Stefan Östersjö

Sweden (residence) °1967

Stefan Östersjö is Chaired Professor of Musical Performance at Piteå School of Music, Luleå University of Technology. He received his doctorate in 2008 for a dissertation on musical inter­pretation and contemporary performance practice. In 2009, he became a research fellow at the Orpheus Institute. His current work at the institute has been carried out as a member of Performance, Subjectivity and Experimentation, a research cluster headed by Catherine Laws.

        Östersjö is a leading classical guitarist specialising in the performance of contemporary music. As a soloist, chamber musician, sound artist, and improviser, he has released more than twenty CDs and toured Europe, the USA, and Asia. He has collaborated extensively with composers and in the creation of works involving choreography, film, video, performance art, and music theatre. Between 1995 and 2012 he was the artistic director of Ensemble Ars Nova, a leading Swedish ensemble for contemporary music. He is a founding member of the Vietnamese group The Six Tones, which since 2006 has developed into a platform for interdisciplinary intercultural collaboration. As a member of the Landscape Quartet he has developed an articulated performative practice within ecological sound art. As a soloist he has worked with conductors such as Lothar Zagrosek, Péter Eötvös, Pierre-André Valade, Mario Venzago, and Andrew Manze. 


research expositions

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research expositions (collaborated)

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Exposition: Deliberately Practicing the Saxophone (22/03/2017) by Per Anders Nilsson
Stefan Östersjö 05/07/2017 at 09:41

The exposition draws on the long-term experience of the author as a professional improviser. While not immediately based on an artistic research process on practicing, it draws on material from the author’s doctoral thesis, in which practicing is one important element. The empirical example to which the exposition refers dates back a long time and there is no documentation of process. Hence, the argument is based on now rather distant recollections of practicing. An important feature of the exposition is how it attempts to unpack the preparations that precede an improvised performance and identifying a number of rather different processes that contribute towards the being-in-the-now, in the game of playtime. Practicing, then, is understood as a complexly interwoven activity, in which the affordances of the instrument, and also its resistances, are a strong factor (see further Coessens & Östersjö, 2014, Evens, 2005, Östersjö, 2013).


The exposition’s theoretical ground is built on design theory, from which the author proposes a division of musical practice in “design time” (“outside time”) and “play time” (“in time”) respectively. However, it may be argued that the diverse tasks of practicing do not immediately fit in one single category. In the author’s thesis, the same concepts refer essentially to the division between the slower and considered processes of composing or of building an instrument on the one hand and the creation in the moment of an improvised performance on the other [1]. One could argue that much of the activity of practicing is not similar to composing, and not “outside time”, but instead related to the precise timing of musical materials and therefore carried out “in time”, in the moment of practicing.


In the author’s thesis it is argued that ”for the improvising musician, practice consists of exploitation, exploration, and experimentation, which aims to develop, refine, and maintain improvising skills” (Nilsson, 2011, p. 275). But aren’t both exploration and experimentation rather ”in time” actions? Nilsson further argues in his thesis that ”Play time is to be in the moment, the now, to be in the midst of the flux of time, to act and re-act with the body, and to think with the body.” (Nilsson, 2011, p. 324) But such ”thinking with the body” is equally important for a practicing musician. Perhaps a better conclusion could be that practicing takes shape in both categories?


Further, by reference to the design process, the author refers to a model in three steps: ”know, do, feel”. It can be argued that the action-perception loops [2] in musical performance more typically start with the action, which—if we were to apply the same tripartition—would suggest, a different chain of events articulated as “do, feel, know”. Further analytical reflection on this model could open up for a more in-depth understanding of these processes. In these ways, the present exposition opens up for further inquiry into the function of practising in the creative process of improvising musicians.



Coessens, K. & Östersjö, S. (2014a). Intuition, hexis and resistance in musical experimentation (2014) in Crispin & Gilmore, (Eds), Handbook on Musical Experimentation, Leuven: Leuven University Press


Coessens, K. & Östersjö, S. (2014). Kairos in the Flow of Musical Intuition (2014b) in Crispin & Gilmore, (Eds), Handbook on Musical Experimentation, Leuven: Leuven University Press

Evens, A. (2005). Sound Ideas: Music, Machines, and Experience, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press

Nilsson, P.A. (2011). A Field of Possibilities – Designing and Playing Digital Musical Instruments. Thesis at University of Gothenburg.

Östersjö, S (2013) The resistance of the Turkish Makam and the Habitus of the performer.

Contemporary Music Review, (32) 1, pp. 201-213


[1] Also, rather than contrasting” practicing” and “playing”, the latter logically should be called “performing”, since arguably, practicing does involve playing but would never be intended as a performance.

[2] For a further discussion see Östersjö (2013) and Coessens & Östersjö (2014b).