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Katharina Rosenberger And Wet Ink Ensemble Collaborate On Album

UCSD composer Katharina Rosenberger, who is recording a new album of compositions and will be on These Days this week to tell us about her work.
UCSD composer Katharina Rosenberger, who is recording a new album of compositions and will be on These Days this week to tell us about her work.
Katharina Rosenberger And Wet Ink Ensemble Collaborate On Album
UCSD composer Katharina Rosenberger thinks of her latest CD as an art show. She's enlisted the members of New York City's Wet Ink Ensemble to perform her compositions. We'll talk with Rosenberger and the musicians about her music and have an in-studio performance.

UCSD composer Katharina Rosenberger thinks of her latest album as an art show. She's enlisted the members of New York City's Wet Ink Ensemble to perform her compositions. We'll talk with Rosenberger and the musicians about her music and have an in-studio performance.


Katharina Rosenberger is a composer and professor of music at UCSD.


She's joined by the members of Wet Ink Ensemble who are in town for a series of performances.

Eric Wubbels is the executive director of Wet Ink Ensemble and plays the piano.

Eliot Gattegno plays the saxophone in Wet Ink Ensemble.

Erin Lesser plays the flute.

Kate Soper sings vocals on Rosenberger's album.


The Wet Ink Ensemble will perform the work of Katharina Rosenberger and other composers Wednesday night at the Conrad Prebys Concert Hall. There will be two concerts, one at 7pm and the other at 10pm.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. We tend to think of sounds, ordinary everyday sounds, as something separate from music. Music has tempo and harmony and melody. Sounds are just -- sounds. But that's not the way my next guest hears sounds. To Katharina Rosenberger, sounds are composed of hems that rise and fall and combine just like music. Her compositions reflect this fascination with sound and texture. And they require a meticulous interpretation of it's a measure for me to welcome Katharina Rosenberger, composer and professor of music at UCSD. Katharina good morning.

ROSENBERGER: Thank you good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And in the studio with us today are members of the Wet Ink Ensemble. Eric Wubbles is executive director of the group and plays piano, Elliot Gattegno plays the saxophone in the Wet Ink Ensemble, and Aaron Lesser plays the flute, and Kate Soper sings vocals on Rsoenberger's album. I want to welcome you all, we'll hear from you separately. I don't want you to run to the microphones right now. Thank you for being here. And I also want everyone to know the Wet Ink Ensemble will perform the work of Katharina Rosenberger and other composers. That's tonight at the Conrad Prebys concert hall. There will be two concerts, one at 7:00, the other at 10:00 PM. So you've all been busy recording a CD of Katharina's music from that I understand. So Katharina, how's it going?

ROSENBERGER: Oh, wonderfully. It's pure bliss for me. That's right.

CAVANAUGH: How so? How so?

ROSENBERGER: I feel the musicians are extremely talented and musical. And for a composer to see that your musical ideas that only existed in your head suddenly just take off and fly, it's just a very remarkable moment.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you surprised by what your music sounds like outside of your head?

ROSENBERGER: I've been involved with that kind of inside listening and then hearing it on stage for many years. So I mean, every so often something happens that I want to try that I imagined difficulty and it's more difficult for an instrument. And then the interesting part is to work with the musicians, have their expertise, and their instrument making suggestions. And you really get good results.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Eric lesser, what has the experience been like for you so far on this CD?

WUBBLES: It's been fantastic. We really are in a great situation at UCSD, where we have just phenomenal resources and an excellent engineer. It's really an ideal situation to record this. So we've spent the past six days really being able to get into detail with these recordings, and working closely with Katharina on the pieces and shaping everything and it's just been a great experience.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Excuse me, I used your wrong last name. Eric Wubbles is who I was speaking to. So you said you approach Katharina, this CD, as an art show. What does that mean?

