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Electric!

Björk once pointed out in an interview that electrical charges have been around since the beginning of time – they are as ‘natural’ as vibrating strings so why not harness them for the purpose of making music?

For the younger generations of composers it has been just as natural to use electricity in some form or another (be it old analogue circuits or modern digital technology) alongside traditional methods such as placing musical notation on pieces of paper and giving them to musicians to play. In certain cases the pieces of paper and wooden instruments have been discarded altogether and the possibilities of the new digital media embraced completely with works intended as a kind of ‘electronic listening music’ and not necessarily requiring performance in a concert situation. In other cases composers have busied themselves with creating ‘patches’ - small computer programs intended for use in live performances or providing a framework for improvisation without being complete fixed musical objects in themselves.

Electric is a series, which gives place to these new developments.

Max/MSP is a graphical programming environment for music and multimedia. It allows one to visually connect data processing objects together with patch cords in order to create custom applications in a similar manner to analog modular synthesizers. A max patch is a visual program put together using the building blocks provided by the Max/MSP programming environment. Max patches can also be saved as small, ‘stand-alone’ programs that don’t require purchase of (or ability to use) the Max/MSP programming environment.

Emphatische Ellipse (2008) by Nicolai Worsaae embraces the broad palette of possibilities available to today’s composer. Nicolai found his original inspiration for the work in an art exhibition that included some semi-sculptural (sound) works by two artists under the name of Vinyl Terror.

Nicolai set about composing a piece for the somewhat traditional ‘Sinfonietta’ format, but with the inclusion of both amplification, a turntable and a specially constructed ‘Max Patch’, which is used to distort the sound of some of the instruments as well as handle the playback of pre-recorded sound files. 

Performers: London Sinfonietta, cond. Baldur Brönnimann

Dust Encapsulated (2009) by Rune Glerup is more stringent in its use of technology. In his composition for solo percussionist a specially constructed ‘Max Patch’ allows the player to trigger sound files via the use of a footpedal while performing.

Christian Winther Christensen uses Max/MSP in both Heiliger Dankgesang (2006), his second string quartet, and In my Presence (2009), a commission for the Esbjerg Ensemble in which Max/MSP is also used to trigger video elements. As a starting point Christian was asked to relate himself to another composer, preferably one that lived a long time ago, and he chose Dufay out of his fondness for this more simple music. 

In In my presence the music of Dufay is used as a kind of set of samples that the musicians activate via their instruments. They beat, so to say, Dufay out of the violin, viola and cello. The piece is a wonderful fusion of the new and the old, the acoustic and the electronic, blend in a beautiful way. 

In a similar manner Beethoven samples are ‘pounded’ out of the string quartet as they play Christian’s Heiliger Dankgesang. 

Line Tjørnhøj's Daughter (2007), on the other hand, is pure ‘electronic listening music’ conceived for and fully embracing the possibilities of modern electronic media while at the same time being rooted in the most ancient of musical instruments - the human voice. It is part of a series of 12 pieces Line has entitled VoxDox in reference to their somewhat documentary-like character, often dealing with intense subject matter.

Martin Stig Andersen’s acclaimed sound design for the computer game Limbo has recently garnered him much attention. His highly sensitive work in the borderland between music and sound-design however reaches back a number of years with a numerous electro-acoustic and video sound works to his credit. His Rabbit at the Airport I-III (2008) is collaborative work with Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner), clarinetist Gareth Davis, and visual designer Jacob Ballinger combining limited edition vinyl records, photography, a short film, and the Internet. Rabbit at the Airport I-III were composed specifically for vinyl, and are available with remixes by Scanner on Usagi Records

I-III Composed, recorded and produced by Martin Stig Andersen,
II/III Bass clarinet: Gareth Davis; III Co-composer: Eyvind Gulbrandsen

Simon Steen-Andersen is a composer who too has found himself in the spotlight recently with prizes for Ouvertures (2010), a work for orchestra and gu-zheng. In both Ouvertures and recent works such as Double Up (2010) and On And Off And Two And Fro (2008) Simon has developed a refined sense for combining sampled sounds (played from a keyboard sampler) with traditional instrumental set-ups. The samples range from vocal fragments of Mao Tse Tung to concrete sounds such as those of the Berlin U-Bahn and are combined with the traditional instruments in a way that casts new light on both the instrumental and sampled worlds, taking the listener on new sonic adventures. 

Performers: Liu Le (gu-zheng) with The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra

Groundbreaking pioneers in the field of electro-acoustic music are Fuzzy (b. 1939) and Jørgen Plaetner (1930-2002), both of which have works published by Edition·S. Here are two examples of their work – both are from the late 1980s and both are composed and engineered at the DIEM electronic music studio in Århus, Denmark.  

Fuzzy and Plaetner, courtesy ofDacapo Records

 

Electric! by Edition·S is supported by the Danish Composers´ Society´s Production Pool/KODA´s Fund for Social and Cultural Purposes and the Danish Arts Council

 

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