Anderskov blog 10: The Map (in English)

Composer Jacob Anderskov elaborates on the creation of 'STATICS (the MAP)' - the second album in the trilogy of his artistic research project 'Habitable Exomusics'.
19. aug. 2015
Blogindlæg

This blog entry will mainly focus on the work in the project leading up to the creation of the solo album 'STATICS (the MAP) – Habitable Exomusics volume II'.

As described elsewhere, I realised early in the process that given the huge amount of time I was spending alone in my compositional and improvisational practices within in the project, it would be very natural to document with the best possible sound quality how the sound of this solo piano universe was. Or, after spending so much time on the mapping process, it would be natural to make an album out of this map. I decided to record a solo album, and I decided to make an extended solo tour leading up to that recording. Over the course of the project that resulted in improvised solo concerts in the following cities: Gentofte, Edinburgh, Copenhagen (several times), Hillerød, Nuuk, Ishøj, Ballerup, Århus, Nykøbing Mors, Sønderborg, Aalborg and Oslo.

I think of the background for my solo work in this project being my solo work from 2006 to 2013, originating around the time of my first solo album, 'Panta Rhei' (2006). At this point (2006), I had been listening over and over to dictaphone recordings of my own solo performances, and had realised that I by doing so had gradually amplified much of the stuff in my music that I found suitable for solo concerts, and gradually diminished the elements that I did not like to hear when listening back. This brought me, back then, to the following considerations:

  • I generally liked the material that was at this point coming out in the solo improvisations, no matter whether it was brand new to me or more well known zones, and
  • What I found distinguished one concert from the other was not so much the choices of material as the attitude to breathing, listening and engaging in the improvisational moment.

I used, with some success, a way of sensing the music with absolutely no categorisations. Making solo improvisations became a question of a mental and physical approach to being, rather than a choice of musical material – because I found the materials coming out of this approach to fulfil my wishes, material-wise. I thought of my solo concerts as reactions to the concert space, to the acoustics, the piano, the audience, the sounds from outside the room, etc.

Looking back at that period today, I think that one of the reasons why it felt right back then was that the situation of playing solo was sufficiently new to me, and therefore my natural limitations in that situation became a kind of framework for the material choices. That my idea of total freedom had inherent in it a number of subconscious choices that made the resulting music come out as having at least some kind of rhetoric consistency.

No matter the causes, I had reached a point just before the Habitable Exomusics project began, where I did not find this approach suitable anymore. Perhaps because several solo tours later, my limitations were fewer, or my possibilities were becoming too vast to be all let loose if just the spur of the moment called for them. I felt a need to stir things up, or straighten some decisions out, and luckily the Habitable Exomusics approaches showed out to be a useable solution. To put it very simple, my dogma to myself for the solo concerts within the Habitable Exomusics project became: Don’t allow the improvisations to become tonal, and stick to the pitch-organsational principles from the Habitable Exomusics universe.

The major turn here could be a shift from reactions to actions. That the “everything flows” (Panta Rhei) from before was now replaced by certain preferences that I admitted having, that in the middle of an ocean of endless possibilities, I had chosen to introduce certain categories that the ocean would not wash away, something not negotiable, something permanent – or static…

My main working methods within the process leading up to the solo recordings can be described like falling into the following categories:

  • Prototypical material workout. I used the categories in the mapping (see the “Habitable Exomusics Analysis” text for details) as a starting point for improvisations in each of the zones that my mapping had shown.
  • Feed back loop. I would record myself solo as often as possible, at concerts as well as solo rehearsals. Listening back later – preferably shortly after recording, and keeping a diary of my considerations – I would try to target all issues that I had likes or dislikes for, and considered what to do about each issue. That would end up in questions like e.g.:
    • what do I need to do more (or less) during concerts?
    • what do I want it to feel like during concerts?
    • what do I need to be aware of during concerts?
    • what do I need to add to (or remove from) my physical warming up outside of the music as well as on the instrument?
    • what do I need in my daily routines?
    • what do I need to surround myself with during the preparations for solo concerts?
  • “Conscious osmosis”. Answering the questions above, and translating the questions into specific activities that I wanted to dive into regularly between concerts. 

Note that whereas the “prototypical material workout” is about the artistic content (WHAT do I want to be playing), the “feed back loop” as described above is as much about quality issues (HOW can I make sure it sounds good).

The “conscious osmosis” would come out of decisions like:

“I want pulse/beat to be more present in my instinctive intuitive choices”, or “I want to turn the page more often in improvisations”, and resulted in this case in choices of activities like:

  • Improvising atonal music, with a beat, in many different tempos and meters, every day,
  • Using the “untempered metronome” excercises (see 'Habitable Exomusics Analysis') as part of my daily warm up,
  • Practicing improvisation with a dogma of having to change zone or vibe every 60 seconds or so (using a metronome capable of going down to 1bpm can be helpful...).
  • Improvising counterpoint every day
  • Aiming at maximum dynamic perspective (all dynamic levels possibly available at all times)

I have wondered whether it makes sense to publish my diary with listening notes from the fall 2014. It feels almost too private, even when I edit the most personal parts out. However, out of respect to the surrounding society that made it possible for me to dive into this project, I have chosen a way to share these listening diaries: I have uploaded (Pdf, 2 pages, in Danish) a selection of my notes to myself during the fall 2014, chronologically. I am not proud of this document as a statement in itself, but at least I can say that it is very honest, in that I have not changed the type of language or the conclusions in each passage, while editing, just narrowed it down to about a tenth of its original length.

