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04/03/2011

Navigating Oort Cloud: Interview with Jexper Holmen

By Collin Rae

Collin Rae:  I found Jexper Holmen's Oort Cloud to be a fascinating and brilliant piece of music / sound, sitting somewhere between acoustic interference and electronic ambience. I was able to ask Jexper some questions as to how all of this came into being.

CR: To many of us in the States your name is a new one, can you give a little background on who Jexper Holmen is?

Jexper Holmen:  I was born in 1971. I studied composition by Ib Nørholm and Ivar Frounberg at The Royal Danish Academy of Music, from where I had my debut. Most of my music since then have been solo or chamber music, mostly with use of electronic live sound processing.

I often work closely together with the same musicians over years discussing the aesthetichs of the music and developing special ideas. In the recent years I have focused a lot on conceptual full concert pieces, where I take one small idea and try to drive it as far as possible.

My to date most weighty pieces are:

- ‘Night Pace' (2004) for three musicians and electronics. Lasting more than an hour, it is actually a cycle of five smaller pieces, that are cut up and put together to one long. In 2006 it was released on cd from tutl.

- My experimental chamber opera ‘Berenice' (2007) for soprano, two musicians and electronics. It is based on the novella by Edgar Allan Poe and is more I dive into the disturbed state of mind of the story's narrator than an ordinary opera with stage action.

-'Lullabies' (2009-) for old, partially defective accordions, plenty musical boxes and advanced sound processing. This is a work-in-progress, that I do together with accordion player Frode Andersen and composer/sound artist Ejnar Kanding.

- and then, of course, ‘Oort Cloud' (2008).

CR:  I read this description of Oort Cloud: The music is extremely slow and relentless -"not unlike a cosmic disaster" says the composer. Can you describe for us the inspiration for the piece as well as disaster that you speak of?

JH:  I think, the original inspiration was that I attended a concert in an over-accoustic church, where the resoundings made it impossible to hear, what went on in the music. Nevertheless, the sound itself was fascinating, so i began thinking about writing a piece especially designed for this room. 

When the Danish festival Music Harvest asked me to do a concert at a venue in the same area, the case was of course clear.

Then I began to decide what to do with this gigantic sound: 

The music should be ‘Ambient Music' - a favorite music genre of mine - consisting of a slowly changing sound making it possible to contemplate in the resoundings of the room. 

I decided to amplify the instruments with plenty loud speakers placed around in the room, so that from wherever you listen you will always be close to one or more of them. This was done to keep the intensity of being close to the hard working musicians. 

The piece is, in fact, extremely physically demanding to play. It is also intended to be difficult to listen to, because its structure is so complex, that it is practically impossible to perceive everything. I have no complete overview of its structure myself either. So I thing, the music invites to cave in to chaos. 

The title Oort Cloud came once when the piece was almost finished. I read about this cloud of comets surrounding the solar system and from time to time being destabilized by the gravitational forces of fx a surpassing star causing danger because the comets might hit the earth. 

The more I thought about it, the more I felt a parallel to the nature of the music. Like a comet doesn't have any evil intension to cause to do harm, but just obey complex physical rules; my piece of music didn't either intend to be hard to play or to listen to. It just relentlessly follows its own rules.

And then the slow pace of the music reminded me of a picture I saw of two galaxies colliding. It is in fact a very dramatic incident, a ‘cosmic disaster', but it happens so slowly and at such an enormous scale, that from a human point of wiev tends just to look beautiful.

CR:  How was the piece received? (by the audience and critics)

 

JH:  To my surprise it was very well received by both audience and critics. I expected people to be skeptic to the extreme character of the music, but I haven't heard one single negative word. It is perhaps the first time I experience this.

CR:  The piece really has an electronic music / ambient quality to it, was this the type of "sound" you had in mind? What led to the unusual instrumentation that you composed the piece for?"

JH:  Yes, I aimed purposefully for this electronica / ambient quality. I listen to a lot of ambient electronica and in many ways feel more related to the aesthetics of electronica than those of classical music (though my way of working with structures still are deeply founded in the tradition of sheet music). 

The cover of the cd is also intended to look more like an electronica release that a normal "contemporary sheet music" release. As you may have noticed, it has no title and artist names on the front and contains no liner notes. In fact, instead of being an informative book, the cover is a piece of conceptual art, that unfolds chaotic principles related to those of the music. It is almost music itself.

