Tree of Codes trailer, images, press

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

[photos (c) Paul Leclaire]

Also see previous post for detailed information about the opera, libretto etc.


Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, Vanishing Languages, Reincarnated as Music
The New York Times, March 30, 2016. [+ related teaching & learning resource +
radio broadcast]

Raoul Mörchen, Wie bleibt von der Strasse der Krokodile, Kölnischer Rundschau, 6.04.16 [pdf scan]

Programme book_Tree-of-Codes_2016 [essays in German]


Egbert Hiller, «DIE WIRKLICHKEIT IST DÜNN WIE PAPIER» Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, May 2016.

That ‘reality is as thin as paper’ is a core statement from Liza Lim’s libretto that she underlines with her music. With its wealth of colours and forms, which does not shy away from ‘late Romantic’ gestures and arioso vocal writing, Lim’s suggestive sound-world itself becomes a shimmering ‘hybrid being’ in ever-changing ensemble constellations. What is also amazing is her attention to detail, which manifests itself, for example, in a viola with a gramophone horn, which is in turn connected metaphorically with the work’s subject as a de- or re-formed instrument. Liza Lim has fully attained her goal of writing ‘an opera about origin and memory, time, erasure and illumination’. In Tree of Codes, she convincingly connects the old vanitas principle with lurid, distorted images of the present in the tension between virtuality and existential de-restriction, scientific progress and the archaic depths of the soul – a major contribution to the music theatre of our time, and a further milestone in the work of this composer, born in Australia in 1966.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson, Review: Tree of Codes (Musikfabrik), Limelight Magazine  26.04.16

Cologne Opera’s stage is thus populated by beings who are part-human and part-bird, plant or insect. Musikfabrik’s brilliantly versatile clarinettist Carl Rosman, playing the part of the Mutant Bird, performs as both singer and instrumentalist… Masks, anthropomorphic transformations, instruments as proxies for the voice/prosthetics for the body – anyone familiar with Lim’s work over the last decade will have recognised many of the themes here. However, Tree of Codes not only brings these together in a fantastical piece of storytelling, but also gives rise to new depths and dimensions in Lim’s music. It contains some of her most lyrical work: Adela’s fairytale retelling of the Father’s bird-obsession; the Father’s funeral procession; the closing a capella chorus, sung by all 17 instrumentalists. A radiance that is usually just beneath her music’s busy surface has been set free. Everything seems to grow out of itself, like buds within flower buds, but at the same time articulating strong musical phrasing and dramatic pacing; this adds tremendously to that sense of coherence I mentioned before…Claims are often made for a new kind of opera, but in Tree of Codes they seemed entirely justified by the true fluidity between music and spectacle, sound and drama (a feat that few ensembles, it should be said, could have brought off as willingly and as capably as this).

Andreas Falentin, Schöne Neue Musikwelt, Theatre Pur, 10.04.16

The Cologne Opera can count itself lucky to have, with Tree of Codes by Australian composer Liza Lim, brought out probably the most exciting literary opera premiere in recent years. Lim uses its templates – the book sculpture by Jonathan Safran Foer is based on the contents of a related collection of short stories ‘Cinnamon Shops’ by Polish author Bruno Schulz – as neither Bible nor as a quarry. For her and the director Massimo Furlan, who developed the project over three years, the literature is a springboard for their own musical-theatrical fantasy. A composition is created that is self-contained, with high rigorousness and beauty and claims its own substance independent of the templates. Of course, there is the taste of Foer and Schulz in the transformation of atmospheric and formal motives in the new piece. But it lives on its own terms.

Ulrike Gondorf, Musiktheater als Labor des Bewusstseins, DeutschlandRadioKultur, 10.04.16

“Tree of Codes” by the Australian composer Liza Lim transports viewers into an alchemical laboratory of consciousness. It is about transformation, where music and plot unfold a maelstrom effect.
…Liza Lim and the whole team for the premiere, who developed the piece jointly over three years of close cooperation, have created a compelling piece of music theatreWhat Christian Miedl does in the lead role of the son this evening, is sensational.
Everything flows in this piece where no identity, no fixed contour remains. One seems to relive a dream where everything is harmonious, but nothing is logical and space and time are blurred. “Tree of Codes” is an exciting discovery for music theater, cleverly structured and extremely sensual in sound. In Cologne, the audience experiences the new work under optimum conditions: add suggestive theatre images from director Massimo Furlan, who is actually a visual artist. And with a virtuoso ensemble whose impressive skills are perhaps surpassed by their notably enthusiastic commitment to the new work.

