Echoes of Dreamless Fragments
Echoes of Dreamless Fragments
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All music can be regarded as reflections: of the composer's ideas and visions; of conscious and unconscious sources of inspiration; of work with often-intractable material - for both the composer and the performer. This CD of music by Mogens Christensen is in a very special sense a reflection of a specific concert and of the growing interest today in the interaction between electronic and acoustic instru-ments. In addition the six works reflect one another: work no. 4 is a reflection of no. 2, work no. 3 is a reflection of no. 5, and work no. 6 is a reflection both of no. 1 and of all the other five works together. Finally, within each work there are lots of reflec-tions, among other ways in the form of echoes.
Mogens Christensen (b. 1955) was a pupil of among others Per Nørgaard, Poul Ruders and Ib Nørholm. He had his international breakthrough as a composer with the work Winter Light in Paris in 1994 and has made his name with up to a hundred works in well nigh all genres. He has also aroused attention with his innovative work with children and young people. In the book Kreativ værkintroduktion (Crea-tive introduction to works) Christensen presents a method of encouraging children to live their way into symphonic music by working creatively for themselves with small elements of the music. Since 2005 Mogens Christensen has been Professor of Music Communication at the Academy of Music and Music Communication in Esbjerg.
An undercurrent of poetry and dream runs through Mogens Christensen's oeuvre. As a young man his music was directly influenced by literary models, and later the poetic and the fairytale-like have been recurrent sources of inspiration. A transparent, dreaming universe is characteristic of much of his music and already comes to expression in a number of his titles, for example Midsummer Night Birds, Dreamtimes, Sommerzauber and others. In recent years Mogens Christensen has been increasingly preoccupied with the interplay between acoustic instruments and electronics.
The story behind this CD recording begins with the commissioning of a work by the ensemble Contemporánea, which has specialized in performances that involve elec-tronic manipulation. Nimbus of Queen Hatasu (track 1) was the result, and this was followed by a fruitful collaboration between the ensemble and the composer. In 2005 and 2006 the ensemble played several portrait concerts of music by Mogens Christensen, who in that connection wrote a number of new works for both indi-vidual members and the whole ensemble. Only the solo violin piece Dreamless Fragments (track 2) is an earlier work. The remainder of the works on this CD have arisen in connection with the concerts. Besides Mogens Christensen's own electro-nic reworkings (tracks 1, 3 and 5) the ensemble's ‘electronic musician' Ejnar Kanding had in the course of the concert engaged in extensive, work-specific processing of all the pieces on the CD. The works are so to speak reflected in Kanding's electronic interpretation. So in more than one sense the CD can be regarded as a portrait of both Contemporánea and Mogens Christensen: the music has a shared history, and the pieces can be heard to advantage as a totality, not least because of the reflections. Listening to the music through headphones can also be recommended in order to take full advantage of the electronic sound-universes that are one of the central shared features of the works.
Nimbus of Queen Hatasu
Like that of Mogens Christensen's clarinet trio, Gura, the title of Nimbus of Queen Hatasu has been taken directly from one of the writer Johannes V. Jensen's many ‘myths'. Hatasu was a queen of Pharaonic Egypt and Jensen's short story is based on a general fascination with the possibility of shedding light on one's own time through the use of mythical tales - a phenomenon that is also well known in the world of music, especially opera, where for example the Orpheus myth has been composed and re-composed many times. This is not programme music and there is no direct connection between Johannes V. Jensen's myth and Mogens Christensen's work, but Christensen is himself fascinated by the contemporaneity that can arise between myth and the present.
Nimbus of Queen Hatasu was written for bass clarinet, percussion (especially gong, finger cymbals and vibraphone) and electronics. The three extremely different sound sources supplement and challenge one another in turn - very old instruments meet the latest technology - and it is striking how instruments like gong and finger cymbals with their evocations of ancient cultures fuse with the electronic sound-universe of the present day; a universe that is at the same time able to create a mood of something very remote. The electronic sounds are to a great extent manipulations of the natural instruments involved, and often sound like extensions of them. The atmospheric electronic background consists of 12 pre-produced sound files, each of which is to be played at its own point in the score and is only processed slightly along the way.
