LINES AND LIMITS
BY HILDE SVEEN AND TORLEIF TORGERSEN
We had played and performed together for several years prior to this project, in repertoire ranging from classical to modern music. This was, however, our first venture into this kind of detailed work in which the goal was not a concert or a performance, but to put aspects of interpretation under thorough scrutiny. Parts of the work were naturally about learning the notes. Especially in Valen, this involved a lot of repetition and practicing unfamiliar intervals and leaps, most of which Sveen did alone. Our work together became more interesting when we started experimenting with sound quality and timbre. Since there was no immediate concert planned, we had plenty of time. Having worked together before meant that each knew the other’s capabilities. It also gave an outline of the “aural envelope” available in our minds. This saved time and gave a basis of mutual trust for working with and challenging each other.
RETHINKING EXPRESSION IN HARALD SÆVERUDS´ PIANO MUSIC
BY EINAR RØTTINGEN
In the collaboration with Njål Sparbo with songs by Geirr Tveitt, we experimented with modal scales and how a performance can change by focusing on different pitches as reference points. Modal scales invite to this kind of thinking, since any tonal centre is often ambiguous. The performer’s way of colouring the tones influences how one hears the music. This method of working – which can involve choosing unobvious pitches as reference tones – has been a way for us to get out of habitual diatonic thinking. This method opened many possibilities for finding and combining new colours, thereby enriching the range of expressive means. In surprising ways, this contributed to bringing out richer artistic qualities, not initially obvious in the music.
This collaboration also influenced my sub-project in the sense of opening for greater freedom from the score. In contrast to Sæverud’s scores, most of Tveitt’s scores have few or no dynamic/articulation markings, so much is left to the performer to decide. It took time to get into Tveitt’s musical language and find a direction for my role as performer. The songs were mostly unknown to me and even though I was familiar with Tveitt’s language, the songs represented a more personal and introverted world. The experimentation with performative freedom in Tveitt made me also become more active with Sæverud’s scores, seeing that his indications needed more involvement. The intense involvement with details in Sæverud also influenced a need to take care of details in Tveitt’s open scores.
Meetings between the two Sæverud sub-projects
The interaction with Odriozola’s project on Sæverud’s string quartets consisted of an observation of a rehearsal and performances of the “Quartet No. 2” with a subsequent conversation between us. The challenges of performing and listening to the complexity of the four-part texture of the quartets seemed formidable in comparison to the two-part piano pieces. Inspired by experiences with the piano music, it seemed to me that some musical material needed more time to be felt and comprehended by the listener. There was at times a sense of too much musical information at once. The question of the possibility of more flexibility in the slow movement’s melody also came up.
It became evident to me that Sæverud’s musical language and score indications must be interpreted according to the nature of the instrumental medium. One cannot just transfer the same ideas of execution from one instrument to another. Sæverud’s orchestral music – which uses the same indications distributed between the instruments – also has the challenge of finding each instrument’s individual way of making sense of indications, such as marcato espressivo (<>). How does <> work on the oboe, clarinet, or trumpet? In this sense, marcato espressivo as a quality of expression needs to be found within the characteristics and limitations of each instrument and the musical context.
BY JOHN EHDE AND KNUT VAAGE
Intersubjectivity formed the basis of our composer-performer collaboration. Our method was based on respectful dialogue with interaction through exchanging roles and perspectives between composer and performer. This opened up for a wide exchange of attitudes, memories, history, and traditions that we had gained from our lives as musicians. Mutual understanding came easily since both previously had crossover experience. With no doubt, it was a strength to be able to look at our material from both perspectives, thereby benefitting from each other’s point of view. Diversity and mutual respect also helped us resolve disagreements. When working more traditionally (Ehde as performer, Vaage as composer), traditional roles reappeared. When etudes were made through “comprovisation”, composer/performer roles were completely shared. From these inspiring circumstances, more than four hours of music was created.
Several other types of intersubjectivity arose in collaboration with other artists from within and without our research group.
Within our research group:
We worked intersubjectively with Signe Bakke in her project on Morten Eide Pedersen’s piano music. Through our attentive listening, we discovered similarities of projects and found it striking how we could help each other, give advice and constructive criticism. This led to the three of us improvising together in the research group’s closing concert. This was the first time that Bakke improvised in public.
