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