The work can be experienced as a kind of inverted set of variations: only a few minutes before it ends do we have the basic melodic material presented in the form of a unison sequence at a fast tempo in bass clarinet and vibraphone. It is this material that is scattered over the whole piece during the first 11 minutes. The material appears like fragments from a mist - or perhaps from the obscuring darkness of myth - only to condense and come together towards the end. This retrogressive relationship is not immediately audible, but a number of motifs or details that recur several times are - for example the motif of the gong right at the beginning, and certain of the phrases of the bass clarinet. At the overall level the work falls into three main sections that merge seamlessly into one another. The middle section is mostly characterized by calm, while the two outer sections are typified more by rhythmic and melodic activity.
A fascinating exploration of the fantastic potential of the violin as a sound-source, originally written for violin alone, but here with added electronics. The work is part of a collection of three pieces for solo violin dedicated to the Spanish-born violinist Ricardo Odriozola, who has lived since the beginning of the 1990s in Bergen in Norway. For many years Mogens Christensen has collaborated closely with Odri-o-zola, who has appeared on several recordings of -Christensen's music.
Dreamless Fragments is the last of the three original solo pieces and reflects the first piece in the collection, Cadenza, as a kind of dreaming echo. In the world of classical music a cadenza is the name given to the soloist's more or less free impro-visation at the end of a piece for soloist and ensemble - typically a concerto. The improvisation normally includes fragments from the work itself. In Dreamless Fragments there are fragments from Cadenza, but also fragments or reminiscences of Bach's partitas for solo violin and finally from Vivaldi's Four Seasons concertos for orchestra and solo violin. Both the Bach and Vivaldi fragments develop in expression into fragments of Jimi Hendrix' wild, distorted guitar solos. That a composer sends a nod back through history this way is not unusual - and thus not in Mogens Christensen's universe either.
The electronics too are built up from fragments. They consist of sampled fragments of the violin part which are discreetly manipulated along the way and then played against the violin, for example as accompaniment or as a kind of echo or even contra-part, so that the violin plays a duo with its own partly distorted reflec-tion. There is a considerable element of improvisation in the electronic samp-ling, and manipulation along the way, especially in live performances of the work.
The work falls into a number of parts of shifting character. It all begins with a single note which is struck up intensely, and then remains there vibrating; the note develops, singing almost like a bird, expanding its tonal territory and becoming wilder and wilder in expression. A striking change in the mood leads into a more lyrical passage with echo effects and Bach-like runs until the whole again ends in wildness. A new change of mood leads into an extended middle passage dominated by melodic, straightforwardly melancholy phrases in the violin. The Bach-like runs return with full force; pizzicato effects mark the transition to a concluding dreaming sequence with Vivaldi fragments which once more end in wildness.
Fragments and Echoes of East Earth DrEaming
The score of the solo piece East Earth -DrEaming (track 5) permits several inter-pre-tations. During the rehearsal work the clarinettist Fritz Berthelsen, along with Ejnar Kanding (electronics) and Mogens Christensen, experimented with coaxing a diffe-rent story out of the written music. The result was Fragments and Echoes of East Earth DrEaming, which functions on this CD as a pre-echo or premonition of East Earth DrEaming. This version is more intense, shorter and at a much faster tempo than the original, which gives it a quite different character. More electronics have been used in the A-sections (cf. track 5). Among other things the bass clarinet ends up playing a kind of duo with itself, and the melodic motion takes on a more compact form. The B-sections are very short and very intense.
In other words, this is a strikingly compressed and partly distorted version of the original - an attempt to ‘give it gas'; yet nothing is as innocent and naked as in East Earth DrEaming! The highly meditative element in the original has almost gone; in this reflection the work is much more insistent and aggressive.
Echoes of Fragments
Just as Fragments and Echoes of East Earth DrEaming (track 3) is an echo of East Earth DrEaming (track 5), Echoes of Fragments is also an echo of Dreamless Fragments (track 2); in fact it is an echo written for the greatest antithesis to the violin among the bowed strings: the double-bass. It is not a note-by-note repro-duc-tion, but a reflection of some of the same effects - a reflection of the natural virtuosity of the violin into the quite different physique and sound-universe of the double-bass. And a reflection that is thereby very different from the original.
Echoes of Fragments begins audibly in the same way as Dreamless Frag-ments, but the expression and character are quite different, precisely because the instrument is. Among other things the distortion effects are much clearer and more dominant here, also because the bassist uses harmonics and in some passages must play the instrument in a highly unconventional way. The electronics are used in the same way as in Dreamless Fragments, that is as sampled sounds that are processed along the way, but they are used more discreetly in the bass solo than in the violin solo.
