Simon Steen Andersen

00’24: (Eleni) So I’m doing a research about Harry Partch and his instruments and I don’t know if you know the instruments? Ok, the originals are in Seattle and the Musikfabrik made replicates of all the instrumentarium and since 2013 they opened the instrumentarium to new composers so they gave commissions which is actually […] for the instruments […]  nobody else was allowed during his lifetime and as far as I know they never gave [in what] cause any commissions to… I don’t know if you know something different… / I don’t know anything different / okay. So, you were the first round of composers actually and I would like you to tell me like everything from the process from the selection, from your knowledge about Partch and the instruments and how you used them to work.

1’25: And I think that probably my piece and my process and my way, my approach is different from many others. / Which makes it / and you should sit wherever you want me to look. Because I’m gonna […] with you / yeah that’s why I / so maybe you sit there / toward the camera so you could look at the camera. Have you heard his piece? / no / No / Ah this is excellent actually and I’m very interested because it’s very different from the other.

2’02: So to repeat, I think my, I think my piece and my approach will turn out to be quite different from many of the other new commissions for the Harry Partchs Instruments. But it’s quite simple, really. I was asked if I wanted to write for the instruments and I don’t remember if I said yes or if I just said yes to go to this workshop or session where they would show us and demonstrate all the instruments… I don’t remember. Probably I just said yes. But I had immediately two criteria for myself and they got very much confirmed once I got to know the instruments, all the instruments a little bit better and the first one was that I had the feeling that so much of Harry Partch’s music was already those instruments, that my first criteria was I would have to search until I found an idea or an approach, that would ensure that I wasn’t actually just making a variation on an Harry Partch piece. Because I think you can do a lot of things on those instruments and he’ll eventually just sound or not just sound but it wills most likely sound like Harry Partch. Because so much is in the tuning system, so much is in the sound of these instruments. And the way you play to it. So the first criteria is it shouldn’t sound like an Harry Partch piece, which more or less excluded using too much pitch material and just… even some of the string instruments, cause you can’t do so much with it. And the other thing was, I also thought, but at the same time, this instrument was so unique that it won’t make sense to make a piece that could be performed on any instruments. So at the same time it should be uniquely playable for these instruments.

4’23: So I was a little bit contradictive but it’s, I thought, it, I really thought if I, if I can’t find an approach like this, I won’t do it. I’m not just going to write any piece and then put it on these special instruments and I also not going to play to my own special piece for these instruments and then it’s just going to sound like anyway, like Harry Partch. So in the end I selected three instruments and especially I would say there is like a solo instrument in the sense that it’s like in the middle, it’s the most important instrument in, in the piece, that is the marimba eroica. Which is essentially three staves on a marimba, but huge, one vibrating as low as something like 50 or 60 Hz. So it’s an instrument with three, are they four or are they three ? / four / four / they are four but / with four / the lowest is the weakest actually / yeah because you don’t really get the, the fundamental. But especially the second lowest you just have this, I mean it’s just vibrating forever and it’s so low and it feels more physically low than, than any normal acoustic instruments. That I know of. So it has a very, it’s very powerful. And of course when amplified, it’s crazy and it’s sounds more like something electronic, some kind electronic [base/bass]. And, so it’s not much about the pitches because they’re only these four pitches, one you can’t really tell which pitch this is and anyway they’re all so low that you don’t really hear, hear them as pitches. And then, but, my main thing was to say, but I’m actually not even composing for these pitches, I’m using these big vibrating staves to activate something else that will make the sound. So in that way I’m, I’m using the fact that they have so much power, they’re so big and they’re vibrating so long and in, and in really in different tempi, which is so unique for this instrument, but I’m actually using it to activate another instrument. Or other instruments, or different kinds of preparations.

6’54: And then I expended that set up with, with the Chromelodeon 2 with a snare drum on top and really just looking for different tempi of beatings. Or mainly looking for different tempi of beatings in the microtonaly tuned bass register that will make the snare drum vibrate in different rhythms. So I can combine, arrange these different intervals so that it makes an accelerando. Wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow wow. So it was my dubstep instrument. And the last instrument is kind of also really a strange instrument. The blow, the blow boy? As it’s called. And again, prepared re, removing the, removing the, the tubes and using it just for air sounds and breathing. And later also preparing that with a bag that can expand and, and contract.

