Ursonate Symposium, 19 April 2024

Ernst Schwitters (photographer): Kurt Schwitters reading his “Ursonate”, London, 1944, Courtesy Kurt Schwitters Archiv, Sprengel Museum Hannover

On 19 April 2024, the Institute of Sonology is organising a small symposium around the famous sound poem Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948).

The symposium will start at 15:30 in the New Music Lab on the sixth floor of Amare, Spuiplein 150, 2511 DG The Hague and will end around 18:30.

Registration is mandatory through this link (80 persons max.):

The programme consists of the following parts:

1. Antje Wulff introduces Kurt Schwitters and places the Ursonate in the context of Schwitters’ oeuvre.

2. Marie Guilleray talks about the multichannel fixed-media version of the first two movements of the Ursonate. Kees Tazelaar will join her at some point to describe the spatial design that he made in collaboration with Marie. This will be followed by the performance of the fixed-media work itself.

3. Jaap Blonk: personal experiences in performing the Ursonate.


4. Jaap Blonk performs the scherzo and final movement of the Ursonate live.

5. Christopher Fox talks about his long relationship with Schwitters’ work and presents recordings of his Schwitters-based works MERZsonata and Babel.

6. Kees Tazelaar talks about the curious history of the recording of the Ursonate in Dick Raaijmakers’ tape collection.

7. Panel discussion

Antje Wulff is a scholar of literature and textual editing. She has been a long-time researcher at the hybrid edition project Kurt Schwitters. Alle Texte carried out by the University of Wuppertal (Germany) and by the Kurt Schwitters Archive held at the Sprengel Museum Hannover. Recently, she obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Wuppertal with a dissertation on Schwitters’ Merz art. She is also working as a publisher at Trilog Verlag in Wuppertal.

Marie Guilleray is a French vocalist, composer and sound artist based in the Netherlands. She works mainly in the context of experimental, electroacoustic, improvised music and sound poetry. She studied at the Conservatoire Nadia and Lili Boulanger in Paris and at the Royal Conservatoire The Hague. Her research into the extended possibilities of the voice in combination with electronics led her to continue her studies at the Institute of Sonology. She is currently a PhD candidate at Leiden University (ACPA) and the Orpheus Institute in Ghent (DocARTES).

Jaap Blonk is a self-taught composer, vocalist, poet and visual artist. His unfinished studies in mathematics and musicology mainly created a penchant for activities in a Dada vein, as did several unsuccessful jobs in offices and other well-organized systems. In the early 1980s he discovered the power and flexibility of his voice, and set out on a long-term research of phonetics and the possibilities of the human voice. At present, he has developed into a specialist in the creation and performance of sound poetry and a unique vocal improviser, supported by a powerful and uninhibited stage presence. He performs and gives workshops worldwide on a regular basis.

Christopher Fox is a composer who also writes about new music. He has performed the Ursonate many times since the mid-1980s, most recently in the Merzbarn in the north of England where Schwitters made his last sculptural installation. At the heart of his work as a composer are close collaborations with the musicians who regularly perform his music, and his experience with the Ursonate has led to a series of experimental vocal scores for the singers Barbara Hannigan, Elizabeth Hilliard and the ensemble EXAUDI. In 1993 he made the tape work MERZsonata for BBC Radio 3, based on archive sounds from Schwitters’ life. Fox’s music is extensively recorded, with portrait CDs on Ergodos, HatHut, Divine Art and NMC. His writings on music have appeared in the journals Contact, Contemporary Music Review, The Guardian, Musical Times and TEMPO. A book on his music, Perspectives on the music of Christopher Fox: Straight lines in broken times (edited by Rose Dodd), was published in 2017 by Routledge. In 2021 he was elected as a member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

Kees Tazelaar followed courses in Sonology in Utrecht and The Hague, and later studied composition under Jan Boerman at the Royal Conservatoire. He has been teaching at the Institute of Sonology since 1993 and has been head of the institute since 2006. As well as a composer, Kees Tazelaar is a historian, who has specialised in the early years of electronic music in the Netherlands and Germany. He has twice been the Edgard Varèse Guest Professor at the Technische Universität Berlin, where he earned his PhD in 2013 with the dissertation On the Threshold of Beauty: Philips and the Origins of Electronic Music in the Netherlands 1925–1965 (Rotterdam: V2_Publishing, 2013). Kees Tazelaar was awarded a Fellowship Residency from the Bogliasco Foundation in 2017.