The work is one long improvisation with free references to Dreamless Frag-ments, but falls clearly into three main sections. Section 1 begins with a low, distorted tremolo note that passes into bright harmonics. The tremolo and the slightly hovering effect that it generates dominate the section. Section 2 begins with a series of arpeggios at a high pitch as well as low, descending notes. The musician changes from the bow to pizzicato. This whole section alternates among different variations on the arpeggios and (fragments of the) tremolo effects from section 1. The last section consists of decidedly melodic phrases. Gradually the effects and elements from earlier in the work return, and the work ends with a kind of synthesis of the various elements that have been used in the course of the piece.
East Earth DrEaming
Here the technology of the West meets the meditative tradition of the East. At several points the bass clarinet recalls the long, low horn of the Tibetan monks. and at several points the electronics are reminiscent of percussion from the Far East. East Earth DrEaming is a work that abandons present-day complexity for a floating, dreaming state and for the static and unearthly. The work was written speci-fically for bass clarinet and electronics, and with their faint, discreet shadow effects the electronics do a great deal to underscore the meditative quality.
East Earth DrEaming can be experienced as a rondo form, that is an alter-nation between two contrasting sections. The A-sections consist primarily of the melodic motion of the bass clarinet; the B-sections consist of an electronic under-current across which the bass clarinet plays a few extended notes, so-called multi-phonics.
The music begins with a violent blow that sounds like a shrill gong or finger cymbals from the East, but which turns out to be the start of a brief introduction for electronics. The bass clarinet first begins the A-section alone at a steady tempo which gradually becomes decidedly slow. The melodic material in the A-section is in general dominated by great leaps and glissandi. The slow tempo underscores the medi-tative character, and the melody line, which shoots out in all directions, empha-sizes the sense of something dreaming and flickering, something non-manifest - like isolated molecules, freely floating in a void.
The B-sections form a contrast to the sound of the A-sections, but they share the meditative character. In the B-sections a kind of dialogue arises between the electronic sounds and the notes of the instruments; the sound changes in both instrument and electronics; one senses that the two sound-universes mutate through mutual inspiration.
In the subsequent A-sections the electronics gradually join in as faint echoes that are manipulated as the piece progresses. The dreaming and flickering become even more marked. For the last four minutes of the 17-minute work the A- and B-sections become substantially shorter, but the tempo is still slow. In the A-sections there is no echo any more; but the notes are electronically supported by an extra harmony a parallel fifth below - the interval of perfection and emptiness. The work dies out quietly.
The title refers to a phenomenon known in a number of languages from among other places the Far East, where a written character can at the same time be an indepen-dent syllable or word with its own sound. In classical Javanese for example aksara is the name of a group of ‘sound-bearing' consonants (i.e. consonants with inherent vowel sounds).
In Mogens Christensen's Aksara we meet, for the first time on the CD, the whole group of sound-bearing instruments: bass clarinet, percussion, violin, double-bass and electronics. Five minutes into the work there is a short pause, followed by a passage where the instruments all play in unison. Here Christensen has written the word ak-sa-ra into the score across three of the (identical) notes of the bass clarinet - as if to say, a note is a note is a note\. The basic substance of music! From this one note there develops a whole progression with a number of effects that appear both earlier and later in the piece. Aksara can thus be regarded as music about music: the fascination of music is the fascination of notes and sounds, and what happens with them in time - neither more nor less.
At the start (and again later in the work) the music gathers around a core note which the bass clarinet seesaws around and to which all the others relate. The work begins in fact just like Nimbus of Queen Hatasu with a powerful blow and with the gong as an important part of percussion. At several points in Aksara it is the gong that marks a transition, and the gong carries one of the motifs that recurs most clearly in the course of the piece: a partly chromatic descending tone row. In general there are a number of things from the preceding works on this recording that are reflected in Aksara. Violin and double-bass clearly refer to motifs and effects that were used earlier in the two solo works for these two instruments - for example the distortion effect; and the character of the bass clarinet's sometimes wild melodic ride is also recognizable from the preceding works. Aksara is in other words a kind of synthesis of all that has gone before.
Throughout the work the different instruments take turns to be in focus, and the music alternates between solo-like and tutti-like sections. However, the elec-tronics in general play a very retiring role; the other instruments of the ensemble have more than enough to contribute. Fast, rhythmically terse motifs alternate with calmer, more subdued sequences, and the whole work ends in a highly evocative fugue where the individual parts take the lead in turn, only to come together finally in an ever-ascending note, which in the end is hammered in firmly and repeatedly - and then suddenly stops.
Klaus Møller-Jørgensen, 2009\\\