08’07: And I think the main instrument in what it’s most interesting to talk about is, is this, is the marimba eroica. And in a way it’s, it’s expanded so that you have one player playing the keys, and then you have, I think it’s four players, or five, doing live changes and preparations. So that they can change for moment to moment to a different sound. Or essentially a different instrument. Or a different way of using those vibrations. And the progressions are first of all different materials put above the sound holes to the acoustic boxes. Where obviously there’ll be a strong wind going up and down, so that’s where a lot of the vibrations will be amplified, just through the air going back and forth and so if you put paper or backing paper or plastic folios or also styro, Styrofoam, all this have a very different sounds according to how it, it vibrates. So it’s a little bit like registers or different settings on an analog synthesizer or something so I’m turning now up to my, to my square ton from the other one and that would be my Styrofoam and so I get’s those baaaaaaaa and then I change back. But they, so, and they‘re assisting through that live. And then it expends to be also things physically vibrating against the, the wood of the stave.

10’01: They’re pencils and sticks and then it kind of climaxes in… that it activates suspended plastic cups and little balls, they’re not ping pong balls but they’re a little bit similar. And also golf balls freely going inside, but still trapped, inside some kind of glass jar. And so basically at that point the staves become a kind of remote control for little piece of objects theater where this objects start dancing and obviously, that makes a lot of sound and it’s, it’s very closely [miked]. And that is the piece, it’s actually just kind of building up to this moments where we have this dance of the cups. And then it’s kind of building down again, it’s very, very simple, there’s no polyphony, there’s really just one sound at the time and the sound is kind of expending and evolving further and further. And, yeah in a way I think the, the, the thing that makes it, that gives it the distance from, from Harry Partch’s own approach to this instrument is obviously that I don’t really, I’m not concerned with, or even completely avoiding the pitch material. And so a lot of his music is of course the tunings and, the special tunings, in the way of using these. And, but, and what makes it, the piece, uniquely for these instruments is of course that the, the, the main instrument, the, the, the marimba eroica, he just… nothing like this exists. If I should ever get vibrations like these, I would have to create them artificially, maybe with loudspeakers or something and of course, then you, then it’s a completely different feel, it’s not an acoustic handmade thing, then it’s suddenly something electric essentially, more artificial, so you have a perfectly natural way of creating this low and slow and long lasting vibration. And then activating another instrument defining the sound, so that I can also change the sound and not just, not using the tuning but actually also not using the sound and for the chromelodeon I definitely need the tunings because you don’t get the selection of beatings with the, with any other tuning. I need all these special intervals in this specific register, if not I wouldn’t have the selection of tunings. And of course [they are also] avoid the sound of the chromelodeon by adding the snare drum, so that’s actually the snare drum we hear.

13’14: And then there’s this absurd instrument, the bellow of the blow boy, which becomes, yeah which, which was [just a] weird instrument that… Yeah I had, I had the feeling that it’s, it fitted well with the marimba eroica because it was kind of a big monster instrument and this big bellow kind of gave longs to this big instrument and so you, you have this big monster also sometimes breathing or snoring or whatever. It gives, it kind of gave life. It gave kind of a ba, even more body to the body of, of the marimba eroica. Basta.

14’09: (Eleni) Had you heard in the past music of, before this commission, of Harry Partch and did you deal with that or did you had any experience or was it like your first experience at that point?

14’24: while studying, I heard pieces on tape / okay / and I was fascinated by the eccentric nature of the work of Harry Partch. I don’t remember my impression on, on the music itself. Just the, the story surrounding it. And the attitude and the, and the [global] life and all this. There was, during my studies. And then a few years before, or maybe just one year before I, I attended a [dress] rehearsal of this, what’s it called? Hum hum of fury? / Delusion of fury / ha? / Delusions of the fury / Illusions of the de / delusion / delusions of fury in the staging by Heiner Goebbels and I heard it in Norway because they tour it [almost] everywhere and I just heard the dress rehearsal and… Yeah I liked it. I wasn’t so convinced by the staging. What was interesting was that it was a huge hit and everybody I talked to after that was big fans of the staging so it could be that something did not work out well at the dress rehearsal and was fixed for the actual performance. So who knows. But deeply fascinated by the instruments and I’m not sure that, I heard all the pieces later that I kind of like better, but at least it, it confirmed everything I remembered which is that is, it essentially has all these strange tunings but a lot of the time for me it sounded like… yeah, this kind of strange familiar music, just strangely out of tune, like sometimes even to the point where it sounds like somebody playing the guitar at the camp fire who didn’t know how to tune the guitar.

