ISSN 2605-2318


María de Alvear (Compositora) 

María de Alvear | World Edition Project 10 - Entrevista con Udo Moll


Seventy years ago, computers as big as swimming pools were programmed by country girls, the world’s first fully electronic, vacuum-tube-based universal computing machine: ENIAC, was presented to the world public in 1946. Six young women, mathematic students from the rural Midwest of the USA, had spent three years inventing a method of programming computers. At that point, the women programmers were never introduced; they remained invisible. After 1948, their pioneering work was forgotten for decades.


1. Ruth Prieto: This is the story on you have been working since 2015 and this is the story that inspire you your last double cd «Eniac girls». What can you tell us about this project?

Udo Moll: This project has even a longer history than that. I am interested in technology, especially in calculating machines and computers already since a longer time, I also feel very connected to science history in general, and to the relations between art, society and technology. Already in 2013 I developed a music theatre project that was called «punchcard music», together with the video artist Gudrun Barenbrock. It dealt with the history of punched cards as medium for information storage, but also with Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, and with Konrad Zuse, the german computer pioneer who invented the first electromechanical computer already in 1944, even before the ENIAC. Then, in 2015 I wanted to apply for a residency in Los Angeles, but I needed an artistic subject that had something to do with US-American history. So, I researched and found the story of the ENIAC and its programmers, and that is where the whole project started. When I was in Los Angeles for the residency I started to do research in California, mainly in the Silicon Valley, and got more and more fascinated by all the material I found.
2. R.P: You were accompanied by the story of the ENIAC girls more or less constantly since 2015: different versions of this piece emerged, and two of them are included at this double cd. To what extent has a story like this one of the Eniac girls been with you all these years, and at what point does the story become music and sound art?

Udo Moll: I discovered this story when I was searching for a new artistic topic, mainly for this composition residency in LA. My first version of that piece was a mostly improvised solo version for trumpet, electronic sounds and a live-typed text projection. I already liked that version very much (and the audience too…) but had the feeling that it is not yet finished and that the story itself has the potential to present itself in different formats.
After the first version I also kept researching and reading about the whole complex of pioneers in technology development after World War II, and especially the role of women in it, so, there were even more stories coming up, for example the radio version has more and different stories than the first solo version. To take some narratives and transform them into some kind of music has always been very important to me, because I always thought (and this got confirmed by experience…) that you can get very abstract and experimental with music as long as there is an interesting story that keeps people attention and gives them something outside of the pure music that they can follow. For me this is a good way to reach people that are normally outside of the circle of experts for new and contemporary music.

3. R.P: Ranging from solo electronica to ensemble and even a radiophonic sound art version, this cycle of compositions gets finalized with the release of the double CD "ENIAC girls" that include the ensemble version from 2017 and the radiophonic piece from 2018. How many different works have emerged from “Eniac girls” and why have you chosen these two? There are more waiting?

Udo Moll: All in all, there are those versions:
1. version (solo for trumpet, laptop and text projection) premiered in Los Angeles 2015
2. version for me (trumpet, laptop, text projection) plus two additional musicians (double bass and flute) premiered in New York City 2015
3. version for me, a cello player and big video installation in September 2015
4. version, again a solo version but already with analog synthesizers and shorter, premiered in Berlin 2016.
Then the two versions on the CD.
I have chosen them, because they are the most recent ones and also, because for them I really had a budget to work them out in all details. In the moment it feels as if I would be through with this subject, but sometimes I fantasize about a bigger music theater version with actors, singers and bigger ensemble and video. So, if some funding for this shows up some day, there might even be that version - but that should be the last one then.

4. R.P: CD1 contains the live ensemble version that was premiered in Cologne in 2017. What can you tell us about this version?

Udo Moll: After all those smaller versions before I wanted to do one version that somehow defined a status quo, as well of the piece itself but also for me, defining my status as a composer and how I deal with this kind of abstract music theatre genre. And I also wanted to do a good documentation, so, I booked a video team to record the live performance, but also some studio time to record the whole piece again as an alternative to the live recording. In the end it turned out, that even the so-called ensemble version on CD is another new version, because it is different than the live performance: I did more editing, composed a new synthesizer part and even integrated a little bit of material that I developed for the radio version. So, it seems that for me a CD production is much more than a mere documentation of a live concert event.
The CD production is an art form in itself, I want to shape and create it with all artistic means and possibilities that I have - I am not so much interested in documenting a live concert as authentic as possible - because the experience of listening to a CD at home is anyways fundamentally different from being in a concert hall and experiencing the music first hand.
For me, the whole CD is a composition and not only a documentation of composed pieces.

5. R.P: CD2 contains the radio version that also won an award at International Radio Festival run by Croatian Radio Television. This version field recordings of historic computers, oral-history interviews, experimental voice techniques, percussion, modular synthesizers, Hammond organ. Tell us how this other version comes up?

Udo Moll: Very early in the whole process I had the idea, that this subject would also be great for radio. I have a very dear friend who does regularly fantastic sound art pieces for radio and he inspired me. I asked for some tips and also for some contacts of radio people to whom i could offer this piece. Very fast i got positive responses from some radio stations and it ended in getting this commission from Deutschlandfunk to do a sound art piece about the ENIAC girls. This was my first work for radio and i enjoyed the whole working process immensely. I think i really found a medium that fits me and my way of working very good, i totally enjoy the big amount of freedom that i have had until now by working in this medium.

6. R.P: Yours is a very eclectic profile. Trumpeter, composer, researcher, improviser…. How does your own profile influence works like these ones in the double CD?

