What particularly interests me, in my own artistic practice is composing music through improvisation, and designing the music's graphic score with my eyes trained on whatever might carry significance in relation to the artistic experience. In the field around post-jazz and experimental music, where my own artistic practice happens to be situated, I have, over the past ten years, had the opportunity to meet a growing and artistically inquisitive audience, the members of which have become easier for me to get in touch with, through the Internet and Social Media.
However, the constituents of this audience do not necessarily possess thorough musicological knowledge, and many of the people in this group typically experience my rather abstract music in what is chiefly an intuitive way. At the same time, some of them are interested in my graphic notations, and this is something that I interpret as their inclination toward wanting to understand the music in other manners than the merely intuitive. What I miss is communicating the subtler and more deeply detailed aspects of the music’s content and expression to this particular audience. I believe that a more clearly articulated sense of the germinating and progressively emerging time in the music could very well serve to enrich their experience. And this is certainly something that I actively attempt to convey in my artistic practice, through the distinctive graphic and sonic character of my pieces.
In my artistic research project, I have explored how the improvising musicians’ ideas can be embedded in the development of compositions with a distinctively graphic and sonic character. As part and parcel of the project, I have simultaneously created graphic scores and pieces of music encompassing elements that can be recognized sonically from one performance to the next. In so doing, I aspire to create an inter-aesthetic form of expression. The distinctively graphic character that one experiences when examining a graphic score serves to establish communication with the surrounding world, by providing a visual representation of addressing oneself to a kind of music that emerges gradually. In the same vein, I want to communicate the music’s germinating time to the surrounding world, through a saliently sonic character. However, this kind of distinctive character, which proves to be sonically recognizable from one performance to the next, straddles the dividing line between compositional intention and improvisation, precisely because the musicians’ improvisations co-create the composition. Because of this, a multiplicity of meanings in the artistic expression arises – without, however, being haphazard.
My relationship to artistic research
In Denmark, the Ministry of Culture has defined a frame around artistic research, and has decided to designate this kind of research “Kunstnerisk Udviklingsvirksomhed”. In recent years, artistic research has undergone rapid development internationally, and now Denmark is also working with the concept. As is the case with all new branches of research during this incipient phase, there isn't a whole lot of consensus about what the research is supposed to encompass, and about what it is supposed to take for granted.
On an international level, criteria for validity and applicability are being discussed, along with the various forms of dissemination and communication. From my point of view, it’s crucial that the artistic working process – while on its journey towards becoming a work of art – includes skills, knowledge and experiences that the world should not miss out on. The working process related to art and the creation of artworks has relevance to everybody – not only to the artist herself.
In my work with artistic research, I operate on the assumption that the final artistic result – the work of art – is not enough. And this differentiates itself from artistic work considered in isolation, where the work of art in itself is altogether self-sufficient. But the investigation, the research, calls for something more. My research method is based on examining the process that leads forward to a piece of music, and is also based on an urge to disseminate and convey what it is that has happened, and as scrupulously as possible. By describing what I am doing, I become attentive to exactly what I’m doing. This awareness inevitably leads to my becoming critical about what I’m doing. For this reason, I sometimes have to stop and deliberate on why I actually choose to do what I’m doing. What is it that influences the decisions that I make when I’m trying to create music? In this form of reflection, principally, everything is put into play.
I think that the dissemination of these reflections is a potential avenue for my own artistic working process to reveal itself as being interesting to others than myself. Even if what I’m doing is personal, I imagine that others will be able to recognize elements in my developmental process. By narrating on the basis of my personal perspective, others will have a chance to identify with the considerations that I make. Why did she choose to do it like that? Would I, myself, have chosen the same path forward?
Improvisation and composition
As a child, I started out improvising in the conventional idiom of rhythmic music. I felt no urge of my own to compose music since I could find everything I wanted to find when, for example, I was playing solos on my saxophone over a jazz standard, a blues or a soul ballad. By the time my teenage years came to a close, I fell under the spell of the experimental and the abstract. I spotted conventions everywhere in the music, conventions that I took delight in trying to prod and poke. I manipulated pieces of music that already existed, but then it also started to make sense to me that I try my hand at creating some new compositional material. I arrived at the realization that the very act of taking it into my head that I even wanted to compose a work was already, in my optics, a convention that I would have to circumvent. Instead, I improvised short pieces of music on the sax, which I recorded with a cassette-tape recorder. Listening to the recordings again, I came up with ideas, fragments and form-sections, which I subsequently pieced together in different ways. By this means, my compositions saw the light of day.
