History of the Ensemble
extended voice

The Maulwerker [Mouth/Maw Workers] ensemble was founded in Berlin late in 1977. The previous year, Dieter Schnebel had been appointed to a professorship at the Hochschule der Künste (HdK, today UdK, University of the Arts). There he found an artistic ally in the painter, stage designer and director Achim Freyer, professor of stage design. At the newly established HdK, an alliance of several different arts colleges, the two professors ventured into interdisciplinarity, which was being propagated at the time. Schnebel and his students in classes for experimental music and experimental music theater worked out a new version of Maulwerke [Mouthworks] (a symphonic version had been presented three years earlier in Donaueschingen) and Achim Freyer designed the piece’s first staged version. The performers – Martin Bachmann, Helmut Danninger, Thomas Dreißigacker, Anna Christine von Gablenz, Peter Hebeisen, Christian Koch, Eva Loschky, Claudia Meili, Katarina Rasinski (as of 1978), Anette Schulz, Brigitte Stockmann and Peter Treu – called themselves “Die Maulwerker”. In subsequent years there were acclaimed performances throughout Europe. The staged version was awarded the Karl Hofer Prize in 1979.

In 1980, the Schnebel/Freyer team originated a second production: Körper-Sprache [Body Language], Schnebel’s “organ composition” – silent music solely for body movements (premiere in Metz, performances all around Europe and in Tokyo and Seoul). The performers were HdK students and instructors: Horst Birr, Helmut Danninger, Thomas Dreißigacker, Beate Jorek, Katarina Rasinski, Gabi Sailer, Satjam and Martin Schmitz.


Composers, vocalists, performers and actors from the free scene in West Berlin were frequent “auditors” in Schnebel’s classes; Michael Hirsch, for instance, was never a regular student at the HdK. Schnebel and Hirsch already knew each other from Munich where, as a 16-year-old, Michael participated in Schnebel’s AG Neue Musik, a working group for new music.

Around 1985, a new phase emerged – Schnebel developed a concertante trio version of Maulwerke with Imke Buchholz, Michael Hirsch and Jürgen Marquardt, who also performed a trio version of Körper-Sprache. For the premiere of Schnebel’s cycle Laut-Gesten-Laute [Sound–Gestures–Sounds] the Swiss singer Beatrice Mathez-Wüthrich joined them. Invitations to Hamburg, Zagreb, Belgrade, Thessaloniki, Athens, and Madrid ensued.

Fluxus 1989: Christian Kesten, Henrik Kairies, Dieter Schnebel perform Patterson, Chiari, Riley

Between 1988 and 1993 the Maulwerker coalesced into a troupe of nine ensemble members. During this period a core group with Anna Clementi, Christian Kesten and Gisburg Smialek toured the world with Schnebel’s trio version of Maulwerke, solos and duos from Laut-Gesten-Laute and – expanded into a quartet with Michael Hirsch – Zeichen-Sprache [Sign Language], received international acclaim (Festival East-West Horizons II in Tokyo 1988, Hebbel-Theater Berlin 1989, Experimental Intermedia New York 1992, Room Dances Festival Jerusalem/Tel Aviv 1992, Bordeaux and Paris 1993, and many other venues). The large ensemble with Anna Clementi, Michael Hirsch, Ariane Jessulat, Henrik Kairies, Christian Kesten, Katarina Rasinski, Barbara Thun, Tilmann Walzer and Steffi Weismann was involved in Schnebel’s development of the cycles Museumsstücke [Museum Pieces] (1993) and Schau-Stücke [Showpieces] (1995/99), as well as with MoMA (1995) and NN (2001).

