natascha nikeprelevic

Festival Transverbal

A gong resounds on the groundfloor of a spa. Through the mezzanine situated at the spa’s glass façade, its sound waves travel to the basement, where a voice answers the gong. A multi-level dialogue begins, in more than one sense of the word. Instruments and voices, audience and performers mingle in a unique sound-space-event that tests the limits of music, mind & body.

Festival Transverbal is dedicated to the memory and legacy of the German multi-medial artist Michael Vetter, who passed away, aged 70, on December 7, 2013. It bridges an ongoing search for sound’s soothing inner secrets with its more expressive post-modern/avant-garde forms.

Expect voices, singing bowls, sheng (mouth organ), a gong, performers moving through the space, an immersive 60-minute sonic surrounding. Talk to or play with the musicians afterwards!

Through this Festival we keep alive the spirit and works of Michael Vetter, who inspired many musicians, artists, and other individuals along his extremely versatile and moving career in Europe and Asia. Michael Vetter had an incredible output of art works (starting at age 5); compositions, LPs/CDs; tours and performances; and educational methods for (experimental) flute, voice and instruments, among many other things. His musical career spanned the period from his late school years (early 1960s) until the months before his death (september 2013), when he worked on pieces by Karlheinz Stockhausen that many musicians have played and performed piecemeal, while none really gave them a try in their entirety. Thus, shortly after his death, Natascha Nikeprelevic, Vetter’s foremost successor, and Stockhausen Verlag worked on the publication of Expo, one of Stockhausen’s scores with pluses and minuses (+ -) as guiding points. Vetter recorded it with Nikeprelevic and FX Randomiz 8 weeks before he passed away. (The CD appeared in May of this year, listen here).

Expo cover

Michael Vetter’s visit to Taiwan, together with Natascha Nikprelevic, left a great impression on those who had the chance to see/hear them or work with them, during their residency at the Taipei National University of Arts, where Chung Minder from the Theatre Department invited them.

Michael Vetter always straddled the paths outside clear-cut styles, usually combining elements from here and there, and most of all relying on his own experimental genius to create fresh insights and sounds at every moment. His long-time affiliation with zen in Japan and outspoken zen themes in the 1980s aliened him from some of his former avant-garde colleagues, who shied away from (or were not interested in) anything to do with Eastern “spirituality”. However, looking back on his life in its entirety, it is clear that Vetter was dedicated to creative imagination and disciplined, daily musical and artistic rituals, above anything else. For Vetter, the world itself was constantly exploding with creation, unfolding, coming-into-existence, into a myriad forms, colours, sounds. He observed this world with intelligence, humor, commitment and compassion. His love and dedication to the arts and existence (‘Dasein’) as a whole was the starting point for his creative response to them. Or rather, it seemed he was able to let creative forces take their course through him, as a critical, subtle moderator.

Michael Vetter making Indian ink drawings, Academia Caparaia, Italy, 2009

Michael Vetter making Indian ink drawings, Academia Caparaia, Italy, 2009

It is in this spirit of capturing the uniqueness of every meeting (between performers, with a certain space and with a certain audience, at a given time) that we want to inaugurate a Festival which we hope to repeat in following years.

We prepared this Transverbal Festival in collaboration with Canjune Spa and Nicole’s Creative agency. It will be held on Sunday, November 16 at Canjune Spa. There are two identical concerts, you can join us either in the afternoon (3 PM) or in the evening (7 PM). The participants are Hans de Back, Lu Chi-Chung and Lee Wei-Lin, Li Li-Chin and Mark van Tongeren, and probably a few more musical assistants.

For more information and tickets, please follow this link to accupass.

Limited number of tickets!

Please also note that there will be a limited number of seats in the space, and limited storage space for your bags. Do not bring your own food/drinks.

We believe this concert will be less suitable for young children.