ROSENBERGER: Well, maybe I trace back a little bit. It took me a long while to decide that actually I think I was ready to record a CD. And all of a sudden it just fell into place. And as I noticed, the recent pieces I wrote in the last, maybe, 3 or 4 years, they all were obsessively involved with, like, shapes and geometrical forms as you find in visual arts, architecture or nature. And I felt very intrigued to do something that actually -- I bring them together and create relationships among those pieces. At the same time, wet ink talked to me about working together, and they gave me a commission to write a piece for them. And I said, well, why don't I write a new piece that sort of relates to all these pieces that -- I mean a selection of pieces, recently, that picks up kind of the music, their motives, and I create like a context where all of these pieces have relationships. So that means in doing this CD, I thought instead of having pieces that they just live on their own, and one or the other, it doesn't really have anything in common. I wanted like in an art show, have pieces that there are common themes that you walk through, and you all -- when you hear one piece, the other it is kind of resonate as well, and you get the impression of one sound world emerging.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So is that what the name of the album, Texturen, is that what it relates to.

ROSENBERGER: Exactly, that's what the name is gonna be of the album, and specifically the piece that I wrote for Wet Ink, the name is Texturen too.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see. And there's also the idea of a garden that conspires you in this as well, right?

ROSENBERGER: Yes, you're right. I've been listening in a very wonderful place that is adjacent to a big garden that I walk hymn every day. And I'm just astound by all these textures and colors and different shapes of leaves, and I thought, I want to write about this garden. And as in other pieces that existed already, I worked with plant worlds, or shapes as you find them in plants. So I said this is gonna be the starting point of synthesizing all my ideas and the other pieces.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, let's hear the title track to this CD.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The piece of music again is called Texturen, and this is the Wet Ink Ensemble playing; is that correct, Eric?

WUBBLES: That's right.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right. So let's hear it. This is a recording of the Wet Ink Ensemble performing Texturen.

(Piece Performed).

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is it a selection from a piece of music called Texturen, and it is written by my guest, Katharina Rosenberg ERIH3 performed by the Wet Ink Ensemble. And as you said, Katharina, there are so many layers to this piece of muse, including a libretto.

ROSENBERGER: That's right.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where do the words come from.

ROSENBERGER: That is a very special thing. Since I was already working with the garden, since I was conspired by that, I thought I would like to working actually, with text of botanists. So far somebody being very specific about plants. A little bit the scientific edge, but also very comfortable about what I was looking for, and I was very lucky that actually a friend of my boyfriend, he's a botanist and a fern expert. And I met him on a day in the Bronx botanical garden in New York where he does his research. But I very quickly realized that most of the year he's traveling to the most remote spots in the rain forest to find, like, terms that are not discovered yet. And just the way he talked about his work, I was very fascinated by that. And then I found out he also is involved with music, he's a turntablist. And so I thought, why not asking him if he knows -- I mean, I wanted to know about his own work. But maybe he knows somebody else too. But as soon as I start to read his description of the plants, I was sure that was it. And you know, just to give you quickly the example, like, colors orange to castenias, rise on scales with turgid cells, to lumina trans branch occluded. I mean, how wonderful that sounds, the colors, the shapes. So it was perfect for me to work with that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And it's wonderful because you read it in sort of a rhythm that is reminiscent of the music that we just heard.

ROSENBERGER: That's it. It was, like, love at first sight, I would say. I just like I don't need to look further.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, we're lucky to have Kate sober in studio to sing an excerpt from Texturen, and I just want to give you a moment to get to the microphone. Here she is.

SOPER: Can I say a little bit?


SOPER: Yeah, so I'm gonna actually be sinning pretty much what you just heard, the ensemble performing, and you'll notice as she said, she does have this really idiosyncratic text, these strange botanist terms and you'll notice she gives me several different kinds of techniques, as a vocalist, a sort of straight singing, and then she'll ask for a sort of breathy singing sound, and sometimes she just wants to hear the consonants and sort of just hear the noise. And then he has one of my favorite descriptions that she coined is pulling me like dripping honey. So she wants this kind of glissando moving around pitch. And these changes happen very rapidly sometimes within a beat. So you hear these kind of shifting colors. So now I'm gonna to sing what we heard, about a minute long.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Certainly. Thank you.

(Piece Performed).