Ensemble 1995: Kairies, Walzer, Hirsch, Clementi, Kesten, Weismann, Thun, Jessulat, Rasinski


At the same time, in 1995 the Maulwerker also began to work independently, separating from the HdK and gradually, too, from being directed by Schnebel. Their first autonomous and collectively developed scenic work Maulwerke Version 1995 (for six to nine voices; staging and costumes: Jürgen Westhoff), was followed that same year by the collective composition schramme am himmel [scratch on the sky] for five voices, based on sound poems by Velimir Khlebnikov, which was expanded to seven voices in 1997 and realized in a radiophonic version for RADIOkultur in 2003.

These years marked the creation of evening-length spatial compositions such as parochial by Christian Kesten (1998), music theater projects such as dklm 5+1 (2000) by Barbara Thun, and collective compositions such as Sextett (1998) and Eintausend Engel über All [A Thousand Angels Above All] (NDR 1999).

Based on the concept of Schnebel’s Glossolalie (1959), the Maulwerker developed an ensemble composition, which was performed in a scenic version directed by Anna Clementi (staging and costumes: Dorothee Scheiffarth) as glossolalie 2000 at the Berlin Academy of the Arts and, invited to Munich for the festival KLANG-AKTIONEN [Sound-Actions] in 2001, as glossolalie 2001.

After many years studying and practicing the technique of overtone singing, the Maulwerker presented their version of Stockhausen’s Stimmung, based on the partly indeterminate original version, in 2001.

The Maulwerker met the Fluxus artist Emmett Williams during a joint Fluxus concert in the Hamburger Bahnhof museum in 1999, resulting in the development of both a friendship and a collaboration. Fluxus concerts followed in renowned museums such as the Fridericianum Kassel, Reina Sofía Madrid, Museo Vostell Malpartida, MUMOK Wien, Weserburg Museum für Moderne Kunst, Museum Morsbroich Leverkusen, and at the Fluxus Biennial in Rome.

Additional concert tours traveled to Luxemburg, Geneva, Moscow, Glasgow, Bratislava, Sofia, Skopje, Brno, as well as to many German cities, to festivals such as the Donaueschinger Musiktage, the Rheingau Musik Festival and the MusikTriennale Cologne. There were collaborations with the ensembles KNM, Ensemble Modern, ensemble mosaik (Franco Evangelisti: Die Schachtel) and with composers such as Vinko Globokar (Musik-Biennale Berlin) and Nicola Sani (Deutschlandradio).

At the invitation of the music theater dramaturge Roland Quitt, the Maulwerker realized a complete version of John Cage’s Song Books at the Bielefeld Theater in 2001. This picked up a strand of activity that had already been one of the central aspects of Schnebel’s work at the HdK: Cage’s Song Books had been part of the Maulwerker’s regular touring program since the 1980s, with legendary performances at the Festival USArts in Berlin in 1993 and, in combination with Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra, as Concert for Voices and Piano [and Instruments] in Berlin (1995), Glasgow (1996) and Bratislava (1997). This strand was touched on once again in a joint Song Books performance with Joan LaBarbara and her ensemble ne(x)tworks during Berlin’s MaerzMusik in 2012.


The years 2001-2005 were years of reorientation leading to the consolidation of the group in its current configuration. Individual members of the ensemble began to focus more intensively on their own compositional work. In 2002 the Maulwerker gave a concert consisting exclusively of compositions by Michael Hirsch. In 2002/2003 they created the ensemble composition Voyage puré. In addition, the group continued to cultivate a lively exchange with composers of their own generation – Antonia Baehr, Alessandro Bosetti, Sabine Ercklentz, Jürg Frey, David Helbich, Georg Klein, Antje Vowinckel and many others. Andrea Neumann’s music theater work auch nicht eigentlich wirklich oder vielleicht sogar gar nicht [also not really actually, or maybe even not at all] for seven suspended persons is presented at the Theater am Halleschen Ufer in 2001; Makiko Nishikaze’s M.M. at the festival MaerzMusik Berlin in 2006.

