Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman was born around 1980 in Rwanda and grew up in Belgium. She studied Audiovisual Arts (with a focus in Radio) at RITCS in Brussels, then Jazz Singing at LUCA School of Arts (Lemmens Institute, Leuven) and finally Composition and Singing at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague (The Netherlands). In addition to her teachers in the Hague, Yannis Kyriakides and Martijn Padding, she took lessons and masterclasses with numerous composers such as Mayke Nas, Huba de Graaff and Wim Henderickx, and also with Kaija Saariaho, Alvin Lucier and Steve Reich. Her vocal training also brought her to Phil Minton, Meredith Monk, Claron McFadden, Sidsel Endresen, Jaap Blonk and many others. Throughout those various courses, Lierman above all followed her own, somewhat unusual, course. At the same time, the various aspects of her versatile training all play a larger or smaller role in her compositions.
As early as her first years at the RITCS, Lierman started working as a radio maker at the VRT (Flemish public radio and television), where she could concentrate on making documentaries. After a few years, she decided to take the plunge and fully concentrate on her artistic work. Since then, she has developed a successful international trajectory stretching from improvisation, voice art and performance to installation art, radio art and composition. Better said, these various artistic activities have become deeply interwoven. On her own website, Lierman makes no distinction at all between the various forms of creative work: before ‘voicing’ (her work as a voice artist) and ‘teaching’, ‘creating’ is the first tab.
Lierman’s list of works starts in 2010 and between the early works LOOP (2011) and iota mikro (2012) stand out. That first work was written for two tap dancers, prepared dance floor and tape. Lierman herself calls it a key work in her search for the boundary between installation and performance – a recurring angle in Lierman’s compositions. The tape composition iota mikro, good for a third prize at the Grand Prix Nova in Bucharest (Romania), is described on her website as Lierman’s ‘sonic birth certificate’. The work is based on field recordings of her birthplace in Rwanda and sets the tone for many of her later compositions.
Lierman’s work has been highly acclaimed. KARIAKOO won the Sonic Arts Award (Rome) in 2013. A year later Anosmia, a radio composition on the theme of the Rwandan genocide, was awarded at Monophonic 2014 in Brussels. In 2016 Lierman received the Sally and Don Lucas Fellowship from the Montalvo Arts Center in California (USA). In 2018 she was selected for the CTM 2019 Radiolab in Berlin and in 2019 she was nominated for the Dutch Matthijs Vermeulen Prize.
Lierman collaborates with colleagues from different genres and with varying profiles. As a composer she has worked several times with the Dutch ensembles Slagwerk Den Haag, Sonolabduo and But What About and also with viola player Maya Felixbrodt and percussionist Marianna Soroka. In Belgium she collaborated with, among others, the Ictus ensemble.
Upon reviewing Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman’s worklist, four key elements stand out which, in various forms and sometimes in combination with each other, form the pillars of her oeuvre. One of these cornerstones is Lierman’s background as a radio maker, which is notable through her ability to document her surroundings in an aural way and to transform this documentation (e.g. field recordings) into a meaningful artistic narrative. The previously mentioned iota mikro (2012) is a good example of this, and immediately touches on a second pillar: Lierman’s artistic exploration of her native Rwanda and, by extension, rural and urban contemporary East Africa. Field recording and soundscapes play a crucial role here, but never stand alone. Lierman always transforms and processes the raw material into a new story – a common thread in her work for which she coined the name ‘Afrique Concrète’ (by analogy with the ‘musique concrète’ of Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, who pioneered with manipulated sound recordings in the early years of electronic music.) An example of a first large-scale composition in which these elements come together is Anosmia (2013). This almost forty-five minutes long work puts the Rwandan genocide of 1994 as its central theme and is built around David Mwambari’s poem Politics Of The Nose. Lierman further reflects on the question that is also put forward in the poem, namely how a small external element such as the shape and length of a person’s nose can draw a line of life or death, even within one family. By extension, she goes in search of the relationship between fear, self-censorship and the need to be able to speak fearlessly. Anosmia‘s sonorous material consists of recorded conversations, text fragments, field recordings and vocal and instrumental parts. The whole exists only as a finished montage, as if it were a radio documentary or podcast. KARIAKOO, also from 2013, runs in the same vein and is conceived as a polyphonic sonorous portrait of the neighbourhood Kariakoo in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
While fixed media is a substantial part of Lierman’s artistic work, the performative also features prominently in her work. In particular, she explores the field of tension and interaction between performance and installation, which translates into a large number of works that she describes as ‘performative installation’. In 2019 Lierman created (Non) Humanism & Animism: Sogokuru. Her source of inspiration again lies in Rwanda, in the extraordinary life of her grandfather, who saw his world evolve from a traditional community, through colonisation, revolution, independence, genocide and civil war, to the rebuilt but fragile Rwandan society of today. However, the execution is very different from that in Anosmia because of its strong performative component. The fixed audio layer, listened to in 3D audio by means of Silent Disco headphones, is flanked by a choreography for four live musicians (on viola, clarinet, melodica and a solid arsenal of percussion and foley instruments). This live aspect requires a very different setting than a fixed media work (presented as a radio broadcast or installation, for example), which also involves an entirely different spatial and visual experience for the audience.