Intersubjective collaboration with the Valen Trio (Einar Røttingen, John Ehde, Ricardo Odriozola) led to their premiere of “Svev” at the 2018 Borealis Festival. Later performances of “Svev” by the Valen Trio took place in Denmark, Seattle, and Tacoma. It was recorded on CD by them. During the entire process there was a high degree of intersubjective exchange of knowledge and ideas. Through his collaboration with Vaage and as a member of Valen Trio, John Ehde could function as a “bridge” in the work of developing “Svev”.
Røttingen premiered Vaage’s “Rabalder” at the University Aula in Bergen and performed it again in Tacoma, WA. The interaction between Røttingen and Vaage became a kind of extended intersubjective process, in which elements of form and performance commentary were adjusted and developed. This period of working together also resulted in a CD recording.
External work relationships:
Close working relationships were formed in workshops and rehearsals with sound artists John Hegre and Thorolf Thuestad, video artist Birk Nygaard, and the BIT20 Ensemble. The results of these cooperative efforts were “Hybrid Experience” (impro trio), “Hybrid 1” (cello/electronics/visuals), “Hybridization” (ensemble/electronics/visuals) and “Hybrid Spectacle” (cello/ensemble/multimedia). All projects depended on a high degree of dialogue and intersubjective exchange for the development of these new works and experiences.
THE SURFACE IS SLOW, PERFORMING PIANO MUSIC BYMORTEN EIDE PEDERSEN
BY SIGNE BAKKE
Suggestions and comments from colleagues proved to be valuable for my project. Their support helped me relinquish a retrospective perspective and allow more focus on developing my own interpretations. Joint concerts with the research group also gave my project necessary momentum and input.
In meetings with Vaage and Ehde, we agreed to listen to each other’s final rehearsals before concerts. Afterwards we discussed various topics, for example the order of movements and visual communication. It has been artistically rewarding to share viewpoints from other instrumental perspectives. Sharing common artistic approaches and following each other’s developments over time has been especially rewarding.
As individual instrumentalists, there are few traditions for sharing and reflecting on each other’s interpretations in open gatherings with colleagues. We respect each other’s artistic domains and are reticent of giving feedback which may be perceived as critique. It can be experienced as too “intimate” and a disturbance of the colleague relationship. This project contributed toward greater openness and a sense of sharing. More important than involvement in each other’s individual projects were the workshops with the focus on idea exchange, supportive attitude, and a joint responsibility to drive the project forward. But a lack of time has been a challenge. Getting involved in each other’s sub-projects demands a lot of time and capacity.
I worked with two producers in my project: Jørn Pedersen as coach and Vegard Landås as leader of recording sessions. These producers were a resource for us as performers, with their experience and ability to be like an audience of honest listeners. Producers come from the outside, and their job is to be direct in approach. They use time to study the scores, get involved, and share the final responsibility for results. Joint reflections with the producers have also influenced my artistic choices. In the shaping of “Ash Wednesday” – the piece in open form – we discussed how one can include improvisations while at the same time taking care of the composer’s fragments. Another example concerned repetitions. Repetitions of a tone can be challenging to play on the piano; one is dependent on having a good instrument. It can be difficult to play evenly, especially in cases where repetitions increase in tempo, becoming gradually softer. The composer had thought that uneven repetitions would create a varied and interesting expression. But the producers agreed that this unevenness did not function. It sounded as if the performer had a technical problem. We tried other solutions of playing not as fast or ending the passage earlier than notated. We settled on the latter solution. But I have not given up the hope of finding an expressive unevenness which is so clear, and specifically formed, that it can overshadow the audience’s expectation of evenness.
External views of the score: what does a score tell us?
While editing Morten Eide Pedersen’s piano scores, I had to make a choice: should the edition present the unfinished scores with my informed information in the appendix, or should I rewrite the score? The composer used three notational systems in many of his scores. Was this coincidental or a deliberate choice? I got used to this layout but realized that it created unnecessary problems regarding page-turning. Thoughts arose: “What happens if I rewrite these systems? Do we lose information about the voicing? Do we lose the sense of space? Do we lose some of the composer’s intentions?” I invited external viewpoints from the two producers and the composer Knut Vaage and discovered that they had differing opinions. I then chose to keep the composer’s original score with my added comments. One of the scores contained a simple melody distributed over three notational systems. The score is marked - “finished”. How would it be if it were notated on one system? The sense of space on the page might disappear, and one’s visual experience of the music might change the expression.
