Combining card decks:

Project presentation


Through the Sonic Complexion project I have researched from an artistic perspective the musical dimensions surface and colour - or, slightly less metaphorically speaking, texture[1] and klang[2] - through systematic creative investigations.

Simultaneously, the project originally aimed at dealing with how our understanding of these dimensions is embodied and metaphorical (for definitions, see the metaphor section to the right), when we listen to, contemplate on and communicate about music.


Background – a two decades long detour in a few paragraphs:

Early on in my education, 20+ years ago, I used to consider myself a contemporary jazz pianist, somewhat positioned in or after a lineage from Fats Waller over Mary Lou Williams and Bud Powell to Herbie Hancock, Gery Allen and Keith Jarrett.

Around that time, I started to consider that so called Jazz Theory’s approach to harmony was, in relation to my emerging aesthetics, to paraphrase Irit Rogoff, too much inherited knowledge and too little working from condition.[3] The object for my frustration can be exemplified in books like Jazz Piano Book / Jazz Theory Book[4], and in the numerous educational institutions imitating the Berklee School of Music approach to music theory and ear training at that time.

Inspired and informed by the less piano-centered musics of artists such as Ornette Coleman, Tim Berne, and generally the NYC Downtown scene from the 90’s and forward, and by not-so-easily quantifiable piano approaches such as those of Paul & Carla Bley, Cecil Taylor, Horace Tapscott and Alexander von Schlippenbach, I started sensing that such an overly inhereited-knowledge based approach was leading me towards a dead end. I thus made, paraphrasing Adrian Leverkühn[5], a pact with the Devil and promised to find my way as a pianist in this music without dealing with chords. (Not because I did not like chords, but rather because the music I listened to did not operate according to the logics that were abundant in the literature and the educational systems. My aim back then was to meet the music in a field not defined by categories, preconceived structural expectations and generalizable theory. The quest was in no way anti-theoretical, but rather restructuralist: how to build an apt theoretical paradigm post Ornette Coleman & Milford Graves).

That decision served me well for the next 15+ years or so, and (/as) is generally documented on my first 20+ albums – the whole story of which is not the topic of this project, only a backdrop.

Thirty albums later, after my large scale Artistic Research Project Habitable Exomusic[6]in which I systematically articulated my approach to the dimensions linearity and rhythm, the time had come, structurally speaking, to return to the perspective of surface and colour, and to revisit my view on these in a systematized format. This project is thus my attempt at paying back my debt to the Devil, returning to dimensions of music that I knowingly chose to generally 'ignore' for close to two decades.


When initiating the Sonic Complexion project, it seemed to me that something about the musical dimensions of texture and klang had generally/historically avoided quantification or system building. However, I wanted to try to work on building a multidimensional ‘grand unification approach to harmony and texture’, and to see where that would lead me, artistically as well as in terms of new perspectives.

Within this project, detours through theories on metaphor, cognitive linguistics and embodied cognition[7] has given the project an additional focus on possible cognition approaches through which we might perceive terms such as texture, as well as a multiplicity of mapping strategies within the project.[8]

Among the domains of engagement within the project has been: improvisation, composing for small and large groups of improvisers as well as for classically trained musicians, radical reinterpretations of canonized European “new music”, recordings, record releases, commisioned compositions, mapping of an idiosyncratic harmonic theory, mapping an idiosyncratic theory of texture, mapping of own artistic material as a creative method, mappings of own mental representation as a creative method, context as backgroundcontext as investigation, context as material ripe for reinterpretation, metaphor theory, cognitive linguistics, mental representation and embodied cognition, swarm theory – etc.

[1] I admit using the term texture in a compound way, partly bowing to the classical European definition of texture in music - such as e.g. ”texture is how the tempo, melodic, and harmonic materials are combined in a musical composition, determining the overall quality of the sound in a piece.” (Wikipedia:, accessed April 5th, 2022)  but at the same time, living in an improvised music post-Ligeti world, I must admit a tendency to also use the term to denominate a broader area, as describing multiple properties of the sounding totality, and thus bordering on certain aspects of instrumentation, orchestration, choices on assigning improvisational roles, and sound quality/playing techniques.

[2] In this exposition, I will now and then use the Danish word klang, a concept of Scandinavian/German origin, encompassing, but not identical to the musical dimensions harmony and timbre, but the term also includes sound or sonic environment.