Andreas Falentin, Liza Lim: Tree of Codes, Die Deutsche Bühne, 10.04.16

That one feels involved rests especially on the richly varied sounds of Liza Lim: clusters and nature sounds, fine melodies are combined in sound mixes with bizarre dissonances. It rests on the clear, highly concentrated movement direction of Massimo Furlan, marked by slowness. The images are formed and stay over long periods. They sometimes fall into a void, but this seems almost a mandatory part of the theatrical concept. But above all, the performers guarantee the success of the evening. Four mute actors deliver quirky but never intrusive accurate studies of ‘type’. The soprano Emily Hindrichs fulfills the role of the object of desire with wonderfully relaxed vocals, which although smokily lascivious, remain seductively beautiful. Christian Miedl, the son, despite a huge gamut, never slips a phrase and is believable in the intense game that illustrates his paradigmatic torment. The real protagonists of the evening, are the Ensemble Musikfabrik. The 17 musicians are the research team: playing strange and conventional instruments, they excel in small singing roles and towards the end, as wonderful a cappella choirs. They have fun and convey it.

Markus Schwering, Uraufführung in Kölner Oper Liza Lims „Tree of Codes“ überwältigt die Zuschauer, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 11.04.16.

Liza Lim’s music, which partly involves birdsong leaking from a computer, inclusive of everyday sounds and music of the spheres, is remarkably innovative in the crafting of sounds and combinations. Liza Lim’s music is remarkably innovative in the way it finds and combines sounds. Some parts have a great density in their structure while other parts are full of heart and easily accessible. And when the brass intone the funeral march for the father, one may almost feel a reminiscence of Beethoven, Chopin and Mahler.
A precise judgement on the work’s quality would require repeated listening, which makes it impossible here. But one thing certainly becomes clear: this is an opera which is for, not against the human voice – not something to be taken for granted nowadays. Vocal virtuosity in a very traditional sense is celebrated here in a veritable feast. And the calm mastery, the radiant, unstrained intensity in all registers with which the singers (Christian Miedl as the son and Emily Hindrichs as Adela; the father, portrayed impressively by Yael Rion, is a silent role) perform their difficult parts – these already make this 80-minute evening an event.
Finally, the performance by musikFabrik is outstanding. Liza Lim composed for the ensemble’s special characteristics – the score was tailor-made for them, as it were. The musicians not only make use of special techniques, but also draw on special instruments. A viola with a phono horn instead of a body – has such a thing been seen or heard before? Vigorous applause for all involved.

Reinhard Kager, Strohgeigen und Krokodile, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 12.04.16
[pdf scan]

…how real is reality and how much of what we call reality, is a construct of human consciousness. The Australian composer Liza Lim follows this trail with a music of electronics, natural sounds and unusual playing techniques to approach a dream world that escapes direct conscious access. At the beginning a beguiling sound track of strange chirping sounds is mixed with real birdsongs so that the sound sources become indistinguishable. The musicians are part of the stage action with rare instruments: subcontrabass flute, strohviol, toy piano, double-bell horns…Lim alternates strict with more freely interpreted passages by which she succeeds in creating a convincing symbolization of the dissolution of the organizing power of musical rationality. As its antithesis, there is the lure of a delicate sensuality.

Uwe Bräutigam, Tree of Codes| Reality is only as thin as paper, NRWJazz. 14.04.16

The powerful images that arise again and again, accompanied by intense but not over-expressive music, allow the audience to become completely immersed in the action of the opera. The movements themselves are rather quiet and make the lines of development in the plot understandable. The actions, images and sounds constitute a whole, which captures the the audience and completely monopolises the attention… Anyone looking for rigorous action will be hard pressed to know who is involved in the different treatments of action and the sensory effects of music, for in surrendering to the singing one is richly rewarded. A great, contemporary opera, which one should not miss.

