Anderskov blog 9: The Path (in English)

Composer Jacob Anderskov elaborates on the creation of 'KINETICS (the PATH)' - the first album in the trilogy of his artistic research project 'Habitable Exomusics'.
19. Aug 2015
Blogpost

This blog entry will mainly focus on the work in the project leading up to the creation of the album 'KINETICS (the PATH)'.

As described elsewhere, the KINETICS ensemble came into existence when I decided to work on material from the Habitable Exomusics project together with 2 students from RMC, Adam Pultz Melbye on bass, and Anders Vestergaard on drums. It seemed very right to include students in the project. And I am very happy that I did so.

The Habitable Exomusics concepts were constantly present in the entire composition process, and to a large extend also in my way of approaching the improvised zones in the music. This loyalty towards a number of concepts, and the trying-things-out nature of operations, made me think about the ensemble activities as an applied theory process (for good and for bad), even though I would normally not recommend anyone making music with such an approach. I imagined the ensemble activities forming a core in my project methodology: the creation and rehearsals being directly linked to my project method.

I later found out that the word method comes from the Greek word METHODOS, which means “a way or PATH of transit”, or “the path one follows to reach one’s goal”. I like the word PATH for the combined physical as well as mental pictures it evokes. And given the metaphorical suggestions in the “Habitable Exomusics” terms hinting at interstellar places, and possible journeys going there, I realised that THE PATH was an apt name for the music we were making. This was only later, though, in the beginning I used only the temporary ensemble name Just in Time.

As described in the theoretical Habitable Exomusics Analysis text (download as Pdf, 65 pages, in English), I had ”identified a number of structural tendencies in my own work, regarding which ’definable post tonal material structuring principles’ I had used the most. For each of the general level principles, I tried to achieve an overview of the various possible (or relevant) ways in which each of the principles could be applied. In this way, the map created showed not just what I had previously done, but also a number of theoretically possible kinds of musical grammar, which I had still not created music from.”

So here I was, with a map of unmade compositions. The “map” showed a series of pitch organisational principles as well as a number of rhythm organisational concepts. I quite simply paired these dimensions, and decided which pitch ideas were to meet which rhythm ideas. Or, to be more exact, I pondered to some extend over which pairings would work the best, or which ones I would achieve the most from making.

During the rehearsals with the ensemble, as also mentioned in 'Habitable Exomusics Analysis', I realised that certain rhythmic concepts were to have a prominent role in not just in the compositions, but also in the way we worked on internalising the material. Some of these rehearsal methods have already been discussed in the Analysis text.

The collective rehearsal work was focusing on, most prominently:

  • counterpoint in the material and in the interplay (that the different elements, composed or not, were to be extremely aware of each other, no matter how strict or seemingly ignorant they were in their structures),
  • consistency of flow in the music (that the flow of the compositions was still present in the improvisations),
  • elasticity of the beat, (blending a strong clarity in the syncopations with a very broad beat, and making sure that ‘broad’, did not mean ‘blurry’),
  • deepening the dynamic perspective in the music (working on having many dynamic levels present simultaneously – the notion that just because certain actions are loud, other actions can be very soft at the same time),
  • making strong transitions with an obvious narrative and directionality when needed (and daring to make sudden ending transitions from something into nothing, as is heard on many of the tunes, including Pull Up, Tattarrattat, Cous Cous, etc.),
  • reaching maximum energy levels at minimum dynamic levels (making things gain importance not by amplifying them, but by bringing everything down to a level where a mezzo forte can be a crucial event, without loosing any of the energy flow),
  • letting the music breathe naturally even when being densely constructed (by working very intensely on total internalisation of music and rhythm), and
  • preserving the poetic dimensions of the music even when the structures were overwhelming.

The rhythmic implications were a source of constant discussion during rehearsals. I remember talking about how specific compositions could be bent slightly more in the direction of several very diverse references such as 90’s hiphop, samba, Howlin Wolf, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Conlon Nancarrow, New Orleans, New England, Milford Graves, Steve Coleman, Per Nørgaard, Roy Haynes, as well as several references to the back catalogue of my band since 1998, Anderskov Accident.

Some of these Artist names form a natural contextual backdrop to the music on the ‘Kinetics’ album. There are of course more related artists than these, some of them even more closely related, structurally speaking. Certain concepts in the music, not the least some of the ways the odd meter materials are structured, are obviously similar to some tendencies on the New York contemporary jazz-and-beyond scene. However, it was my intension all the way to make use of a more transcendent way to deal with complex information than what I have heard in the music from the NYC scene since the around millennium. I wanted the complexity to be none of the listener’s concern – or need I say none of the listener’s problem. I did not want the listener to wonder what meters we were in – which is one thing I personally have had issues with when listening to much odd meter-based music from NYC over the last decade or so. For me, "transcendence" is a key word when discussing the differences between my vision of music compared to the current state of the NYC scene.

 (Thinking for months about how to create transcendence in the music, it of course was something to hear from an audience member at a concert 5 days before our studio recording in January 2015: “Fantastic…  It was almost – how can I say it – transcendent. Do you know what I mean?” I still don’t know exactly what he meant, but it was uplifting, given my extensive focus on exactly that term.)

