Background of the project:
Framed by the headlines ”Action vs. Reaction”, ”Artistic encounters with an aesthetic otherness”, and ”New music for strings, percussion & piano”, I decided in 2015 to embark on this artistic research project. I wanted to create new music, bridging the gap(s) between classically/new music string players, on the one hand, and piano and drums rooted in jazz/improvisation, on the other. My ensemble, then known as “Strings, percussion & piano”, had released an album in 2013, and we were now working towards our second album, but driven by a conscious choice to do a number of things differently in the second round.
The main schism, I imagined, would be to facilitate a sounding encounter of different musical cultures, without one part unconditionally submitting to the aesthetic of the other part. I have tried to truly merge these two means of expression in a way where all involved musicians can stay true to their background and to the approach they were trained to master.
Artists who have moved around this area on similar (but not identical) paths include:
- from the classical and new music domains: Krzystof Penderecki, Witold Lutoslawski, Frederik Rzewski, Morton Feldman – and, to some extent, Igor Stravinski, Bela Bartok, Arvo Pärt, Georg Friedrich Haas.
- from beyond European classical music: Max Roach, Oliver Lake, Steve Lehman, Mat Maneri, Scott Walker, David Longstreth, Kat Hernandez, Jon Balke, Nils Wogram, Benoit Delbecq, Sylvie Courvousier, Mark Feldman, Lotte Anker.
I focused mainly on
a) pulse: searching for possible types of pulsation, rhythm, momentum and flow, unifying the different music cultures within the project;
b) improvisation: making the string players improvise. An approach to improvisation which is neither modal nor totally free – since they are not schooled in either – but a third position. I wanted to create a common starting point for a type of improvisation which does not have total freedom as an ethic goal. Rather, I wanted a clear aesthetic direction, combined with an explorative and process-based approach, to achieve a nerve of the unknown in the sounding result;
c) creating interesting new music from within the project.
The original research questions were as follows:
1) In which ways can I create new music, unifying the two music cultures in my ensemble – European classical/new music, resp. jazz/improvisation – leaving all parties’ integrity intact, and in a poetic totality?
2) Which modes of pulsation can I create, so that the two worlds unite (with a special focus on the pulse concepts being understandable and negotiable for all participants)?
3) In what approaches to indeterminancies and unpredictabilities can we meet on aesthetically satisfying soil, as only some of us have comprehensive experiences with improvisation?
The artistic result of the project is a series of new compositions for my ensemble, and the album release RESONANCE (September 2016), including eight compositions, seven of which are mine. The album features Karen Johanne Pedersen, violin, Mette Brandt, viola, Ida Nørholm, cello, Peter Bruun, drums, and myself on piano.
At the beginning of the project, our first album had been out for a couple of years. It had received praise and nominations from several international magazines and musicians. Still, I knew I would want to do a number of things differently on our second album. To put it simply, I wanted to be leaning less on the classical aesthetic. I had the feeling that our first album was built upon a basic compromise that I did not want to repeat. I no longer wanted Peter and me to accommodate a classical approach to phrasing, as much as I love classical phrasing when performed by musicians raised in this vernacular. I wanted another kind of clarity, especially in my own playing. It had to do with the relations between rhythm and physical/embodied human experience in my other ensembles. I was wondering if I had moved too far away from that. Was my music in this ensemble based too much on reaction, and too little on action?
When using the word “action” as opposed to “reaction” about this music, I am talking about expressing something, making a statement, which is not just a reaction to that which is already happening in that moment. I wanted to not just “improvise around the string parts”, even if I composed them myself, but to initiate and define the direction for the music, also through my spontaneous playing; letting the playing determine, convincingly, in which aesthetic the music is going to take place. Encountering any otherness does not mean abandoning your own identity.
When listening to genre-blending music by other artists, I have often missed true interaction between the aesthetics – or found it to be minimal. When talking about mixed-genre music, my ideal can be described as follows:
I dream of classically trained musicians being allowed to play with the virtuosity of timbre and the openness of phrasing so abundantly present in their musical literature.
I dream of an encounter, in which the non-classical musicians understand the finer dimensions of the classical music literature, yet act according to the following notion about identity and integrity: Regardless of whether everything around you is changing,, you will remain the same. This is the opposite of the too often encountered situation where one kind of music is taken hostage in the self-realization of another.
I dream of a musical setting where the rhythm section does not throw away decades of specialization into the subtle nuances of feeling, beat, drive and flow. Added strings does not mean that your competences are no longer needed. If your musical DNA calls for the music to groove, then groove – when you must …
Along the way, I realized that I had to make adjustments in the ensemble personnel to achieve the sound I wanted. At the end of the day, I needed string players with more experience from music with a beat than what I had anticipated at first. In hindsight, I believe they needed to understand as much about my world as I understand about theirs, for me to become satisfied with the result. I wanted them to make a go for the pulse and phrasing, along with a strong understanding of what the drums were doing. I needed them to claim an equal position, even in terms of the negotiation of the beat, inside of the music. I needed them to also contribute to building the bridges between our disparate worlds.
At the same time, the moral paradox is painstakingly evident. I was searching for a fair balance between the musicians’ power of definition – albeit mainly in aesthetic terms. To achieve such a sound of equality, I had to define who could stay and who had to go. It became unavoidably clear that the ideal about equality was aesthetic rather than organisational. Inside of the music, the ideal was equality - but within the frame composed by me. The composed frame called for governance around the music. I can only hope that the result was this: A clear mandate of definition outside of the music made a naturally balanced aesthetic and musical encounter possible.