as Marika Falk, a Munich based expert on hand percussion from the Near East and Middle East, or the Italian tabla player Federico Sanesi.

My role was not so much that of second soloist but more to provide settings, creating new forms with drones and loops, as well as performing on sax in addition to my own instrument creations.

Over the years, we created a series of [[both smaller and larger]] works, perhaps the most important ASHTAYAMA- Song of Hours, began in 1997, premiered in 1999. The music was created entirely from Amelia´s voice. I proposed to her to do a piece in which her voice would appear not only as a solo vocal part, but also as all the other elements usually found in Indian classical music. That means the drone as well as the rhythmic as well as accompanying instrument. My inspiration came from various experimental singers who had attained prominence since the 1970´s and who I was inspired by, like Joan La Barbara, Meredith Monk, Fatima Miranda, Sussan Deyhim and others. Amelia’s idea was to create a suite in 8 parts, referring to the different times of the day, based on the Indian time-raga concept, but also with roots in the old European monastic tradition. This became a stage piece with lights and a live video mix, projected on cylinder covered with gauze, in which Amelia was singing, moving and dancing. I created a live audio mix of the drones and other voices as well as directing the video and light artists, leaving Amelia with a certain freedom for her soli.

ALREADY AWAKE in the NIGHT, was started in 2003, during a residency in Worpswede, Germany and took almost  7 years to reach its final shape. It consists of 3 pieces based on the scale of Raga Lalit, a very unique scale with a kind of neutral sixth. After some analyzing, we chose the ideal pitches of the scale. Using sine waves processed through certain effects and delays, I created a textural context. The piece also included American sarod player David Trasoff, a student of the famous Ali Akbar Khan. Amelia used a bamboo resonator to alter her voice, I was blowing on a kalimba, bending the tones by slightly turning the object so that I could blow over the edge of the resonating hole into the kalimba. In one section I stuck the top part of a shakuhachi (Japanese flute) into the kalimba, which created some nice whistle tones. I called this the “Shakulimba”.

RAGA VERDE was a joint project with early music singer Maria Jonas, in which the antiphones of Hildegard von Bingen from the 12th century met with ragas [traditional?of what century?] with the two singers exchanging phrases, drones, etc, with me providing instrumental accompaniments as well as loops and drones created from their voices.

For a rendition of SOLO 58 from SONGBOOKS by John Cage, I provided drones, made from cut-up tempura recordings and other instrumental or ambient sounds.

BORN OF SIX was a short-lived trio project with Swedish composer/artist Catherine Christer Hennix, Amelia and myself. We only did one concert in 2012, which was released by Important Records. Amelia was part of Christer´s Ensemble at the time and Christer and I did a concert together at cafe Oto in London in early 2012. Afterwards we decided to ask Amelia to join us.

Christer has a very low voice and was mainly singing drones, I provided drones made from sine waves in just intonation as well as playing my invented wind instruments, while Amelia was mainly a solostic voice, but also melting into the group sound at times.

Even though we did not continue, it led to another ensemble, going into a similar direction.

TONALIANS was formed in 2014 together with 2 musicians Amelia had already been working with in Christer´s group: Robin Hayward on tuba and Hilary Jeffery, trombone. Amelia was replaced after 2015 by cellist Judith Hamann. The focus is again on an ensemble sound in just intonation, with individual solo sections.

DIASPORAGAS summed up the various compositions and projects under the subtitle: “Ancient Trends and New Traditions in Indo-European music”. In 2013 the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin hosted a small festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Institute for Traditional Music, founded in 1963 by Alain Daniélou in Berlin, on the invitation of the Ford Foundation and the Berlin Senate. We were invited to perform our program “Diasporagas”.

It was a kind of round-up of what we had been doing for the last 20 years, starting with a rendition of traditional Dhrupad and ending with a new composition called Hiss (mastered Noise), of course referring to His Master’s Voice- EMI the most important record label in India. The basic idea for the piece came from a conversation I had with a musician friend in Mumbai in 1996. He had offered a famous musician some rare recordings by his favorite singer, warning him of the very poor sound quality and as a response, this musician said: “What do I do with sound? I want music.” This statement triggered in me a reflection on the modern Western approach to sound, which is mainly experienced in high end hifi or with very powerful sound systems in live situations, whereas for that musician this was totally irrelevant. What counted for him was the singer´s deeply emotional, but super personal voice, hardly discernable from all the surface and background noise of the recordings, which were probably recorded in a room with a microphone in front of the radio and sounds of the environment, with short wave radio noise, etc. all mixed in.

In fact, another, earlier version emanated from that anecdote.

In 2011, we were invited by the Märzmusik Festival in Berlin to participate in a program celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Futurist movement, which included historical pieces by Luigi 

Russolo as well as new ones, composed for the replicas of the Intona Rumori that were built and played under the direction of Luciano Chessa. Our piece “Gramophone Saraswati” used the Intona Rumori to “imitate” the surface noises  and other non-intended acoustic phenomena  resulting from the playback of historical recordings, starting from wax cylinder to shellacks, short wave radio, etc.

Amelia composed some raga-based parts singing through a gramophone cone as an amplifier or a new cone prepared with a tin-foil membrane to create a buzzing effect, much like distortion,

and I contributed various buzzing instrumental sounds.

Hiss (mastered Noise) used short samples of the real recordings, from the same ragas Amelia was singing, but without the singing parts. It also included a newly made wax cylinder recording of a tempura played through a contact loudspeaker attached to the gramophone cone.

The work was first performed at Ostrava Music Days in the Czech Republic in 2013. The Berlin performance some months later included 2 percussionists on north and south Indian drums.

Some general thoughts

Reflecting on the almost 5 decades I have spent with musics in between the various musical worlds, I experienced several trends, often contradicting what had been done before. I have tried to follow my personal instincts rather than to follow these trends. Surprisingly, those waves sometimes coincided with my personal ones, sometimes they were the opposite. One can already see by the terminology used in different times and contexts how phenomena is perceived, which attitudes, which ideologies and prejudices were at work. It always seemed to me that in the US there is an easier relationship between the avant-garde and other traditions, since it is not carrying the heavy European classical tradition on its shoulders. I wish we could overcome these some day, not have to generalize, completely subsume  musics from the different parts of the world as one,  as in“world music” (I haven´t yet heard of music from another planet), or even worse,“folklore”. And the best of all:  “non-Western” or even “extra-European”. I wonder where they put traditional music from Sardinia, Estonia or wherever else from Europe. And why this is placed in opposition to other music, be it jazz, classical or new music. Too often, when I went to record stores and found these musics in the last corner on the floor, I had to bend down.

Werner Durand performs his own music for saxophones, Iranian ney, and self-made wind instruments since the late seventies. He studied with Ariel Kalma in Paris, Indian classical music in India and Berlin (with Kamalesh Maitra) and Iranian ney with Ali Reza Asgharia. He started to build wind instruments out of plexi-glass and PVC in the early 80s. He has composed music for theatre, dance and radio features and is presently engaged in several CD productions and musical projects. Coming from the minimalist tradition, Werner Durand’s music has evolved into a personal style over the years. Inspired by various kinds of traditional musics and instruments, he started to create his own music and instruments reflecting this. A variety of materials and playing techniques enables him to bring out unusual sounds and with the help of digital delays he can create rich textural and rhythmic pieces, which might recall tribal music from Africa or the Pacific, but at the same time sounding experimental or even (post-)industrial.