He is a dissident in the world of music, propelled by an inner necessity which takes him and his flutes far away from traditional concert halls into jazz clubs, fringe theatres, or into the tunnels inside a damm wall, onto a funicular railway, the turrets of a medieaval castle, or into the shadow of a 20 meter high bridge with a steam train thundering by.... Matthias Ziegler is not a stunt-man but a source of amazing and unending ideas. He bridges the gap between many styles of music being a man of many faces: principal flute with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, concert organiser, composer, teacher, inventor of new flutes, and creator of new sounds on existing flutes.
His new CD "Uakti" (New Albion NA 104 CD) captures the essence of his astounding solo concert program - gorgeous loops and tonefields and technical bravura - about which The Wire magazine said "Virtuoso Ziegler's vision of a solo polyphonic music makes this the ultimate flute record.... he makes the flute sound like the wind, or like any number of instruments, including cello, double bass and horn. A beguiling and extraordinary achievement."
Born in Bern, capital of Switzerland, Matthias Ziegler grew up near Zurich. After five young years of recorder he discoverd the flute at 10. At high school he taught himself guitar, drums and sax, gaining his first experiences of improvisation along the way. His need to try things out and to find creative, new ways of doing things was already showing itself. He started to study architecture, but after three years his Louis Lot got the upper hand and he decided to make a break in order to study music. He has not gone back yet....
Conrad Klemm was his teacher at the conservatoire in Winterthur. He moved on to Freiburg in Breisgau to William Bennett for his soloist studies. His neighbour in Zurich, Andre Jaunet, also made an impression, as did Geofrey Gilbert with whom he studied in Florida. During his studies, Matthias Ziegler was already principal flute with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra under Edmond de Stoutz, but was also taking part in jam-sessions at the Zurich Jazz Clubs.
1986 Matthias Ziegler received an invitation from the New Age harpist Andreas Vollenweider to join his band for a world tour of more than 100 concerts in the USA, Asia, Australia and Europe. It was this tour which enabled him to develop his use of microphones, an ability which was to be of much value in the following years. The experience made at a didgeridoo concert caused him to place a microphone inside his flute, unveiling a new realm of sounds. Another neighbour in Zurich, the Swiss film-maker Xavier Koller, was enthusiastic about these sounds, encouraging Ziegler to continue experimenting.
In the meantime the flutist had grounded his classical Palladio Ensemble (flute, cello and harpsichord). Contrasts and `bridging the gap` have always been elements of Ziegler`s life - he enjoys following different careers simultaneously.
The next step was discovering the deeper voices of the flute family. Ziegler`s first meeting with a Werner Wetzel bass flute was love at first sight. Ziegler attributes his affinity with the lower ranges of the flute family to the similarity of it`s range to that of his own voice, and hence the clarity of his hearing within this range. He soon added a contra bass flute from Kotato & Fukushima to his growing collection of flutes. He travels today with twenty kilos of flutes and another thirty of electronics (microphones, mixer, loop delay).
Apart from the normal flute sound, it is this inner life of the flute which fascinates Ziegler. The sounds which only the player hears (excess air, key noise) Ziegler makes audible by building microphones into his flutes, the balance of which he controls live with foot pedals. Instead of playing one instrument he is able to play an `orchestra`. He thinks orchestrally when playing, letting the `instruments within the instrument` sound. Bass notes and harmonics become audible. Ziegler likes to create associations in his listeners so that, for example, an accompanying instrument is thought to be heard although not actually present.
It goes without saying that Ziegler also plays a Louis Lot, an alto flute, and a piccolo. Unexpected however, is his Matusi flute, an instrument he developed because he is fascinated by the sound of the chinese bamboo flute. Partly responsible for the characteristic sound of this instrument is a membrane stretched across a hole between the embouchure hole and the first finger hole. Ziegler copied this with the help of the flute builder Kaspar Baechi, drilling a similar hole and covering it with a membrane and a mute. The flutist`s only redundant finger, his right thumb, gets the job of opening the mute by means of a cord, producing a remarkable change in timbre as the membrane vibrates in the passing air. Ziegler has had a similar mechanism built into his bass and contra bass flutes.
