Email exchange with Alvin Curran about the project in the St. Pauli Elbe Tunnel

January 7, 2010

I had written you some months ago (now discover at the wrong address) but received no reply about a weekend April 30 and May 1/2 in Hamburg at the Blurred Edges festival… I hope there will be a moment when we can all meet and share old and new stories.  if there might be a chance to visit one of your classes or seminars to talk with the students that would be a delight as well… (could do something on May 3 or possibly on the 5th or 6th – talking in part about the use of the LambdaRail technology, now part of the Jack Ox Grid-Jam Project for which I am doing the music)

April 24, 2010

Alvin Curran is being featured next week at the Blurred Edges festival

April 30, 2010 – PRÄSENTATION XVIII talk, “Music Outside the Concert Halls.” Pudel Salon, St.Pauli Fischmarkt 27, Hamburg, 8.00 pm. Free entry.

May 1, 2010 – solo ENDANGERED SPECIES concert. Golden Pudel Klub, St.Pauli Fischmarkt 27, Hamburg, 7.00 pm. Free entry.

May 2, 2010 – performance of VSTO string quartet at concert by Ensemble Resonanz. Fabrik im Gängeviertel, Valentinskamp 34a, Hamburg. Composers’ introduction 7.30 pm, concert 8.00 pm. Free entry.

May 2, 2010

as you may know I will be briefly in Hamburg from Friday-Sunday april 30, May 1 and 2…  I was planning to be one day free Hamburg on the 3rd of may but now I must travel to Mannheim for a meeting, and return probably in Hamburg around 20:30 monday evening (another late possibility)

December 30, 2010

Hope this finds you well ready to take on a great year 

seems like yesterday that I was in Hamburg – and had such a great time thanks to your hospitality and kindness.

I will be around and about in Germany this year and hope we connect in that time…

has anything come of the Tunnel idea??? can still hear that place becoming music.

January 04, 2011

I just had a talk [with] the lady at the Hamburg cultural office who told me that the tunnel is being renovated until 2012. We should nonetheless keep this project in the back of our minds. 

August 15, 2012

I had great hopes with the Elbe Tunnel project that we had discussed about, but unfortunately this didn’t go anywhere. 

January 09, 2017

I hope this finds you well and making  great music as always… ah yes, music, what is that anyway? very hard to know anymore  – now that Hamburg has a floating concert hall, which at any moment could disappear into the North Sea

January 10, 2017

As you have realized correctly, Hamburg did put itself on the map a little more, and I’m still hoping to one day realize the Elbtunnel project that I’ve been dreaming about. 

yes, it would be so wonderful to revive the tunnel piece,  I really found than an exciting acoustic space, but needing a great amount of organization to bring so many players down there…..

January 26, 2017

My students also caught on, and we have had some nice concerts with EEG readings being fed into generative music processes which then were transcribed into notation on the fly.

And we’re also working on a technology, which we can eventually use in the tunnel setting (with musicians reading their music off hand-held devices).

April 20, 2018

I hope this email reaches you well. 

Do you remember my plan to put an orchestra into the St. Pauli Elbtunnel, the old tunnel in Hamburg that connects the port with the city center?

Well, guess what, after working on this for 10 years, I finally succeeded to convince the Hamburg Port Authority to support my plans.

Therefore, I would like to come back to my idea to include you as one of the featured composers and commission a piece from you.

This piece would be about 12 minutes and would also take advantage of the computer network which we will set up to control the performance of the musicians in real time. 

Currently the plan is to place 132 musicans and 12 loudspeakers at regular distances (6m) along the two tubes of the tunnel and provide a tablet computer for each of them.

The total length of the oval would thus be around 860m. I’m attaching an image which might will make this a bit clearer.

The concert would take place in May or June 2019.

Before we go into details, I’d like to express that it would be an honor if you accepted our invitation. We will be in touch about the remuneration as well as providing assistance with the  realization of the real-time score.

April 23, 2018

Congratulations!!! I had no Idea you were still persuing that amazing project!

so this news and  your invitation is indeed a wonderful surprise and honor…. of course, my reply is yes, I will be delighted to participate in this marvelous event.

I am not quite sure what the “instrumentation” is or what the function of the tablet (presumably/ scores/ parts and direction)  but I can say that I might already have the perfect piece (cycling unison or quasi unison tones in multiple directions, once I know the placement of the individual musicians)…

July 15, 2018

I’m very honored that you have accepted our invitation.

Would there be a chance for us to meet anywhere in Europe to talk about the logistic of your piece and the concert in general?

I should also mention that Rama Gottfried has joined our team in Hamburg. I don’t know whether you know him. He’s an American composer who studied in Berlin (with W. Zimmermann) and Berkeley (with David Wessel and others) and is in charge of the electronic setup. I might also ask him to come along when we meet. Mid-August to end of September would be most ideal for me.

