SPACES AND OBJECTS
by Trine Boje Mortensen
"I've composed music since I was a child, so I had no doubt I would be a composer. It was very natural. Of course there was a time when I was a teenager, when it became a deci-sion, but I've composed almost as long as I can remember.”
Rune Glerup (b. 1981) comes from a musical home, and there is no doubt that the decision to be a composer came early. Or perhaps one should simply reformulate it: Rune Glerup has always been a composer. Even if one's consciousness of this is fully formed, that does not mean that one has to take the beaten track at the Academy of Music.
"I had no desire to go to the Royal Danish Academy, so I went to Berlin, and went to the Academy there. Down there I heard a lot of music, and then later I went to Paris. When I came home to Copenhagen, I applied for the soloist class and went there for two years. One of the reasons I turned abroad at a very early stage was that I thought the Royal Danish Academy and the -milieu around it were very, very Danish. Boulez was almost a dirty word. Many interesting things happened in Denmark, but I really missed getting some input from abroad. On the whole only Danish new music was played in this country. That was one of the reasons I went to Berlin. It sounds strange when you say it today, but then, just before the turn of the new millennium, there wasn't nearly as much music on the Net. It was harder to find your bearings.”
In Denmark Rune Glerup, who made his concert debut at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen in 2010, has taken lessons from among others Niels Rosing-Schow and Bent Sørensen, but abroad he has also studied at the electronic music studio IRCAM in Paris and has attended master classes with among others Adriana Hölszky and Philippe Leroux.
"Even though I've always composed, my list of works didn't begin when I was eight years old. The worklist begins with a string quartet that was never performed, and on which I worked for a very long time, also when I was in Berlin. On the whole it's fine that it's never been performed, for it quite clearly has many problems. But it was still a very important work for me, as I -developed truly many ideas, a kind of theory for that work, which I still use today. That's why the string quartet stands there as opus 1.”
Rune Glerup's music has been played at a number of international festivals and by among others the French Ensemble Intercontemporain and the London Sinfonietta, and Danish ensembles have of course also commissioned works from Rune Glerup – for example two of the ensembles on this CD: Gáman and Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen.
As with many other composers, collaboration with musicians is very important to Rune Glerup. Knowing who will play the music is woven into the composing process. But for Rune Glerup there is another thing that is just as important:
"Knowing where it is to be played: the locality it is to be performed in for the first time. And then of course you can say that afterwards it will be played in all sorts of places. But it just means a lot to the way I think about the sound. Again, it's a matter of hearing it. Thinking the sound. How will this come to sound? And in that case I prefer to place the musicians in a space – preferably one I know. If I don't know the space, it's also much harder for me to imagine how it sounds. A few times I haven't known the space so well, and in those cases I've had to place the musicians in a fictive space or a space I already knew, although I was aware that it wasn't where the work was to be played.”
The physical space means a lot, but the specific cultural space he has grown up in – Denmark – hardly as much. At any rate not as a musical direction-finder. Glerup is not the only Danish composer who has gone abroad, but he belongs to a generation to whom the national cultural boundaries make less and less sense.
"I've never thought that my music is particularly Danish; all the same I can see well enough that although there's a lot of inspiration, especially from Germany and France, in my music, it's still different from what they do there. Maybe some of the clichés people always mention – the Nordic clarity, and that there's an interest in a very rigorous structure – maybe that's present after all in my music. Although the actual sections in these works can be very com-plex and energetic, my music is minimalist in a different way, because there are some short, highly delimited processes that stop very abruptly.”
Rune Glerup's reference to the minima-listic makes a Danish contemporary music listener think of composers like Pelle Gudmund-sen-Holmgreen and other representatives of the New Simplicity in Denmark whereas, as Rune Glerup himself points out, in French music there is more interest in large-scale, more organic expression today as in the past. But the composer adds: "I've never been too keen on seeking out nationalities in music.”
Rune Glerup has consciously sought inspiration outside the Danish musical world, but what has perhaps had the greatest influence on the composer and his musical thinking, along-side the music he encountered in Germany and France in the years when he was studying, is visual art.
"The visual and visual art have maybe been the biggest source of inspiration for me over the years. Besides the inspiration that can come from a specific work, I'm simply envious of visual artists, because they really work with the physical material – quite directly, just like that. After all, you don't quite do that as a composer.”
For several years Glerup has been working with the musical material as if it was three-dimen-sional objects among which you can walk around. The idea that music, instead of telling stories in a narrative flow, could perhaps be more spatial in its structure, was something Rune Glerup got from among others the French philosopher Alain Badiou.
"He has worked a lot with the definition of a situation that is precisely not a temporal thing but rather consists of a number of elements, and even though you swap the elements around, it's the same situation. And it's really the same with a mobile, if you look at the famous mobiles of Alexander Calder. You can swap the parts around if you like, but it's still the same mobile. What I've worked a lot with is this: when you don't want the narrative element, you're left with the friction between the objects. That is, simply thinking of the pieces as a situation that must have a special tension. So instead of a development, in reality it's ... frictional energy.”
The parts that make up the music, the musical objects with which Rune Glerup works, can be heard in the music, especially in works like objets/décalages on this CD. Making short, characteristic musical objects that are clearly demarcated from one another brings out this frictional energy, as opposite poles that repel one another or fixed blocks of sound which, unaffected by one another, hold their own. Only at the points of contact do the individual objects yield new energy – create new -frictional -energy.