Five reasons for remembering Michael Vetter


All photos in this post from

Today, December 7, 2014, it is one year ago since the German artist Michael Vetter passed away, shortly after turning 70. Several musical events commemorate the passing away of this visionary artist, who is best known as an overtone singer. Three weeks ago we had a Festival Transverbal here in Taipei, the German radio repeated DuO, a fantastic radio play by Michael Vetter and Natascha Nikeprelevic from 1997, and there will be a reprise of his Missa di Natale (1998) by his former students of the Diaphonisches Vokalensemble in Cologne (see links at end of the posting). But Michael Vetter did much more than making music, and here I will put his creative life and his critical mind in a wider perspective than is usually done.


painting ‘Altar’, 1960s

1. An outstanding and extremely productive visual artist
After spending many years of his youth already drawing and painting seriously, Vetter developed an extraordinary visual language of his own during the 1960s and 1970s, He used a wide range of techniques, from China ink drawings, paintings, watercolours and linocuts to ‘writing pieces’, perhaps his most far-fetching concept. Just like in music, Vetter was completely self-taught as a visual artist. Though he did of course absorb current techniques and styles, he drew much inspiration from Mediaeval techniques – a quite unfashionable source for artists in that period. His passion for great masters of the past was such, that as a teenager he already began collecting original Mediaeval volumes, which he apparently used as source material for his own techniques (he also kept hundreds of art books at home in recent years). If you ever heard Vetter talk about art – or read about his work in his own words – you know that his work was fully developed on a conceptual level: he was acutely aware of the peculiarities of all the major periods and styles in Western art of the second millennium, even of many artists and their development.


From ‘Buch der Zeichen’

2. Laying the basis of Western/contemporary overtone singing
Of course, overtone singing would not look the same if Vetter had not helped to define its modern, Western style. He educated dozens of students that became singers in their own right (some of them well-known), and inspired many more – in fact he blew away many listeners, who had never heard such things before, including myself. Again, Vetter did not just perform a trick, or ‘just make sounds’, like many overtone singers are tempted to do. His melodic-harmonic approach to overtones betrays deeper connections, like with his great example Johann-Sebastian Bach. Few overtone singers are able to achieve such clarity of tone and such variety in the development of their compositions / improvisations as Vetter did. Besides setting an example with his NG-RR techniques (for singing lower and higher overtones, respectively), he produced extensive learning materials for his students and developed at least one unique way of singing overtones I never heard anyone do.


Playing ‘Steinspiel’ in Vetter’s Academia Capraia, Italy

3. Beyond zen
Zen is too fashionable these days. You encounter the most obtuse uses of the word ‘zen’ in attempts to brand something as ‘spiritual’, ‘Asian’ and ‘cool’. Fortunately many people have also had genuine, first-hand zen experiences, among whom many artists. I think overall the transference of zen ideas to the West has led to some great artistic innovations. John Cage’s classes with the zen teacher Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki at Columbia University in the 1940s had far-reaching effects in every imaginable artistic discipline, well beyond the confines of his work as a composer. But Cage never sat cross-legged nor did he learn to meditate. Philip Glass, another big-name twentieth century composer who professed being influenced by Buddhism, did not have the kind of in-depth experiences that traditional students of Buddhism have. Vetter is one of few composers/musicians/artists who did go through the process more thoroughly. He observed daily morning meditations at his master’s shrine when he visited him, several months a year, while dedicating most his time to his own artistic work. He also spend several months a year at a monastery, where he took part in all the rituals, chanting, dressing up, begging for alms, et cetera.

For that reason, and for his superb grasp of art and aesthetics as a whole, I have high regard for the way he appropriated zen performing/visual art for his own artistic means. One of his best ideas is to transform the zen garden into a play, a dynamic process of moving and placing stones and other objects in an open-air surface. Another is his transformation of the okyo, the zen sutra’s. I will not go into those transformations here. Suffice it to say that the changes he made to these two zen traditions were well-informed, and in a way so much in tune with zen thought and practice, that they appear to be a logical step beyond traditional zen (as far as the overtone singing goes, monks disapproved when Vetter would slightly change the sound of his own okyos to amply certain harmonics).


From ‘Buch der Zeichen’

4. ‘The book of signs’: a 40+-year disciplined effort
Since 1972 or 1973 until his death, Vetter spent some time almost every day to work on a Magnus Opus of unusual breath: ‘Das Buch der Zeichen’ / ‘The Book of Signs’ (and that’s more than 40 years). In quick, improvised strokes, he would produce about 15-150 small China ink drawings. At the times I spend with him, he would do this after lunch. He carefully observed how the ink would flow, but as he continued to pull his brush across the paper, the ink would usually continue to flow. This would leave the final result undetermined by the time of his painting. He would continue to produce one drawing after another, mostly abstract, and pile them up while still wet. Then after 30 minutes or so, he would go through all the drawings one by one, carefully observing how the ink had settled. Like in some of his other work, it was his way of letting movement express itself, as it were, flowing through his hands not according to predetermined designs, but as an inevitable result of time unfolding. Each drawing is like a testimony of the flow of time expressed through spontaneous hand movements. I do it myself from time to time, like here, for example, as an ode to Michael. But I realised a few years ago, that if there is one thing I would wish I had (or could develop still), it was Michael’s discipline.