The artistic sound production of the cd and the inclusion of a remix by producer Martin Stig Andersen are also in a way electronica features.

I think, there are at least three reasons for the choice of instruments:

1) Again, saxophones and accordions don't primarily associate to classical music, and I try exactly to avoid such associations, since I think my music better off listened to free from the expectations to classical music. Therefore actually saxophone and accordion - and not fx. violin and piano - are perhaps the two most heavily featured instruments in my output.

2) Very important: I had close, long-time collaborates among exactly these musicians.

3) Accordions and saxophone work better than any other instruments for the special character, I wanted the music to have.

CR:  Do you foresee this piece ever being performed in the USA?

 

JH:  We have no actual plans, but we have talked a lot about playing it several places around the world, and especially we have talked several times about playing it in New York. So it is not unlikely, that it will be performed in the USA.

CR:  What music does Jexper Holmen listen to for inspiration and for enjoyment?

JH:  As I already mentioned, I listen much to electronica. Aphex Twin is one of my favorite composers, his ‘Selected Ambient Works volume 2' in my opinion being a masterpiece. 

I also listen a lot to more heavy kinds of electronica like house music, and to triphop, punk techno and experimental death metal.

Among 20th century sheet composers, it is first of all the music of Iannis Xenakis that is important to me. Stockhausen is also a great source of enjoyment and inspiration. They both have an uncompromising and radical approach to creating music; and that generate an energy, that is deeply moving.

Then I listen an lot to Anton Bruckner and to the late string quartets of Beethoven. 

And last, but not the least, I am deeply fascinated by medieval and renaissance composers like fx. Perotin and Ockeghem. In a way, in that period they almost invented music itself, - like also Stockhausen and Xenakis did - and that's the way, I like it.

CR:  What other kinds of works do we have to look forward to from Jexper Holmen?

JH:  I have many present and planned future projects, some more realistic and likely to be done that others, but here are the ones, that will most probably be done within the next three or four years:

1) Right now I'm writing a saxophone concerto for Danish saxophone player Kasper Hemmer Pihl and Århus Sinfonietta (a large Danish ensemble). It is a piece without any amplification or other electronic processing, and that is quite rare in my output.

Lasting about eighteen minutes, it's a medium scale work, using an ensemble of ten musicians plus the solo batyrone saxophone. The music is extremely violent and active, and it exclusively uses the instruments in heavy and extreme ways.

 

It will be premiered in Denmark during the spring of 2011

2) My next piece will be a piece for four instruments and heavy sound processing. It will probably be written for a small fraction of London Sinfonietta and is to be performed in the end of 2011 several places in UK and Denmark.

The musicians are both singing, reciting and playing, and the text is based on phonetic fragments from a list of extinct cetacean species.

The music consists of heavy, slowly developing sound masses, and the piece will probably be about fifteen minutes long.

3) Then I'm planning some pieces that are further developments of the Oort Cloud type of music. 

a) The first one is for solo accordion with multichannel projection and playback. It will be created in close collaboration with accordion player Frode Andersen and sound artist Monty Adkins in the sound studios at the university of Huddersfield. 

It will have the slow pace of Oort Cloud, but will notably more dark and sinister in sound and character. It will play twenty-one minutes and probably will be performed in 2011.

b) The second one is for contrabass clarinet and four acoustic guitars each equipped with six low e-strings, all amplified. It will be written as a commission from the Danish ensemble Corona Guitar Quartet, probably - and hopefully - within the next two years.

My plan is to make it a very long piece, almost twice the length of Oort Cloud. As you can probably imagine, it will unfold exclusively in the dark register. 

c) The third one will be for twenty solo singers, live processing and multichannel sound. It is still at the state of planning, so I cannot tell that much about it.

4) Then - again in collaboration with Frode Andersen - during 2011 I'm doing a project that is a sort of multiplication and radicalization of the Lullabies project. It will be for about 70 amateur musicians playing old accordions and musical boxes with alternative amplification. 

It will premiere at the end of 2011. Exact time and venue is still to be decided at this time.

 

Source: http://networkedblogs.com/d7b1k





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