Ziegler`s quest for new sounds explains his enthusiasm for new instruments. The Dutch flute builder Eva Kingma`s open-hole alto flute is such a case. The flutist is enabled to produce multiphonics, glissandi and quarter-tones. Eva Kingma`s joint venture with Bickford Brannen produced the Brannen/Kingma quarter-tone flute - another instrument about which Ziegler enthuses. Extra keys are integrated with the normal keys producing a flute capable for the first time of playing all quarter-tones, as well as chromatic multiphonics, all with very little extra weight. The new compositional possibilities produced by this instrument will no doubt inspire many new works, and this mechanism will soon be available for the larger members of the flute family.
Ziegler`s intention to encourage composers to write for his extended world of flute sounds explains why he catagorizes and classifies all the sounds of which his instruments, playing techniques and electronic aids are capable. His documentation consists of recordings of the sounds, as well as written details about extent of range and dynamics. Several composers have already answered this call, including the American jazz musician Mark Dresser whose work `Banquet` for flute and string Quartet is already available on CD (Tzadik TZ 7027), and Tadjikistan composer Benjamin Yusupov, who wrote a concerto for flute and string orchestra, featuring matusiflute, bassflute and contrabassflute.
Between Mozart and free jazz
There are no commercial intentions behind Ziegler`s broad musical interests and his proliferation in many different music styles. He has always enjoyed jazz, just as improvisation has always been a challenge to him. The traditional flute repertoire is limited; there are no great flute concertos from Beethoven, Brahms or Mendelssohn, and Ziegler would rather discover new sound-worlds than go in for transcribing violin works. His interest in jazz has nothing to do with the improvisation on standards taught at jazz schools such as that at Berkeley. He considers traditional jazz to offer no more freedom than the classical repertoire. Here improvisation simply means having pre-learned patterns in one`s `repertoire`, conjuncting what in jazz circles are known as `licks`.
Ziegler considers himself to be a polyglot. One language he speaks with more, the other with less of an accent. His slight accent as a jazz musician does not bother him. In his opinion there are sufficient players who, although lacking in accent, are also lacking in anything worth saying.
It is the knowledge of venturing into new musical space which powers Ziegler`s so essential creative motor. The improvisation in which a union between creator and interpreter exists enables him to realise his ideas, there being as yet little material written specifically for his realm of sound. For Matthias Ziegler the spontaneous act of improvisation definitely contains a contemplative element, and is comparable with bungee jumping - letting oneself go without loosing control.
Promoter and teacher
In Ziegler`s opinion the concert business has changed little during the present century rendering the public into passivity in its attitude to existing forms of concert-going. He wants to produce a context in which music receives a new face, and in which his public also has to show its face. Ziegler`s passion for architecture and his knowlegde of it are of great use here. For him there exists a clear relationship between music and space. Within his project `Palladio`(named after the classical italian architect) he is able to ilustrate this interplay. Instead of seeking a room for a concert, or a room which might be suitable for the performance of a given work, he looks for an architecturally interesting enviroment as the inspiration for a whole programme of music.
Ziegler`s open attitude to the music world extends further: he hands his ideas over to others making room for himself to conceive new ones. At the Musikhochschule Zurich Winterthur in Switzerland he is teaching a class of flute students and giving a course with the title `music through improvisation`.
Here, for example, he passes on his knowledge about improvisation and about the use of instruments to produce new sounds.
Breadth without depth ?
Do so many ideas, instruments and fields of music lead to the danger of scratching the surface of a broad range of interests but with a lack of depth?
Matthias Ziegler is not looking for broadness in terms of wide appeal, like jazzing up Bach. The different styles which he loves and in which he moves fertilize and stimulate each other. The wider the foundation the higher he can build. It is, however, important to him to respect the differences between the styles which he plays. The borders between them must be recognised even in the process of crossing over. Although the temptation to specialise is always present, Ziegler will continue bridging the gap until the span is endangered and he, unwillingly, has to leave something out .