There were also concert tours to Madrid, Rome, Klagenfurt, Basel, Lucerne, to the Swiss festivals “Moments Musicaux” in Aarau and “Les Amplitudes” in La Chaux-de-Fonds, to MUMOK Vienna, to ZKM Karlsruhe and to many other German cities. In 2004, the Maulwerker realized Rolf Julius’s Songbook 1-6 at the sound art festival “RaumKlang–KlangRaum” in Cologne. There were further collaborations with Ensemble KNM and Ensemble Modern, radio productions with Frank Corcoran (Deutschlandradio) and Beate Andres (SWR), and music theater by Cong Su and Chen Shi-zheng.

Ensemble 2010: Rasinski, Hirsch, Weismann, Jessulat, Kairies, Kesten

Starting in 2005, Christian Kesten conceived the thematic concert series maulwerker performing music in which numerous premieres focus on conceptually exploring one aspect of music’s performativity, respectively treating the central themes of the Maulwerker oeuvre. These include body compositions – poeme für füße [poems for feet]; language compositions – translationen [translations]; shouting compositions – Halt’s Maul [Shut Up!]; formal compositions – XXXOOOXXX (numbers & circles); process pieces – pro cedere; conceptual, situational pieces that extend the forms and frameworks of the classical concert – Situationen [Situations]; and pieces in which the voices interact with loudspeakers, using live processing and/or tapes – Speakers. Steffi Weismann designed the evenings’ spatial, visual and technical realization.

The interpretation of Fluxus scores continued to be an important field of activity for the Maulwerker. After concerts with Emmett Williams until his death in 2007, there was a collaboration with Alison Knowles (BONE Festival Bern) in 2008.

The Maulwerker’s friendly connection with Dieter Schnebel has remained constant over the years and has occasionally been intensified through collaboration on new compositions. Schnebel wrote chamber music pieces expressly for the voices and bodies of individual members of the ensemble: Drei Kafka-Dramolette [Three Kafka Playlets] (2008, Christian Kesten and Katarina Rasinski), Stumme Schreie [Silent Screams] (2008, Katarina Rasinski) and Liebe-Leid [Love-Grief] (2013-2015, Ariane Jessulat).

The Ensemble reached new heights with the performance of Schnebel’s
Glossolalie 61 at the festival Ultraschall 2010 in Radialsystem V Berlin and with the new version of Maulwerke (2010), which was released in Susanne Elgeti’s filmed version on DVD (Wergo).


After having been shaped in its initial years by Cage, Schnebel and Fluxus, the Maulwerker’s work has decisively differentiated itself. Out of an integrative musical impulse, the ensemble elaborates works in apparently divergent fields such as language and body compositions, vocal music with extended techniques, and forms of composed theater: language changes into singing, movements and silences are sung with the body, sound becomes physical music – whereby the scope of artistic activity lies in the interplay among the areas, in continually opening up new aspects of what music can (and must) be. This kind of entropic or decentralized development on the most disparate musical and theatrical levels is what characterizes the modus operandi and self-understanding of the composer-performers as a group whose creative structures and tasks coalesce in new constellations according to the musical situation.

Crossing the Punchline 2012: Kesten, Jessulat, Weismann, Kairies

In 2012, at the invitation of DE PLAYER, the Maulwerker generated the new ensemble composition Crossing the Punchline at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art as part of Operadagen Rotterdam. While that evening-length premiere still featured the re-composition of existing solo compositions and layering with new material, at the pyramidale festival in Berlin the following year a 15-minute-long condensed version was shown: Tischgesellschaft [At Table/Dinner Party] featured compositions staged around a table, with premieres by Alexandra Filonenko, Henrik Kairies and Christopher Williams.

Also in 2013, Makiko Nishikaze created ppt, which connects extended vocal techniques with performative actions, as a spatial composition for the Elisabeth Church in Berlin.

Within the sphere of Fluxus, there were joint concerts in 2012 and 2014 with Benjamin Patterson (ZKM Karlsruhe and AckerStadtPalast Berlin). The BONE Festival also invited the Maulwerker to Bern to realize Fluxus performances in 2014.

