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
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
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
- 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
-'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).
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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
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?
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.
also listen a lot to more heavy kinds of electronica like house music,
and to triphop, punk techno and experimental death metal.
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
Then I listen an lot to Anton Bruckner and to the late string quartets of Beethoven.
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:
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.
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
It will be premiered in Denmark during the spring of 2011
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.