Simon Steen-Andersen (b. 1976)
Simon Steen-Andersen’s music is always surprising. In recent years he has established himself internationally by challenging normal musical ways of thinking – and has won several major prizes with his different and yet immediate music. Simon’s work list includes instrumental music, electronics, video and performance within a range of settings from symphony and chamber music (with and without multimedia) to installations.
The composer first drew attention in 2000, when he won a national composer competition with his first String Quartet. The String Quartet presents a gestic and extrovert universe, and since then his music moved in the direction of extremely hushed nuances, which at the same time maintained the colourfully complex and energetic virtuoso expression. The works from the last 5 years concentrates on integrating concrete elements in the music and emphasizing the physical and choreographic aspects of instrumental performance. The works often include amplified acoustic instruments in combination with sampler, video (playback, interactive and live-video), simple everyday objects and obsolete electronics or homemade constructions/extensions/preparations of the instruments.
Rerendered is to be performed by a pianist and two assistants. The piece, with its quite peculiar sound world, is created inside a grand piano with microphones extremely close: a feature very typical of Simon Steen-Andersen as a composer. The range of sounds has to span two things: the quite ordinary notes from the black and white keys and all the noises you can produce by playing inside the piano or by preparing the strings. Not, that is, as different layers or as notes with noise effects, but as two integrated materials in balance: a kind of super-instrument, if you like. The powerful amplification has the effect of a micro- scope on the faint noises, and this produces an intense but delicate situation where the pianist must constantly hold back and struggle to keep the dynamics down. In this way Rerendered unfolds as a whole array of sounds and sound-impressions that move from timbre to timbre integrated with an otherwise very intense piano part.
Two other aspects of Rerendered are important, but are primarily experienced with the eyes, ‘live’. One is that a series of sounds in the last part are so-called ‘anti- actions’ or ‘anti-sounds’; this means, for example, sounds that come from lifting the fingers from the instrument in contrast to striking it with them. The other distinctive thing is that the piece is an attempt to write a kind of social or collective music where the individual sounds only ‘become something’ because several musicians are working together to create them. In fact it is an attempt to take chamber music a step further: from a situation where musicians play alongside one another ‘in a chamber’ to one where they play together. Literally.
On And Off And To And Fro (2008)
The title of Simon’s portrait work, On And Off And To And Fro from 2008, encapsulates his music very well. The first part, ‘On and off’ can be understood logically as the operation of the piece’s three megaphones, while the second part, ‘to and fro’, refers to the motions which are at first only necessary to produce certain sounds, but which in the course of the piece become an independent theme - a sideways motion that is propagated through the ensemble.
It begins as a trio - a saxophonist/clarinet, a cellist/double bass and a vibraphonist make small, focused, overlapping entries in a tight rhythmic, partly repetitive progression, passively amplified by the three megaphones, with a slightly distorted transistor radio sound as a result. But you can hear intense breathing alongside the notes of the instruments, and slowly the megaphones begin to react - to intervene in what they are amplifying, with noise and feedback sounds - and finally they themselves become instruments. And before you know it the megaphones are playing through a pure siren cadenza while the acoustic instruments, which were actually the centre of attention, have temporarily disappeared.
Many people will probably be amazed at how much music comes out of the three megaphones, in principle only created to speak through, while for example the cello must be content to take over the function of creating deep and heavy breathing sounds. Although there are great limitations in the rigorous concept, On And Off And To And Fro is very quickly transformed from megaphones and instruments separately into delicate music with fragile, clear sounds.
Study for String Instrument #2 (2009)
Study for String Instrument #2 from 2009, immerses itself in a single idea and explores an apparently straightforward and in principle rather unmusical electronic device. The ‘Whammy’ guitar pedal (from Digitech) is a kind of over dimensioned guitar vibrato arm that can ‘bend’ a note as much as two octaves up or down, but which is also considered rather imperfect as a mechanism. It both distorts the notes as it bends them, and when it is challenged with noise and impulses it surprisingly produces melodies that are anything but logical and mechanical.
Study for String Instrument #2 takes a very simple course, although it can be difficult to understand from the intense soundscape that an electric guitar, a cello and an effect pedal only play it. In the first part the notes slide up and down in a little play where the various possibilities in a simple system are exhausted - adding and subtracting the glissandi of the string instrument and the pedal. After this the Whammy pedal is assaulted by constantly changing noises from the two instruments, before the pedal itself is allowed to conclude the piece by playing its own singable melody – molto cantabile ...
RunTime Error (2009)
RunTime Error is a location specific video-performance. The video material is optimally produced three days before the concert following three main dogmas: 1. Only objects and instruments found at the location can be used, 2. Each object or instrument can only be used once, and 3. Each sound/action must have an immediate point of association with its neighboring sounds/actions. The objects are organized along with the musicians, if available, on a route going from the stage of the concert hall through the backstage areas, hallways and corridors. This way the space becomes an equivalent to time and playing through the composition will therefore make the commonly used musical metaphor “moving through time” concrete. At the concert these videos will be time-manipulated in a two-part system controlled live with two joysticks. A performance within the performance. Alternatively, the videos reuse old material.
Double Up (2010)
Double Up is both a term for a risky, but potentially powerful investment/gambling strategy on the stock market or in the casino, and it is, of course, the term for what you get during happy hour in a bar. In this piece the term is meant to cover a similar range: From the drunken and sloppy, but deeply felt sing-along, to the more musical ‘power of unison’ and the potentially rewarding effect of opening up something for reinterpretation and re-experience by distorting or emphasizing its different elements or by presenting it in a new context. The form is simply two halves exploring two types of linearity with the same material: The linearity of a trivial narrative and the linearity of the inherent musical qualities in the very same sounding snapshots.
Black Box Music (2012)
Black Box Music is scored for percussion solo, amplified box, 15 instruments and video. The starting point is the classical soloist-conductor, only in this case, the conducting and solo part are one and the same. The setting is a traditional theatre stage with curtains, props and light; only in this case, the stage is also an instrument. Black Box Music could be said to be a deconstruction of conducting and puppet theatre as well as an exploration and exploitation of the audio/visual relations inherent in conducting and staging. The “grand show” will be in three movements, starting with ‘Ouverture’ and ‘Disambiguation’ and then finishing off with a festive, pompous, self-imploding ‘Finale’.