Comment c'est

Michael Mantler, Himiko Paganotti, Max Brand Ensemble

Declaring that he is “no longer able to ignore overwhelming and outrageous recent world events”, trumpeter and composer Michael Mantler leaves the world of abstract music behind to tackle a host of contemporary evils head-on. His texts for Comment c’est, sung by French-born singer Himiko Paganotti, respond to what he calls “the all-pervading environment of hatred, greed and corruption.” Comment c’est “refers specifically and reacts strongly to recent events and concerns itself with a range of deadly serious subjects, such as war, terrorism, hostages, migration, poverty, fear and the exceedingly sorry state of the world in general.”
Featured Artists Recorded

April 2016, Porgy & Bess, Vienna

Original Release Date


  • 1Aujourd'hui
    (Michael Mantler)
  • 2Intolérance
    (Michael Mantler)
  • 3Guerre
    (Michael Mantler)
  • 4Commerce
    (Michael Mantler)
  • 5Hiver
    (Michael Mantler)
  • 6Sans fin
    (Michael Mantler)
  • 7Folie
    (Michael Mantler)
  • 8Pourquoi
    (Michael Mantler)
  • 9Après
    (Michael Mantler)
  • 10Que dire de plus
    (Michael Mantler)
Düster ist diese Musik aus Klangbrocken geschichtet, frei von tragenden singbaren Melodien. Damit setzt sie die buchstückhaften Gedankenassoziationen der Texte idealtypisch in Klänge um.
Werner Stiefele, Audio
What sort of music do we most need in these disturbed times? Something to soothe and console, certainly. Something to help us dance our way through the gloom, of course. Something to ensure, as well, that the finer instincts of the human mind remain open to stimulus. But perhaps most of all just now we need music that observes and warns. That’s the task of ‘Comment c’est’, a new extended work from the trumpeter-composer Michael Mantler which seems likely, at least to me, to be one of the most significant recordings of the year. […] ‘Comme c’est’ is an agitprop song cycle in 10 parts, written for the voice of Himiko Paganotti, Mantler’s own trumpet, and the Max Brand Ensemble, a 12-piece chamber group, augmented by the piano of David Helbock and conducted by Christoph Cech. Its subject is the hell we are in the process of creating: a 21st century hell, but with immemorial echoes. […] These are art songs, making use of Mantler’s command of both contemporary classical music and jazz to create an idiom perfectly suited to the through-composed structures. The voice of Ms Paganotti, a member of Magma for the last few years, is grave and poised, avoiding melodrama even in its most impassioned moments (such as on the song called ‘Sans fin’), matching its poignancy to the sober textures drawn from the ensemble of flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, French horn, tuba, two violins, viola, cello, double bass and vibraphone/marimba. The rhythms, although sometimes making use of a tuned-percussion ostinato, are usually episodic or rubato. […] Every minute of the album, all the way to its bleak ending, rewards concentrated attention.
Richard Williams, The Blue Moment
Freigeist Mantler schuf mit ‘Comment C’est’ ein Werk von kontemplativ kammermusikalischer Grandezza mit pluralistischem Gestus, dem, gegeben durch die eigenwillige Instrumentierung, wahrhaftige, dunkelgetränkte Schönheit innewohnt. Ein Soundtrack zum Wahnsinn der Zeit. Alles andere als desillusionierend, sondern wachrüttelnd.
Hannes Schweiger, Concerto
Michael Mantler writes: Comment c'est (How it is) is a song cycle for female voice and chamber orchestra. Wanting to use French, a language that so beautifully lends itself to be sung, I had long been thinking of using a certain type of voice from French popular music in a totally different and serious context. When the project finally came to be realized I luckily found a very interesting French electro-pop/jazz singer, Himiko Paganotti.
She turned out to be the perfect choice, having a tremendous range, both musically and emotionally. Introduced to me by John Greaves, an old cohort of mine, she had worked with him and in many different contexts, including the French cult rock-jazz band Magma. Our first occasion to work together was at a concert in Paris during 2014 with the Chaos Orchestra of composers Daniel Yvinec and Arnaud Petit. This collaboration resulted in a lengthy work entitled Oiseaux de Guerre (Birds of War), which dealt with atrocities of the Iraq war. Continuing from there, wanting to explore the voice and the general theme further, I worked on creating Comment c'est.
I have always kept my musical life as abstract as possible, never directly related to programmatic influences or themes, such as world politics, news items or personal life events. In hindsight, that was only partially successful. After all, I participated in the early Liberation Music Orchestra projects with Charlie Haden. For me, however, it was more the musical experience that counted, rather than the expression of political views. Of course, at the time, one marched on Washington, demonstrated against Vietnam and, in general, behaved anti-government, anti-business and anti-establishment.
Certain critical political-sociological world-views eventually began to appear from time to time in my work, such as in Cerco Un Paese Innocente (I search for an innocent land - another song cycle, this one in Italian), and especially in the extended sort-of-an-opera The School of Understanding, with some of its songs resurfacing, extensively revised, in this current project.
