Who Am I

Opera for five voices. Installation


5 video screens, 5-channel sound, 40' / loop

christian kesten WHO AM I documentation.mp4 from Christian Kesten on Vimeo.

Christian Kesten composition/space | Carsten Heitsink, Anke Ristentisch, Kai Schnittersen, Catherine Skinst, Hans Stincketier voices | Kassian Troyer sound direction & 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 assistance | Vilém Wagner production management

MaerzMusik Berlin – Festival for Time Issues
March 18–25, 2022 | Gropiusbau

The composition was made possible through a working grant by the Berlin Senate for Culture and Europe. The project was financed by the Fonds Darstellende Künste with funds from the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media as part of NEUSTART KULTUR.
In cooperation with MaerzMusik – Festival for Time Issues.

'extremly inspiring' J.H.

'a polyphony of breaths, a kind of "white noise," with a wide spectrum of sonic nuances, at once static and inebriating.' Corriere Musicale

'I just wanted to tell you how much I really enjoyed seeing and hearing your piece today at Gropius Bau. As I told a friend, it was both more and less than I expected; something that leaves me with questions (like the title) that I don't feel I need answer for somehow (I think there should be a single word for this in German or Japanese or something). It's a beautiful work that manages to somehow simultaneously be completely direct while also being completely mysterious.' J.K.


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.

White noise for voice

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.

Field of sounds

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.

Henrik Adler


Christian Kesten is a sound/ performance/ intermedia artist, based in Berlin.

His artistic interest lies in the "in-between", the transitory, the spaces between sound and action, music and language, music and sculpture. His work explores the interpenetration of sound and silence, of sound and space, with a focus on the physical activity of creating the sound, and the physicality of the sound itself. His compositions include instrumental, vocal, site-specific works and composed theatre. Kesten is a specialist in vocal experimentation and the performativity of music. He works with an expanded notion of music that integrates elements from performance art, conceptual art and contemporary dance.

Kesten received commissions by ensembles like Marinate Fish Impro Committee Beijing, Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop, Maulwerker, Konzert Minimal, Rue du Nord Lausanne, Ensemble Cercles Schweiz, Object Collection New York, AuditivVokal Dresden, Chorakademie Dortmund, WeSpoke London.

He realised full-length pieces in spaces like Radialsystem V Berlin, Schauspielhaus Wuppertal, Théâtre 2.21 Lausanne, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Arts, Gropius Bau Berlin, at festivals like MaerzMusik, MINU_festival for expanded music Kopenhagen, Labor Sonor Translating Spaces, MIKROTON Berne, Kunstfest Weimar, Ontological Experimental Series New York, Operadagen Rotterdam. He also created site-specific works for train stations, basements, and the three elevators of Museum for Modern Art MUMOK Vienna. Kesten delivered solo performances for voice, body, objects, video and audio/field recordings in Europe, North America, China and Japan.

He received awards and grants by the Berlin Cultural Senate, Ernst-von-Siemens-Musikstiftung, International Society of New Music, Kuenstlerhaus Lukas Ahrenshoop, Villa Aurora Los Angeles, Civitella Ranieri Italy, a.o.


2022 Who Am I. 40’ (loop). Opera for five voices. video installation. MaerzMusik—festival for time issues, Gropius Bau Berlin
2016 sciaquone. 3’53, concert for three toilet flushes, a sine wave and film. Civitella Ranieri, Umbertide, Italy.
2012 inside. outside.nothing in-between. 21’, for voice, hands, video and audio field recordings. quiet cue #104, Berlin
2010 title (still) pending. 24’, for video, vocal sounds, and objects. Array Music, Toronto, Canada; Kämmer Klang #28, Café Oto London; sonic slacker entertainment #15, Valentinstüberl, Berlin; Galerie Hunchentoot, Berlin
2007 urban café restroom. 1’, for video and voice. Labor Sonor, Berlin; Engelbrot, Berlin; The Red Room, Baltimore; Perte de Signal, Montréal; Experimental Intermedia, New York; Massachusetts College of Art, Boston; Fotòfono, Brooklyn; loop-line, Shibuya, Tokyo; K!ART: A musical banquet, Bådehuset, Copenhagen
2007 dodger stadium. 7’, for video field recording, violin, harmonium, voice, and hands. privatpublikum, Santa Ynez House Final, Echo Park, Los Angeles; Galapagos Art Space, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY; Q-O2 werkhuis, Brussels, Belgium; neue musik hauskonzert, Berlin-Friedrichshain; labor sonor, KuLe, Berlin; sister city love slam. Los Angeles–Berlin, Engelbrot/Hansa-Theater, Berlin
2007 The Los Angeles Catalogue. 32’, for video field recordings, prepared electric guitar, voice and two pianos. ROD concert hall, CalArts, Valencia, USA
2007 Cypress Park. 7’, for video field recording, guitar, voice and a (nother) live activity. ROD concert hall, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA, USA; privatpublikum, Santa Ynez House Final, Echo Park, Los Angeles, USA; Dangerous Curve, Los Angeles, USA; Q-O2 werkhuis, Brussels, Belgium; labor sonor, KuLe, Berlin; Festival Silent Music. 4’33 and beyond, Charleston, South Carolina, USA; Festival SPIEL09, Andorf, Austria.
2006 Hands Put Together For Praying. 11’, composition for silent film. h7-club, Blinzelbar, Hamburg, Germany; Fotòfono, Brooklyn, NY, USA
1991 sub-. Music for a Cellar. 45’, Performance with Super-8-Films, and Live-Video. Festival DISKURS, University Gießen, Germany