[3] In conversation, Copenhagen, at ICKA seminar, October 2019. Rogoff talked on a much more general note, not about music specifically, but about art education in general. Rogoff’s statement has been elsewhere articulated as follows: “we must work beyond bodies of inherited disciplinary knowledge and find motivation for knowledge production in the current conditions we are living in” –  

[4] by Mark Levine

[5] From the novel Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

[6] Project 2014-2015, final research catalogue exposition published at:

[7] Specifically Lakoff & Johnson, Núñez, Riceur, a.o

[8] See also the “metaphor“ section on this page, and the “Reflections on cognition and methods” on the “Output and Conclusions” page, as well as the left column on the “Texture” page. Mapping strategies are explained three ways in resp. the “Texture”, “Harmony” and “Context” pages.  



Project Overview       Texture      Harmony      Context      Output and conclusions

Artistic output

- for complete list see "Output & conclusions"

Early findings, a.o.:


- The mappings described under Harmony and Texture.


- The model on method in artistic practice explained under Output and conclusions


- A chain of though around possible mental representations of sonic experiences: (textural/harmonic, etc.) - as explained in Reflections on cognition and methods, under Output & conclusions

(Metaphorical/embodied/metaphysical - Parametrical - Gestalt-oriented - Structural - Stylistic/historical - etc., as a model of our mental representation of non-representative artforms. A tool for understanding as well as for creating music.)


Early points of discussion:

- Does the list lack emotional or spiritual reactions to / representations of music? - or can they be said to be contained in the rather broad metaphorical/metaphysical category?

- Does the list lack a hermeneutic/semiotic mode of mental representation - or is that unnescessary as long as we talk about non-representative art?





The main outcomes of the project are a number of new albums, methodologies and perspectives.

Briefly explained, through a mix of artistic practice and considerations of the relations between music, metaphor and cognition, I approached the question of texture and klang from three quite different starting points[1]:


* An idiosyncratic mapping of texture as a multidimensional landscape of perceptively recognizable parameters, functioning as a tool for creatively restructuring the textural possibilities in my music – and offering a model for how to unite the abstract concept of parameter/dimension with an embodied intuitive approach to elements/gestalts and changes, and thus expanding my textural vocabulary. See the page Texture, and the Metaphor section to the right from here. Main released artworks: “Spirit of the Hive”. Album out June, 2021, on LP & digital; The (still unpublished) Card Decks “Elements”, “Changes” and “Metaphor”.


* A systematic mapping of harmonic possibilities as structural combination, resulting in an extended series of compositions, "covering all possible pitch combinations of 4-5 voices”. Main artworks: “Fosterchild” (album released October 2019), “Emerald” (recording May 2022, to be released ´22 or ´23), "Resonance" (new repertoire composed and performed live, no specific album release plans p.t.), among others. A book with sheet music from 20 compositions from this series is in the making, expected release fall 2022. The album Fosterchild is out on CD & digital. The compositional method behind the “Sonic Complexion Miniatures” is also illustrated in this exposition. See the page Harmony.


Interpretations of and improvisation on works by Ligeti, Stockhausen, Boulez, Messiaen, etc. An on-going practice of researching musical colour through contextual reinterpretations, and of expanding my textural and harmonic vocabulary through contextual investigations. Could be articulated as responding to, replaying, and reproducing a canonized modernism piano repertoire, as an attempt at critically break open the hegemonial per-/reception around this music. See the page ContextMain artwork: “Anterior Current”, solo piano album released June 2020, digital only. 


[1] A question has been asked by one of the peer reviewers, whether the research proces in this project starts with(in) the artwork, or if "rather the research is started by ideas and theoretical aims, manifest by texts that lead us through the processes and methods, concepts and finally to the work that resulted from it.” This question is spot on, since considerations on topics, theoretical aims and reflective processes were crucial to the development of the ideas and art production in the project. (More on this in the Reflections on cognition and methods section on the page Output and Conclusions). However, I do not agree that this means that the project did not start with art, or with material, since I do not believe in a dichotomy between on one side clarifying the artistic intension and on the other the actual undertaking of compositional actions. Furthermore, the theories and ideas were all born inside the materiality of an ongoing investigative creative process. As a composer, I find that reflections on topics, means and domains are integral parts of the actual proces of constructing music.

Overview of 
investigations, activities, early reflections and findings. 