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was Kate Soper performing the vocal part of the Texturen excerpt that we heard, and the composer is Katharina Rosenberger. Let me ask you just if I may, a question, Kate, before you sit down. Are you -- do you do other modern vocal work? Is that how you came to this?

SOPER: Yeah. I mean, I have some classical training and actually I have a background as a singer song writer a bit too. But I pretty much am just exclusively interested in kind of this experimental music. So I do a lot of that. I'm a composer myself. And I sing the musing of my colleagues, and I really love working with composers like Katharina who are interested in exploring the really incredible range of the voice, and even getting away from what we think of as traditional classical, beautiful, vocal singing of will but exploring all these other also beautiful noises and sounds and gestures that the voice can make. So I'm really looking for composers who are interested like Katharina, in pushing the envelope, finding those sounds, finding those textures that you don't often hear in vocal music.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because that was -- thank you so much, that was just really an, amazing tour de force almost it hear it pulled out of the rest of the piece.

ROSENBERGER: Ah, it's very, very challenging and Kate does such a great job. It's, like, it's wonderful.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you again. And thank you, Kate. And Katharina, you also have another song on the album, it's called torsion. It's also conspired by the garden that we were just talking about, tell us about that piece.

ROSENBERGER: So torsion, I was interested in writing about curves. And I -- I have this wonderful book with drawings about plants and particularly the plants' heads, the inside.


ROSENBERGER: And I got to a sun flour head, and I just noticed the shape and those curves in the sun flour head, and I thought, I would love to use the dynamic of those shapes, and write a piece out of that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do you use the dynamic of a shape to form a sound?

ROSENBERGER: It's particularly it's about -- so it is a piano piece they did, so I was thinking actually the whole inside of piano to be a platform on which I draw these curves and spirals and shapes. And so it is a piece with a lot of lines and so the lines kind of have extreme accelerations, so getting really fast and suddenly slowing down, and going over the whole register, so it is like these -- so you have these shapes that I write into the piano.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see. I see what you're saying, almost like struggling to get to the top and then --

ROSENBERGER: Kind of. Exactly. Yeah, yeah.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Eric, would you play an example of what we're talking about?

That's Eric Wubbles of the Wet Ink Ensemble, on piano [CHECK AUDIO] torsion, of Katharina Rosenberger, and it's from the CD Texturen. And Eric, what are the challenges you find in performing Katharina's music?

WUBBLES: Well, there are many that go along, certainly, with the rewards of performing her muse, the one specific to this piece they would say is that as she was discussing the whole acceleration and deceleration, that's a thing that's very difficult to realize in music. Generally when you know of music that's in tempo as a meter, it has a certain beat to it that's kind of like a grid. And all of these rhythms, these shapes, are organic, they go across the grid. And so it's very difficult to notate exactly the type of push and the pull of the tempo and the time and all those things so she's notated it, I think very well, but I've had to spend a lot of time with her discussing exactly how she wants it to work. When is it really a very fast acceleration, when is it slow, when is it back and forth like a little cradle, and when is it like a wonderful that plunges all the way down to the bottom and back up from there. So it's a very challenging project for her as a composer, but again, it's a very rewarding thing to work on and just discuss with her.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is it the same things that make it challenging -- are they the same things that make this piece interesting for you to play?

WUBBLES: Absolutely. Yeah.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. Well, we have to take a short break, when we return we will have more live performances of Katharina Rosenberg's music. You are you're listening to These Days on KPBS.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guest is composer Katharina Rosenberger, she is a composer and professor of music at UCSD. And we have the Wet Ink Ensemble in our performance studio, Eric Wubbles, Elliot Gattegno, Aaron Lesser, and Kate Soper singing vocals on Katharina Rosenberger's album. And we're talking about basically the music that's on a new CD called Texturen. We've heard a couple of excerpts from that music, but we were also talking during the break about another element that runs through this CD that kind of ties it together in I very interesting way. Tell us approximate that.

