Steingrimur Rohloff (b. 1971)

One could describe the compositions of the German-Icelandic composer Steingrímur Rohloff as the results of meticulous sonic research. When he speaks about his music, there are repeated mentions of immersion, of going into the sounds. For him, accordingly, work on a piece always begins with a specific sonic idea, initially still formless and indeterminate. This sketch subsequently gives way to the concrete musical shape, and for Rohloff, the careful modelling of the combined sounds – the harmony – is every bit as important as the formal or structural aspects of a composition. The form of his pieces thus often results from sequences of harmonies that underlie the music's development. This method has nothing to do with rigid, functional constants: Rohloff's music is far removed from any kind of neo-tonality. For him, harmony is a field of experimentation that is in no way limited by closed systems.

In Rohloff's development as an artist, creative work with sonic-harmonic structures was furthered particularly during his studies in Paris. After studying with Krzysztof Meyer at the Cologne Academy of Music from 1994 to 1998, he continued his training at the renowned Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique from 1998 to 2001. The main factor in his decision to go to the French capital was his initially mild interest in the music of the 'École Spectrale', a group of composers including Gérard Grisey, Tristan Murail and Michaël Levinas that was formed in the 1970s. The starting point of spectral music is the 'inner dimension' of sounds – the spectrum of the harmonic series, which unfolds in the shape of a highly differentiated microintervallic fabric, and is moulded using specific instrumental combinations. This approach to sound had a lasting influence on Rohloff; in this sense, what began as a vague fascination eventually became a defining experience.

A central aspect of spectral music is its recourse to the immediate physicality and sensuality of sound, an approach with which the protagonists of the École Spectrale had rebelled against the rationalist dogmas of serialism. For Steingrímur Rohloff too, the physical dimension of sound, which is probed in the compositional process, became the focus of his compositional work during his studies in Paris. Building on these experiences, he developed an approach that he calls a 'fusion aesthetic'. The aspect of fusion, the matching or merging of sonic phenomena, has been at the centre of his compositional work for some years. Rohloff writes a music of hybrid sounds in which the phenomenon of sound is restricted neither by traditional tonal harmony nor by a serial determination of intervallic qualities.

His work with sound probes the full range of possible sonic combinations, with no fear of what is referred to – often pejoratively – as 'beauty of sound'. Steingrímur Rohloff is certainly not interested, however, in a superficial music that contents itself with a 'beautiful appearance': 'My music only consists of a beautiful surface – if it all – at first glance. Whoever enters the sounds and proceeds to the music's interior will find a complexity influenced by the organic structures of nature – with all its layerings and branches.' 

By Michael Rebhahn

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