Story

Incense of Music is an olfactory concert series developed in 2015 where we burn exquisite incense simultaneously with the music. Sounds and smells penetrate synaesthetically and interact in a way that enhances the sensual focus of the listeners and musicians and supports the common spiritual awareness. For at the moment of its extinction the plant passes on something to us. Her essence is brought into the somato-spiritual being of man like played over into a different field. Invisible like the sounds, the fragrance molecules pour in on us. They share with us by changing our minds. Perceptual identity and cultural background of the fragrances correspond to the provenances of our musicians as well as to the history of their instruments and sounds. Intuitionally there develops polyphonic interaction among plants, music and fragrance, in between mind and space.

2015

Incense of Music Nr. 2/ Hilaneh

The second concert in the series happened on 4th July of 2015 at Circle 1, platform for art and culture in Berlin Kreuzberg with the Syrian Oud player Nabil Hilaneh who presented a solo program.

That evening we burnt Sandarac from Morocco, a delicate yellow resin obtained from the small cypress-like tree Tetraclinis articulata. This plant is native to the northwest of Africa with a notable presence in the Southern Morocco, part of the Atlas mountains. Sandarac has a fresh, warm, light, resinous, balsamic, slightly fruity, frankincense-like aroma, a little bit like the sound of the oud.

In the second set we used Cedrus Deodara from Nepal, a species of cedar native to the western Himalayas in eastern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan and northern India, Tibet and western Nepal, occurring at 1,500–3,200 m altitude. This evergreen coniferous tree can reach up to 40–50 m. It’s botanical name, which is also the English common name, derives from the Sanskrit term devadāru, which means “wood of the gods”. The visual artists exhibiting in the gallery were Ofir Dor and Michelle Jezierski.

Incense of Music Nr. 3/ Flores, Marin

After European and Arabic classical music, for the third concert at Circle 1 in Kreuzberg we decided to switch to electronics, inviting the two Spanish artists Daniel Flores and Mateo Marin, who on 15th September 2015 presented two of their projects, Max de Winter and Iamblichi, melting them into one. The trance space feeling was increased by two wonderful scents: first we burnt the leaves of an Italian Laurel nobilis, an aromatic evergreen native to the Mediterranean region and well known in many culinary traditions. In ancient Greece (Daphne is the Greek name for the tree) and Roman culture it was a symbol of victory and highest status, in the Bible laurel is often an emblem of prosperity and fame, in Christian tradition, it symbolizes the resurrection of Christ.

The second set was dedicated to one of the greatest and precious woods in the world of incense burning: oud, also known as agarwood, aloewood or jinko, a resin that forms in Aquilaria trees, large evergreens native to southeast Asia when they become infected with a type of mould. The tree produces a dark aromatic resin in response to the attack, which results in a very dense, dark resin embedded in the heartwood. First-grade oud is one of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world. The visual artists exhibiting in the gallery were Aharon Ozery, Roland Stratmann and Christine de la Garenne.

Incense of Music Nr. 4/ Chisholm, Filippou

On 15th October 2015 we had the pleasure to present Hayden Chisholm, saxophone player from New Zealand and musical head of the evening. The concert took again place in Circle 1 – platform for art and culture, in Berlin Kreuzberg, in the context of the same exhibition as in the concert before, and had a remarkable success in terms of audience. In the first set Hayden played pieces from his project The Well Tempered Sruti Box, we contributed with Dammar, a resin obtained from the Dipterocarpaceae family in India and East Asia. A warm and shiny fragrance, always producing a good mood.

In the second set I had my first artistic cooperation with the Greek percussionist Evi Filippou . And thanks Zeus it was just the beginning. For this special occasion, inspired and supported by Hayden Chisholm, a couple of months earlier little cypress branches were stolen from the ground field of the Temple of Delphi, Phocis, Greece, 38°28′56″N 22°30′05″E, and brought to Germany in order to be burnt for the exhalation of their precious essences. Who was present at the concert, experienced the call from Greece, the great philosophers, the ancient disputes, the secular wisdom, pure nature. In classical antiquity Cypress was the symbol of the underworld.

