A project by Pia Palme,
developed for the MAK Museum of Applied Art Vienna


In cooperation with/featuring

Irene Pichlhöfer – spatial Ikebana installation
Oswald Egger and Sohpie Reyer – texts
Electric Indigo – electronic music
Christina Bauer – sound design
Gartenbauschule Schönbrunn and DI Wolfgang Palme – fruit production, horticultural aspects
Wolfgang Reisinger and Hotelfachschule Modul – food design and cooking
Pia Palme – composition and concept, direction
Caroline Hofer – choir organisation


Annette Schönmüller – mezzo soprano
Johann Leutgeb – baritone
A choir of 100 singers, assembled for the project through an open call.
Pia Palme and Electric Indigo, electronics

Thank you to the numerous helpers from the Sogetsu Ikebana group Vienna, to put together the installation, and to Wolfgang Reisinger’s cooking class for the preparation the food.

photo by Armin Bardel


Presented at the series MAK NIGHT at the MAK Museum of Applied Arts Vienna, combing cutting edge choral work and two soloists in a scenic setting of an installation, cooking and electronic music.

Installation of 700 kg of aubergines (80 heritage varieties) by Irene Pichlhöfer. All fruits were produced and provided by the Gartenbauschule Schönbrunn celebrating the International Year of the Aubergines 2009. Director of the gardening project was DI Wolfgang Palme (- who is not a relative of mine:-).

Details about my composition VARIETIES

A work for mezzo soprano, baritone,
2 lead singers (male and female voice) with headphones,
mixed choir arranged in 2 lines/blocks (men, women)

Duration of the piece: 29 minutes.

Texts: Sophie Reyer, Oswald Egger (written for the piece)
Libretto compiled from the texts by by Pia Palme.

No conductor
Spatial arrangement of the choir

Technical requirements:
microphones for soloists (headset)
2 headphones (closed, high quality) for lead singers
long cables for transmission of solo-voices into headsets for lead singers.

Background, concept and directions for performance

The concept behind the composition VARIETIES is to represent a snapshot of the process of spreading, unfolding and propagation, starting from a central source of sound. I started with writing a composition for mezzo-soprano and baritone. The parts were written with having the concept for the choir performing from audio-scores in mind. This concept feeds back into the compositional process.

The piece, as it is heard by an audience in the end, is created through the performance of the two soloists and the vocal productions of the choir singers, who follow instructions given for their performance.

Afternoon choir rehearsal, photo by Armin Bardel

The instructions ask for vocal sound to be passed on, from the soloists to the lead singers of the choir via headphones, and from one singer to the next one by ear, throughout the choir who is arranged in two lines.

It is important that the vocalists sing simultaneously with hearing, there should be as little delay as possible. The instruction is: Do not wait until you completely grasp what you hear, just sing on the spot. Synchrony is more important than correct reproduction. Thus, the choir does not need written music; singing happens by hearing. Conducting is redundant here – this was part of my concept, too.

My aim was to create a fuzzy, ambient-like vocal layer. I wanted an effect of delay and erosion. I come from electronic music, and here I wanted to achieve a ‘biological’ delay and erosion. (The fruit also change as they are interbred, into so many different appearances, in all kinds of colours and shapes).

Arrangement of the choir in space is essential and should be carefully planned for the venue, following the sketch. The soloists should stand at a maximum distance from the choir (if possible, not even not in view of the choir – around a corner, for example).

Audience moving through choir lines at evening performance, photo by Gabriela Koch

The distance between the soloists and the body of the choir opens up space for the audience to move into, or stand still. Every listener in the audience actively creates her or his own mix of sounds: an individual ambient (Lat. ambire = walking around).

photo by Armin Bardel

The piece is performed in this way: The two soloists (mezzo soprano, baritone) sing their parts independently, following a timeline. Both voices are recorded by microphone (headset), and are slightly amplified, by one loudspeaker close to every soloist.

The choir is arranged in two lines, men and women facing each other, yet as far apart as possible from each other, and far apart from the soloists as well. Each line has a lead singer, standing at one end of the line. If the number of singers in a line exceeds 40, the lead singer should stand in the middle of the line.

The individual solo-voices of the baritone and mezzo are transmitted into the corresponding headphones of the male and female lead-singer respectively; they should be clearly audible to them. The singers are asked to

simultaneously perform what they hear: they should sing/perform whatever they hear at exactly the same moment – as accurately as possible. Instead of reading music, singers perform by ear.

