Building, Exploring, Composing. Thoughts on the relation between building instruments and making music with them:


Jan Stricker and Rasmus Cleve Christensen’s fine Lyt Dybt podcast has a great episode covering the history of STEIM.

The podcast is generally in Danish, but a good deal of this episode is in English, thanks to guest Andi Otto.


Riveting performances of Feldman and Ergün by the @jackquartet at Klang Festival last night:

Morton Feldman’s Structures played with beautiful sounds and incredible precision. Restful in what it is, with hints of what was to come in the late string quartets, yet sounding surprisingly up-to-date for a piece that was composed in 1951.

Cenk Ergün’s Sonare is the kind of piece where one can’t quite figure out how it’s done, even though the material seems clear enough on the surface. How is it that an unamplified string quartet can produce so much sound?

Here’s an interview on how it came about.


I’ve been catching up on lectures from the Darmstädter Ferienkurse 2016. They’re fortunately all available in audio form via Voice Republic with a handy podcast feed so that I can get them into Overcast.

I started off with Klaus Lang’s Liebe und Notation. Klaus was a fellow student back in the day when I studied composition with Younghi Pagh-Pahn in Bremen. He enjoyed the long trips from the Austrian mountains to the flat spaces of the German north: Creating open spaces happens to be one of the main features of his music.

The second lecture I’ve gotten round to has been Theater – Macht – Kritik – a concise overview of the changing views on theatre since the Greeks. I found it useful as a framework – as a tool for placing the kind of mindset (the director’s inszenierung as central focus) that Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen came up against when getting his opera staged, as discussed at Frankenstein’s Lab last year.

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What are the building blocks that music shares with other capacities?

I came across this video1 of Fred Lerdahl’s lecture on Musical Syntax and Its Relation to Linguistic Syntax. Of particular interest to me since I’ve based a number of pieces of music directly on transcriptions of speech. Lerdahl also covers some interesting points worth considering when thinking of the common ground between music and other (art) forms.

This was the first of a series of three lectures. I haven’t been able to find videos of the following two: The Sounds of Poetry Viewed as Music and Tonal Space, Motion, and Force, but there is a PDF of the second available on Lerdahl’s website.

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Closing festival thoughts. The string quartet. Somewhere between the sinfoniettas and the vivid young ensembles: A classic formation with a ton of repertoire, but also with the potential of behaving like a band. Easily combined with multimedia, but equally happy without.

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I attended an unusual concert this afternoon: children playing the avant-garde. Compositions by no less than Simon Steen-Andersen and Henning Christiansen, a text score by Carl Bergstrøm, and a large work specially composed for the Suzuki Institute by Peter Due. Rather than having the “see what the children can do” aspect in the foreground, I found myself caught up in experiencing the music.

Earlier in the day I happened to listen to a podcast with Steven Pinker – the cognitive psychologist well known for his theories on language. He had some thoughts on children being able to master a greater complexity of language than hitherto thought possible – and how this plays itself out in children’s books, for example.

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Some follow-up on yesterday’s post: Taking a listen to Celeste Oram’s Make it New report on Darmstadt 2014 again, here are the bits I was thinking of:

Celeste describes, at around 19′28″, the young ensembles as a “triple threat”:

Superb performers, with ambitious concepts for new models of musical performance, and their own stable of local composers whose work they champion.

Festival director Thomas Schäfer recognises this:

They are very flexible. They have very good ideas. Their structure is very anti-hierarchical. They are working in another way than ensembles 20–30 years ago.

He also recognises the need for a platform on which this “vivid ensemble scene” can present their art.

Later, at around 70′55″, he asks:

How can we work with the past? If we have a look at the young ensembles’ repertoires we will barely find any music that is older than 10 years, 10–15 years, so this is really something that we need contact to the important repertoire of former times, and try to bring it into a good conversation with current pieces.

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Late night thoughts a few days into Klang Festival 2016.

Has the Sinfonietta format reached the end of its life? As fantastic as the ensemble of soloists might be, it no longer seems the most suitable place for new pieces. While sinfonietta musicians seem closer to their orchestral cousins, younger groups like Distractfold and Pampelmousse are more like bands. Less tied to repertoire and institutional organisational apparatus, they seem closer to the music they are playing. More aware of considering their concerts as a whole.

Distractfold was awarded the Kranichsteiner prize at the Darmstadt Ferienkurze 2014. A little on them and the shape of todays young ensembles at the end of this RNZ report.

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Anders Monrad has been channelling his creative energies into apps during the last few years. Virtuoso, an iPhone app, coupled generative audio with visual elements and the iPhone’s motion sensors. He had the good idea of getting percussionist Ying-Hsueh Chen to create some performances using the app – a kind of dance with the iPhone with the graphic component projected as a background. That concept has been expanded upon in Sounding Images #1–6, performed, once again by Ying-Hsueh, at Klang Festival this evening.