Installation / World Premiere


Christian Kesten
An opera for five voices

With his opera “Who Am I”, composer Christian Kesten explores the sonic expressive potential of breathing. The created sound space becomes a playing field of encounter of and with five figures in search of their stories.

Frontal view of two male read persons and two female read persons in a collage. Three persons seem to form vowels with their mouths.

Christian Kesten, Who Am I

© Susanne Elgeti

Past Dates

Breathing in, breathing out—breathing. It connects us with the environment, and no I says "I" without having breathed. Breathing in its fragility and power has become the signature of the pandemic present. As the essential medium in which voice is created, however, it rarely becomes the material of music.

Composer Christian Kesten explores the sonic expressive potential of breathing. In his search for the sonic essence of this musical material, he developed the vocal technique of the "breathing plateau": a static noise sound is created by a long held breath stream and the same mouth position during inhalation and exhalation. These "breathing layers", filtered differently by mouth positions, become "white noise" with a wide spectrum of timbre nuances. The voice is perceived as instrumental. Through polyphony and overlapping of the breathing plateaus, a complex sound space with a multitude of psychoacoustic effects is created.

In “Who Am I“ this sound space becomes a playing field of encounter of and with five figures arranged in a circle of screens. As listeners / viewers, we enter a field of static sounds that form changing constellations, layer on top of each other, contrast, complement, or respond.

Through the various, sometimes extreme mouth positions, facial expressions are created that allow for the most diverse associations with states of affect—an irritating contrast to the static sound.

“Who Am I“ is an opera installation about an ensemble of five people in search of their stories. It reframes the question of musical expressive aesthetics: What does the interplay of facial expression and sound do in our minds? How does the perception of the same sound change from different faces, roles, characters? Breathing appears as a physical process and condition of becoming a person. Per-son is what sounds through—through the mask of the face.

Christian Kesten
WHO AM I (2022)
An opera for five voices. Installation / World Premiere
5 video screens, 5-channel sound, 40’ / loop


Christian Kesten compsition, space
Carsten Heitsink, Anke Ristentisch, Kai Schnittersen, Catherine Skinst, Hans Stincketier voices
Kassian Troyer sound directon, mastering
Adam Asnan sound recording
Susanne Elgeti video
Maya Giger make-up
Dorothee Scheiffarth costume
Henrik Adler dramaturgy
Bert Günther technical support
Martin Wolff video assistant
Vilém Wagner production

Funded by Fonds Darstellende Künste aus Mitteln der Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Rahmen von NEUSTART KULTUR.
In cooperation with MaerzMusik – Festival für Zeitfragen.