16’53: And, so this, this is of course absolutely not the intention of the composer, I’m sure, but I’m not saying it to, to make it smaller, I really appreciate it. I likes, I like these cultural objects with a strong twist. And this was the experience I had. But also that was the moment where I realized, it seems like whatever they do on these instruments, a half of this music is already in the tuning and in the, in the crafting of these instruments, it’s already, which is also nothing bad, it’s actually just, it’s actually really close to how I, I work myself. Often the identity of a piece of mine would be at least fifty percent in the set up, or in the concept, or in the, or in the instrument choice, or in the material. And then of course I do stuff with it but it’s not that it would be a completely different piece if I did something else with it or did it slightly differently, because it’s already, the identity is already so strongly defined by the set up. And, so I have the feeling it’s the same with, with the Harry Partch instruments, which makes it very difficult for somebody else to come in and compose for, because it has such a strong aura, very strong luggage and… yeah. And so, when they asked me, that’s why I immediately knew, that would be my first criteria, I would have to find a way to completely avoid that Harry Partch sound, because, because that’s already his. And it has such a strong magnetic field around it, [all/a] gravity field, that you’ll have to move very far away in order to not just make a variation of that. Or make something which, maybe something completely different, but would be experienced at least as a variation of this.

19’04: So I had to heard some, but I’ve heard much more since. And I know I also heard some of the other pieces and I think some of them have really clever ways of avoiding these things, some just don’t care, just make something and for me it sounds very much like Harry Partch but still kind of very interesting to use a composer’s approaches and I think a lot of clever… ways to approach it. I haven’t heard all of course. I’ve heard some. I’ve never been familiar with, and I’m still not familiar with, and I didn’t use as much as I mean it, to study the theoretic foundation of the tunings and the all system of his, because I thought that it’s ok, I’m not going to use it, it’s super interesting but I’m not going to use it and I don’t need it. I’ll use the time for… getting to know these instruments on a personal and physical level. So I went when they did the course with other people, I went down there and started touching the instrument and see what I can do with it.

20’19: (Eleni) and what about the combination with the normal instruments, because they had offer that  if I /yeah / remember, like / yeah yeah / […] you didn’t want to…

20’34: I don’t think I even considered it because I think that would, that would take a little bit out of the challenge. I think it could be interesting, but I would, it would in a way also emphasize the exotic nature of the instruments. Just like I guess putting a chinese cither in front of an western orchestra. Which I did once, I made a concert of […] but, so, in a way it’s, in a way… that wasn’t so attractive to me. But I completely forgot. I completely forgot that this was an option, which is true, some, some people did this. Yeah, it could also be interesting, because of course, but then it’s maybe not so interesting for the Harry Partch instruments, but it could be interesting for the, for the classical instruments because obviously you’ll listen to, maybe not so much the strings, but let say you put a grand piano next to some of these Harry Partch’s tuned instruments, obviously we will, the piano will suddenly sound out of tune as well. And so maybe it could be interesting as a concept not so much about the Harry Partch instruments but more like changing perspective on the familiar instruments. But at the time I didn’t consider it.

22’09: (Eleni) Okay. So I have a performative question because you, I think it’s kind of your musical […] you have as we described a lot of things so, going on stage, and Harry Partch used also the instruments as kind of the staging so, does this idea come one hundred percent from you or does it had to do with also the Partch tradition about what the staging would be, or you were not interesting on how he performed? You’ll seen Delusion after? / No before / Ah ok, /before yeah / before the […]