ROSENBERGER: Well, when I start to work with the text of Michael son due, that's the name of the botanist, I thought I want to expand on that and actually have in between the pieces on the CD little vocal interludes sung and spoken. And I invited a Dutch -- very, very fine Dutch poet and also composer, Rozalie Hirs, that in her past work she worked with scientific issues, if she felt conspired to work with this botanical research and text. And she immediately said yes. So she actually wrote text different interludes, little poems and text that credit scientific texts but she went much further. She started to develop a very poetic language around the experience of being in those rain forests and she started to get in touch with Michael son due. And she just wrote, like, 5, 6 -- six very exquisite poems for the C D.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So that's another element in the texture of this CD.

ROSENBERGER: That's right, yes, yes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have another performance. And I'm going to give you all notice. This time it's a piece for flute and saxophone. And it's called mirror. Is that how you say it?

ROSENBERGER: I use the French version, Miroir. But yes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us what this piece of music is about?

ROSENBERGER: So again, I was interested in shapes, actually, that run in opposite directions. So there is, like a middle line and then all the lines sort of mirror each other. And you find that in the plant world but also in visual arts, I like sort of this opposition. And I wanted to have a fast piece, a flying piece so that's what I wanted to do.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, okay. Miroir, and performing for us, Aaron less or flute, and Elliot Gattegno on saxophone.

(Piece Performed)

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is Aaron Lesser on flute, Elliot Gattegno on saxophone from the Wet Ink Ensemble, performing Miroir by Katharina Rosenberger. And thank you for that. Thanks very much. That's a very energetic thing for you to perform, isn't it? You're sort of bopping up and around.

WUBBLES: We're waving away over here, cuing each other.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is that noise that's just sort of a beat that happens?

LESSER: We're both playing key clicks, we're using just the keys on our instruments. You can hear it now.


LESSER: And I'm just -- it's a rhythm that's notated but it's without the sound, and then we add air. At different times. And the really tricky thing in this piece is going between normal sounds and really fast normal playing and then hitting these key clicks and trying to line them all up.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you ever, I'm wondering Elliot, do you ever say we can't do that? When the composer asks you?

GATTEGNO: Yes, and it's a funny thing you asked for this piece because I think for about two thirds of the piece was something that I said we can't do that. And I ended up having to do that and doing that on the recording. There's this particular multiphonic, which is playing more than one note at a time, which the saxophone can do, but is more an extended technique with the piece. And through the entire thing, I said, oh, well, no, it's possible to do but just not in this context am so we really had to figure out a sort of innovative way, I have to sort of prop the saxophone up on me knee and move the thumb around, but I think it works most of the time, and it worked really great in the recording session for the CD, so that's what's important.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you both you again. Thank you very much for that. And Katharina, I want to ask you just a little wit about how you came to this, how you decided to devote your life to music, to make music your life. Was it part of your family growing up?

ROSENBERGER: It was, yes. It comes from my mother who was very musical. She's not a professional but we had a piano in our house and so she played us a flute, the guitar, so I had these instruments there, and I just went, you know, and grabbed them and tried to play them. Well, the guitar and flutes were taken away from me, but the piano was still there. Upon so that I couldn't destroy that quickly. And I think that was the starting point to getting involved with it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you actually had a seminal experience when you were taken out into the woods about the age of 11.

ROSENBERGER: Oh, that's right.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about that.

ROSENBERGER: Yes, that goes back to the idea that for me, like, any noise that you can find outside in a city in nature for me sounds very much like music. And we had the primary school teacher that took us one morning, it was like four AM, something crazy, 430, the whole school class to the forest to hear how the birds were waking up in the morning. And so we were in the dark forest, it was cold, and then these birds, like, from all directs, these clouds of birds, and you know, different style of trilling and it was fantastic. I thought, you know, it's something I want to be working with. Or maybe I was too young to think that, but I just thought, like, I always want to hear that and I want to know what it is about.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ask it was the entire experience too, how it felt and how it sounded.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the progression of the sound, and the mixture of the sound.

ROSENBERGER: Oh, absolutely, and it was even the temperature of the morning, it was the moist in the air, it was the smell, it was everything together. Yeah.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's amazing. And that's what you want to incorporate now.

