Katherine Whatley: Researching Berlin experimental, improvised and computer music as well as performing concerts (Universität der Künste Berlin)
I received the GRIP fellowship in 2022 to research Berlin experimental, improvised and computer music as well as perform concerts. The fellowship was delayed by one year and I spent the summer of 2023 in Berlin.
Ever since I studied experimental music from the context of ethnomusicology as an undergraduate student, I have been very interested in the Berlin experimental music scene and have been looking for an opportunity to have deep engagement with the city and its music, both historic and contemporary. As a musician primarily interested in improvised and experimental music (I play the Japanese instrument koto in traditional and experimental contexts), I knew the city had one of the most active scenes in the world and I considered moving to Berlin at one point in my life. Thus, this research fellowship provided me with an opportunity to research music that I have been interested in for many years.
In addition, I am the first PhD student in my department (East Asian Languages and Cultures) to have a practical component to my dissertation in classical Japanese literature in the form of a dissertation composition. The GRIP fellowship provided me with the opportunity to explore composition and performance techniques that will directly influence my composition. The fellowship allowed me to build off work already conducted at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics and the Music Department as well as musical training in Japan.
While in Berlin I performed seven different concerts at a variety of venue types (clubs, galleries, nature station, park, house, festivals) throughout the city with multiple artists, fully exploring the richness of the experimental and improvised music scenes. Venues include: Donau115; at a house concert in Krezuberg; Morphine Raum; Molt Gallery as part of Future East Festival; Naturschutzstation Hahneberg; at untergrün summerfest 2023; in Volkspark Hasenheide. Artists I performed with include: Alexander Dubovoy, Hans Bilger, Greg Kappes, Vaim Saarv, Pajuh.
I also attended concerts and visited a variety of museums getting a sense of the breadth and richness of experimental music, performance art and sound art in Germany today.
In addition, once I arrived in Berlin, I also began to embark on a project that I had not conceptualized when I had applied for GRIP. My grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and as soon as I arrived in Berlin I was overcome by the sheer number of monuments to the war throughout the city. This led me to conduct research and site visits and then begin work on a multimedia project featuring poetry and compositions looking at memory, ritual, monument and the Holocaust. Sites visited include: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe; New Synagogue Berlin; T4 - Memorial for the "euthanasia" murder victims; Memorial for persecuted homosexuals; Sinti and Roma Memorial; Soviet Memorial Treptow; Soviet Memorial Tiergarten; many Stolpersteine (“stumbling stones” featuring the names those killed or displaced by the Holocaust) and Schöneberg's Bayerischer Platz Jewish memorial.
I also read and listened to works by many people affected by the Holocaust including Primo Levi, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Thomas Mann, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. I plan to continue to work on this project in the coming months.
In addition to work, while I was in Berlin I was able to explore different nearby areas. I visited Leipzig and Potsdam and Spreewald Biosphere Reserve. In addition, I was able to enjoy the Berlin custom of summer lake visits and enjoyed some of the numerous lakes throughout the Berlin area.
Outcomes of GRIP Fellowship include two different recording sessions for two planned albums; connections with various venues and musicians that will also allow for future performance tours in Berlin and Germany; a planned intermedia artistic project with a Berlin based Turkish architect exploring connections between pre-war Jewish neighborhoods and more recent post-war Turkish migration; and serious work undertaken on a multimedia poetry and musical performance project centered around rituals, monuments, symbols and memories of the Holocaust. I plan to perform and work in Berlin with artists and contacts I made this summer, and hope to conduct a Germany tour in the future as well.