As described elsewhere, I realised early on in the process that given the huge amount of time I spent alone in my compositional and improvisational practices within the project, it would be very natural to document, with the best possible sound quality, what this solo piano universe sounded like. Or, after spending so much time on the mapping process, it would be natural to make an album out of this map. I decided to record a solo album, and I decided to make an extended solo tour leading up to that recording. Over the course of the project a series of improvised solo concerts were held in the following cities: Gentofte, Edinburgh, Copenhagen (several times), Hillerød, Nuuk, Ishøj, Ballerup, Århus, Nykøbing Mors, Sønderborg, Aalborg and Oslo.
I consider the background for my solo work in this project as being my solo work from 2006 to 2013, originating around the time of my first solo album, “Panta Rhei” (2006). At this point (2006), I had been listening to Dictaphone recordings of my own solo performances, over and over, and had realised that I by doing so, had gradually amplified much of the elements in my music that I found suitable for solo concerts, and gradually diminished the elements that I did not like to hear when listening to it all again. This brought me, back then, to the following considerations:
- I generally liked the material that came out in the solo improvisations at this point, no matter whether it was brand new to me, or well-known zones.
- What I found distinguished one concert from the other was not so much the choices of material, but more the attitude to breathing, listening and engaging in/with the improvisational moment.
I used, with some success, a way of sensing the music with absolutely no categorisations. Making solo improvisations became a question of a mental and physical approach to being, rather than a choice of musical material – because I found the materials resulting from this approach to fulfil my wishes, material-wise. I thought of my solo concerts as reactions to the concert space, to the acoustics, the piano, the audience, the sounds from outside the room, etc.
Looking back at that period today, I think that one of the reasons why it felt right back then was that the situation of playing solo was sufficiently new to me, and therefore my natural limitations in that situation became a kind of framework for the material choices. My idea of total freedom had inherent in it a number of subconscious choices that made the resulting music have at least some kind of rhetoric consistency.
No matter the causes, I had reached a point just before the Habitable Exomusics project began, where I didn’t find this approach suitable anymore. Perhaps because several solo tours later, I had fewer limitations, or my possibilities were becoming too vast to just let them loose, on the spur of the moment. I felt a need to stir things up, or straighten some decisions out, and luckily the Habitable Exomusics approach turned out to be a useable solution. To put it very simply, my personal dogma for the solo concerts within the Habitable Exomusics project became: Don’t allow the improvisations to become tonal, and stick to the pitch-organisational principles from the Habitable Exomusics universe.
The major turn here could be a shift from reactions to actions. That the “everything flows” (Panta Rhei) from before was now replaced by certain preferences that I admitted to having, that in the middle of an ocean of endless possibilities, I had chosen to introduce certain categories that the ocean would not wash away, something that was not negotiable, something permanent – or static…
My main working methods during the process leading up to the solo recordings can be described as falling into the following categories:
- Prototypical material workout. I used the categories in the mapping (see the Habitable Exomusics Analysis text for details) as a starting point for improvisations in each of the zones that my mapping had shown.
- Feed back loop. I would record myself solo as often as possible, at concerts as well as during solo rehearsals. Listening to it again later – preferably shortly after recording, and keeping a diary of my considerations – I would try to target all issues that I liked or disliked and considered what to do about each issue. This ended up in questions like:
- What do I need to do more (or less) during concerts?
- What do I want it to feel like during concerts?
- What do I need to be aware of during concerts?
- What do I need to add to (or remove from) my physical warming up outside of the music as well as on the instrument?
- What do I need in my daily routines?
- What do I need to surround myself with during solo concert preparations?
- “Conscious osmosis.” Answering the questions above, and translating the questions into specific activities that I wanted to dive into regularly, between concerts.
Note that whereas the “prototypical material workout” is about the artistic content (WHAT do I want to be playing), the “feed back loop” as described above is as much about quality issues (HOW can I make sure it sounds good).
The “conscious osmosis” would come out of decisions like:
“I want pulse/beat to be more present in my instinctive intuitive choices”, or “I want to turn the page more often in improvisations”, and in this case, resulted in chosen activities like:
- Improvising atonal music, with a beat, in many different tempos and meters, every day.
- Using the “untempered metronome” exercises (see Habitable Exomusics Analysis) as part of my daily warm up.
- Practicing improvisation with a dogma of having to change zone or vibe every 60 seconds or so (using a metronome capable of going down to 1bpm can be helpful...).
- Improvising counterpoint every day.
- Aiming at maximum dynamic perspective (all dynamic levels possibly available, at all times).
Regarding my approach to audience experiences in the solo concerts, I felt a need to address certain things before the concerts, and halfway through the tour arrived at an approach where I would give a welcome speech to the audience. Here is a version transcribed from the concert the evening before the studio recording in December 2014:
One of Storm P's characters says that it's hard to make predictions, especially about the future.
I will anyway try a small prediction for the near future, that is, for the next one and a half hours.
I sense ... that there will be an intermission midway through the concert... That much I do dare to predict. You might know the feeling: Looking into the crystal ball, saying: "… I see an intermission …." That raises the question, what does an intermission look like? I imagine it being a time where you can get something to drink if you want.
Another thing I can predict is that when I first start playing, then there is a tendency that I wont say much. So to make up for it, I will have to talk a little extra before I start. But don’t worry, I will soon stop. Soon I have finished talking.
I will predict a third thing:
Let me tell you a little story: I played in Nuuk few weeks ago. I played an hour of music - without an intermission along the way. After about 50 minutes there is an elderly lady who turns and whispers to her son or nephew with whom she is sitting: "it is indeed a very long song."
And this is the last prophecy I want to make: There is a risk that this will be a long song.
But as I realised: if it's a song, then it may be long. But if it were a movie, it would be a rather short film. Most people don’t often go to the cinema and watch a movie lasting under an hour. Or, if it were a journey where you went many places, and it lasted under an hour, it would be also a very brief journey.
So, this is my prediction when looking into the near future: a short film - or a long song - and then a break - and then we will meet again…
Thank you for coming.”
I wanted to address possible uncertainties that the audience might have, in a way that did not devaluate the concert as a magical experience. And, I wanted to point the listeners attention to the option of hearing the music as evoking pictures or places, since that seemed to be a constructive or creative way of listening, which could make sense, especially to listeners not used to extended atonal improvisations. I still think it makes sense as a useable metaphor for inviting the audience to listen, in an as unprejudiced manner as possible. And, after starting with a welcome speech like this, it felt as if almost every audience member accepted the entire aesthetic, including the extended forms, the lack of tonality, the absence of squeaking horns of certain effect-driven improvised music. Or, as I discussed with Poul Nesgaard, whom I once met at one of my solo concerts: The framing of the global concert narrative in the listeners’ minds will happen, whether we want it to or not. So why not help the audience gravitate towards framings which are as constructive to the music experience as possible.
Statics (the Map) – Habitable Exomusics Volume II was recorded at Rainbow Studio, Oslo, December 2014. Released 21 August 2015, on ILK.