CMT: ‘Concerning King’ (2006), by the 50-year-old Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin, was performed last week by Attacca Quartet in New York. This Wallin composition originates in a mathematical analysis of serial time-samples of the acoustic frequency spectrum of a recording of an antiwar speech given by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Riverside Church in 1967. Edgy staccato passages, without much lyricism. Challenging to listeners and performers alike!
DSM: Fractious. A long musical exhortation, like the best of King’s civil rights speeches, for the listener to personally do something to make things better in the world.
CMT: Yes. Wallin’s music has the blunt forthrightness, innocence, and stark beauty that are characteristic of a Norwegian temperament and outlook. It’s music that’s insistent in asserting discordant facts, but simultaneously expansive and optimistic. It strongly indicates reasons for hope, if only you will act! Rolf studied in Oslo at the Norgesmusikkhøgskole (Norwegian Academy of Music) with Finn Mortensen and Olav Anton Thommessen and later at the University of California where he studied under Roger Reynolds and Vinko Globokar. Wallin’s music combines an intuitive gestalt with mathematics, such as his use of fractal algorithms in his compositional technique, which results in music that sometimes resembles Xenakis or Berio. In 1987, Wallin received Norwegian Society of Composers Award for ‘…though what made it has gone’. He currently still resides in Oslo.
DSM: With a performance such as the Attacca Quartet just gave, I think each faction of the audience hears what they already knew about. But they can’t help but learn something new, too. And when they leave the performance venue, they are aware of a whole different kind of music; whole new meanings. Older folks like me can see the art, musicianship and virtuosity that are part of new music at its best. This stuff makes you think, but it also makes you feel! Ideally, it may motivate you to Do, rather than just Consume or Experience. The aleatoric and other effects—they just propel and demand a greater degree of listener ‘investment’ in deriving the meaning than more canonical pieces typically do. The balance between the performers and the audience is more like jazz, that’s all.
CMT: And aleatory and electronica didn’t spring de novo from the heads of Kraftwerk or Brian Eno; they grew out of a century of musical experimentation. That’s part of what younger audience members find out in this. Fifty to a hundred years ago, Varèse was searching for, and finding, new sounds long before electronics could provide them. Cage more or less invented industrial music, using found industrial objects. Those and a legion of less well-known and under-appreciated members of the avant-garde. Wallin and others younger than he are merely carrying that banner forward and innovating entirely new banners!
DSM: Reading the New York Times’ reviewer Vivien Schweitzer’s comments, I wonder whether we were hearing the same performance! Attacca’s performance of Wallin was vibrant and thrilling and unsettling, not ‘long-winded’! And it’s seldom that we in the U.S. have the privilege of experiencing this kind of inspired aesthetic cross-pollination. Marketers and presenters are understandably uncomfortable with crossing boundaries and can hardly risk doing anything other than stick their music, and their audience, in easily identified, familiar, sanctioned categories. They dread offending those touchy patrons who will tolerate nothing that is unfamiliar or unproven, nothing that is uncomfortable. So the repertoire gets constricted—regardless how innovative the performances of canonical works may be. But we need more new music and more category-busting events if we are to evolve a new music that is both artful and speaks to growing audiences looking for bespoke ‘experiences’ rather than shrinking audiences looking for uncontroversial balm.
CMT: Outreach programs and ‘Young People's Concerts’ á la Bernstein clearly don’t ‘work’ in terms of increasing audience and paid butts in seats. The London Sinfonietta’s ‘Ether’ concerts do to a degree succeed in bridging the gap between yesterday’s avant-garde and tomorrow’s.
DSM: But much, much more quantity—and much, much more varied offerings than are currently on offer—are needed. In other words, one solution to an already over-crowded classical music market is not ‘less’ product but ‘more’! Just not necessarily more of the same canon.
CMT: One solution is to leverage the famous Chris Anderson ‘long tailed’ distribution—the economical packaging and wider accessibility and ‘push’ marketing of performances tailored to ever-narrower market segments and ever-more-specialized affinities.
DSM: We’ve talked several times in months past in this blog, about the relationship of musical composition and nonlinear systems—Roger Reynolds, Iannis Xenakis, Milton Babbitt, and others. Is Rolf Wallin using things like strange attractors (Lorenz Attractor algorithms) or Mandelbrot sets to generate his motives—surtout dans la phase “précompositionnelle”?
CMT: Well, go email him! Go to Oslo and ask him!
[Wallin, ‘… though what made it has gone’, Hilde Torgersen, mezzo;
Kenneth Karlsson, piano; from CD ‘MOVE’ 1.4MB MP3]
C ette notion que des ‘instructions de travail’ simples peuvent générer une musique imprévisible au niveau des détails, mais qui néanmoins corrèle avec les procédures, m’a beaucoup fascinée, en tant qu’alternative plus ‘liquide’ à la notion d’œuvre, alors que l’œuvre au sens traditionnel est ‘cristallisée’ ou ‘coagulée’.”
- Rolf Wallin website
- Wallin R. Avant-garde, Ghosts, and Innocence.
- Rolf Wallin page on Chester|Novello website
- Rolf Wallin CDs on Naxos / BIS.
- Norgesmusikkhøgskole website
- Anderson C. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. Hyperion, 2006.
- Pedersen L, et al. Wallin: Boyl. (Aurora, 2007.)
- Oldham K, Spanier J. The Fractional Calculus: Theory and Applications of Differentiation and Integration to Arbitrary Order. Dover, 2006.
- Palis J, Takens F. Hyperbolicity and Sensitive Chaotic Dynamics at Homoclinic Bifurcations: Fractal Dimensions and Infinitely Many Attractors in Dynamics. Cambridge Univ, 1995.
- Sparrow C. Lorenz Equations: Bifurcations, Chaos, and Strange Attractors. Springer, 1982.
- Strichartz R. Differential Equations on Fractals. Princeton Univ, 2006.
- Takahashi Y, ed. Algorithms, Fractals, and Dynamics. Springer, 1996.
- Wallin R. Move. (Hemera, 2005.)
- West B, Bologna M, Grigolini P. Physics of Fractal Operators. Springer, 2003.
- Attacca Quartet on Flickr
- Attacca Quartet website
- Schweitzer V. A Quartet of Juilliard Students Introduces Four Contemporary Pieces to the City. NYT, 24-JUL-2007.
- London Sinfonietta website
- CMT. Niches and Long-Tailed Culture. 21-OCT-2006.
- CMT. Roger Reynolds: Following the Authority of Process + Intuition. 11-APR-2007.
- Sequenza21 new music blog