ROSENBERGER: That's what is part of my artistic work. So I do write compensations that are performed on stage. But also due to this physical and, well, we can call it multisensorial experience I also start to venture into more sound installations where I invite the audience member just to enter a space in the sound world and leave them a little bit on their own to discover that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Eric, I want to ask you, how does the Wet Ink Ensemble decide which composers to work with?

WUBBLES: Well, I think what Katharina was just talking about is a good example of it. We hook for people who have a real artistic vision that they're trying to articulate that's very personal but also very clearly conceived. And they really have something to say. And they're the sorts of composers who I think are creating entire worlds in their working. That's what they're trying to do. And people like that who are kind of visionary and trying to do something that doesn't already exist, those are the people we try to support and work with.

CAVANAUGH: You've also said something I think very interesting that there is a line between Avaunt guard -- all music, really, avant-garde music, Kanye West. How do you see that line progressing?

WUBBLES: Well, I think that's something that sort of mirrors our experience and the experience of a lot of young people these days is that we just listen to everything. And the only distinction that it seems to be really interesting to make anymore is between something that's high quality and between something that's not as high quality. And you know, the new Kanye West album is actually extremely avant-garde in a lot ways, even though it's funny in other ways. But yeah, I think for us, in terms of the way we work with music, we all have our own personal artistic agendas, but in terms of the way that we interact with the music more broadly, I think we're all very Catholic in our tastes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. You two just as Katharina was explaining that she's also involved in installations and in video work and so forth, you're also involved in multiple music projects as well.

WUBBLES: That's right and I'm a professor of composition at Amherst College in Massachusetts. And members of Wet Ink Ensemble have a lot of things like that. One of our saxophonists has played with Wynton Marsalis as a jazz player. One of our percussionists plays with the experimental band Zz, and just played a new year's eve show in Tokyo before he came out to do this. Kate is a singer song writer as she mentioned so we're all sort of between worlds and I think this is the place where we all get together and meet and work on this aspect of music, but it's not the only aspect of music for us.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, in addition to Katharina's music, you'll be performing the music of Peter Adlinger, and that will be tonight as well.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about him.

WUBBLES: Yeah, so Adlinger is kind of a fascinating composer as well. His basic project is trying to make you hear hearing. To make you listen to music in a way that helps you understand something about what the experience of listening actually is. And so he has a very famous piece involving a specially custom designed player piano that actually is able to reproduce the sounds of speech just on a piano. With no electronic augmentation just a computer analyzes the speech, and it sounds the pitch information to the piano, and the piano reproduces the sound of the voice.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That sounds eerie.

WUBBLES: Yeah, it's quite bizarre.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You've heard this. And you -- oh, I heard it, yeah, there's like a ghost coming. Like there's something new coming into existence out of this piano. It's great. Well, let me make sure everyone knows that the Wet Ink Ensemble will be performing the work of Peter Adlinger and the entire concert of Adlinger's music is performed tonight at 10:00 PM. The earlier concert at 7:00 PM at the Conrad Prebys concert hall, the Wet Ink Ensemble will perform the work of Katharina Rosenberger along with other composers. And there's another performance, and an after party at the lost on Friday?

ROSENBERGER: That's right.

WUBBLES: That's right.

ROSENBERGER: Oh, it's on Friday. Oops. Exactly. It's on Thursday, morning. 830 there's a concert set, maybe just quickly something followed by the after party and we have a really fine DJ joining us, Mike Gowell, so I look forward to also have a gathering situation where people can mingle and talk to the musicians, and yes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering issue are you gonna did a performance at the love or --


WUBBLES: Yes it'll be just an additional concert with music by members of the ensemble, as well as a piece by Beat Furrer, an Austrian composer.

ROSENBERGER: And some electronic music too.

WUBBLES: Yeah, video and electrons.

ROSENBERGER: Video and electronics. Right.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you all for speaking with us today.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's been very interesting. Katharina Rosenberger, thank you.

ROSENBERGER: Thank you, and it was a great experience to be here. Now you see how I am spoiled with the musicians. Everybody could hear them live, so --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you collectively, the Wet Ink Ensemble, and thank you so much for showing us what you can do.

WUBBLES: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And if you would like to comment on this, please go on-line, Days. You've been listening to These Days on KPBS.