Naturlaut 3.0

by Markus Böggemann

In Samir Amarouch‘s ensemble piece Analogies for sixteen musicians (2017) there is a passage in which the horn and bassoon appear with a run of short glissandi. These twenty five seconds – in which small instrumental gestures are thickly intertwined with each other and yet are clearly definable – demand the listener’s attention. Suddenly, the music is cast off out of itself, vaguely imitating animal noises which resound as if through a window into the flurrying static of its musical surroundings. ‘As if a natural noise’, as Gustav Mahler described it in a comparable situation – just that here, it could also be wolf howls and not only bird calls or cow bells being evoked. That this experience has since become a common starting point for further artistic creations is a good representation of the sense of enquiry and consistency for the composer, born in 1991. One of these was Area (2018) for wind quintet and orchestra – formally a kind of concerto grosso, but in actuality a complexly composed interaction between the solo ensemble and a segregated orchestra spread throughout the performance space. Like a pack of wolves, says Amarouch, the instrumental groups encircle the quintet of soloists in order to communicate with it and its surroundings. Recordings of wolf howls helped during the composition phase (he speaks of them as songs), whose shape and acoustic characteristics were then incorporated into the piece’s compositional grammar.

Samir Amarouch’s music thus has a mimicking quality, yet it is anything other than naïve. Nowhere is the sentiment reduced to mere tone-painting or the direct imitation of something that already exists. Rather, inspiration and material is taken from the distortions of a digital imitation of nature. The point at which these distortions provide diversions from their original source is where things get interesting for Samir Amarouch. In this way, he plays with the idea of tone-synthesis, the biomorphic reproduction of natural processes, but goes a step further. Appel (2017) for dual-manual cembalo and electronics is a good example: it is based on birdcalls which have been edited and transcribed by a computer. The structure of the piece and its dramaturgy – the latter centring around an increasing intensity during a winding down of its melodic contour – stem from the dispersing of the rhythmic and melodic variations in the bird song which, from the perspective of machinery, can only be seen as a divergence from the ideal form.
Samir Amarouch’s fascination with the grey-zone between virtual and real nature can also be heard in the ensemble piece Analogies for sixteen musicians, as mentioned at the beginning of this text. As in Appel, but more radical, this ‘nature’ (in the form of cicada sounds, birdsong and/or breathing noises) appears here as an acoustic imitation of its digital representation, avoiding all (live-)electronic support. Such a multi-staged virtualisation appears as an act of demonstrative anti-essentialism, as an avoidance of the question as to its ‘origin’ or ‘prototype’ and – in an indirect way – to the music’s supposedly natural basis. Furthermore, this projection has consequences for our understanding: the composed sound-piece oscillates between autonomous invention and direct representation, between musical-structural function and metaphorical meaning. And it is not least this transient, changing basis that produces a sense of fascination within the music of Samir Amarouch.

Translation: Robert Jacobs