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5. humour
O yes, you could have great laughs with Michael. He was full of wit, full of stories of his own adventures, of poems he could recite by heart (and certainly not the romantic ones, but absurd and perplexing ones). He had this mix of seriousness with lightness, bringing everything in balance again after the mind-boggling, or physically-straining or emotionally-charged practicing was done. In his work there were always these unexpected twists, which sometimes turned out very funny. He once told me a story of an invitation to an annual congress of recorder players. Vetter first made his name as an avant-garde recorder player, who completely redefined the instrument in the 1960s. Some of the greatest composers of our time wrote new pieces for him in the 1960s. But when Vetter was heralded as the former avant-garde innovator at the European Recorder Festival in 2006, he noticed that all the vigor had gone. The new generation of students played the radical works of the 1960s almost like classical pieces. What had been thrilling and upsetting 40 years earlier, now sounded tame. Vetter himself played one of J.S. Bach’s violin sonata’s on his recorder at the festival, but not without making the necessary adjustments in timing and phrasing, due to the transference of the piece from violin to recorded. This shocked many a conservative lover of Bach music, so much so, that just like in the 1960s, people left the concert hall, some of them protesting loudly. He recalled this episode with much enjoyment, and though it is not a typical example of Vetter’s humor as such, I treasure those moments when he would tell of all the strange and funny moments in his carreer – or simply tell a joke.

Find the links to the events here:
listen here to the radio-play DuO (click on the photo; introduction in German)

Concert in Cologne

Natascha Nikeprelevic also updated Vetter’s biography on her own website and posted some in memoriams.

Photos from Festival Transverbal on my Facebook page.

DVD of Natascha Nikeprelevic Presented in Taipei

Yesterday I went to the Taipei National University of Arts (TNUA) in Beitou for the presentation of the DVD The Dao of Overtone Singing. The DVD contains the teachings of German performer-vocalist Natascha Nikeprelevic earlier in 2009 in Taipei. The second part is a registration of the live performance of All-Ein, her major solo piece, also made at the TNUA.

It is high time that a female performer gets a platform to show what is possible for women in overtone singing, since in my experience there are always so many women at workshops! Natascha is probably the person best suited for the job: her method and explanations, taken from Michael Vetter’s groundbreaking work as a performer and teacher during the last 30 years, are lucid and effective.

The DVD gives a concise version of several days of workshops by Natascha, highlighting the most important instructions. She explains them clearly in English, and there are Chinese subtitles.

The producer of the DVD is professor Chung Mingder, dean of the Theatre Faculty, who has been promoting overtone singing starting with my first live performance in Taipei. He somehow remembered that that was exactly six years ago yesterday! Time really does fly…

Professor Chung kindly invited me as a VIP and asked me to give my comments after we watched the first public showing of the film. I gave a wider context for this kind of medium (DVD) on the subject and also for the place of overtone singing in the oeuvres of Nikeprelevic and Vetter, who have much more to offer artistically.

After that I gave a workshop, starting from Vetter’s materials used by Nikeprelevic. There were people part of the regular group of practitioners and a few that were new to overtone singing. It is always interesting to hear the latter comment on their first experiences of these sounds. One of them compared the sounds to a typhoon: they were twirling and whirling inside her body and around her.

The DVD itself is a non-commercial enterprise primarily meant as a documentation of an ‘excellence in teaching’ program of Taiwan’s  Ministry of Education. It captures the teachings plainly, without additional takes, without special lighting or audio recordings. It will mainly be used internally, as instruction material for students to learn about making and perceiving harmonics, aspects of performance, language, etcetera.

My first impression is that the DVD does an excellent job in what it is meant to be. It gives justice to the unique approach of Vetter and Nikeprelevic and shows how people are taught. At the beginning a quote from Vetter tells that The Dao of Overtone Singing means that you have to let the sounds teach you: you do not need a guru.

Despite the fact that the DVD is not commercially available, we are curious to know if you have interest in it. You can let me know through email (info at fusica dot nl) and I’ll pass on the message.