SA composer Philip Miller uses archive material for new project

By Juana Zimmermann

The 70th anniversary of one of the biggest meetings for musicians and composers of contemporary music in the world, the International Summer Course for New Music, took place recently in Darmstadt, Germany.

Audiences watch Philip Miller's sound installation 'BikoHausen' in Germany. Photo: Daniel Pafe / IMD
Audiences watch Philip Miller's sound installation 'BikoHausen' in Germany. Photo: Daniel Pafe / IMD

For this occasion, the Summer Course initiated the archive project dubbed ‘Historage’. Several composers were invited to rummage through the archive of the International Music Institute Darmstadt, where there are thousands of documents, letters and scores that document the long history of the Summer Courses. The aim of the project was to create sound installations that engage thoroughly with the archive material. 

Renowned South African composer and sound artist Philip Miller was one of those invited to participate. He created a multimedia installation about the late South African activist Steve Bantu Biko and influential German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, naming it ‘BikoHausen’.

The connection of the legacy of the Summer Courses and contemporary music in South Africa, as well as in the entire African Diaspora, was Miller’s idea behind his project. He therefore grabbed two sorts of material from the Darmstadt archive.  The first were lectures given by Karlheinz Stockhausen during his visit to Johannesburg in 1971, archived as sound material. The other was one of the rare TV interviews given by Biko before his death at the hands of South African police in 1977.

Miller then teamed up with six South African performing artists and together they developed a sound experience out of this material in a workshop, which was also filmed.

The resulting film was presented in Darmstadt as part of the ‘Historage’ project curated by the Südwestrundfunk (SWR) editor Michael Rebhahn and displayed in the Designhaus Darmstadt until 9 August. It was a fitting tribute to two legendary figures - one in politics; the other in music – and a good example of the continued importance and relevance of music archives.


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