See attached example from the score of “I know the voices with dying fall beneath the music from a father room”.
SEE SCORE (in sidebar) Pedersen: “I know the voices dying”
SONOTICAL INTERPRETATIONS OF 70 SONGS BY GEIRR TVEITT
BY NJÅL SPARBO
Exploring a piece of music also involves examining the mode of exploration. All professional musicians build on tradition and develop habitual ways of exploring and interpreting their work. Our aim was not to achieve indisputable, final interpretations of the chosen music, but instead to raise questions about our own modes of understanding, and to observe how our perceptions of the music changed according to different modes of exploration. The communication between singer and pianist is based on a common appreciation of aesthetics, and this was developed through rehearsing and discussing possible meanings in Tveitt’s use of modality. Sensing, trusting and responding to each other’s notions and musical expressions was an integral part of the process.
In our search for musical apprehension of Tveitt’s songs, we focused on the following musical levels (ref. Thoresen: Studies in music, 2015):
- articulation, colouring, nuanced alterations of a single timbre, tone or a chord,
2. Compound sound-patterns
- melodies, pitch and gravitational points in the musical phrasing, harmonic progressions, trajectories and energetic flow,
3. Form-building patterns
- audible subdivisions and contrasts between musical sections, regular and disturbed rhythmic patterns, modulations and variations of tonal anchoring created by subtle intonation, and
4. Reductive musicking
- attempting to reduce prejudgements and be attentive to the actual sounding experience.
This led us away from traditional notions of fidelity towards scores in notated music into a more co-creative space. We wished to immerse the group’s initial key questions into artistic practice and utilize the resulting musical expressions in our search for new questions. We realized that our approach might be reprocessed when working with works of other composers and hoped that some of our research results would be of general interest to the field of musical practice.
TAKING A FRESH LOOK AT SÆVERUD’S 2ND AND 3RD STRING QUARTETS
BY RICARDO ODRIOZOLA
International student interaction
Thanks to project funding, I could bring selected pieces of music for strings by Harald Sæverud to music students at academies in Bratislava, Tbilisi, Seattle and Tacoma, USA. I presented and/or instructed some of the violin duets, the “Romanza” Op. 23, and one movement from the third string quartet. In Seattle I gave a presentation of the three string quartets. Students were generally receptive and respectful of Sæverud’s music. I found that the initial student reactions (sometimes, of hilarity!) to Sæverud’s unusual demands became counterbalanced by a growing appreciation for the intricacies of Sæverud’s music.
Interaction with Einar Røttingen’s individual project
My interaction with Einar Røttingen was particularly fruitful. We both had known Sæverud and worked closely with him. Both Røttingen and I came away from their experience with Sæverud with a number of common experiences, but also with some diverging ones. My attitude towards Sæverud had been more deferential than Røttingen’s, especially during the period I worked with the composer. I took everything he said (particularly about his music) at face value, while Røttingen was somewhat more questioning about certain aspects of the man’s musical demands. At the end of his life, Sæverud became hard of hearing, so that when he demonstrated his ideas on the piano, the music could be at times over-expressive and distorted. Røttingen took such demonstrations with a pinch of salt, trying to extract the essence of what Sæverud was showing him.
When working with me, Sæverud used his voice (not the piano) to make his points. He would demand the same extreme characterization of the music as when working with Røttingen. I did my best to comply, even if sometimes the composer’s demands seemed to go against technical common sense.
In this project Einar Røttingen took a “local” approach to Sæverud’s piano music; he concentrated on detail, at the seeming expense of overall form. This informed my work by representing a point of view opposite to his. This is paradoxical since, back in the time they worked with Sæverud, their standpoints had been apparently opposite. During my research project, I concerned myself more with the overall form of Sæverud’s works, then with attention to detail. Røttingen delved deeply into the details, leaving the listener to make sense of the form.
In short, this intersubjective way of conducting artistic research has, in my view, only positive effects on the individual researcher and can be strongly recommend as a model.