In 2015, I was invited to premiere new music for an ensemble created on the occasion for Donaueschinger Musiktage/SWR (for the NowJazz evening). This resulted in the 8-piece group Electric Habitat and a 50 minute long composition of the same name: Electric Habitat.
As the ensemble was new and consisted of strong improvisers, I decided to create a fairly open score with room for the individual and room to experiment and explore the material and sonic possibilities of the group. A text based/graphic score consisting of textural and structural concepts built around 4 spoken/sung text sections.
We had three days of rehearsals before the concert, which were used for collective exploration and understanding of the score: textural concepts, parameters, large-form organization and of course, sound and interaction issues. It was certainly fruitful, but as the concert was just around the corner, we had to limit the explorative aspect and focus on the outcome. The concert went well, but afterwards I experienced ambiguous feelings. On the one hand, I was happy with the project: lovely musicians and good music. But on the other hand I felt that I/we had only scratched the surface. A feeling that the material, the textures, the ways of interacting in the ensemble etc. had much more to offer; that there were far more (more or less hidden) details and areas to explore. The following year, we performed the same piece at the Gong Tomorrow festival in Copenhagen. We moved deeper into the material (still very limited rehearsal time), and in many ways it was a great concert, however I still experienced those mixed feelings of joy and excitement that new doors had opened ajar, and a little frustration and disappointment that they hadn't opened wider and earlier…
I was still looking for something.
Behind all those ajar doors, were glimpses and fragments of still hidden potentials in the sound material, as well as new sounds and textures. Other ways of approaching, conceptualizing and organizing the material. Questions and issues relating to the collective work in the ensemble and to the more general subtle interconnections and paradoxes in the areas between predefined composition and ‘free’ improvisation:
the balance between predefined and undefined elements in a composition (how)?
the dynamics between freedom and discipline (how, how much and when)?
does the predefined material inhibit/get in the way or does it inspire/extend the music (why, when, how)?
and so on…
I longed to explore more deeply, to develop and bind together the glimpses and fragments in my own work as well as in the process of the ensemble.
To create a laboratory environment without necessarily having to focus on a large public concert performance. Perhaps, I also (subconsciously) longed to close some doors.
I felt a need to challenge and (re)investigate my composing practice (including (annoying) habits) in this setting: larger ensemble of improvisers.
To deepen my exploration and identify the above-mentioned questions and issues. Those and many others related to my performer/composer practice seem to crop up time and again in various guises and from different angles.
The above is the more concrete background for my creation of the project Sculpting Air in the Sub Habitat (Sculpting Air).
Sculpting Air is an investigation and unfolding of creative processes in composition FOR a larger (6+ musicians) ensemble of improvisers as well as the processes IN the ensemble rehearsals.
In Sculpting Air, I am both composer and performer. I work with an ensemble created for this project: Sub Habitat
Lotte Anker:saxophones, Mazen Kerbaj: trumpet, Katt Hernandez: violin, Nina de Heney: bass, Sten Sandell: piano & vocal, Andrea Neumann: inside piano, Burkhard Beins: drums/percussion
In the compositional work, my starting point and focus is on timbre/sound/texture. Form and emerging form structures with a particular focus on transitions and silence.
Sub Habitat has conducted 4 Lab Sessions (rehearsals: playing, discussions etc), 3 Public Session concerts, presentation concert plus one concert not strictly related to the project. Due to the Covid 19 lockdown, the sessions were spread out over a longer period than originally planned: the project period was 6 months, which I had spread out over 12 months in the initial plan. The project ended up stretching over nearly 3 years. Session 2 was shortened by two days, also due to the lockdown.
Activity list 2020-22 can be found here
I work with text-based scores expressed in MODES combined with graphic plans and form structures: Score maps. The MODES & ELEMENTS are generated through a qualifying process, firstly by me and then presented to Sub Habitat and explored collectively in the lab sessions.
The MODES eventually become part of a LIBRARY.
The process between Sub Habitat and I is cyclic/spiralic (iterative): create, test with the ensemble (+ refine, adjust, transform, crystallization into subcategories/sub-types etc.).
SOUND/TEXTURE→ MODE/ELEMENT→ LIBRARY→ LARGE FORM
1: explore sound/texture material originating from own instruments/imagined possibilities in the ensemble, qualify, conceptualize and define as (temporary) MODE/ELEMENT (me)
2: ensemble session try-out: explore (temporary) MODE/ELEMENT through playing, discussing, possible refinements/sub categories, adjustments, combinations of MODES/ELEMENTS (ensemble/me)
3: conceptualize and define eventual adjustments, sub categories etc and add to LIBRARY eventually develop new/additional MODE/ELEMENT (or put a MODE aside) (me)
4: create session score (me)
5: ensemble session with session score try-out (focus on transitions, durations, energy, dynamics etc. (ensemble/me)
1-2-3 repeated 4 & 5 occurring at the end of a session
Based on the concepts of texture, MODE and LIBRARY, how can I develop new compositional tools for a larger ensemble of improvisers in a music that reflects the sonic palette and expression of the individual musician, the expression and identity of the ensemble as an entity, and my artistic intention?
How can these tools be deployed as sculpting materials in a large form piece, where the predetermined and indeterminate elements mutually reinforce each other and thus help to extend the musical space?
How can I explore the sonic potential of the ensemble in dialogue with the musicians?
How does the ensemble's overall expression inform my compositional work and vice versa?
In score form, how can I develop a specific vocabulary, concepts and notational forms that clarify my artistic intention and convey the balance between the predetermined and indeterminate elements of the composition?