a collective work by 4 composers for violin, voice, whisperviolin, frame violin, a multitude of mutes, and light design
Monica Germino, violin / voice
Floriaan Ganzevoort, Theatermachine / Stage and Lighting Design
Composers: Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Louis Andriessen
Text: Don Marquis’ Archy and Mehitabel
Creators, whisperviolin: Marcel Wanders and Bas Maas
Notes about MUTED
“I’m going to write you a piece so soft, I don’t care if no one can hear it.”
— Michael Gordon, on learning that Monica would have to protect her hearing by stopping or adapting how she played the violin
MUTED — a collective composition by Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Louis Andriessen — features violin, voice, whisperviolin, frame violin, a multitude of mutes, and light design. Michael Gordon was joined by David Lang and Julia Wolfe in wanting to respond to Monica’s high sensitivity to sound by creating a piece that explores the limits of audibility. The three invited Louis Andriessen to join them in the experiment, fulfilling a long-held wish to collaborate. Floriaan Ganzevoort designed a light object, based on sound waves, controlled live in performance.
MUTED is often described as “the quietest piece ever written for violin,” a description that certainly applies to parts of the work, although a contrast in audibility plays an essential role. Just as the pupils of the eye expand and contract in reaction to the amount of light in a space, different decibel levels play with sonic perception. A frame violin (ca. 1870) with a delicate, surprisingly overtone-rich sound is featured alongside the ingenious whisperviolin (2019), created by designer Marcel Wanders and luthier Bas Maas. Other instruments are paired with metal-tipped fingers or bespoke mutes from an ever-expanding collection of more than 400 vintage, modern, and newly commissioned mutes. Monica’s singing voice is heard in settings of texts from Archy and Mehitabel, a compilation of Don Marquis’s writings in his daily column, where they first appeared in 1916.
This intensely theatrical piece is conceived for small groups of listeners in intimate spaces. MUTED may represent four composers’ inspired response to a diagnosis, but it is also a reflection on silence and listening, an antidote to the noise and the ever-increasing clamor of today’s world.
There’s a passage from Igor Stravinsky’s Poetics of Music:
“My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.”
Limits inspire creativity. MUTED opens doors for a new voice. There is power in quietness; strength in speaking softly.
Cast of credits, MUTED
MUTED was commissioned by De Doelen, Rotterdam & Neil Wallace (Executive Producer) (NL), Oranjewoud Festival, Oranjewoud (NL), Music on Main, Vancouver (CA), New York Philharmonic Orchestra, New York (USA), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (UK)
Partners and presenters
Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam
November Music Festival
Many thanks to:
Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, David Lang, Louis Andriessen
Marcel Wanders, designer
Bas Maas, luthier
MassMoCA, Massachusetts, USA
Kenny Savelson, Bang on a Can All-Stars
Phillipa Thompson, Bang on a Can Summer Festival
Vera Kuipers, Dutch Consulate, New York
Niek Versfeld and Jaap Peter Kronemeijer, Audiologisch Centrum Hilversum
Stijn Hoogeboom, Oorwerk, Hilversum
Bas Andriessen, filmmaker
Jacqueline and Serge Stam, Stam Vioolbouw
Fonds Podiumkunsten / Performing Arts Fund NL
Learn more about Monica Germino, MUTED, and the instruments and mutes used in this performance here: Decibels & Instruments & Mutes: the backstory
The New York Times -Anthony Tommasini
The violinist Monica Germino in "Muted," presented by the Philharmonic at National Sawdust in Brooklyn.
"... the impressive and courageous violinist Monica Germino gave the American premiere of “Muted,” a 40-minute, musical-theatrical work written for her by four composers: Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Louis Andriessen.
Ms. Germino was a champion of contemporary music, including experimental works with percussion and electronics, when, a few years ago, she was diagnosed with a hearing condition that rendered her extremely sensitive to sound. She must avoid exposure to high volume of any kind.
“Muted” was the response of four composer colleagues. The piece involves very soft sounds played on an array of violins, from traditional to experimental, and used various standard mutes (brass pieces fitted on the bridge of the instrument to muffle sound). During parts of ”Muted,” Ms. Germino also sang or spoke fanciful texts by Don Marquis and moved around a central, light-projecting circular tower of aluminum rings (designed by Floriaan Ganzevoort).
While wistful, the music shifts through moods and styles that alternately suggest tender folk songs, gently swaying dances, bursts of hushed busyness, bluesy melodies, even twangy hints of hoedown. “Muted” may be the quietest piece ever written for violin, but it was riveting in this intimately powerful performance."
The Wall Street Journal - A violinist with a sensitivity to sound will perform ‘Muted,’ a special, quieter piece for audiences in Brooklyn
Violinist Monica Germino performs on a frame violin, which is quieter than a traditional violin, at New York’s Lincoln Center. A caveat: the audio in the video segment is louder than in performance
"The composers involved explain that “Muted” isn’t necessarily difficult for audiences to hear. [Michael] Gordon said concertgoers just need to pay closer attention. He likens it to stepping into a dimly lit room and adjusting your eyes until you can see clearly once again..." The Wall Street Journal
more about MUTED
MUTED has its roots in the reaction from composers to my high sensitivity to sound and having to cut down the amount of decibels pouring into my ears. Many of you know that I used to play some fairly hard-hitting music, much of it newly commissioned. And as Mehitabel* would say, “I have no regrets!” For those who want to know everything: read more about the inside story here - Monica Germino
What’s in a decibel?
Decibels & Instruments & Mutes: read the backstory about MUTED here
photos: Jan Gates, Anne Reinke, Lucas Kemper
The whisperviolin [more details coming soon...]