Udo Moll: Well, those two ENIAC girls are also very eclectic. They are not academic contemporary composed music in the strict sense, they are not purely electronic music, not purely improvised, no real radio drama, no documentary feature, not completely field-recording-based. But a little bit of all of those styles. This totally reflects my own personality. I could also be a cook, a poet, a pilgrim or a film director instead of being a musician. There are so many ways to have an artistic approach towards life, and i seem just to be unable to really decide for only one of those possibilities.

7. R.P: What are we going to discover in this work?

Udo Moll: Different people will discover very different things in the pieces, even things that I never intended and that is especially great. And also different people will come to different conclusions about the stories that are told, because the whole storytelling is not very linear, it is quite associative and multilayered and even partly obscured.

8. R.P: All this has had to be a long journey for you, how was this process? And could you tell us about the creative process that led to the works on the CD?

Udo Moll: Yes, it was a long journey, but it never felt too long or tiring. In the contrary, I really enjoyed it to go very deep into one subject and research it. And at the same time I was not compulsively focused, I was willing to get carried away by what I discovered in following the ENIAC girls. I think it gives things, but specially works of art, more depth and substance if you do not try to focus too much on one point of view. For sure you have to give structure to the whole thing at a certain point, but I always start by collecting a lot of different material about a certain topic, and then widening the perspective, look for other voices. Letting the material speak to me instead of telling the material what to do. This is where the structure comes from, almost without really pushing it forward.

9. R.P: In the notes of the cd you comment that this work is about the nether world between what we know and what we think we know. How does this “translate” and “materializes” into your work?

Udo Moll: My friend Bernard Clarke is who wrote the liner notes.  But for me this relates to this almost philosophical question about how machines and media change the way how we perceive the world, how we construct something like reality or truth nowadays, based more and more on information that we cannot verify or falsify anymore with our own common sense. And all the computing machines play an extremely important role in this whole process, they are not tools anymore - they create reality following their own rules. This was not so clear in the beginning, at the time of the ENIAC.

10. R.P: Your work is a collage of field recording, interviews, experimental voice techniques, percussion, modular synthesizers etc.…., when research ceases to be field work and becomes sound art?

Udo Moll: For me it becomes (sound) art at the moment where it leaves the status of the purely documentary, where I bring in something that is speculative, that distorts reality, that offers alternative ways of thinking that are less based on facts but more on aesthetic truth and beauty, which is just another kind of truth. There is this really wonderful quote from Ada Lovelace:
«Are we d‘accord now do you think, about poetry & music & philosophy? - I don‘t consider that as yet I have made anything like full use of music; and often much foolish abuse indeed. You will not concede me philosophical poetry. Invert the order! Will you give me poetical philosophy, poetical science?» That says it all…
11. R.P: In this “electro-acoustic oratorio about the dawn of the thinking machines” we find in a very particular way the story of the eniac girls, but what is the story of Udo Moll? Why you wanted to tell this story and why you wanted to tell it with music?

Udo Moll: A part of my personal story is reflected in the ENIAC girls. It is mainly this aspect of being extremely curious, about starting to do something that you never did and where you have no idea how to do it because no one has ever done it before. And you do not know if you maybe fail horribly, you do not even know how it would look like to achieve the goal. But you start working on it anyway, because that seems the only way to find out. I can relate very much to that idea. Of course there are more of my very personal motives hidden in the piece, but they are very private and should remain private - it is not about me.

I wanted to tell this story because, for a very long time, it was suppressed and hidden and lost. Almost no one knew about it for 50 years. And when the ENIAC girls were finally rediscovered in the late 1990s, it was mainly in the journalistic realm, some newspaper articles and even a short documentary film. But no artistic treatment of the subject at all. So, I thought I had to do it.

12. R.P: Where are you right now as a composer, as an artist?

Udo Moll: I am exploring new ways and subjects, trying to learn things. I am still quite active as a performer, but more and more with my second instrument, the modular synthesizer, because this has yet so many uncharted territories and really challenges me to think a lot about how and what kind of music I want to perform with this special instrument, because there are not many role models or predefined ideas. It is really pretty much Wild West - I like that a lot, it gives me a beginners spirit. And in turn this influences the way how I think about composition, because that was always very closely linked to my practice as a performing musician. More concretely, I am working on two new radio pieces, one about gaming in Japan and one about the San Francisco Tape Music Center. Additionally I am refining a new solo performance that works with live video (and I create the video by myself, also something I never did…) and that deals with japanese video games from the 1980s and 90s, and later this year I want to release some tracks that could almost be electronic dance music, but will most likely fail to be danceable.

Udo Moll, es un trompetista, compositor, investigador y artista sonoro radicado en Colonia. Nació en el sur de la Alemania rural en 1966. Su primera socialización musical la realizó en la orquesta local de metales del Musikverein Uhingen. Después de haber estudiado trompeta de jazz con Manfred Schoof y composición con Johannes Fritsch en la Musikhochschule de Colonia, Alemania, ha desarrollado una carrera como trompetista, compositor y músico electrónico independiente. Desde entonces trabaja en diferentes campos musicales como la improvisación, composición, música electrónica y arte sonoro. Moll es un artista con un variado e interesantísimo perfil ecléctico. Entre sus más recientes trabajos está desarrollando una intensa investigación sobre el uso de la computadora y el sintetizador modular como un instrumento musical expresivo en la interpretación y la música improvisada.


ENIAC girls Cologne official documentation (short) from udo moll on Vimeo.

Más información en la web del compositor Udo Moll

The photos of Udo are by Florian Ross (1)  and Fati Baghaturia (2 & 3).

Más información en la web de World Edition


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