(For further elaborations, follow links) 






Output and conclusions)



Initial research questions in the project:

How can I, as a composer and improvisator, develop new music with a particular focus on the textural and timbral* dimensions by employing systematic methodical investigations

To what extent can an articulation of a metaphorical perspective qualify this process?

To what extent will a mapping of my already existing music clarify this present work in terms of its texture and sound (klang), structurally as well as metaphorically?

How can I communicate central insights, methodologies and perspectives to peers and to the outside world, in a manner adequate for the purpose of the project?

*timbral: more optimally, untranslated from Danish, “klanglige”.

Practice/ process/ context


Daily routines

20th century composed piano music as a warm up, and as osmotic immersion.

(Ligeti, Stockhausen, Boulez, Webern, Feldman, Gubaidulina, Crumb, Pärt, Boulanger, Takemitsu, Saariaho, Messiaen, etc.)


Listen – analyze – interpret 

Listen – play – perform/record – reinterpreting

Playing my way around, recording my way through, improvising my way out of my 20th century European composed piano music context.

Album: Anterior Current, recorded December 2018, release June 2020.


Unanswered question: What cultural territory is this album really for?

Is it commenting on a European Music History context, is it post-jazz, or should it be regarded as an ambient music album..? Is it a statement from within or a full frontal outside attack on the institution of Western Contemporary Composed New Music..? 


 An idiosyncratic, unifying theory of harmony ?


* Harmony as a result of simultanous linearities 

* Harmony as functions/ tension-release

* Harmony as vertical translations of tonal horizontal logics

* Harmony as vertical translations of post tonal (intervallic) horizontal/linear logics

* Harmony as free intervals

* Spectrally influenced approaches:

- Harmony derived from overtone series and resonances

- Harmony as imitations or inclusions of outside sounds




Metaphor literature, a.o.:

Lakoff & Johnson: Metaphors we live by

Paul Ricoeur: Rule of the Metaphor (Metaphor vive)

James Geary: I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We…

Nunez & Lakoff: Where mathematics come from

David Borgo: Sync or Swarm 

Zbikowski: Metaphor and Music Theory

Interviews with and/or texts by Anthony Braxton, Björk, Helmuth Lachenmann, Gerard Grisey, Karlheintz Stockhausen, Pauline Oliveros, etc.


Note: It was never the aim of the project to address ProgramMusik of the romantic era, or give a history, not even a brief one, of the use of metaphor in music over time. The aim is not to understand nor direct the  listeners' metaphorical mental representation, but to investigate constructive strategies for music-making.




(so far 100+ cards)

This card deck is thought of as an empowering tool for collective music creation  - with or without a paedagogical aim, and for dissemination of a model of textural decisionmaking)



Texture as parameters I:

Rhythm, timbre, dynamics, pitch

(Sissel Endresen, in conversation)

Texture as parameters II:

Marilyn Nonken: 9 dimensions

Toneness, amplitude Flux, rhythm, horisontal density, vertical density, gestural repetition, pitch salience, process, silence.

(Marilyn Nonken, PhD thesis, “An ecological approach to music perception: stimulus-driven listening and the Complexity Repertoire", 1999.)

Harmony as free intervals I: E.g. Album: Anterior Current, reinterpreting Feldman, Ligeti, etc..

Harmony as free intervals II: An intervallic mapping of Harmonic possibilities; ”The almost complete list of possible combinations of 3-5 voices” ( – or, of possible families of sounds). 20+ systematic compositions based on a metasystem.

E.g. album: Fosterchild: "Dear Earthling", and upcoming albums with the ensembles Emerald & Resonance



Historically, linguistic patterns depicting e.g. colour, taste, physicality and emotion have shaped how we have understood harmony and texture in music. Otherwise, why would so many examples from music literature speak of sonorities as dark, harmonies as spicy, rhythms as jagged or dominant chords as being released into tonics? Today, more than a full generation after the writings of Lakoff + Johnson & Ricoeur, we might ask if we would ever be able to convey in meaningful ways such dimensions of art and existence in non-metaphorical, categorical terms. 