Incense of Music Nr. 5/ Anitra Trio

In Incense of Music we always wanted to avoid the dangers of esotericism and the shadows of spirituality. Just listening to good music, burning some plants, trusting to nature: e.g. lavender from Cremeno, Italy, for the first set of Incense of Music Nr. 5 at Circle 1 (always thanks to Aharon Ozery) in Berlin on November 14th, 2015 Just to start in a relaxed mode, because lavender is better than Valium.

The music was offered by Anitra Trio, a German-Swiss-Norwegian combo, Moritz Köther on saxophone, Anatole Buccella on fender bass VI, Felix Tvedegaard Heim on drums, which took the vibes and surfed the wave producing a kind and soft set. The exhibition in the gallery presented works by the visual artists Yinon Avior, Alexandra Baumgartner, benandsebastian, Matti Isan Blind, Noa Gur, Ella Littwitz, Ronit Porat, J&K / Janne Schäfer and Kristine Agergaard, Johannes Vogl and Ulrich Vogl resulting to be the scenery for the last three concerts at Circle 1.

The second essence of the evening was frankincense (Boswellia sacra), known from the Old Trades, Ancient Egypt, the Bible, the church and a couple of boring services. The plant itself grows in Oman, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and probably Saudi Arabia in poor water conditions and desert landscapes. It is a lonely tree, and at a certain point; it is full of a wonderful and finest resin. Boswellia rivae is a strain from Ethiopia, we imported it directly from Addis Ababa. That evening it smelled a little bit like vanilla.

Incense of Music Nr. 6/ Aletchko Duo

Incense of Music Nr. 6 atCircle 1 in Berlin Kreuzberg on December 4th, 2015 presented the Russian Chilean Duo Aletchko with Alexey Kochetkov on violin and Christian Varas on guitar. In the first set we burnt Copal. The Mayas called this resin pom, the brain of the heaven. In the second set labdanum came into play. This semisolid resin, obtained from the shrubs of Cistus ladanifer (western Mediterranean) or from Cistus creticus (eastern Mediterranean) was collected since antiquity by combing the beards and thighs of goats and sheep that had grazed on the cistus shrubs. The Book of Genesis contains two mentions of labdanum being carried to Egypt from Palestine. In the video Kochetchkov and Varas are presenting an own version of Misirlou,  a folk song about an Egyptian woman that became popular in the 1920s thanks to Arabic, Greek and Jewish musicians.

Incense of Music Nr. 7/ Shilkloper

Auch das Feuer hat Hunger. The last concert of Incense of Music (Nr. 7) at Circle 1 in Berlin Kreuzberg had a precise Russian connotation. Arkady Shilkloper, musician from Moscow, played on 16th December 2015 flugelhorn, French horn, didgeridoo, alphorn and supported himself with some electronics. Not enough: in the first set we additionally burnt leaves, resins, barks and fruits of the birch tree, a thin-leaved deciduous hardwood tree of the genus Betula, widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, not just an aesthetic highlight in the plant family, which btw has as well an incredible flavour and is used in teas and juices, and also in Russian saunas. Surprisingly, this plant remains a mystery. Like the musician. Do you know the taste of birch?

In the second set we burnt some wood, bears and needles of Juniperus communis, a species of the  Cupressaceae family. It has the largest range of any woody plant, throughout the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic south in mountains to around 30°N latitude in North America, Europe and Asia. Juniperus communis is a shrub or small coniferous evergreen tree, very variable and often a low spreading shrub, but occasionally reaching a height of 10 m. Here in the Russian version with a cobra.

Juniper accompanied also Tales from Alexandra, a piece that Arkady composed for her daughter. A little homage to her here too.

2016

Incense of Music Nr. 8/ Chisholm, Atzakas, Fotinaki

Incense of Music Nr. 8 took place on 22nd August 2016 in the beautiful village of Agios Lavrentios in the mountains of Pilion, Greece, during the fabulous Music Village Festival. Who has been there, knows what we are talking about: a melting pot of nature, truth and beauty. Thanks to Thimios Atzakas, oud player from Thessaloniki and co-organiser of the festival, we were invited and had the privilege to share the stage of the Arches of Aghios Dimitrios with three incredible artists: Hayden Chisholm from New Zealand (who already appeared in the fourth concert of the series), the above mentioned Thimios Atzakas and Katerina Fotinaki, a Greek singer and songwriter.