As a trained radio maker and singer, it should come as no surprise that the voice is the fourth pillar of Lierman’s work. She explores the potential of her own voice and that of others as a voice artist, improviser and composer. As a guest vocalist she collaborated with the band Nurse With Wound and together with bass clarinetists Ábel Fazekas and Riccardo Marogna she released the improvisation album Organo in 2018. In many compositions the speaking or singing voice is prominent, in others she plays a subtle supporting role. The latter is the case in Kropka Na Ogonie & Soroka Fruwa, a miniature music theatre performance for one percussionist from 2016; the title is Polish for ‘Dot On The Tail & Magpie Flies’. With five microphones the sound of one metal percussion brush is amplified to the extreme. Towards the end of the work, Lierman complements those fluttering sounds with some well-placed ‘ah’s’ and ‘hé’s’. They are hardly more than breath sounds, but the extreme amplification ensures a highly dramatic effect.
List of works
[#01] “So Why In A Hurry?” for solo cello/mime performer (2010)
[#02] Mwami for accordeon, contrabass trombone and bass tuba (2011)
[#03] LOOP (performative installation for two tap dancers and prepared dancefloor) (2011)
[#04] Marie Marie Marie Aimée for three equal voices (2011)
[#05] LOOP (revised version) (performative installation for two tap dancers, prepared dancefloor and tape) (2011)
[#06] Mrs. & Mr. Goodness (fixed media) (2011)
[#07] Sonic Walk I (fixed media) (2012)
[#08] iota mikro (fixed media) (2012)
[#09] Just Outside the Wombskin (fixed media) (2012)
[#10] Hyperventiels (fixed media) (2012)
[#11] Procella (installation) (2012)
[#12] de Triangles Infinis for 5 percussionists (2012)
[#13] KARIAKOO (installation) (2013)
[#14] Melody 0 (fixed media) (2013)
[#15] [SIC] – NWW for voice and electronics (2013)
[#16] Anosmia (fixed media) (2013)
[#17] “Where Are You?” for two percussionists, piano and tape (2014)
[#18] Santoor Lena Bicycle – NWW for voice and electronics (2014)
[#19] Dismembered Voices for two vocalists, flute and electronics (2014)
[#20] “Maria, Mariza and maybe Marianna” (fixed media) (2014)
[#21] The Girl the Turtle and the Earthquake for alto solo and tape (2014)
[#22] Sampling the Man of Memory together with Vincent Meessen (installation) (2015)
[#23] Vice Versa for alto solo and tape (2015)
[#24] Voice & Fingers for solo voice and electronics (2015)
[#25] Touch the Gear for solo voice/improvisor and electronics (2015)
[#26] Context – Gravity – Expressions I together with Nicholas Calvin (installation) (2015)
[#27] Context – Gravity – Expressions II together with Nicholas Calvin (installation) (2015)
[#28] Studie for Luidspreker, Spreekstem, Stemvork for solo voice and electronics (2015)
[#29] Bare Faced (performative installation for one dancer and one musician, with voice, drumset, toy instruments and found objects) (2015)
[#30] Kropka Na Ogonie & Soroka Fruwa for solo percussion/mime performer (2016)
[#31] Tele Drumming for solo percussion/voice/performance (2016)
[#32] In Vogelvlucht (installation) (2017)
[#33] Kruispunt Kruger (installation) (2017)
[#34] Sampling the Man of Memory (revision) together with Vincent Meessen (installation) (2017)
[#35] Tubes In A Forest for solo voice and large children’s choir (2017)
[#36] (Non) Humanism & Animism: Absental Dynamics (performative installation for 4 musicians and tape) (2018)
[#37] (Non) Humanism & Animism: Sogokuru (performative installation for 4 musicians and tape) (2019)
[#38] Disrupted Transmissions for Es-clarinet, double windwand bullroarer, toy instruments and tape (2019)
[#39] Future Memories for chamber orchestra, chamber choir and multiple ensembles (2020)
[#40] Wir Irren for ensemble and tape (together with Jean-Luc Fafchamps) (2020)
– Cathy van Eck, Kropka na Ogonie and Soroka Fruwa by Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman, in Between Air and Electricity. Microphones and Loudspeakers as Musical Instruments, microphonesandloudspeakers.com.
– ‘De bestaande kaders doorbreken is een enorme verademing’, interview door Nico Kennes voor Kunstenpunt, www.kunsten.be.
– ‘Aurélie Lierman. Afrique concrète’, interview door Benjamin van Vliet in Gonzo Circus Magazine, nr. 130, nov-dec 2015, pg. 46-50.
– ‘The edges of the voice. Conversation with Sissel Marie Tonn (ST), Flora Reznik (FR), Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman (AL) and Amelia Groom (AG)’. In Relay Conversation The Reading Room #29 & #30, www.instrumentinventors.org.
On Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman’s website you can find numerous press cuttings and links to online publications, radio interviews, etc., including the above.
– iota mikro (2012) on Alternate African Reality – Electronic, electroacoustic and experimental music from Africa and the diaspora, Syrphe S026, 2020
– “Where are you?” (2014) on Mind The Gap #117, Gonzo (circus) magazine, Virtumedia, 2015
– As improviser: Organo, with Ábel Fazekas and Riccardo Marogna on bass clarinet, online release (bandcamp), 2018
On Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman’s website you can find a lot of free downloads.
Scores are available on request from the composer.
Texts by Rebecca Diependaele
Last update: 2020