The way I use the term Metaphor takes its starting point in the theories by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, and to a lesser degree, Paul Ricoeur[1]. If any of us still believe that our thinking is grounded in distinct categories, Ricoeur might argue that every observation of a newly encountered phenomenon starts with an embodied, often pre-linguistic comparison to similar experiences from other fields. This drinking cup looks like my folded hands, that sculpture looks like it affords sitting, those clarinets seem to behave like a swarm of insects, that piano sound is watery, and reading this sentence feels as if … (go ahead and finish the sentence by yourself). Lakoff & Johnson, especially in Metaphors we live by argue convincingly “that the human conceptual system is metaphorically structured and defined”. We find this tendency in much writing about music: the form of the music as a vehicle for taking the listener on a journey, or the music as a container for communicating (transporting) a specific emotion (an object) to the listener. 


Early in this project, I imagined the above perspectives to be central to the artistic investigations of the project. However, I realized while reading and experimenting with applying these theories in my work, that as much as I find the topic of metaphorical-linguistic structures in the conversation on art and music in need of seriously being researched, it would not become the main focus in this project, and if done later, then maybe not by me. Researching that topic from the above starting point would become research on the structure of the language surrounding art. As such, it would have to become a theoretical study, and not necessarily to be even undertaken by an artist. This project’s main ambition, on the contrary, crystalized into applying and testing relevant perspectives and theoretical ideas, thorugh an artistic, creative process. The aim was to research through an artistic practice the musical phenomenon of klang (harmony, texture and timbre) – and to make interesting new music along the way. I would argue that the role of established metaphor theories in the project were to become critically restaged through the practical process of a.o. the card deck methodologies – se especially the pages Texture and Output.


Nonetheless, my reading on especially the theories of the inescapable embodiment of metaphorical cognition ended up influencing the project greatly, which will be explained in this exposition’s section on texture. I read or re-read texts that touch on the subject by a.o. Paul Ricoeur, George Lakoff, Rafael Núñez, Ursula le Guinn, Marilyn Nonken, Anthony Braxton, Helmuth Lachenmann, Gerard Grisey, Karlheinz Stockhausen & Pauline Oliveros. However, the resulting findings in the project ended up being not mainly about understanding texture and harmony through metaphor. As I deal with in the Reflections on Cognition and Methods text (on the page Output and conclusions), the project gradually pointed me towards another model for the relations between metaphor, embodiment, cognition and mental representation than a more strict metaphor theory would have led to.


Before turning down the volume of the metaphor perspective (…), I had created the "Metaphor Card Deck" (see pdf on the right) for using metaphorical thinking as an empowering tool for collective music creation. Instructing a group of young (pre-conservatory level) students for a seven-day project in 2019, I created the Metaphor Card Deck that called for the students’ individual creative reactions to a number of metaphors being presented to them. Freely based on Howard Gardner’s (empirically unsupported, though sympathetic) theory of the multiple intelligences, coupled with a chain of thinking from Lakoff & Johnson, the card deck contained words representing multiple kinds of metaphors: spatial metaphors, visual metaphors, narrative, logical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, orientational, existential, moral and ecological metaphors. Almost no obvious links to music vocabulary was present on the cards, therefore being left open to the creative interpretation of the musician. 

As a pedagogical tool in that setting, at that time, the Metaphor Card Deck worked very well. Later on, while considering how or whether to bring this metaphor-based tool into use in professional contexts, coincidentially the project was about to shift its focus, mostly because by then my other Card Deck creations, the “Elements” and “Changes” card decks, started to create exactly the artistic outcome that I wanted (see the Texture page). Therefore, unfortunately the Metaphor Card Decks have not been seriously tested in a professional context. That can still happen at a later stage – which will have to be in another project. The Metaphor Card Deck can be seen here in a non-designed, beta version.


Let me finish this short discussion about the Metaphor Card Deck by mentioning that I believe there is a huge creative potential in coupling parameters and metaphors, which could be quasi-linguistically hinted at as “musical parameter A is to be imagined as depicting metaphor X”. The method is yours to grab. At the time of writing this, 2+ years after shifting my focus from the Metaphor Card Deck onto the Elements & Changes Card Decks, I am still curious as to what kind of music would come out of it, had I not found other ways of condensing textural and sonic ideas into my writing for ensembles of improvisers. An updated Research Question in this direction would in that case be something like:

- how can we develop new music and new ways of interacting among musicians and audience, by communicating about the music in exclusively metaphorical terms, when composing, instructing, rehearsing, disseminating and performing the music?

[1] Especially, but not limited to, Lakoff & Johnson: Metaphors we live by, 1980, and Ricoeur: The Rule of Metaphor, 1975.

