PROJECT IN FOCUS. Vykintas Baltakas "into..." Dubai

The Sounds of Cranes and the Emigrant Culture

The Ensemble Modern and Siemens Arts Program, in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut, developed an ambitious, attractive and exotic international project into..., which attempts to cast the essence of a city in music. Sixteen composers agreed to face this challenge in four mega cities of non-Western culture: Istanbul (Turkey), Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Johannesburg (Republic of South Africa) and Pearl River Delta (China). Starting from February 2008 to May 2009, groups of four composers will spend a month in each of these mega cities to compose musical reflections of the cities for the Ensemble Modern. The resulting ‘cityworks’ will be performed from autumn 2008 to summer 2010 in Frankfurt, Berlin, Essen and other cities, as well as in their respective cities of origin. The description of the “into...” project reveals the following intentions:

“Since 2006, over fifty per cent of the world’s population lives in the cities – a fact that thrusts the city into the centre of social and scientific interest. And since time immemorial its enticements have prompted people to move – whether in the hope of fulfilling their longings, or in search of economic and social success, or with the wish for personal happiness. Simultaneously, the city has undergone constant change. On no one day is it the same as the day before and yet it retains its substance. But what distinguishes the nature of a city? What determines its specific ‘essence’ over and beyond the familiar associations and connotations, beyond its outward appearance, its geographical location or climatic conditions?”

photo: Astrid Ackermann

Sixteen composers from different parts of the world will participate in this project, including composers from England, Germany, Canada, Russia, Italy, Korea, Hungary and Norway. Among them is the Lithuanian composer Vykintas Baltakas, who currently resides somewhere between Germany and Belgium and has just returned from his first visit to Dubai. Among his companions stepping “into…” Dubai are composers Markus Hechtle, Márton Illés and Jörg Widmann. While other cities are visited by Mark Andre, Beat Furrer, Samir Odeh-Tamimi and Vladimir Tarnopolski (Istanbul); Luke Bedford, Jörg Birkenkötter, Lars Petter Hagen and Lucia Ronchetti (Johannesburg); as well as Unsuk Chin, Heiner Goebbels, Benedict Mason and Johannes Schöllhorn (Pearl River Delta).

“Dubai currently stands like no other city for the worldwide flow of migrant workers. Over 85 per cent of the population consists of guest workers from Asia, the U.S.A., and Europe. Once a small settlement of fishermen and pearl divers, Dubai has transformed into a fast-paced go-getting metropolis. Spectacular architectural projects twinned with consumer and cultural attractions tell of luxury and pleasure, but also of an enormous ability to transform and move.”

The above is a quote from the project abstract and this view is supported by the composer Vykintas Baltakas, who was amazed at the pace of Dubai’s development and social dynamics. “Prior to 1990, Dubai was mainly about small tracks in the sand, whereas when you come here today, you feel as if you had flown to the moon,” – says the composer about the metropolis, describing it as a city of consumer capitalism, social conflicts, super modern architecture and multicultural society. “You are having an Indian meal and listening to Mozart’s Don Giovanni sung in Arabian, and you look at the skyscrapers way ahead of the American analogs,” Baltakas recalls. And goes on to say this: “there are three social strata in Dubai: local Arabs, western experts (company managers, businessmen, lawyers, architects, artists, etc.) and a fairly substantial layer of emigrant workers (from India, Pakistan, Kirghizia, Malaysia, etc.). Thus, the city is governed by seven per cent of Arabs, while others are building the culture of Dubai without actually being part thereof.”

The selected composers will each spend a month in their designated city and a special programme of visits and research tailored to meet their individual needs will be coordinated in collaboration with the local branches of Goethe-Institut. Vykintas Baltakas, who has already seized this opportunity, tells that he had an intense schedule of meetings and visits planned beforehand (2-3 a day), which have included a conversation with the German impresario Michael Schindhelm, former director general of the Berlin Opera Foundation, who had been invited by the sheikh to supervise the newly constructed opera building in Dubai; a meeting with German historian Frauke Heard-Bey, who has been living in this city for 40 years; a stay at the Dubai Culture Consulate, which coordinates the preparation of the Arab dance encyclopaedia. There have also been meetings with common people of Dubai, like, for instance with a Malaysian emigrant working at the airport, etc. During his second trip in September, the composer will deliver several master classes.

When speaking of Dubai’s sonosphere and musical environment, Baltakas highlights the fact that in Dubai there is the largest number of construction cranes in the world, which affects the overall sonic atmosphere. In addition to that, the musical environment is vibrant with emigrant ethnic traditions. On the other hand, alcoholic beverages are officially banned here, therefore, the bar culture and music is nearly non-existent. Moreover, music is not highly regarded, since poetry is considered to be the highest form of art here. Nevertheless, the present-day constructions in Dubai include not only huge trade centres, but also public concert halls and opera theatres; even though it is not quite clear yet what public will be coming here.

An outcome of the “into...” project is an approximately 20 minute piece from each composer. Baltakas says his vision of the ‘citywork’ is still under formation, but it will not be a piece similar to the African Sketches (a piece by Julius Juzeliūnas, incorporating the elements of the Lithuanian and African folklore, which has become a Lithuanian classic). “The key role here is played by the aural impressions of the city and their impact. Some composers are drawn to the architectural aspect; others are interested in the local influences. I think Dubai is a multicultural, super modern, electronic metropolis and I will not even try to look here for an old Arabic tradition. The Arabian culture existing within this context is slightly distorted. But that is nonetheless interesting.”

Other engagements of Vykintas Baltakas scheduled for the nearest future include lecturing at the International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt in July. According to the composer, even though this event is no longer attended by Stockhausen, Boulez, Nono, Berio and other avant-garde celebrities, it still remains the principal and largest workshop for musical creation in the world. Three of Baltakas’ compositions will be performed during the courses, including the Poussla (Stutgart Radio Symphony Orchestra under Johannes Kalitzke), Instruktion zur Durchführung einer alten Liebesbeschwörung, die Ihre/Ihren Geliebte(n) auf einmal und für immer an Sie binden wird (Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart) and (how does the silver cloud s)ou(nd?) (pianist Bernhard Wambach).

© Asta Pakarklytė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 16