Stig Sæterbakken: I Guide the Salmon (English) - Rolf Wallin [ Composer ]

Stig Sæterbakken: I Guide the Salmon (English)

– Stonewave. A wave that becomes petrified. Or a stone that attempts to tear itself loose from its rigid form, dissolve itself, transforming itself to a liquid and becoming a wave; perhaps, the temperature , becomes high enough, and it does, temperature once more being used as a musical term, as it should be; "this is music of high temperature", and perhaps the heat manages to make the stone melt, like a glowing wave; the percussionists strike – pause – and they strike again  – pause – from the left – pause – from the right; sketches of rhythms which break off before they manage to – always new rhythms, new waves, new blows, stone against stone, sometimes slowly, sometimes swift, sometimes nothing, like a series of beginnings, approaches, attempts to meet, unite, collaborate, and all these beginnings, approaches, all these attempts to interact finally fall into something which resembles a steady rhythm and a uniting of powerful forces (six percussionists) which are set in motion; more and more in one another, melted together (while the temperature increases steadily) like a wave of stone, and it is some sort of primitive pulsating rhythm is extracted through the percussionists’ common efforts, beating and thundering, joined in cascades, rolling, wavy, hammering, and then something mechanical, like a mighty “tick-tock-tick-tock" out from the wave, and then down again and up again, the way the wave is approaching land, and down again and up again like a swell, the wave strikes against the stone and splinters, BAM!! BA-RAM!!

Finished. Ah...

Breathe out. Huh! Wild. Aggressive. Infernal. Thundering; this tastes of mathematics, this must be mathematics, deliberately resolute meticulous mathematics, this and nothing else. Isn’t it?

– Pure mathematics. The piece is written with the help of a so called fractal formula; a simple formula where the result is fed back into the formula over and over again innumerable times. This results in an astoundingorganic pattern, whether one plots the numbers graphically on a computer screen, or the computer guides a synthesizer with them.

In Stonewave the mathematics is allowed speak far more nakedly than in any of my other works. The experience you describe of the temperature increasing in the course of the first minutes is a result of cool calculating on my part, a utilisation of your physiological reactions to sound. The introduction consists of a row of sequences which are alternately played by the left and right sections of the percussion ensemble. A high-pass filter ensures that the sequences which really should be played by the low drums are turned into long pauses. When this filter is gradually taken away during the introduction, the number of pauses decreases, and at the same time the low drums gradually come into play and resound in your diaphragm. In addition to this, I use a well-known editing trick from action-films; to allow the sequences to become continually shorter, further stimulating your adrenaline production.

The work is done at the computer. The course of events is guided by a data program which I wrote myself, and which I changed and adjusted during the composition process. I did not determine each singular event; I guided the large movement, deciding in which direction should develop. The work with the program is cool, disengaged, controlled, so that it becomes as functional as possible. The engagement occurs when the program is activated, when things begin to happen. When I’m beginning to see what can come out of it.

– I ’m thinking of Roland Barthes: "Does writing in pleasure give me a guarantee for my reader’s pleasure? Not at all..." Barthes touches upon something essential about the disparity easily found between creation and the completed work, a disparity which is actually not an incongruity, only a paradox: The expressive work made in a non-expressive manner.

– Exactly, and this is the function of the method; to facilitate something natural. Instead of feeling that I should determine every single detail, I’m working, as in Stonewave, mathematically so that it l can be allowed to happen in a natural way. Releasing nature instead of attempting to construct it. But so, in the middle of the process, it is vital l that I step back and feel how the music affects me as a listener, allowing myself to be manipulated by my own music. And then the only way to know if I am moving in the right direction artistically, is to measure my own enthusiasm, pleasure, or – if you prefer it – my own heart.

– Barthes again; who says "I must seek out this reader (...) without knowing where he is". The text reveals itself as a “site of bliss” into which the reader can go and move around, and this text contains “pleasure” as a possibility. And the paradox yet once again; something impersonal that allows something personal to emanate.

– I can compare this with the story I always return to, about the japanese Zen-master who, several hundred years ago, dipped his pony-tail in ink and swung it with his head over the paper; swish, swish. He turns and sees what is there, adds a few pen strokes, and there is a beautiful Japanese landscape drawing. It is about giving and taking. One has control and one doesn’t have control. I am concerned with letting things happen, and then to look and let myself be inspired by it, interpret it, see what it can become. The difference is that he used his pony-tail and I use a computer. It sets something in motion, which I observe, and study, to see which direction I can bend it, form it. You can think of a slide image that is projected onto different objects. It is the same picture, but by moving it around, trying the image against different backgrounds, it is creating new images the whole time. Or like the growth rings in a tree, which are fixed and immovable; at the same time the wood can be bent and shaped.

– Isn ’t it also about transgression, the attempt to go beyond the limits of one’s own thoughts and feelings; reaching beyond your limitations through a method or a formula.

– Yes. One shifts, changes positions en route, and in this way I discover things while I am working, things I couldn’t have done by myself, things which go beyond my normal vocabulary. In this way opposition, friction, and confrontations are created, upon which I have to decide before I continue. And in order for this to happen, I need a large form, an overall idea of form which makes it possible. An undercurrent, a fundamental attitude, a guiding principle which makes the single elements significant In this way one can, for example, work with confusing and opposing elements and create controlled confusion, which becomes fruitful for the listener; in contrast to uncontrolled confusion, which only just confuses.

– We’re talking about ning, a piece for oboe, violin, viola and violoncello (world premiere Ultima I991), and about the word ning, taken from David Grossmans "See Love". It is used to describe the guiding force in a shoal of salmons, the large ning as a kind of gathering element which guides the movement and decides when the fish swim together, when they swim apart, when they turn, etc. 

– And this is the way the piece ning is written. At one point the shoal of instruments is together, and then they move apart, find their way back to each other, and then faster and faster, deeper and deeper, away from each other and then together. New movements the whole time, according to the direction that is given, just like the salmon. It is a description of journeys, transitions, states, expectations. Expectations and the breaking of expectations. 

– lsn’t this also applicable to the way you generally work with music? 

– That's right. I guide the shoal of salmon, give it direction, and then study how it behaves. I set the framework, and then I see what happens: What is it doing now? How does it solve this? Where is it going? 
As a result of modernism, most, if not all, of the traditional frameworks are gone; all is permitted, all is possible. One has, as a point of departure, no formal limitations to push against, nothing to force one's own expression up against. This means that every single composition must set it‘s own framework, which is functional and meaningful for precisely that work. Here is where the large form comes in, the principal idea that sets the framework that is necessary for the composition and which it then moves according to, inside and outwards towards the boundaries. Here we are talking about the shoal of salmon again. Ning that guides, and simultaneously opens for variation, coincidence and spontaneity. What is mobile needs a direction to move itself in, and my task is to find the right direction. 

Translation by Palmyre Pierroux 

"...this is the natural law of maintaining distance this is the natural law of loneliness in the crowd and the water foamed now slashed to snippets swarming with dagger fins and somewhere in the margins he was compelled to the detacheable calm of his greatness with the fish and ever so slowly they fell in line from head to tail and for the first time you recognized the ning, the string extending from the back of your neck to the bottom of your soul, and you listened in wonder to the steady hum as on and on it drew you lonely in the crowd of the lonely and the silent and you were filled with a strange sudden joy...."

(From David Grossman: "See under: Love" p. 118)