In my manner of creating music, improvisation and composition weave themselves together. In order to make my way toward a work, I have a need for both the compositional process and the improvisational process. To me, improvisation is what is happening in the present moment. It’s in constant motion; it’s something that gradually and progressively emerges. Whenever I imagine music, I cannot do without this here-and-now. And for me, imagining music is tantamount to composing. When I compose, I recede, a little bit, from the music’s gradual emergence in the present moment. Whereas, in the improvisation, I am always making spontaneous choices about the music. These choices have to be made immediately because there is no time to stop and weigh up what you’re going to do when the music, in full swing, is constantly emerging every single moment.
The choices that you make can have a tendency to follow certain patterns. With the passage of time, you can imperceptibly get habits embedded into your improvisational practice. But, I don’t regard this as something wrong. As a matter of fact, the patterns and the habits are a distinctive mark of the musical expression that one has as a musician: distinctive marks that play a part in our being able to recognize one musician from another. However, for me, there’s also something irritating about both my own and other musicians’ habits and patterns. The irritating aspect incites me – I want to see what would happen if one nudges herself and the other musicians a little way out from their patterns and habits. When I compose, it inspires me to visualize something that’s unknown in advance, something that might happen with the music when one jostles the musicians’ habits and patterns a bit. And that’s what I am trying to compose with.
Another aspect of composition is that I think that compositions have a tendency to steal some of the present moment’s existence in the improvisation: the “now” in the music, inside of which musicians have to be so intensely present so as to be able to make these spontaneous and definitive choices without any chance to change their minds. In order to ensure the musicians’ intense presence, what I want is that my compositions refrain, to the fullest possible extent, from stealing any more than is absolutely necessary from the musicians’ spontaneous choices in the now. And, as a way of achieving this, I think of my compositions as courses of events. I am composing events that are not firmly mapped out in detail but are rather frames within which the musicians can make spontaneous choices.
It is crucial to me that my composed frames and events supply the compositions with sonic characteristics that make it possible to distinguish the one composition from other compositions, and simultaneously make it possible to recognize the composition in question when you hear it a second time, when you hear it a third time ... and so on. That this sonic recognizability is such a necessity for me in my compositional praxis is due to the fact that sonic characteristics function as bearing-marks or pointers of a kind in the music’s gradual and progressive emergence, and these pointers come to be openings for the listener to be able to experience the music as a sequence of incidents with a fixed temporal duration.
In my high school music class, a part of the education had to do with becoming familiar with scores of the musical works that we were working with. I remember this in the form of mental pictures of situations where a certain piece would be played on the stereo equipment as I leafed through the pages of the score and tried to follow along. I experienced this as a way in which one could gain access to knowledge about certain aspects of the music. But at the same time, this provided me with food for thought about what kind of artistic thrill I was feeling in response to this music, in the midst of such a situation. It started to dawn on me that the score was a factor that affected my experience. In this way, the score’s visual expression made an artistic impact on me.
When I tried to find my bearings and follow along with the score, while I was listening to the pieces of music, I felt hemmed in. I was not able to take in everything about the music that the score was illustrating. I could feel the muscles in my body tensing up and I started to sweat. When I began, some years later, to design graphic scores of my own compositions, they took on an easily surveyable and simple appearance. This is something that happened intuitively in my working process. I wasn’t thinking about why this was so. My graphic notations did not come to convey knowledge about the same aspects of the music that the scores from my high school days did. Instead, they embodied items of information about other aspects of the music. The scores that I was designing and elaborating offered access to understanding the music as a whole, in a way that spanned across each of the different instruments. The scores filled but one single sheet of paper, in either the A3- or A4-format, which could then be set up on a music stand. Then one could survey, at a glance, the entire piece’s temporal form, from beginning to end.
I make use of the space that is available on my compositions’ graphic scores to provide information about conditions related to the composition that I think are the most important. When I, to a limited extent, make use of standard notation that is ordinarily associated with musical tones, I do so in order to use the space in the score to convey a composition in a different kind of way than I would when conveying a conventionally scored piece of music, with the typical use of a note or the typical use of the score.
Instead, I build up my graphic scores in such a way that they, first and foremost, give an impression of the composition as a whole. Standard notation is written, from beginning to end, in lines, like the text in a book. For me, this form of notation has the drawback that the composition is thereby also going to be read in a direction that moves from start to finish. In my own compositions, there is frequently, also, a beginning and an end and there is a series of events in between them, but I have a desire to downplay this linear stream. I think that you will perceive the individual events in a different way if you get an overall picture of the composition from the very outset. With the overall picture as a point of origin, you can subsequently go exploring your way around in the individual events. When one, as musician or as reader, contemplates the individual events that my graphic scores show, she will come to think of them in relation to the other events. And it does make a difference, with respect to the experience, that one is conscious about what has been going on before and about what is going to happen afterward. And it also makes a difference that one remains aware about what it looks like, when taken together as a whole.