Regarding my approach to audience experiences in the solo concerts, I felt a need to address certain things before the concerts, and midway through the tour arrived at an approach to a welcoming speech to the audience. Here is a version transcribed from the concert the evening before the studio recording in December 2014:

“Welcome.

One of Storm P's characters says, it's hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

I will anyway try a small prediction for the near future, that is, for the next one and a half hour.

I sense ... that there will be an intermission midway through the concert... That much I do dare to predict. You might know the feeling: Looking into the crystal ball, saying: "… I see an intermission …". That raises the question, what does an intermission look like? I imagine it being a time where you can get something to drink if you want.

Another thing I can predict is that when I first start playing, then there is a tendency that I wont say much. So to make up for it, I will have to talk a little extra before I start. But dont worry, I will soon stop. Soon I have finished talking.

I will predict a third thing:

Let me tell you a little story: I played in Nuuk few weeks ago. I played an hour of music - without an intermission along the way. After about 50 minutes there is an elderly lady who turns and whispers to her son or nephew with whom she is sitting: "it is indeed a very long song."

And this is the last prophecy I want to make: There is a risk that this will be a long song.

But as I realised: if it's a song, then it may be long. But if it were a movie, it would be a rather short film. Most people don’t often go to the cinema and watch a movie lasting under an hour. Or, if it were a journey where you went many places, and it lasted under an hour, it would be also a very brief journey.

So, this is my prediction when looking into the near future: a short film - or a long song - and then a break - and then we will meet again…

Thank you for coming.”

I wanted to address certain uncertainties that the audience might have, in a way that did not devaluate the concert as a magical experience. And, I wanted to point the listeners attention to the option of hearing the music as evoking pictures or places, since that seemed to be a constructive or creative way of listening, which could make sense especially to listeners not used to extended atonal improvisations… I still think it makes sense as a useable metaphor for inviting the audience to listen as unprejudicedly as possible. And, after starting to start with a welcoming speech like this, it felt as if almost every audience member accepted the entire aesthetic, including the extended forms, the lack of tonality, the absence of squeaking horns of certain effect-driven improvised music. Or, as I once discussed with Poul Nesgaard, whom I once met at a solo concert of mine: The framing of the global concert narrative in the listeners mind will happen, whether we want it or not. So why not help the audience gravitate towards framings as constructive to music experience as possible.

...

While recording the solo album, moving from the live acoustics of the many different live concert rooms to the distilled laboratory of a “perfect” studio environment felt like a factor altering the music quite radically. The absence of uncontrollable acoustic phenomena was almost shocking, though I have tried it a thousand times before. I felt right after the recording that it was very different from the solo concerts that I wanted to “document”. But now, I am no longer convinced that is truly the case.

Interestingly, several low-fi documentations exist from my other concerts the same week, which makes it possible to compare whether or not there was a huge difference between the music making in the studio and live.

Recommended extra material listening (though not with hi-fi sound quality), if you are interested in this question:

Laura Toxværd + Jacob Anderskov “PhoneBook”, Live @ Literaturhaus Cph, December 2014 

Live video, two days after the solo studio recording - the full concert on YouTube, this link brings you to an extended solo piano spot.

 

J.A. @ Lysebu, solo, December 2014

Live dictaphone recording, the evening before the studio recording - the full first set on soundcloud.

 

As mentioned, both these live recordings happen to have rather imperfect sound quality.

When comparing these live-as-it-was documents to the “clean” studio recordings, I sense a different kind of flow in the live recordings, and a more casual way of dealing with form - less consciously aware that there is a recording going on. But whether the musical content is really that different between the “laboratory”/studio and the live recordings is no longer completely clear to me. Feel free to judge for yourself.

 

'Statics (the Map)Habitable Exomusics volume II' was recorded in Rainbow Studio, Oslo, December 2014. Released August 21st, 2015, on ILK.

Further info on the album: Pressrelease in English and Pressrelease in Danish

Audio: 'Statics: The Map' on Soundcloud

 

Om 'Habitable Exomusics'

Det fulde overblik over projektets indhold - de kunstneriske produkter, album-trilogien, afholdte koncerter, audio- og video-links, analysetekster, node-eksempler, etc.

Om Jacob Anderskov

Jacob Anderskov er pianist, orkesterleder og komponist.

 

Han har udgivet over 25 albums som bandleder.

 

Han har modtaget adskillige priser, senest Årets Jazz Komponist 2013 til Danish Music Awards Jazz.

 

Jacob Anderskov er selv uddannet fra RMC i 2002 og har siden 2012 været ansat som lektor.

KUNSTNERISK UDVIKLINGSVIRKSOMHED

I Kulturministeriets definition er kunstnerisk udviklings-virksomhed en integreret del af en kunstnerisk proces, der fører frem til et offentligt tilgængeligt resultat og ledsages af en refleksion over såvel processen som præsentationen af resultatet.