22’53: I mean I think it comes from me. And I don’t think it’s… it’s not influenced, but I mean, I like instruments that are big and that needs big movements, right, because if you have this tiny little instrument and the movements are like this, I’ve, it’s less interesting performative than if you have such a big instrument and sometimes you need to play down here and sometimes you need to play down here. Then obviously you have a lot of ins…, movements, and if you’re interested in movements or performativity, that has a big potential. Maybe. And, and maybe I could imagine that, that has also played a role in the design of his instruments, at least they’re not tiny practical instruments, they’re big dramatic instruments. And also when playing, then you’re moving around a lot. I’m not sure if they could have been designed in a different way, but I think it’s a big thing also at a Harry Partch concert. Watching the players play the piece. Not because they’re doing anything extra, but just playing the piece, but just by playing it, they’re moving a lot and, and, and there’s a kind of drama already in that. And so it’s, so I would rather say maybe there’s kind of a crossing in the approach and, and well since these instruments have been so, since he’s been so ambitious in these construction and not really limited about the practicality, it seems, I guess they ended up super big, so these instruments, and the biggest of them all, the marimba eroica was [hands] perfect for my purpose, because he was just a player himself, they’re so heavy these, these mallets so it’s like a, it’s like a big body builder exercise just to play them. And so already playing has something, well, heroic about it. So, there is no inspiration but definitely a common fascination I think.

25’15: (Eleni) and one last question that probably doesn’t apply one hundred percent, because you said that you wanted to avoid this tuning system, but, and I probably want to see your score, but how did you notated things, because there is a main discussion about the tabulator systems that Partches used throughout his all life and he changes a lot of things to relative tempered [drums] and then back to tabulators and then / okay / and how the instrumentalists are dealing with that, and sometimes they’re saying it’s super practical when it’s fast and with a lot of movements, something that it’s really… that shows the location, other says that for some pieces especially they wanted to see the results so they would like to have the combination of them, and how did you proceed with that?

26’03:Well since, since it’s really not a thing in this piece, the tuning, I could use some kind of very simple action notation. And I just have the four staves, I, as far as I remember I have four lines and each line represents the… each stave so that’s very easy and then, you have the different preparations and I’m wondering how I did that, but… and, are there signs specifically for that? At least that has more to do, there almost like an articulation so that would be something that is added to that specific note. So it’s kind of outside the system. I don’t remember exactly how I did it. But at least, if, if anything, that is more showing what to do and not so much what, what the [sounding]. And, and also when you have the beatings in the chromelodeon, it doesn’t say anything about beatings, so in a way, there is no revelation of the result. So, but, I, so, I’m a big fan of actual notation but of course it also kind of take a certain responsibility away from the musician who… yeah who just has to believe that if I do this action correctly, the right sounding result is coming, so it moves also a little bit the focus away from the sounding result. Which is not always the intention either. And so I actually do believe, that in many cases the best option is to have [actual/action] notation in a, in a normal sized system and then to have a smaller system on top showing the sounding result. So I used that in some cases. At least for, for study score. And then when you perform it, maybe you know the piece already, maybe then you don’t need the resulting stuff, you just need few page terms and then you just have the, the actions [that have] left. I think if I was to play these pieces, I would definitely prefer the actions stuff. And then since this is mostly fixe tuning, so it’s either tuned or it’s really a stave with this specific tuning, you’ll pretty quickly learn what it sounds like and then I think you have to react on it. Correspondingly… Then…I, I mean, if it was notated in sound only, it would take a lot of unnecessary time to study I think.

29’00: (Eleni) But in the chromelodeon you were aware which intonation you had, to which keys over to calculate the beatings / well I didn’t calculate / okay / I just listened / but you still use the key like / right, right, right / piano / what… actually I think I did, yeah, and so I did not, I did not write the ratios or something like he does or the colors… I don’t remember exactly how I did it, but I was not aware which tons they were. Because it didn’t matter so I have no idea. What, what mattered was that if I took what look like a fifth, it was some other interval and that… those two notes would give this tempo. And so I recorded all the tempi, sampled them and organized them so I would know, okay, if I did make this combination of intervals, I’ll have an accelerando. So in a way it’s complete avoiding of, of what is even really sounding because my purpose is something else. And the only place where pitch was important was the place where I have this little trill on top of the chromelodeon which is tuned to the sound of one of the glasses with a golf ball inside. So suddenly there is this connection because a lot of my music kind of starts with these connections and then it expands and contracts and then you, you’re back to the connecting point. And then that extracts in a different way, and then I, I just like when you kind of have the feeling that these two starting points are expanding in different directions, then I like the moment when you actually arrive and another kind of [link] somewhere else. And the function of that comes from the pitch of finally at the climax, one of the climax, the pitch of the glass with the golf ball vibrating inside of it, and then getting picked up by the, by the chromelodeon. Yeah. And that’s, there is one more pitch I don’t remember what that is, maybe it’s one of the other glasses… Yeah. But I still don’t know what, which pitch is because it was just a glass that we had at the, at the rehearsal space and finally if we found another glass we will just go to the chromelodeon and find the closest ton. So. It’s very practical way of composing where it’s more about function and resemblance and correspondence and sound and much less with exactly what it sounding or exact pitch or any… Especially no, not about pitch relation in terms of harmony.

