The Power of the Installation: MONOPASS Performance or How Your Surroundings Can Save a Show


von Audrey Harris


An Unusual Event

The lights are dimmed except for two spotlights which criss-cross, illuminating a torso of a bygone Egyptian king and six synthesizers spread across three tables. Shadows of other artifacts play across the back wall of the bottom floor of the Munich Museum of Egyptian Art (Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst or SMÄK). Friday March 11, 2022 at 8pm here, in the middle of the art installation, a crowd of about 70 waits for Monopass to enter through a back corridor. This synthesizer quartet was founded in Cologne in 2018, comprised of musicians Oxana Omelchuk, Luís Antunes Pena, Mark Polscher and Florian Zwißler. While this sort of ensemble may be uncommon in the typical music scene Monopass focus on the construction of real-time composition through their collection of historical, and modern synthesizers and oscillators. Each musician is further amplified with individual sound systems, and audience members are encouraged to look at the set-up before and after the performance. Newly instated Museum Director, Philippe Van Couteren, tells the audience Oxana Omelchuk will not be performing with the rest of the ensemble tonight, as she has contracted Co-vid19 the previous Tuesday. The three remaining performers slink onto the performance floor behind their designated tables (dressed in concert black of course) and group founder, Mark Polscher, explains that although Oxana will not be performing live tonight, she has created a number of samples from her home studio in Cologne which will be integrated into the evening’s performance. And with a high pitched tone emanating from a laptop (Oxana’s proxy), the show of the night begins.

It’s all improv to me!

The group’s improvisational technique is apparent from the beginning notes. Each musician is focused on his 2-3 instruments of choice that are displayed before him, and at times it is hard to follow whose ‘nob-turn’ creates the following sound. The piece improvised contains sparse tones, allowing the listeners to instead focus on the interactions between the musicians, and the balance/mix of the instruments over all. The few tones that can be distinctly heard are either very high (still from Oxana’s samples) or very low (from a sort of handheld electronic bow synthesizer from Florian Zwißler), leaving the intermediate range is empty. The climactic points come in waves apparently driven from one musician who finds a satisfactory sound, or ‘wave pattern’ and stays with it; in doing so he invites the remaining performers to join in by finding further sounds that compliment this first sound. Buzzing harmony of so many synthesizers intersecting, and collaborating builds filling more and more space of the art hall- until finally everyone turns their knobs to ‘low’ and the volume falls to nonexistence. These highlights of the piece are few and far between, but when they happen a tangible excitement is felt in the air, perhaps stimulating from the vibratory magic that has been put into the air. After an hour of improvisation, the trio ended, and the spell was broken.

In the Aftermath Where We Are Remains

Although advertised as a music concert, the night’s show was much more reminiscent of music installation. While tonally and harmonically the performance left much to be desired, the chemistry between Monopass is undeniable; but the true star of the show was where the performance took place. Enhanced by the surroundings of the Egyptian Museum, their performance felt at times as if something ancient and powerful was being witnessed, the basic instinct of man to create art through sound. By focusing on the artifacts spread about the hall, a meditative feeling took hold of me, and instead of being concerned about ‘where the music was going’ I felt at peace to look at antiquated relics and just be. Within these moments, seeing an ancient Egyptian bust through the darkness, hearing the throbbing beats and patterns I found myself ruminating on the fate of humanity and how we evolved from creating sculptures to harnessing the power of vibration. Sadly these powerful times were overwhelmingly dominated by chaotic moments where nothing seemed to fit. Although not necessarily what the average music listener would choose to hear, Monopass’s real strength lies in their performance and not the tones produced. Had the show not been located within the Egyptian Museum, I doubt my attention would have been held for so long, and I certainly would not have been called to a meditative level unless under the watchful eye of the stone figures.


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