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Lars Graugaard


Jens Georg Bachmann, conductor
Jonathan Haas, conductor
Patti Kilroy, violin
NYU Contemporary Music Ensemble
NYU Percussion Ensemble
NYU Symphony Orchestra
Ian Shafer, oboe
Patrick Swoboda, double bass

Lars Graugaard, composer


The four works on this CD by Lars Graugaard (b. 1957) were composed especially for the ensembles of New York University Steinhardt in a joint search for a new rich and varied musical discourse. Endeavouring into the complex relationship between composition, perception and emotion, Graugaard uses the computer as a sophisticated performance vehicle and a compositional tool in scored and interactive music, creating a unique and radical sound experience.

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Venus (2013)

16:35 Play $3.50
for solo violin and double-bass, electronics and orchestra

Book of Throws (2013)

13:28 Play $2.80
for ensemble and improvising piano soloist

Layers of Earth (2011-12)

16:01 Play $3.50
for oboe, interactive computer and 15 percussion players

Three Places (2011)

12:47 Play $2.80
for ensemble
Total playing time  59 minutes

Lars Graugaard’s Venus and other orchestral works 

by Alejandro Guarello

Strictly speaking and without reference to semantic or other forms of meaning, music is essentially an organized relation of sounds over time that acquires meaning as it connects to our memory. However, if we look at the history of music across human civilisation we see that for centuries, if not millennia music was merely an efficient underpinning for the word, the ritual, worship and dance. A function that it still has today when it performs the role of an obedient and efficient servant in cinema, stage and image, or for the popular and commonplace poetry that is so abundant in the marketplace of the music industry. Music as a construction exclusively in sound is sometimes referred to as being absolute and first appears as instrumental versions of vocal music, shortly after reaching its first proper autonomy as an incitement to dance. If we accept the notion that sound by itself has no other purpose but to expose us to the nature and placement of its source and concerns our self-preservation in what one could term biological hearing, achieving actual meaning in a sequence of sounds – that is, composing – is no ­minor feat.

Lars Graugaard’s four compositions on this CD is a fitting example of such absolute music as it endeavours into the complex relationship between composition, perception and emotion in a sonic configuration that is far removed from the conventions of a commercial, simplistic and formularized music. There is no intention here to re-take or re-invent traditional or popular melodic shapes and awaken former times’ treatment of musical feelings. Instead, the aim is to discover within a strictly contemporary sonic configuration those variables that will allow the composer to project distinct and discernable emotions that in turn can form the basis of a rich, varied and intelligible musical discourse.

For this purpose, Lars Graugaard designed a piece of software that uses the findings in recent years’ experimental studies into the correlates between emotion and score notation, performance qualities and audio attributes, all independently of musical style. The software shows a particular musical emotion’s delimitation in notation and performance instructions, the latter being those features that musicians subjectively manage during performance. Exposing those boundaries allows the composer to apply his compositional techniques in sequences of emotional significance, steering the music through real emotions – besides unnamed and transitory yet derivatively true emotions that in turn are readily perceivable by the listener.

The most radical example on the CD is Three Places, the title referring to three locations on the emotional palette that are juxtaposed, recurring and transformed in a script that outlines the composition’s temporal development, exposing its inner, non-verbal meaning.

On the other hand, Book of Throws for solo piano and an ensemble of 12 musicians explores and stress-tests the robustness of Lars Graugaard’s concept as the through-composed ensemble score of emotionally guided elements of instrumental combinations and colours, articulations, dynamics, ranges, intervallic organisation and rhythms is juxtaposed with a soloist that acts as an improvisatory free agent. The main feature of the composition is not so much that the pianist is required to improvise, but that he cannot have any prior knowledge whatsoever of the music that will accompany him in the performance – neither through rehearsal, recording or score – thus being forced to relate in situ his playing as an immediate and intuitive response to the musical make-up and the emotional charge of the ensemble. In this way the score both carves out a free space for the soloist and fashions his inhabiting it, which makes the piece unique and fresh in each performance, together with the score’s three solo cadenzas whose duration is controlled by the conductor. The composition even permits the pianist to initiate the work and as he has no prior familiarity with it he must adjust the improvisation as the ensemble enters, by means of the emotional affect exercised by the imprint of the ensemble’s sonic surface. The version on this CD is an example of this particular situation.