Jörg Lengersdorf, Liza Lim ‘Tree of Codes’ in Köln, WDR3 Opernblog, 11.04.16

Liza Lim’s sound techniques are extravagant, multiform as well as in part, downright entertaining.

Tobias Ruderer, Oper als Koan, Van Magazine, 13.04.16 [German edition]


Anni Heino, Liza Lim’s Tree of Codes and the ephemerality of life, Resonate Magazine, 16 March 2016.

Professor of Composition’s opera premieres in Cologne – 9 April. University of Huddersfield news, April 2016.

An interview with the Australian composer Charlie Sdraulig on making opera, recorded as part of a graduate seminar series Re-imagining Opera (2015) at Stanford University, can be found here.

[more info in the previous post]


Tree of Codes, ‘cut-outs in time’ an opera

Tree of Codes (2013-15), ‘cut-outs in time’, an opera
Premiere season: 9, 12, 14, 18, 20 April, 2016, Staatenhaus, Cologne Opera

Liza Lim – Tree of Codes information and libretto (read-only downloadable doc)

new info: Tree of Codes – programme notes
Field recordings as ‘cut-outs of the real’ in Tree of Codes

Text about the opera: Michael Rebhahn, translation Christine Chapman

Four years ago, I blogged that I had been commissioned to write a new opera.
Tree of Codes, is now coming into view after a long journey and will be premiered on 9 April 2016 at the Staatenhaus in Cologne. The work was commissioned by Oper Köln, Ensemble MusikFabrik and HELLERAU – Europäisches Zentrum der Künste in co-operation with the Akademie der Künste der Welt. (see links above for more info)

Bird costume

photo (c) Massimo Furlan


Background note (L. Lim)

Tree of Codes takes place during an extra day grafted on to the continuity of life. Within this margin of secret time, a ‘backstage’ area, the boundaries between the natural world, animals, birds, humans and machines are dissolving. Dead matter is combined with the living and becomes animated. It learns to dream, to speak, to sing…

A bird mimics language and humans sing like birds. Father…does he know he’s dead?…conjurs birds made out of rubbish into mutant forms of being, recuperating strange life across a boundary of death. There is a kaleidescope of relationships joined by ventriloquism – one thing speaks for another – this world is made up of contingent parts where form is an excuse for slippage. Scene 3: ‘Ventriloquism’, begins with a comet, its sounds recorded by the Rosetta space mission, whilst far, far below, perhaps affected by some strange gravitational pull, a brass band blurts into life. The bubbling, percussive song of the comet is mirrored in a chorus of frogs and insects, Father’s ‘generatio aequivoca which he had dreamed up’ – not real frogs and insects but ‘a kind of pseudofauna and pseudoflora, the result of a fantastic fermentation of matter.’ Musicians play the most primitive of violins in the form of blocks of wood that are bowed with sticks to sound out this pseudo animal kingdom yet, out of this, emerge rhythmic patterns that recite Goethe’s Erlkönig.

Displacement and dissociation of time, space and identity create effects of menace and wonder. What is authentic? What is fake? The opera Tree of Codes asks:how do the inheritances of our genes, our stories and the unconscious beliefs passed down through generations, shape who we are, our desires, our curses? Do the living and dead exist in a relationship of ventriloquism?’ As Bruno Schulz says: ‘What is a Spring dusk? A multitude of unfinished stories. Here are the great breeding grounds of history. The tree roots want to speak…memories awake…’


Emily Hindrichs, soprano (Adela)
Christian Miedl, baritone (Son/Doctor)
Carl Rosman, tenor (Mutant Bird)

Theatre performers from Company Numero23Prod
Yael Rion (Father)
Diane Decker (Touya)
Anne Delahaye (Adela double)
Stéphane Vecchione (Son double)