July 16, 2018

I would indeed be happy to meet — as a matter of fact I will be on a DAAD residence in Berlin from July 26- August 18th…. performing solo on August 17th at the Micro Musik festival….

Dear Alvin,

looking forward to meeting you — I get back to Berlin on August 11th — happy to meet up while you’re in town! 

Normally I travel up to Hamburg on Thursdays, but otherwise pretty free that week.

all the best from a very humid Rhode Island,


Hi Alvin,

That’s wonderful. Since Rama lives in Berlin, it would easy to meet you there, ideally even attending your performance.

I’ll include him in this conversation. He and me will consult about the dates once he gets back from the States.

August 16, 2018

I will happily meet you on 

Saturday morning…. you will be in Berlin?

I am living in the Friedenau Kiez, but can get anywhere in the city center very quickly.

December 30, 2018

BTW, we have continued in our effort to get this tunnel project off the ground and have achieved very promising results in terms of remotely controlling musicians via browser-based software.

The school is going to get 144 iPads and has already purchased the networking technology necessary to connect such a massive number of players over the distance of nearly 1000m, so all that’s missing are some musicians and the pieces to be performed. In this context I’d like to ask you whether you have received Xiao’s emails. She told me that she sent you two emails over the past couple of months with some details but has never heard back from you. 

We would be delighted to have a piece of yours on the program (just as we have agreed upon in Berlin), but I can also totally understand if this project does not fit your agenda at the moment. Please let me know at your earliest convenience whether we can still count you in.

December 31, 2018

please forgive this long absence of mine, but be assured that I have every intention  of participating  in this great Elbe Tunnel event.

that said, I am just now at 6am in AbuDabhi on my (our) way back from Bali — a most illuminating  world of hindu tradition that still seems to captivate everyone…. (we’d been there alreay several times and are still hooked)… I had the good luck to be able to record a taxi driver for about 4 hours behind the wheel who sang, danced (with his hands), played an imaginary  gamelan and philosophized  as he drove in  wild traffic…. giving me a natural piece of Klangkunst for some future radio or performative situation (not in the Tunnel) ….. 

however I have already had 2 main ideas of my musical intentions, and as soon as I get back to Rome, in a few hours, these will be clearly communicated to you…. they are simple, direct and can be combined with or without any other sounding moments from other artists or simply with my own sounds….the sound of strings especially excites me…..

January 13, 2019

ok — my concept is very simple…from some central [position). I will play a shofar (tuned in some kind of wacky key close to fundamental G)

this will be heavily processed with a MAX patch-in progress (by my ex student Angelo-Maria Farro) which is wonderfully complex, rich and efficient – I will write a simple time score for the instruments who will mostly play on the overtone series of G… with occasional short improvisitory interventions…

the piece will begin with a long expanding (detuned) unison…..from which a gradual but huge  tsunami of unstable sound will emerge….covering the entire audible spectrum.


I will most likely use my conventional set-up of  Shofar to Mic to sound card (FireFace 400)  going into a MacBook Pro with huge Max patch (controlled by a small midi mixer) and 2 outputs from FireFace to amplification….having no idea what the other instruments will have —- they can perfectly play, with my sound whether simple detuned unisons or massive walls of noise from a notated time sheet which I will provide for each musician.

I do not know what the structure of you total concert plan will be, but my contribution can be place in any kind of context from single pieces to collective structures intermixing all the works…

from here I await further details and plans…


I like your idea very much; let me try to translate this into the concrete scenario in the tunnel.

The central position would be at its St. Pauli entrance. There are two tubes of about 430m length starting on either side of this position leading to the other side of the river.

My concerns is that your playing will not be heard at distances greater than 200m away from you and that the subtleties of the electronics will loose their effect even at shorter distances. The 144 musicians will not play with amplification nor will they have any sort of electronic setup and our budget, unfortunately, won’t permit the rental of loudspeakers which would have to placed at about 25m max of each other, requiring at least 40 speakers with respective cabling. 

Instead we’ll be using iPads connected to a Wifi network and I doubt that the internal speakers on those devices provide enough umpf to give the passersby the experience your music deserves (should we opt to include audio streaming, which is not even implemented in our software (yet))*.

I’m not sure what to recommend but I believe the musicians at the opposite entrance also need to be able to hear your music. I therefore think that a score-based solution is mandated where your performance is transcribed in real-time into music notation (either with precise pitch or graphically). 

MaxScore has a built-in transcriber, but the solutions that Rama Gottfried (cc’ed) and Jacob Sello are working on will most likely also be able to accommodate this scenario. Now the question remains whether or not your performance needs to be audible through-out the tunnel.

Let’s ping-pong our ideas for a while until we find the ideal format for your beautiful idea.

*I believe that it’s possible to play back prerecorded audio samples though. 