(...Harmony as a result of simultanous linearities:

Covered in depth in the Habitable Exomusics Project..)

Harmony as tension-release, or as abstrations on functions. E.g. Radio Broadcast: DR Midsommerfællessang, J.A. + DR Vokalensemblet, DR Koncerthuset, June 2020, and concerts + upcoming album with "Temporal Allusions"

Harmony as spectralism (overtone series and inclusions of outside sounds). 

E.g. albums: Evan Parker & Kinetics: Chiasm & Zeuthen-Anderskov-Vestergaard: Ecstatic Embrace

Harmony as vertical translations of horisontal modality logics

E.g. Album: Anterior Current, especially reinterpreting Pärt, Messiaen.

Harmony as vertical translations of horisontal intervallic logics

E.g. Album: Anterior Current, especially when reinterpreting Boulez, Stockhausen, Webern.

Texture as parameters III:

For a fuller picture of my personal, idiosyncratic version of a parametric overview, see the 

Texture page.


Dynamics: loud or soft, ff, mp, sfzp, etc.  / Many or few dynamic levels? / vertical dynamic contrast / horisontal dynamic contrast / crescendos & diminuendos / dynamic changes after attacks?

Note- & sound- & sonic qualities: Clean – distorted / harsh – soft / pitch - noise / Short notes - Long notes / accents? / Staccato - legato / Intonation relations / degree of intonation stability

Registers: which registers / high - low / how many registers (density) / width of registers (tessituras)

Densities: registral spacing of events (vertical density)  / Wide pitch – narrow pitch (registral density) / Interval sizes - large, small, few, many? / Degree of spaciousness (Horisontal density) / degree of harmonic complexity / degree of tonal or melodic complexity / The density – rhythm continuum.

Rhythmic dimensions: Recurrences & repetitions? / loops vs transitions? / Pulse: how much pulse, how many pulses / tempo of pulse / tempo of actions (speed / density)  / slowing down vs speeding up? / degree of polyrhythmic content / Approach to subdivisions / tempo & pulse & meter & rhythm & groove

Form and process: Short phrases vs long phrases / Rests – many vs few, long vs short / linear - scattered / epic - broken / static vs development vs permutation vs change / Expressive vs neutral / motivic vs stokastic

Surface fabric & tactility & texture: degree of harmonic complexity / degree of tonal/melodic complexity / unison vs chordal vs choral vs counterpointal etc. / counterpoint by notes vs by rhythms vs by character / ”more than one kind of music at once” / instrumentation / featured soloists

Effects (technically not parametrical, rather elements/gestalts): playing techniques incl. extended technique (arco – pizz, sticks-mallets-brushes, insidepno-keys, multiphonics-clean, growl-clean, ponticello-normal) / sounding materials: wood/ metal/ air/ skin/ breath/ whistling / Tremolo? / Note repetitions? / Level of distortion? / Spectral disturbance?

Excerpt from Bees, from the album Spirit of the Hive

Excerpt from Bugs (B-section), from Spirit of the Hive

Excerpt from Bugs (C-section), from Spirit of the Hive

Randolf Moment, reimagining Morton Feldman's Vertical Thoughts, from Anterior Current

Compare to  Anthony Braxton’s Language music:

12 types:

Long Sounds

Accented Long Sounds


Staccato Line Formings

Intervallic Formings


Short Attacks

Angular Attacks

Legato Formings

Diatonic Formings

Gradient Formings

Subidentity Formings

Agate, Fosterchild, rec. 2018, released nov. '19, ILK

Noten Warben (No tan, Webern), a Webern-remake from Anterior Current, rec. 2018, release June 2020.

Turquoise, Fosterchild

Copenhagen part II (excerpt), from Evan Parker & Kinetics: Chiasm, rec. 2018, release May '19, CleanFeed

Excerpt from Bees, from Spirit of the Hive

Opal, Fosterchild

Translating each parameter/dimension into multiple possible elements/gestures, and into possible changes/developments

New Invented Card Decks:



(p.t. 120+ cards)




(p.t. 40+ cards)

Texture as 

* parameter (Nonken/ Lachenmann/ Stockhausen/ post-Darmstadt); 

a number of possible dimensions


Texture as 

* elements (Anthony Braxton, Lotte Anker, Magda Mayas, Niels Lyhne, and a number of other post jazz/ pan-African approaches);


Texture as 

- a number of positions for each possible dimension