But why the need to address the issue of music’s inexplicable nature and apparent absence of sense?

Music is a sonic stimulus that primarily addresses a listener’s emotions and elicits a response according to expectance and background in very much the same way as any experience will move us. This is what makes absolute music convey emotion even when the composer has not had any particular intention of doing so. On the other hand, for a composer to mentally sustain a particular emotion or feeling for the entire process of composing is difficult if not impossible as this may extend into days, months or even years. What Lars Graugaard seeks, and of which the compositions on this CD are examples, is enhancing the composer’s options as a sculptor of sound by incorporating empirical evidence on notational delimitations of emotion responses. This allows him to safeguard the consistency of his compositional ideas and materials, and at the same time keeping the music within the intended emotion and its proper transition as the musical proceedings unfolds.

A similar circumstance can be seen in the shared interpretation of facial expression across regions, periods and cultures where basic emotions of happiness, sleepiness, sadness and anger etc. are clearly discerned. Recognition of facial expressions that represent complex emotions such as fondness or melancholy is related to subjective feelings or states of mind rather than ­actual emotions and therefore less distinctive. But are such visual perceptions transferrable to the area of sound?

Without recurring to representative or descriptive music we can at least ascertain that many of nature’s sonic phenomena communicate the same message to us all, and this behaviour allows us to consider a certain synaesthesia between our environment’s sonic landscape in ­general and our topic in particular. An example of this is the loss or decline of energy. Independent of the circumstances, we easily detect a decrease or dropping of energy or the inevitable dying away. In music this is manifested by the dissolution in a decrescendo, the descent in pitch, a rallentando, the reduction of simultaneous sonic elements as notes or instruments etc., and this will inevitably make itself felt as leading to the end of a section or the entire composition. The sudden impact of an unexpected sonic event always generates surprise, agitation and concern, in much the same way as an abrupt forte in an otherwise quiet musical passage. This is an unfailing reaction, but deliberately transmitting specific feelings and emotions as it can be done by the rich semantics of language or picture would seem a dream hard to attain.

We should welcome any intent to convey meaning to a wider audience through contemporary music’s marvellous sonic discoveries. But the only transcultural means to establish enduring contact with the audience and to create and maintain interest is based on the capacity to adequately manage changes, contrast, development and mutation of the musical discourse, particularly when conventional elements of melody or harmony and similar elements to which the audience is accustomed to are absent. The compositions Venus as well as Layers of Earth and Three Places are the result of this emotional adventure. Yet independently of this we still find within them the well-founded use of formal elements – motives, themes and melodic or gestural ideas, clearly set against complex and even tarnished textures that serve as an evocative backdrop for the melodic and rhythmic gestures. In short, an engaging musical offering that compels us to continue reflecting on the function, reason and need for listening, performing and creating music today, without falling into the marketable conventions of an omnipresent music industry.

Alejandro Guarello (b. 1951) is the leading Chilean composer of chamber and symphonic music of his generation. He teaches composition at the Music Institute of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and is the President of the Latin-American Alliance of Composers and Authors of Music, ALCAM.

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VENUS (2013)
Premiered 11 November 2013 at St. Joseph’s Church, Manhattan, New York
Recorded November 2013 at Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life, Manhattan, New York
Recording engineer: Paul Geluso

LAYERS OF EARTH (2011/2012)
Premiered 5 May 2012 at Frederick Loewe Theatre, Manhattan, New York
Recorded May 2012 at Frederick Loewe Theatre
Recording engineer: Tom Doczi

Premiered 25 November 2013 at Frederick Loewe Theatre, Manhattan, New York
Recorded November-December 2013 at James L. Dolan Music Recording Studio, NYU Steinhardt, Manhattan,
New York
Recording engineers: Paul Geluso and Shao-Ting Sun

