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Music! Music!
Jürg Halter gives his festive speech at SUISA’s anniversary celebration on 23 June 2023 at the Aura Club in Zurich.
Photo: Martin Bissig
By Jürg Halter, SUISA member since 2005
Festive speech on the occasion of SUISA’s 100th anniversary.

Long and very quiet. These tones, do you hear them too? And this pulse, do you feel it? No? Can’t you hear me? What can I say, well … I am the music. I’ll take the liberty of playing here for the celebration of 100 years of SUISA. But what does “I” actually mean? Humans let me arise then and now, learn to see the world through me from different perspectives. Tone-colour-rich. I connect and disconnect, hit and miss notes – but in your ear alone I come to myself. Music! Music! Am speaking music, polyphonic speech music. Welcome to this musical trip!

Oh, human! Already I see you strolling by a river – a voice accompanied by guitars sings of sweet life in verses and choruses. You tilt your head back, close your eyes, pause, be all song.
And now, look, you’re sitting leaning over a recalcitrant contract in the office – so-called concentration music is playing – you’re thinking, if only I were not here at this moment.
Yes, just yesterday, you on a bus, clicking through playlists, “melancholy”, “rap”, or “classical”; decided on a podcast about decision-making inhibitions after all, backed with shallow pop music – thought: “If only this isn’t the wrong way!”
And right now, oh, human, I recognise you there by a lake in which trees are humbly reflected, as if they wanted to make sure of themselves. Whale song rises in your ears, announcing journeys into unknown depths.
And behold, oh human! You in front of a train station on the stairs, someone sings drunkenly of Greek wine – meanwhile you too wonder: Where actually am I at home?

Music, music! In it, you find and lose yourself – always changing, I am being played, notated, sung, programmed, rapped, staged. Speak in thousands of languages, moods, tempos and dynamics. Everyone hears me differently. Am an old familiar and new melody at the same time, am song, am symphony, rhythm, harmonies that merge into harmonies. Am polyphonic. Am repeating myself, am beating in your chest, am leaving you as a beat – am opening ears and sometimes hearts – am accompanying you, from the first to the last note.

Back there! This cannot be true! You in front of the telly, a Matterhorn ad in view, a Bernese German song playing … your local patriotism almost loses its compass – inside you a border-crossing bass. Thither! Thither!
You in a café musing, from loudspeakers at your back compulsively optimistic announcements of compulsively optimistic hit parade hits are made, the front door swings open, from outside: Demonstration acoustics – is that the sound of politics?
Look here! You annoyed in the telephone queue of an insurance company confronted with well-tempered, dead music – yes, oh, fright, that’s me too!
And then at once: An unexpected break! You, standing before the grave of a friend … a sad song tells of what you are unable to express – I comfort you. Music. Music.
Hey, human, remember? Visited a church again in the pre-Christmas season out of family obligations – unexpectedly you were moved by gospel music. Asking yourself ashamedly what your substitute religion actually was. I whispered to you: Me! Me! Me! Music! Music! And that’s that!
Already I see you sweating on a bike in the basement, self-optimisation music is spurring you on! Is this part of your life plan?
Oh human, now this too! You at a wedding, tiredly watching the bride and groom floating over the parquet to 80s pathos … lonelier you’ve never been. Music is sometimes too much – too many feelings at once!

Shhhh … what is this? Suddenly this silence, the silence between two songs – as if silence were not also a self-evident part of the music. You inwardly count down four minutes and thirty-three seconds, then, all at once full of wanderlust, you feel around for your auricles – what is that sound you now hear? Sound of the sea?

No! It crackles and hisses, now you’re sitting around a campfire, all by yourself, but, oh, oh, someone already picks up an instrument and starts playing – how many campfire guitarists can one person suffer? To question embarrassment, only embarrassing rhymes may be on offer – chorus!
Oh, human! You’re on the toilet before your appointment with the divorce lawyer, heavy metal playing in your headphones; your life sometimes feels like a musical parody of an opera.
You are brought back down to earth with a bump, coming around again in the middle of a large open-air area: Oh, wow! Because of the show, the music is degenerating to a calculating animation soundtrack – you bitterly grasp your sticky ears! Someone shouts from the stage: “Please no cultural pessimism, this is about music!” You think: If this is a contradiction, I want to be a silent scream! I call out to you: Please, no! Come! I will make music to take you away from here!
Cut! You somewhere in the hustle and bustle of a shopping street: Pulling the plugs out of your ears: Voices, babbling, talking, rustling, rattling – what is that? You ask: “Whose song is this? Is this new music yet?”

Me, the music, also ask myself from time to time: Who do I belong to? Who earns how much from me? Existential doubts cause me to lose my rhythm – I quickly continue to speak/sing in search of the right tone. But stop! Is it even still a human through whom I am speaking to you? Or is it already artificial intelligence, as controversial as it is coveted, that is making a fool of me, of us? And is this voice protected by copyright at all? No? Who uses all the voices that speak, sing and rap through me, maybe tomorrow against their will? Has digitisation not already culturally appropriated us willy-nilly? Is this the end of music? What am I talking about here? I am playing like I’m in a daze – as if I had a crazy sudden hearing loss, insane!

Well … what do I know … I see people looking around a crowded hall … a clearing of the throat can be heard … a phone vibrates softly … one swallows empty … someone whispers in someone’s ear: “Who actually is that person or that hologram in front of us, through whom, through which, supposedly the music speaks highly of itself? … but, oh, no, look, I think it’s already continuing to speak out of him!”

Yes! Music as an imposition! Oh! Behold! What do I hear ahead of me? What a surprise! No, I am truly not hallucinating. What unexpected joy! Hard to believe! In a few hours already I see you all sitting in a festive hall, festively at various instruments and playing, as naturally light as in an orchestral dream … each of you will initially wonder: How did I end up in this animated space? And what has got into me? – No question, me, me, me! The music that is already playing quietly within you, will soon take you over completely. Just listen deep inside yourself. You will be part of a great orchestra. Yes, you have to take life as a concert and this one wants to perform a solemn symphony tonight – sound art makes us all swing and float freely in just a few hours!

And if you do not want to believe all this, just keep your ears open and be sure, somewhere out there a song is playing for you alone – just be attentive! You know it best yourself: In the beginning was not the word, but the big bang – that is, the prelude to a song that is still playing. Do you hear it? Do you all hear it? Do be doubtful, but do not despair. Music is always also hope!

Thus I conclude: Cheers to all who create, defend, celebrate and spread music, cheers to me, the music! The music that life is playing! Yes, to play music means to live! On this celebratory day and in the future! Celebrate and live music! I wish you all a good gig tonight! One Love! Music! Music!

Jürg Halter, writer, spoken word artist and visual artist. He is one of the best-known Swiss authors of his generation and one of the pioneers of the new German-language spoken word movement. Regularly performs throughout Europe, the U.S., Africa, Russia, South America and Japan. Numerous book– and CD publications, works for the theatre and exhibitions. As Kutti MC, he was also a defining figure of the Swiss music scene between 2005 and 2015. Most recent publications: the novel “Erwachen im 21. Jahrhundert” [Waking up in the 21st century] (Zytglogge, 2018) and the volumes of poetry “Gemeinsame Sprache” [Common language] (Dörlemann, 2021) and “Verlassenes Boot treibt Richtung Mond” [Abandoned ship is drifting towards the moon] (Scheidegger & Spiess, 2023). In spring 2023, Jürg Halter launched his new music project Achtung Niemand [Attention, Nobody] with the song “Wir sind gute Menschen” [We are good people].

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