The concert occurred in four separate sets, three solos of each musician, finally an improvised trio all together. We started with Elemi, a tropical and subtropical tree in the  Burseraceae family. This tree grows across tropical Africa, south and southeast Asia, Indochina, Malesia, Australia and western Pacific Islands. The plant reaches a height of up to 40–50 m . Its resin is a pale yellow substance, of honey-like consistency with a fragrance of pine and lemon-like scents. Hayden Chisholm, his saxophone and his sruti box; contributed the rest.

In the second set Thimios Atzakas and his oud were supported by a super classic of incense burning, Boswellia sacra, commonly known as frankincense, a tree in the Burseraceae family, from which frankincense, a resinous dried sap, is harvested. It is native to the Arabian Peninsula (Oman, Yemen) and northeastern Africa (Somalia). The tree reaches a height of 2 to 8 m, tolerates the most critical situations and is often on rocky slopes and ravines, up to an altitude of 1,200 m, mostly in calcarreous soil. Frankincense is mentioned in the Bible as one of the three types of gifts the wise men gave to the young baby Jesus of Nazareth and has been traded on the Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa for more than 5000 years. This precious resin was monopolised in the Western world for a long period by the church, for this reason it is mainly associated with the religious services of Catholics and Orthodox.

I adore this fragment of Katerina Fotinaki, that evening with her guitar, some electronics and her beautiful voice she was able to create an intimate performance full of beauty. Thank heavens it was recorded and thank heavens it is on Youtube. Luckily I was able to work with Katerina again later on (and with Andrea Voets, Evi Filippou and Chiara Somajni on Xenitia, a  documentary-concert on Greek migration). That night we burnt Juniper, for the second time in our series.

At the end the musicians united forces and started to improvise. We did as well and mixed all scents together entering alchemic ambitions: Elemi, Frankincense and Juniper easily coexisted and built a crossing fragrance full of meanings and associations.

2017

Incense of Music Nr. 9/ DOHA

With Incense of Music Nr. 9  on 30th January 2017we entered for the first time the prestigious halls of the Volksbuehne Theatre (thanks to Marc Weiser). From this moment on Dominik Breider become an official member of the organising team increasing the possibilities. Claudio Bohórquez (cello), Gareth Lubbe (viola) and Hayden Chisholm (sax and sruti box) played (and sung) a reedition of their project DOHA, which took place ten years before in a buddhistic monastery in Colorado, USA. In Berlin, in the first set, we proudly burnt Palo Santo, directly imported from Peru by the visual artist Antonio Paucar. This precious wood, with the scientific name of Bursera graveolens, is a wild plant native to Yucatán Peninsula  throughout Peru, Venezuela, northern Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and the Brazilian Mato Grosso. The tree belongs to the same family (Burseraceae) as frankincense and myrrh.

From Peru we moved to California with our three highly talented friends and found some White sage, also a classic in the family of the incenses. It’s charisma is shaped by the desert, It’s latin name is Salvia apiana. White sage is an evergreen perennial shrub that is native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, found mainly in the coastal sage scrub habitat of Southern California and Baja California, on the western edges of the Mojave and the Sonoran deserts. Names for white sage in local Native American languages include qaashil (Luiseño), shlhtaay or pilhtaay (Kumeyaay), kasiile (Tongva), we’wey (Chumash), qas’ily (Cahuilla), shaltai (Paipai), and lhtaay (Cochimí).

Incense of Music Nr. 10/ Berlin Damaskus Duo

The second concert of Incense of Music at Volksbuehne – Roter Salon, the tenth of the series, featured a celebration. Maria Wiesmaier, who played solo in the first concert in June 2015, and Nabil Hilaneh, who played solo in the second one on July 2015,  on 24th February 2017 presented the Duo Damaskus Berlin, a project between classical Arabic and classical European music.

Inspired by this combination that evening we decided to burn some Tilia from Germany and some Lebanon Cedar from Syria, two extremely interesting and elegant scents. Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees or bushes, native to most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere  and typically reaching a height of 20 to 40 meters and, sometimes, 2000 years of age. In the summer months, when Tilia is flowering, around the tree a very subtle, sweet and aphrodisiac fragrance is perceived having deep and pleasant effects on human beings. Cedrus libani, commonly known as the cedar of Lebanon or Lebanon cedar, is a species of cedar native to the mountains of the Eastern Mediterranean basin. It is an evergreen conifer that can reach 40 m in height. This tree, mentioned in the Bible as a symbol of the righteous, has a warm and balsamic, soothing and relaxing fragrance. Maria and Nabil, in this video, are playing the piece Sada (echo).