16 musicians of Ensemble MusikFabrik (also singing & on stage)
Liz Hirst (Flute/Piccolo/Subcontrabass Flute), Liz Hirst
Peter Veale (Oboe/Cor anglais)
Carl Rosman (Clarinet/Bass clarinet, in addition to singing role of Mutant Bird)
Lorelei Dowling (Bassoon)
Christine Chapman (double bell Horn)
Marco Blaauw (double bell Trumpet)
Bruce Collings (double bell Trombone)
Melvyn Poore (double bell Euphonium)
Dirk Rothbrust (Percussion)
Benjamin Kobler (Piano/Toy Piano/Shruti Box/Kalimba)
Juditha Haeberlin (Violin)
Hannah Weirich (Violin)
Axel Porath (Viola/Strohviol)
Dirk Wietheger (Violoncello)
Florentin Ginot (Double Bass)

Clement Power, conductor
Massimo Furlan, director
Claire de Ribaupierre, dramaturg



& may your veggies (no matter what colour, shape or stripe), sweetly ripen, & your hungry caterpillars emerge into magnificence in the new year

my desk, several worlds

My desk today


I’m sitting at a fulcrum between several large projects – I finally printed out the compiled score of my opera, Tree of Codes (2013-15) which will be premiered on 9th April 2016 at the Staatenhaus Cologne, performed by MusikFabrik & Numero23.Prod with singers from Oper Koeln conducted by Clement Power, directed by Massimo Furlan for Oper Koeln
have started two new works, also for 2016: an ocean beyond earth, a ‘cello solo with various preparations written for Séverine Ballon, and the related 40’ work Everything turns to Air, for Wu Wei (Sheng) & ensemble, co-commissioned by the ELISION Ensemble and ICE (New York).

revisiting ‘Moon Spirit Feasting’

Yuè Ling Jié (Moon Spirit Feasting), a Chinese ritual street opera

This trailer is from the 2000 Adelaide Festival premiere when the opera was performed outdoors on a barge floating on the Torrens River. One of my many collaborations with, and fabulous productions of, the ELISION Ensemble.

Music by Liza Lim
Libretto by Beth Yahp
Directed by Michael Kantor
Set & Costumes by Dorotka Sapinska
Choreography by Melissa Madden Gray
Singers: Chang-O, Deborah Kayser
Queen Mother of the West, Melissa Madden Grey
Monkey King/Hou Yi, Orren Tanabe
ELISION Ensemble conducted by Simon Hewett
Opera commissioned by the Adelaide and Melbourne Festivals

This production then travelled for seasons at the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts (2002), Hebbel Theatre Berlin (2002), Zurich Theatre Spektakel (2002),  Saitama Arts Centre Tokyo (2002) & Brisbane Festival (2006)

Winding bodies: 3 knots shortlisted for 2015 BASCA Award

Winding Bodies: 3 knots has been shortlisted in the large chamber music category of this year’s BASCA awards. Here’s what I wrote about the piece:

A knot is the magical image of time turned back on itself – think of a knot and you start thinking of the actions and process of tying it! The place where you were first finds itself next to where you will be next as you interlace a strand and pull it tight.
A knot is a material technology for binding and unbinding through friction and tension and is also one of our oldest patterns for story-telling, memory-work, divination and magic. The properties that make a knot ‘knotty’, somehow also appeal to our story-telling instincts when we’re faced with paradoxes and problems intervening in a life of desires, curses, memory and loss. Winding Bodies, 3 Knots looks at the old Nordic tale of sailors ‘buying the wind’ tied in knots – untying the first knot would release a breeze, the second a strong wind and the third contained a hurricane which should never be untied…

I would like to make a music that is similarly intertwining in nature, a music made up of a circulating meshwork of lines of activity in which one finds knots of stable coherence and knots that puzzle and confound; a music where knotting describes a poetics of bewilderment as much as of clarity, and where forms grow out of an attention to and fascination with the hurricane of waywardness that sits at the edge of where you think things are going, barely contained by a knot in a rope.

For alto flute, bass clarinet, piano (with preparation), percussion, Norwegian hardingfele (hardanger fiddle), violin, viola, cello and double bass. Winding Bodies: 3 Knots was commissioned by the Cikada Ensemble with the generous assistance of the Norwegian Arts Council. It received its UK premiere by the Cikada Ensemble at St Paul’s Hall on 23rd November 2014 as part of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.