32’03: (Eleni) that’s all / cool / thank you very much / yeah thank you…

2nd Interview

00’00: is it published? / it is published, the score, I don’t even know. I don’t think so because it doesn’t really make sense. Because only they can play, right? / […]no, no, not the score, like, like the music / no / recording / there is no recording, I know / okay, because / we’ll there is a recording, it’s not public. It’s not / I don’t know if you have anything in YouTube […] I check again last time I checked, but you don’t have anything / they didn’t have it right? / They, I didn’t find anything public but I didn’t know if you tried to / I have something, let’s […] what’s it called? / Corpus / (music) So this is how simple the score is. I’ll send it to you / yeah please / I can’t believe I didn’t already but as we, I mean I’ll go a little further but… it’s ridiculous, it’s very, it’s very minimalistic piece too, like it’s just evolving of sound. Okay here it does say… Ah I remember now, it’s because here instead of saying we have a certain tempo he says it’s just 3/8 but in the tempo of the beating. / okay / wow wow wow wow wowowowo… wait four cycles with this. So / okay / that’s kind of special. But even when it’s, when it’s the most complex to listen to, it’ll just look like this and this is a preparation vibrating against… So, so I’ll send it to you but it’s extremely simple. Then (music) [try to make it low?] just the red button. / the red, yeah the re, yeah / good. (music) It’s very simple, it’s this, the alufolie (music) it’s with a, that’s with the, that’s Styrofoam (music) that’s the pencil with a piece of tape on it, which is actually vibrating up and down, but I think only every second times, so that’s like lower note. (music) And a stick and then some beatings (music)

2’40: someone coming into the room until 3’00

3’00: So this is actually the beating between a stave here and a stave here and just a preparation here. Listen the first one and then the other. (music) Now you have the difference because this is everywhere. Okay, let’s see, this is a bag (music) with this big bellow. We found a better bag later (music). It’s a beating on the chromelodeon. (music) More. (music) The pitch thing. There is some pictures of this hanging. Those hanging, the pencil, this one, that one… There’s video too I think. (music) And that’s basically the piece and let’s see if I have a recording… Corpus… It doesn’t seem like it. No, but I think they are some recordings and they have some. / I’m sure they have. And what was your [ideal amplification], like every instrument or only? / Close and loud and, yeah every instrument / how many / but also every preparation / ah okay, and one microphone for each? / New haircut / yeah / did you had it last time? No? / no. I have the dreads. […] / Very sweet, it look very sweet. Nice boy. Sorry. / No it’s one microphone for every instrument and every preparation? / More or less yeah / Yeah / yeah the thing is you don’t, you barely need the, actually a microphone for the, for the marimba, you just need it for the preparation. That’s not so difficult, you just have to get really close I think we also added some, some compression stuff just to, kind of, have it more electronic, now you have these different sounds and it’s all kind of melting together. / And how many did you use in total, do you remember? / Microphones? No. But I would say Ideally… probably… even ten just for the marimba, because you have preparation in both ends and you have the preparations in the middle, so if you want to cover all those, I guess you need ten. Maybe just nine. And then for the chromelodeon, we used one special mic for an air sound in the beginning, because it could make an air sound if you just pushed it lightly. And then, at least, least one for the, for the, for the snare drum. And then we had one microphone glued on the back and one directly where the air comes out. So fifteen maybe. / okay / One percent / can I have like also the videos or the photos because I think I would / absolutely / like the all material that you have and in case I want to publish something online I will ask you to / just ask me, yeah but there’s/ ok / nothing here that you can’t publish / okay / and I think even I put, I posted the videos on Facebook too / okay that’s nice / let me see, let me see […](music) […] composed it or did more or less, to get an idea, I did like a, a sequencing of the samples, it’s probably not going to be enough. It seems already a little bit slow… It’s seems already very slow… I wonder what this is… Anyway we will never know, we’ll never know. Take down the [rit] and we’re good to go. / be careful / appreciate it. Yeah / perfect, thank you very much / so today was