Incense of Music 12/ Pena, Chisholm

In March 2017 we had surely one of the greatest highlights of the series: concert nr. 12 with Lula Pena and Hayden Chisholm at the Volksbuehne, Berlin. We were all delighted to have the chance to organise this concert. Lula arrived just two hours before the event from Portugal, appeared on stage and met Hayden again, two years after their last encounter. What followed was an incredible improvised musical voyage enriched by a mosaic of stories sung in Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek, which flow seamlessly into one another, creating a unique trancelike atmosphere. The musicians became one with their instruments and the audience.

That evening we burnt first some Lavender from Italy (very relaxing) and afterwards a good amount of Labdanum, a sticky brown resin obtained from the shrubs of Cistus ladanifer, a plant growing in the western Mediterranean. In the first part of the concert Hayden played saxophone and a sruti box solo, enjoy this gem!

The mysterious is a crucial element not only in art, the unknowable and the not understood are fertile resources for inspiration and perception in every situation. When we listen to Lula Pena, to her fantastic, orchestral guitar playing, to her deep, soft, broken and at the same time soothing voice, we know it and: we don’t know it. We understand it and: we don’t understand it. The first part of the concert lasted approx. 35 minutes, in which several songs, in different languages, fluently in the transition, were performed: Lula jumped from story to story, without inhibitions regarding psychological, social or poetic force, in a musical flow including Portuguese, Mediterranean and South – North American sounds, while colleague Chisholm, a listener among musicians, provided the decisive accompaniment. What should be added when the tone and the image already say everything?

Actually (another paradox!), words can create a world bigger than any image and any music. But, again, not always. The third part of the concert begun with a positioning between sadness and going further. And: it was just the beginning. With an Italian song by Claudio Villa from the 60s’.

Vieni, c’è una strada nel bosco,
il suo nome conosco,
vuoi conoscerlo tu?
.
Come, there is a road in the woods,
I know the name,
You wanna know it as well?

Measuring is not a guarantee for security, data might be incomplete. The forth part of the performance offered a brief essence of what might be and already happens.

A personal note: I am very proud about this concert.

Incense of Music 13/ Shilkloper, Neselovskyi

Our journey continued with an astonishing duo from Russia and Ukraine, Arkady Shilkloper on horns and Vadim Neselovskyi on piano. It was the 2nd of April 2017 and the audience at Volksbuehne Berlin experienced an evening full of jazz, classical, folklore and experimental sounds – Music, just Music. The piece of the video is Get up and Go by Vadim Neselovskyi.

In this first part of the concert we burnt barks, leaves, fruits and resin of the Birch tree, the well known black and white plant from the Betula family (see also concert 7). The birch is a very important element in Russian culture and represents the grace, strength, tenderness and natural beauty of Russian women as well as the closeness to nature of the Russians. It’s associated with marriage and love. In the second set we had some amber, a fossilised tree resin, hundreds of millions of years old, but still able, while burning and changing its form, to offer an incredible scent with multiple colours and flavours. Like smelling a drop of the soul of the very past.

Incense of Music 14/ SUGAR and Yes Soeur!

The idea for the fourteenth concert of the series was born in an indoor football hall on a Sunday in early 2017 among a group of soccer enthusiasts. Grégoire Simon, classical violinist and violist from France with a wide experience in high class solo/ chamber and orchestral performances, suggested an acoustic – electronic experiment, combining two of his own projects on stage: Yes Soeur! (a duo with Alexandre Bouvier, electronic compositions for stage productions) and SUGAR (a hybrid between chamber and pop music with originals creations).