January 29, 2019

 I finally have gotten around to understand the nature of this project…. above, all,that  there is no generalized amplification, hence it is basically acoustic with sounds coming from many different and simulaneous points in the tunnel

… So I will automatically exlude the electronic processing of the Shofar, which I originally proposed, and simply write a set of tones  to be played both sustained and in repeated staccato patterns,  for each group of 12 instruments, based on related harmonic series (D, B, F, A C# ) to the principal and  fundamental G of my shofar, and perform simply by my walking and playing for a few kilometers on both sides of the tunnel  during the performance

say the piece last 20 minutes — this should give me adequate time to walk and play at least 2 times on both sides of the tunnel….and (possibly/maybe) with a coordinated final closing where alll the musicians meet at one end of the tunnel

Instead what I imagine is a piece of x duration (ca 20 min) where a slow evolution happens simultaneously but not synchronously) on both sides of the tunnel, and where at a certain mid-point  the ambulant musicians them selves can wander freely

I will compose this out and it should take not much rehearsal time, but become more a discovery for all players in the performance itself.  

to do this I would like to know the exact instrumental components of each of the 12 groups  —so that electric guitars, and percussion if not playing portable instruments  can remain in place, and /or move about as well….

February 10, 2019

I am glad my idea has landed well  with all of you…. and to quote Sun Ra once again “Space is the Place!”

To bring this off will not require too much work, but some serious imagining about making music in this science-fiction-concert -hole.

as soon as you know the precise general schedule and rehearsal plans  send them on…. as for more musicians, the more the merrier!

will get the score to you very soon… best, ac

April 29, 2019


 a solo shofar player walks about 2 km (15 minutes) through the Elbe Tunnel…stopping occasionally to play one of the 6 tones available on his Yemenite Shofar.

wherever he may play, the combined orchestra of 144 musicians  tunes to his main tone of “g” from which a sequence of  sustained enharmonic chords emerge:

G,  Em7, Bflat 13,  C9,  Eflat 9aug11,  A7/9, F9/13,  G quint – percussion and guitars create overlapping rhythmic patterns throughout.





THE SCORE IS WRITTEN IN C (unstransposed) – therefore all instruments must rewrite their parts or transpose them accordingly. Notes written out of instruments range may be struck, played an octave higher, or by chosing a different tone

TUNING is in the conventional equal temperment system.

DURATION is 16 minutes with an approximate coordinated stopwatch timing!

All players play INDEPENDENTLY… choice of tone and when to attack and stop are governed by the following rules

WINDS, BRASS, STRINGS  AND VOICES perform the notes  freely (entering at will) within each minute as long sustained tones ca. 5 – 12 seconds, followed by a pause of 3-7 ca. seconds- repeat as necessary…

DYNAMICS: Play these tones to make a reasonable mf-f blend within your group, 



Strike your instrument ffff with single very loud  SHORT sounds, 1x anytime in the first minute, 2x’s until minute 2, 3x’s until minute 3, etc etc until minute 12;   FROM MINUTE 12 UNTIL MINUTE 14 CREATE AN IMPROVISED ACCELERANDO OF SINGLE STRIKES — gradually playing until as fast as possible:CONTINUE IN Minute 14-15, improvise freely 

Minute 15-16 one single strike anywhere within the minute.



Thanks so much. Looks very interesting and also feasible with our system.

Quick question. I noticed you didn’t employ the singers. Is this how you wanted it or can we give them something to do as well?

May 15, 2019

to enter the tunnel on foot, is there a lift, or stairs, or ramp????? and a sign to this entry place?

see you then at the rehearsal on the 25th —-

for me the beginning of my rehearsal should, if possible,  take place first: with all the musicians close by in one place, so that they may hear better the overall effect of their playing – if this is not possible, then they may remain in place and simply perform in their given positions — with some kind of syncronized clock to start everyone….

May 24, 2019

am happily in the Vorbach Hotel…. tell me the best way to the ElbTunnel entrance an how much time I need to get there tommorow ?

May 25, 2019

How can we communicate?

1) to the strings, brass, woodwind, that they should play  a bit more, more freely and varied tones of the long sustained notes….


2) the percussion

that their parts,

1x, 2x, 3x, 4 etc etc means to play only 1,2, 3, 4, strkes fff per minute…. not to repeat them… and to make the long accellerando freely,

3) that the guitars should play forte!  but play their parts not necessarily coordinated!!!!

can these instruction be written into the score — unfortunately a few of  the percussionists were just playing whatever freely

May 27, 2019

Bravi bravissimi!

sorry to have missed you last night at the Bolero… but thank you again for this most memorable even!  and your bringing it off with superb tech, organization,  and terrific musicians.

send me all/photos documentation = photos, video, press

let’s do it again!

abbracci, alvin c

August 09, 2019

It’s such a shame that I didn’t write back right away after the tunnel event, my only excuse being that I was overwhelmed with the physical and psychological effort of putting something like this together and needed a break. 

But rest assured, your contribution was essential, beautiful and well received. People still talk about this event and your piece.