"I've worked a lot to give each section, each object, its own expression, so it takes on its own character. It's a question of being able to hear it. Does it work as an object? Sometimes I try to move on the borderline: does one hear it as an object? Or does it fall apart into several parts or objects? Working with objects as the basic idea still has great potential for me. But these days I think more about the macro form, about how it works over a longer period. Of course that's what has also interested me right from the start, but the overall nature of the structure has come more into focus.”
Rune Glerup's work with musical objects is well documented on this CD, and his interest in this spatially oriented musical structuring is still part of his working process and of the spatial effect of the works that he creates.
dust encapsulated #1 and #2
"Like many other composers, I've had a few problems with titles. When you think in purely musical terms it's difficult to find some words – that is, two or three words or just a single word – that you can attach to ten minutes of music. So at one point I had the idea of inven-ting a title that could be general. Instead of calling work Untitled no. 1, 2, etc., I would make up a title that I could use for several works. Three works came out of this – there are two with the title dust encapsulated #1 is for percussion and electronics and #2 is for a quintet, and then there's the Divertimento. The Divertimento has existed in several forms, and the first version was in fact called dust encapsulated#3. But then I thought that sounded too boring. dust encapsulated was just something I made up, but there's a little personal reference to the photographer Man Ray. He took a picture of one of Marcel Duchamp's works called The Large Glass, which Duchamp had left in his studio for a year and which had just gathered dust there. Then Man Ray came and took a picture of the dusty artwork very close up. Close up it looks like a landscape. It didn't look like dust. It isn't something that means anything for the music, it's just a sort of little personal greeting to the two visual artists – I was very interested in Marcel Duchamp in particular at one point.”
dust encapsulated #1 for percussion and electronics is a work where the two sound-worlds lie close to each other. Cautiously they try to find communication points or points of agreement, and they keep almost managing that, especially in the most delicate passages, where both elegantly express fine nuances. But the communication between the two changes all the time when a small, conspicuous ‘beep' ensures a change of scene for the two actors. In both the electronics and the percussion the delicate, crackling sounds are at the centre, only to be interrupted again and again along the way by contrasting beats, rhythms and noise.
dust encapsulated #2 was composed in 2009 shortly after objets/décalages. In this work for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, the individual musical objects can almost be touched too, but the energy in this work is more hectic, almost frantic. The individual objects are also more complex and together they give the impression of a work ‘on the edge'. On the edge of the possible, of the rational, of the tenable. It is all held together by an energetic drive.
Objects/displacements – that is the meaning of the French title of the trio that Rune Glerup composed for the Danish trio Gáman in 2008. The work is an example of the focus the composer has had on musical objects, where a musical statement is distinct and demar-cated from other objects, and then, in the course of the work, they are put together in various ways. This means that the individual musical object is seen in different lights, and at the same time it sheds new light on the preceding and succeeding object. At the same time each of the three instruments – violin, recorder and accordion – gives its -timbre to the objects as an integrated part of their character and thus as a part of a sounding landscape of discrete elements.
"Instead of focusing on the classic narrative in music, where you are guided through a story, I've been interested in exploring the spatiality of my works. You can go from A to B, but you don't have to continue to C and D. You can easily go back to A. It's almost a physical experience of walking around among a lot of different musical objects without having any direction.
Sonata in Seven Movements
There is an insistent quality to Rune Glerup's Sonata in Seven Movements for piano. In each movement a specific form of expression insists on having its say, and throughout the work there is a slightly uneasy energy that is forced out through all the cracks. This work stands out from the others on the CD in that the listener does not, as in objets/décalages, for example, step into a landscape, but rather opens door after door into the same room, so that you see the objects, the seven movements in there from different angles. Or maybe it isn't at all the same object you see each time the door is opened.
"Originally the Sonata was conceived in the same way as the ‘object' works, but then I took a closer look at the material and made seven movements instead. In a way there are some of the same ideas – and each movement is then a larger object. But they are not repeated. Inside each movement, on the other hand, there is a very clear division into smaller parts.”
This work was commissioned by Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen for a first performance at the Festival Printemps des Arts in Monte Carlo in 2011.
"The title Divertimento is a direct reference to Mozart. That doesn't mean that you should think of Mozart when you hear the music. It's more a personal greeting from me, especially to Mozart's late Divertimento for String Trio (K 563). That work has something paradoxical about it; it's called a Divertimento, and that's something you associate with lightness, something entertaining for a small ensemble. All the same it's a huge work that takes around 45 minutes and it isn't a light work, in fact it's very deep. I like that paradox. It's some of that atmosphere I've brought into my work: there's something light, something playful in it, but at the same time something heavier. In my Divertimento, after all, there are ten instru-ments, so it's a bit larger – on the other hand it's shorter than Mozart's.”
The sounds and the energy are what strike the listener in Divertimento. On the face of it the entertaining aspect could be compared to playful puppies romping, rolling around, sniffing and tumbling. But this diverting aspect is far from the whole experience of the work, for words about frustration, delicacy, insistence and raw power are quickly mixed in when you have to formulate the experience of the music. The clear divisions along the way give trans-parency to the music, but the mood you are left in after listening is not necessarily clear or transparent – rather a little hazy, as if the composer is stepping boldly into grey zones and making statements between the lines.
Trine Boje Mortensen is a freelance music journalist and works with among other things radio, concert introductions and concert programme notes. She also writes the blog www.nutidsmusik.dk