The concert took place on 17th April of the same year at Volksbuehne Berlin and exceeded our wildest expectations. On stage Grégoire and Alexandre managed keyboards, little flutes and computers, while Boram Lie played cello and David Eggert viola da gamba. In the first set we burnt some Galbanum, an aromatic gum resin and a product of certain umbelliferous Persian plant species in the genus Ferula, that grows plentifully on the slopes of the mountain ranges of northern Iran. It has a deep, powerful bitter taste, a sharp, peculiar, dirty, balsamic, fresh musky odour and an intense green, piny, woody, peppery, elemi-like balsamic scent. Mentioned in the Hebrew Bible , commented by Rashi in the 12th century, known by Hippocrates and Pliny as a powerful medicine, Galbanum is also used in modern parfumerie. Not the worse references for a hypnotic, groovy evening, a mixture of antique and contemporary elements, a ritual with energy and fire, with electronic devices and two instruments developed in the 16th Century.

In the second set we burnt the dried peels of some grapefruits, a subtropical citrus hybrid originated in Barbados as an accidental cross between two introduced species – sweet orange (C. sinensis) and pomelo (C. maxima) – both of which were imported from Asia in the seventeenth century. The name “grapefruit” seems to originate from the way that, unlike normal citrus, the fruits of this tree grow in “clusters”, vaguely reminiscent of bunches of grapes. Its essential oil has a fruity and spry flavor and provides an invigorating and energizing aroma, invokes a sense of clarity and can help to uplift mood. Coming back to football, another assist for SUGAR and Yes Soeur!, another celebration of music, art and life.

Incense of Music 15/ YEK – Mortazavi, Feldman

In our announcement for the world premiere of the combo Yek by Burnt Friedman and Mohammad Reza Mortazavi on 14th May 2017 at Volksbuehne, we wrote:

Yek, in Persian means “one”.

Damaskios (born around 462, died around 538 AD), the last head of the Neoplatonic school in Athens, taught the unspeakable, the one-all and the unified as the three basic concepts of his philosophy. However, he came into conflict with the expanding Christian teaching in the Eastern Roman Empire and had to flee to Persia.

It’s not an ordinary composition to combine a tombak, the principal percussion instrument of Persian music, together with synthesizers, sequencers and samplers. Mohammad Reza Mortazavi, currently one of the greatest tombak virtuoso worldwide, and Burnt Friedman, electronic musician active since 1978 in countless projects and different styles, did it. Continuously evolving patterns created a trance like atmosphere that night, the concert developed on the edge between chamber music and dance floor, offering complex rhythms, precise structures and great spontaneous improvisations.

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) is a herb deeply connected into Mediterranean culture as a symbol of love and death. As an incense, it produces a very intense, aromatic smell and a stimulating, refreshing effect. On the contrary, opoponax, the second essence chosen for the evening, a gum resin already cited by Pliny (Historia Naturalis) and Dioscorides (De Materia Medica) as a powerful medicine, impresses with its soothing and sensual note. A good combination to enjoy Yek.

Incense of Music 16/ Elemi Saxophone Quartet

It was a great pleasure to perform at the German Evangelical Church Day 2017 in the St. Elisabeth Church in Berlin Mitte, with one concert each on three consecutive days. The church, inaugurated in 1835 and built after plans of Karl Friedrich Schinkel, was badly damaged in the second world war and only renovated after 1989. It offers space for 1200 people and has high walls. Optimal conditions for incense burning.

Our small festival entitled Face to Face opened on May 25, 2017 with a concert of superlatives: Christian Weidner, Philipp Gerschlauer, Moritz Köther and Bastian Duncker were the Elemi Saxophone Quartet specially formed for the occasion. The four celebrated soloists played the works of the New Zealand composer Hayden Chisholm, who has long worked intensively on overtones and Fibonacci. Overtones are the sounds within the sounds, the harmonic ladder which extends upwards infinitely in perfect whole number ratios. The Fibonacci series is the additive growth series found throughout nature. Monochrome, the first piece, was the first meditation of the afternoon, followed by Inside C, Love in Numbers and Density movements. A beautiful, endlessly extending spiral of purity.

Actress Betty-Despoina Athanasiadou and singer Christian Baier brought the incense bowl with the smoke from Indonesian Elemi to the audience, a substance that has an encouraging and refreshing effect and that Hayden already selected at previous Incense of Music concerts. The transition to myrrh was therefore fluid. This resin, which is obtained from a series of small, thorny tree species of the Commiphora genus, has played an extraordinary role in history as a perfume, incense and medicine. The scent of myrrh is feminine and has a slightly spicy-sweet scent of balsamic delicacy.