When very early in the rehearsal phase I decided to play a low profile debut concert with the project, little did I know that Danish National TV would choose to broadcast that concert in its entirety (the entire show was aired on DRK in July 2014, and a number of excerpts from it can be found through jacobanderskov.dk). This of course gave us exactly the time pressure we needed to get much further with the material than we thought was possible on such short notice with such hard material.

However, I decided that though the concert now had been publicly broadcast, the recording of it should NOT be released on video – primarily because I felt it was obviously audible that we still had some things to learn in this material (which did not prevent Danish major newspaper Politiken from giving the concert 5 stars in its review). I ended up thinking about the broadcast as a documentation of a very early phase in a body of work that would need more time to mature. That is also why the videos are in my view NOT central to the artistic output of the project, but just function as extra material.

We had plenty of time to work on different musical issues between the broadcast and the time of our studio recording half a year later, which I also think is audible when comparing the two documentation. I find the studio recordings more dynamic, more elastic, with a better general flow – dare I say: more musical.

Had we had a year more before the recording, I would maybe have shared with the musicians more details about the structures in the music, like in the Analysis text I published recently. However, it was my conviction then that the music would sound better if they received information about the underlying concepts more on a need-to-know basis rather than being told the full story every time. I have not regretted this choice, but seen in retrospect it can of course be discussed whether it was the right thing to do.

Another issue that presented itself when being broadcast on TV with a project as specifically nerdy (structure oriented) as this, was that I had until now not thought much about titles, metaphors, or mental spaces for the audience. The music in this project is originally a result of my contemplation on the musical grammar in my musical universe – which is not the most obvious place to start when inviting an audience into the music.

My titles had been chosen quite fast, just in time (sic) for the concerts. I had chosen that almost all compositions involving symmetric structures in them were to have names with symmetries or repetitions in the name – mostly palindromes (Stop Pots, Snap Pans, Tattarrattat, Rat Star, Qaanaaq, Wolf Flow). This made some sense as a classification, but very little sense as a way of conveying what I really wanted to express, and raised the question which considerations were to be shared with the audience and which not.

I wondered to a great extend on how to deal with this schism: having a very structurally born body of music, grown to become a vehicle for expressing much more that just that, and searching for a way of sharing it with the world so that the mental picture of a structurally focused approach does not come between the music and the listener.

I was asked in an interview in the TV broadcast (on YouTube in Danish) about my thoughts on this music heard from the listener’s perspective, and I said among other things:

“Habitable Exomusics is a metaphor for music being different from the music we know with our own kind of gravity, metabolism, or amino acid balance. I am looking for an exotic, differently sounding music, that is habitable, meaning not just suited for listening, but open to the interpretations of the musicians. Music that invites the musician to express his or her feelings, yet simultaneously explores the boundaries for what kinds of music e.g. rhythm we as human beings can relate to – and on what levels.

I have so far mostly played with musicians of the same age as myself or older, who generally know most of my back catalogue – they often were even part of it. Playing with only younger musicians was very interesting and quite new to me. It forces me to consider how to pass on some of my experiences from e.g. my rhythmic investigations to a new generation, to a degree where they can react and contribute to the music in their own way – and do so intuitively. This also can become a reality check on what this music must be like for the audience when you hear it for the first time.

Concerning my hopes or expectations about the listener’s perspective, I hope that the listener experiences going on a journey through the music. Whether that is a journey to habitable planets in other solar systems, or an inner journey is not the point. I also feel quite strongly that much of my ideas about the music are not for the listener to try and understand, but rather a frame granting the listener many possible paths. Just like many of my rhythmic ideas invite to being heard as several different kinds of groove, I hope to express what I need to express, yet in a form where I do not impose my feelings on the listener.”

A solution to these considerations seems to have later come about, without me tracing exactly why, except for the obvious saturated internalization. In the KINETICS live concerts after the album release, shortly before writing this, I happily started to feel strongly the emergence of a more casually outreaching approach to conveying the commonly human message of music with this kind of complexity in a live situation. A kind of "showing it, not knowing it" approach that reopened the music to me – and seemingly to the audience – to a larger extend than I had hoped for. And it became clear to me that in this ensemble, the titles of the compositions are the very least important things to share with the audience.

I hope (and feel) that notions like flow, consistency, clarity, swing, directionality of feeling and transcendence are among the main experiences the listener has in this music. I am still wondering if there is anything meaningful to say outside of the music in a KINETICS concert situation. Time might tell. Hope to see you out there.

 

Kinetics (the Path) – Habitable Exomusics volume I – was recorded in The Village, Copenhagen, January 2015. Released June 26th, 2015 on ILK.

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

Audio: 'Kinetics (the Path)' on Soundcloud.

About Jacob Anderskov

Jacob Anderskov is a pianist, band leader and composer.

 

He has released close to twenty albums as a band leader.

 

He has received a number of awards, most recently Jazz Composer of the Year at Danish Music Awards Jazz 2013.

 

Jacob Anderskov is educated from RMC (2002) and has since 2012 been employed as associate professor.

ARTISTIC RESEARCH

By the Danish Ministry of Culture's definition, artistic research is an integrated part of any artistic process ammounting to an outcome available to the public, and accompanied by a reflection upon the process itself as well as the presentation of the result.

About 'Habitable Exomusics'

A full overview of the project's content, including its artistic products, the album trilogy, concerts, audio and video links, analysis texts, sheet music pdf’s, etc.