Martin Stauning performs Interventions at The Royal Danish Theatre

When Martin Stauning’s name is featured on the programme for Corpus Unika at The Royal Danish Theatre, it is not as the chamber music composer we know him best, instead it is as composer and performer of his own piece “Interventions”.

Read the interview in Danish.

“Interventions” is performed as part of Corpus Unika on September 18th. Martin Stauning will be alone on stage as performer, and the music literally derives from his movements.

“The piece stages trivial everyday actions like shaving or mopping the floor,” Stauning explains about the piece where his movements will be picked up by contact microphones on his fingers. “I try to find the inherent sound of these actions, which are repeated in a loop. What we hear are the extremely amplified sounds, and while the action is repeated, the sound will be looped and further amplified in an internal feedback.”

The idea behind the piece is to explore what Martin Stauning calls the ‘indifference of everyday actions’. “The indifference gets its own meaning in a piece like this,” he says. “Actions that in their regular context have no deeper meaning – like shaving or washing your hands – are pulled out of context and seen as a musical or performative object, allowing it to be a part of the music in the same way as an F minor chord or a bar of four beats.”

“Through repetition these actions are ascribed a sort of meaning,” Stauning explains and continues: “It simply has to! We would not be able to bear our existence if the trivialities in life did not have a meaning.”

To Martin Stauning, stepping into the role of performer is a way of putting himself out there in a different way from the composer sitting behind a desk. “You kind of turn yourself into a target, saying, come on, shoot at me, if you want to!”

At the same time, it leaves the composer in complete control of the piece. “I enjoy it very much when musicians interpret my works,” says Stauning. “But in this exact piece it is important for me, that there is no difference between the creator and the interpreter. For better and for worse – because if it doesn’t turn out as you hope, there is only one person to blame,” he laughs.

Martin Stauning comes from a background as a professional ballet dancer, and standing in front of an audience is in no way new to him. “I hope, that my familiarity with the stage helps me,” he says. “The most important thing is to have a sense of timing on a stage. If you are just the least bit nervous, ten seconds feels like ten minutes, and you need to be able to control that feeling.”

Stauning hopes that his sense of timing also plays a part when he sits at his desk as a ‘regular’ composer. “I hope, that if there is just one thing I have a feel for, it is timing – when exactly to jump, and when to move a little faster or a little slower in a longer passage” he says. “It is completely intuitive, but I believe that this is something I have simply incorporated into my body.”

However, he does not believe that he is more inclined to get up on stage because of his background as a dancer. Quite the opposite. “It has taken me a long time to open up that box again,” Stauning says. “I have performed on enough stages in my life, and I would really rather not go back up there. In that sense I am exactly like all other composers, so when I do it, it is pure flagellation.”

But then why do Martin Stauning and his colleagues take on the part of performers in their own works?

“Maybe it is actually quite natural,” Stauning says hesitantly, not too eager to deliver an analysis of a whole generation. “Maybe it is a natural next step in the history of music, where composers along the way have questioned different elements of music: You question the traditional formats, the language of classical music, the context of the work and the concept of a work itself.”

“Today music can be anything and everything, so now what we see instead is that the composers question themselves. Instead of asking for instance: What is an instrument? Now you ask: What is a composer?”

Read our feature about performing composers.