No longer able to ignore outrageous recent world events, it had simply become impossible to continue creating music without reacting to this overwhelming and pervasive environment of hatred, greed and corruption. Comment c'est therefore concerns itself quite specifically with a range of serious subjects, such as war, terrorism, hostages, migration, poverty, fear and the generally sorry state of our contemporary world.
I have always wanted to simply create music that is beautiful and that perhaps reveals something that might be deep within us all. Yet, with this music, in particular, I hope not only to touch those elusive feelings but also to more concretely tell How It Is.
Born in Vienna in 1943, Michael Mantler went to the United States in 1962, and after early activities in the New York avant-garde as composer and trumpet player, he formed the Jazz Composer's Orchestra, and eventually WATT, a music production company. He toured and recorded extensively with Carla Bley as well as occasionally with his own live performance projects.
He has recorded many albums for WATT with varying instrumentations and soloists. Appearing infrequently live, he mostly concentrated on composing and recording. He has often worked with texts of contemporary authors (among them most prominently Samuel Beckett) featuring well-known singers from diverse backgrounds of jazz and popular music, including Jack Bruce and Robert Wyatt.
in 1991 he left the United States and returned to Europe. Continuing to cross the borders between jazz and contemporary classical music with his distinct instrumental and vocal compositions, he recorded new albums, now for ECM Records, including "sort-of" an opera, pieces for chamber ensembles, a large work for full symphony orchestra, suites of songs with words by Giuseppe Ungaretti and Paul Auster, a series of instrumental solo concertos and a collection of guitar/piano duets. His 2014 recording, The Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update, revisited and revised compositions written in the 1960s.
Comment c'est was recorded at the Porgy & Bess Studio in Vienna (April 2016) and Studios La Buissonne in Pernes-les-Fontaines, France (June and July 2016). Live performances of the music followed in Vienna in September 2016.
Michael Mantler schreibt: Mit Comment c'est (Wie es ist) komponierte und schrieb ich einen Songzyklus für Frauenstimme und Kammerorchester. Ich folgte damit einem langjährigen Wunsch, Französisch – für mich eine musikalische Sprache, die danach verlangt, gesungen zu werden – einzusetzen Die Suche nach der idealen französischen Stimme begann, sie sollte eindringlich und unverwechselbar sein. Über meinen Musikerkollegen John Greaves lernte ich die französische Sängerin Himiko Paganotti kennen.
Sie kommt aus der Jazz- und Elektropopszene und spielte auch mit der Kult-Jazzrock-Band Magma. Beeindruckt von ihrem ungewöhnlichen Stimmumfang und emotionalen Ausdruck schlug ich eine erste Zusammenarbeit für ein Konzert in Paris 2014 vor, mit dem Chaos Orchestra der Komponisten Daniel Yvinec und Arnaud Petit. Wir brachten Oiseaux de Guerre (Vögel des Kriegs) zur Aufführung, ein neues Stück, das sich mit den Grauen des Irakkriegs auseinandersetzte. Nach diesem ersten Konzert drängte es mich, die Möglichkeiten ihrer Stimme und auch dieses Grundthemas weiter zu erforschen. Die Arbeit an Comment c'est begann.
Eine große Herausforderung und ein rigider Wechsel: mit diesem Projekt bekamen auch meine musikalischen Inhalte einen anderen Ausdruck. Während meiner gesamten Laufbahn hatte ich meistens explizit versucht, politische, private und programmatische Einflüsse zu vermeiden. Jetzt aber ist es an der Zeit, mit neuen Kompositionen und eigenen Texten konkret auf Themen wie Krieg, Terrorismus, Migration, Armut und Angst einzugehen. Ein Abschied also von einem selbstverordneten Schweigen. In der Vergangenheit hatte ich zwar an so politisch motivierten Projekten wie dem frühen Liberation Music Orchestra mit Charlie Haden teilgenommen, jedoch interessierte mich damals eher die musikalische Erfahrung als die Deklamation politischer Ansichten.  
Frühere textbasierte Werke zeigen allerdings, dass ich mit meiner Musik immer schon eine kritische Weltanschauung verbunden hatte, so auch in meinem – allerdings italienischen – Songzyklus nach Giuseppe Ungaretti, Cerco Un Paese Innocente (Ich suche ein unschuldiges Land). Auch das Wiederhören meiner Sort-of-an-Opera The School of Understanding (Die Schule des Verstehens) motivierte mich, einige der politisch relevanten Songs daraus zu überarbeiten und im aktuellen Projekt wieder aufleben zu lassen.  Ich fühle mich gezwungen, meine bisher eher abstrakten Ideale zu verlassen und die Ungeheuerlichkeiten dieser Welt klar zu benennen. Ich muss auf Hass, Gier, Korruption und Machtgelüste, die unsere Welt schlimmer denn je beherrschen, mit Musik und Text gleichermaßen reagieren. Und so habe ich versucht, auf die niederschmetternden Ereignisse unserer Gegenwart einzugehen, um darzustellen Wie es ist.  
Himiko Paganotti wird vom MAX BRAND Ensemble (Niederösterreichisches Ensemble für neue Musik) begleitet, unter der Leitung von Christoph Cech (der auch die Aufnahmen und Aufführungen meines Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update Projekts dirigiert hatte). Das Ensemble: Flöte, Oboe, Klarinette, Bassklarinette, Horn, Tuba, Streichquintett, Vibraphon/Marimba, mit dem Pianisten David Helbock und mir selbst an der Trompete als zusätzlichen Solisten.
Die Live-Premiere von Comment c'est fand mit zwei Konzerten im Porgy & Bess in Wien
am 10. und 11. September 2016 statt. Studio-Einspielungen des Werkes werden von
ECM Records im November 2017 veröffentlicht.