Carola Bauckholt concocts music from sludge flakes and animal sounds

Carola Bauckholt (c) Regine Körner

On May 18 NTRZaterdagMatinee presents an adventurous programme. The German Ensemble Musikfabrik will perform two world premières and a Dutch première by five composers of the same generation, four of whom are women. I earlier wrote about the pieces of Unsuk Chin, Rebecca Saunders and Sander Germanus, today I’m zooming in on Carola Bauckholt, whose Schlammflocke (Sludge Flakes) will be performed in the Netherlands for the first time.

Born in Krefeld in 1959, Carola Bauckholt is one of the most original voices in German musical life. She studied with Mauricio Kagel at the Conservatory of Cologne and was  associated with the avant-garde Theatre am Marienplatz in her native city of Krefeld for many years. In this venue a lot of hers and Kagel’s pieces had their first run.

Bauckholt likes to draw on ‘unmusical’ sources. The rattling of a rusty sign, the terrifying howling of wolves, the squeaking of a door, or the stuttering of a faltering petrol engine, however farfetched a source may seem, Bauckholt hears music in it. She develops the most inventive playing techniques and combines a pleasant kind of alienation with a refreshing sense of humour.


In an interview she told me: ‘My motive is curiosity. When I know where something is going, I feel superfluous, even as a listener. I find it fascinating how elusive music is: people hear the same notes and textures, but have totally different thoughts and associations. I try to understand this over and over again, that’s why I experiment with sounds and connections that I’ve never heard before.’

During the concert on 18 May Bauckholt will make her debut in NTRZaterdagMatinee with Schlammflocke, which she composed in 2010 for the Cologne based Ensemble Musikfabrik. The piece for 16 musicians is inspired by the operation of water purification installations, in which so-called sludge flakes play an important role. These are microorganisms of dead and living material that are used for the biological degradation process of sewage.

Just as the sludge flakes purify our wastewater, Bauckholt wants to ‘clean’ our aural perception. For this purpose she uses a wide range of resources. The musicians not only play their own instruments but also produce all kinds of animal sounds. Bauckholt uses nose whistles, puts a saxophone mouthpiece on the tuba, and has the upper octave of the piano strings taped with adhesive paste.

Virtual zoo

The sounds she conjures up in this way are derived from CD recordings of birds, frogs, foxes, sea lions and chimpanzees, which she has translated to the instruments as faithfully as possible. Pitch, rhythm, timbre and dynamics are accurately noted, but the performer is expected to interpret them as he/she sees fit. The result is a soundworld that is as exciting as it is mysterious, and that stimulates both our ears and minds in a playful way.

In Schlammflocke Bauckholt masterfully blends technique and nature. Against a tranquil background we hear the squeaking of what sounds like a metal blade yearning for a drop of oil moving slowly through the water. The ubiquitous animal callings and bird twittering create the feeling that one finds oneself in a virtual kind of zoo.

At the same time, Bauckholt creates a striking image of the surroundings of a water purification plant. After all, such constructions are often found in solitary places in nature. After its première one critic wrote: ‘Sometimes these places even seem to concretize geographically, when the music evokes the biting cold and rigid ice formations of the polar regions.’

18 May 2.15 pm Concertgebouw Amsterdam: Musikfabrik, info and ticketsThe concert forms part of the radio series NTRZaterdagMatinee and is broadcast live on Radio4.

About theaderks

Thea Derks is a Dutch music journalist, who studied musicology at Amsterdam University. She' specialized in contemporary music and always has an eye open for women composers. In 2014 she wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw and in 2018 she published 'Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht'.
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1 Response to Carola Bauckholt concocts music from sludge flakes and animal sounds

  1. ebouws says:

    Misschien goed om te vermelden, dat Bauckholt ook wordt uitgevoerd door het Nieuw Ensemble op 9 mei aanstaande in het Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ.


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