The person next to the lead-singer again performs by ear; what is heard from the lead-singer is being sung/performed simultaneously. The next person in line takes on what he or she hears, performing simultaneously, and so on till the end of the line.


The choir should consist of a minimum of 20 people per part, and if possible an equal number of men and women. Both professional or trained singers are welcome, as well as any people who are somewhat skilled in using their voice.

For the choir lines, it works better to start with good singers and skilful listeners and place the untrained singers towards the end. The better trained the singers are, the better the concept works, actually. It is good to have practise time.


Synchrony is more important than accuracy, so that flow of the piece is not interrupted. The instruction is: It is essential to perform on the spot whatever you assume to hear. If it is unclear, repeat or improvise. It is not possible to be 100% correct. Perform what you can hear from your neighbour, and not what you hear from farther away, or the end of the line.

Blurring and delaying of sung parts will happen, and are intentional.

Through the process of singing in this way a flowing soundscape is created. The flow is moving in a direction away from the lead-singer. Parts are (somewhat  uncontrollably) eroded and modulated, and also amplified and spatialised, as in electronic processing. Here it happens ‘biologically’, through singers trying to perform as accurately as possible by hear.

Soloists should be able to listen to the choir at least during rehearsal, to be able to react to it: as their parts generate the piece, they should be aware of how the choir picks up their voices. Some choirs are more trained than others. The soloists are asked to perform like captains of an ocean liner: there is a latency when steering the choir with one’s performance.

Reproduction changes content.

photo Armin Bardel

About the texts

Texts for the piece were written by Oswald Egger and Sophie Reyer in coproduction. A verse by Egger was answered by a verse from Reyer, and so on. So the idea of propagation from a source, a first set of lines,  was also followed here.


Konzeptarbeit für zwei Solostimmen und großen gemischten Chor

2 LeadsängerInnen mit Kopfhörern
großer gemischter Chor, mind. 50 – 80 Personen, blockweise im Raum verteilt
(kein Dirigent)

Dauer: 29 Minuten

Aufstellung dem Raum angepasst.
Tontechnische Erfordernisse: Mikrofonierung der Solisten,
Übertragung dieser Solostimmen in guter Klangqualität auf 2 Kopfhörer
PA zur Verstärkung der Solostimmen

Texte: Sophie Reyer, Oswald Egger (für das Stück erarbeitet und ausgewählt)


Über das Stück

VARIETIES ist eine Momentaufnahme des Vorgangs der Ausbreitung, Vervielfältigung, Auffächerung von einem Punkt/einer Klangquelle aus. Die Komposition besteht aus einer Partitur für 2 SolistInnen, ein Mezzo und ein Bariton, und weiters eine Aufführungsanweisung für großen gemischten Chor mit zwei StimmführerInnen. Das Werkentsteht erst während der Aufführung zur Gänze, durch die mitwirkenden ChorsängerInnen. Die Chorklänge werden von den SängerInnen aus den zwei Solostimmen nach einem vorgegeben Verbreitungskonzept generiert.

Instruktionen für den Chor
Der Chor singt nach Gehör; es gibt keine Chorleitung! Wohl aber sollte das Stück einstudiert und geübt werden. Die Aufstellung ist von großer Wichtigkeit und wird von der Komponistin je nach Raum geplant. Die Solistin und der Solist sollen möglichst weit vom Chor entfernt stehen, idealerweise nicht im Sichtfeld der Chorsänger.

Durch die große Entfernung der SolistInnen und der ChorsängerInnen ergibt sich ein freier Raum als definierter Bewegungsraum für das Publikum. Die ZuhörerInnen bewegen sich hier ungezwungen, nach Belieben stehend oder gehend. Je nach Position ergibt sich ein völlig anderes Klangbild. Die Zuhörenden sind aktiv am Klanggeschehen beteiligt, indem sie ihre persönliche Klangmischung des Stückes herstellen: ein individueller Ambient (lat. ambire = spazieren) entsteht.

Für den Chor ist eine Mindestanzahl von ca. 12 Personen pro Stimme erforderlich, damit sich Klangflächen entfalten können. Ideal ist eine Größe von 30-40 Personen pro Stimme, und eine möglichst ausgewogene Zahl von Männern und Frauen.

Die Aufnahmen stammen von der Uraufführung im MAK; Fotos von Gabriela Koch und Armin Bardel.

Ein Remix entstand live aus Liveaufnahmen der Solostimmen, noch am Abend der UA, im MAK mit Electric Indigo.

Fotos by Armin Bardel