Premiered 20 October 2011 at Frederick Loewe Theatre, Manhattan, New York
Recorded October 2011 at James L. Dolan Music Recording Studio, NYU Steinhardt, Manhattan, New York
Recording engineer: Paul Geluso
Produced by Lars Graugaard
Co-produced by Paul Geluso

Editing by Paul Geluso and Lars Graugaard
Mix and mastering by Paul Geluso 2011-2015 at 3D Audio Research Lab and James L. Dolan Music Recording
Studio, NYU Steinhardt, Manhattan, New York

Mixed with ProTools HD at 24-bit/96 kHz
Monitored with (5) Lipinsky 707A Mains and (1) L150 Subwoofer in 5.1
Surround Sound, Solid State Logic Duality Console, Solid State Logic
Alpha-Link Live-R MADI AD/DA Converters
Technical assistants: Paul Howells, Carlos Salguero, Julia Caruso, Eric Xu, Brian A Bourque, Charles Rivera,
Aybar Aydin, Shao-Ting Sun, Ethan Hein, Hsin Hwa Tai, Mike Tierney, Luca Bruegger, Katherine Pipal and
Kathleen R. Zhang

Graphic design: Denise Burt, www.elevator-design.dk

All works commissioned by NYU Steinhardt with the support of the Danish Arts Council

Lars Graugaard and Dacapo wish to thank the Danish Arts Foundation, SNYK and KODA for financial support.
Lars Graugaard also wishes to thank Ron Sadoff, Esther Lamneck, Jonathan Haas, Joe Bongiorno, Tae Hong
Park, Dave Schroeder, Tom Beyer, Paul Geluso, Tom Doczi, Sean Statser and Meghan Todt for supporting the
project in many ways through its course, and Robert Rowe for making all this possible in the first place. Particular
thanks go to Patricia Pavez and to Asunción Claro.

Lars Graugaard expresses his heartfelt gratitude to NYU Steinhardt for generously seeing the possibilities and
opportunities inherent to this adventurous endeavour and for constantly supporting and facilitating it throughout.

Label: Dacapo

Format: SACD

Catalogue Number: 6.220628

Barcode: 747313162864

Release Date: October 2015

Period: 21st Century

Digital booklet (pdf) available for download customers


Nordische Musik
4/6 Stars
"Sirenengeheul scheint Graugaards Musik zudem mit einiger Freude am enervierenden Zwischenruf vor jeder Gemütlichkeit bewahren zu wollen. Alles, nur nicht konventionell, dürfte des Komponisten Motto sein."
Culture Catch
"It creates a mysterious world unto itself. [...] I find it positively riveting."
"The power-loss in Venus is aurally fascinating and neatly scored; the geometric patterning of Layers of Earth has a certain delicacy; Three Places underlines Graugaard’s keen ear for instrumental sonority. Book of Throws takes the concept further, including a fully improvised solo piano part played against a notated score that the pianist isn’t to have seen or heard previously. It’s reactive and organic to an extent, but a certain stasis creeps in too; here and elsewhere, those ‘emotions’ can feel contained, missing rawness and spontaneity even in improvisation. Impressive performances from talented New York students and their dedicated professors; but I do wonder how differently I’d have reacted had I not known of the science behind the scores."
4/5 Stars
"The four amazing compositions on this CD [...] are not just based on conventional compositional techniques as they are mainly based on new findings in IT research, cognitive and ecological musicology that tend to assign a rather important role to space, single performers and audience in the compositional process within the definition of the so-called absolute music, closer to listener's perception and emotions and more distant from commercial or other functional formulas of music itself."
A Closer Listen
"It’s this imperfection, this focus on the scientific reduction of the human, what grants Venus its wings, proving that the avant-garde ventures of old are not quite dead yet, and more importantly, that their suggestions are far from being exhausted. This is new music, to be sure, and the program that lies behind it, full of intricacy, will surely provide many more of quite exciting, revealing musical thoughts."

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