Concert tours took the Maulwerker to Magdeburg and Mexico (2015) and to Graz and Bolivia (2016), the latter made possible by the Goethe Institute. Radio productions were recorded at SWR and HR with Iris Drögekamp (2013 and 2014) and Alessandro Bosetti (2015).

The premieres of Alessandro Bosetti’s Trinitaire (2015) and Sam Ashley’s Love Among The Immortals (2016) – each very different in its individual signature – lie on the continuum between language and vocal compositions, between speech and singing. Ashley’s piece – like Schnebel’s Glossolalie 61 and Liebe-Leid, Cage’s Concert for Piano and Voices, to name a few – also integrates the pianistic qualities of the Maulwerker (Ariane Jessulat and Henrik Kairies).

As part of the Kontraklang series in Heimathafen Berlin-Neukölln, the Maulwerker realized the program Auditive Poesie in 2016 together with Gerhard Rühm. In addition to Rühm’s language compositions, primarily from the 1960s, and the revival of Sven-Åke Johansson’s Stereo für 8, there were premieres of Christian Kesten’s mini-opera die schwester [the sister], based on a theater text by Rühm, Steffi Weismann’s performative spatial composition folie [foil/folly], and Antje Vowinckel’s composition the humming backstage, which translates speech into song. The evening was recorded and broadcast by Deutschlandradio.

The ensemble also devoted itself to the theme of “Music and Language” with the music theater work durst&frucht [thirst&fruit] by Annette Schmucki (Musikfestival Bern and Gare du Nord Basel, 2017, Lucerne 2018).

The Music of Gestures” evening, presented as part of a conference at Humboldt University Berlin in 2016, were devoted to the field of “Music and Body” as performative and visual music, usually featuring the interplay of voice and action. Two evenings during “Música Visible” in Bolivia were similarly programmed. The evening Augenlieder. Körperkompositionen [Eyelids/Eye Lieder/Songs for the Eye. Body Compositions] in Ballhaus Ost Berlin in 2017, which conceptually linked premieres by Fernanda Farah, Neele-Neo Hülcker, Christian Kesten and Andrea Neumann with revivals of works by Dieter Schnebel and Steffi Weismann, was likewise devoted to this theme. During the compositions by Neumann, Kesten and Schnebel, gestures in counterpoint with vocal sounds were the compositional material; the performative compositions of Farah, Hülcker and Weismann worked with extra-musical meta-levels. The evening was realized as a collectively composed composition in six movements.


After almost three decades of collaboration and friendship, the sudden death of Michael Hirsch in February 2017 descended abruptly upon the ensemble. Michael Hirsch’s evening-length music theater composition Sisyphos (Der Schlaf II) [Sisyphus (Sleep II)] for the Maulwerker and eight-channel tape will now remain unfinished. The memorial concert in July 2017, in the Tischlerei of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, to which the Maulwerker contributed Hirsch’s Kopfecke/Wunderhöhle [Corner of the Mind/Wonder Cave] (1996) and Zu 14 Händen [For 14 Hands] (1995), showed just how contemporary his multifaceted oeuvre is. [to obituary (in German)]

An integral part of the Maulwerker’s history and long years of existence is the organizational work and support that goes on behind the scenes. Responsible for directing the administration and production were Susanne Elgeti (1996-2001), Björn Kühnicke (2002), Sabine Spillecke (2003-2006) and Julia Gerlach (2007-2010); Vilém Wagner has been responsible for these areas since 2010. The work of the Maulwerker has been supported in 2011 and 2013 and continually since 2016 by the Berlin Senate.

Fountain 2017: Neo Hülcker, Fernanda Farah, Derek Shirley, Ariane, Jessulat, Henrik Kairies, Katarina Rasinski, Tilmann Walzer, Christian Kesten, Andrea Neumann, Vilém Wagner, Steffi Weismann