In the dark of a misty Copenhagen night I ran through dim corridors looking for the rendezvous point. “In here,” came the sonorous voice of an off-duty rock god from the end of the passageway. I followed the voice into perhaps the most forbidden spot in all Denmark.
Like NOMA, officially the world’s best restaurant, the Steinway room of the Senior Professor of Piano at the Danish Academy of Music is booked up years in advance. Only the fastest pianists even get to look at it. “No problem”, said sound engineer and composer Ejnar Kanding in his gravel basso profundo. “I know the guard. But we must be quick”.
Ranked as best restaurant in the world, NOMA sits on the waterfront in Christenshavn, 5 minutes walk from where I live . I’ve never been there.
Two takes later the first leg of the assignment was completed and we now headed into the sinister depths of the basement. Our mission: to find a location quiet enough for high definition recording without danger of being disturbed. In the absence of a red warning light, we broke into the second most forbidden spot in Denmark: the central recording studios of the old Danish Radio, officially booked until the 22nd century.
“One minute”, said Ejnar. “I’ll have a word with the guard”. One hour and a lot of expensive microphones later, our task was done. We were making backing tracks of pieces I’d been writing for the upcoming Frankenstein Lab, performance forum for those mad enough to want to try out new material and have the audience say what they think immediately afterwards.
Here I am at the Literaturhaus (left), dwarfed by the Monster. Note his look of ineffable sadness at my efforts.
Ejnar’s considerable talent as a sound technician was familiar to me from a recital I gave here just over a year ago with his expert assistance. He also somehow manages to juggle recording work with a busy teaching schedule and still be a composer. And a Dad. Here’s a short film of part of his 2nd string quartet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCqFG3yYe8A
Miss Fish (below): “50 percent male, 50 percent female and 50 percent fish” (in his own words)
It’s filmed by the extraordinary Jørgen Callensen, aka “Miss Fish”: artist, curator, performer, etc, at his wonderful venue Warehouse 9, a space dedicated to the queer community and breaking performance boundaries in general. Although (unsurprisingly) too busy to fit in any DIVA activities, Jørgen warmly invited me to some late night genre-crossing burlesque events and the new Copenhagen Lust Festival. He’d clocked I wasn’t just after a cello gig.
The inaugural but ill-fated Copenhagen Lust Festival, which I JUST discovered has been cancelled due to lack of ticket sales. I leave you to draw conclusions.
Anyway, back to the Lab.
If a bomb had dropped on the Literaturhaus last thursday night, Danish new music would pretty much have ceased to exist. Present were most of Edition S., SNYK, and a large number of composers including The Lads (as I now call them), Christian Winther Christensen, Rune Glerup and Nicolai Worsaae.
By way of brief update, you should know that Christian and Rune are the new directors of the Athelas New Music Festival, Nicolai has just won a posh competition to write for Ensemble Unpronounceable (Ensemble Intercontemporain), Christian and Nicolai are curating for London Sinfonietta next season and Rune has a residency at IRCAM in Paris.
People who spend too long at IRCAM can emerge looking like Gollum from years underground looking at laptops. After a while they can only communicate in binary numbers.
Rune looks OK, but it’s probably because he’s engaged to be married.
Frankenstein’s Lab is brainchild of composer and Edition S. righthand man, Rudiger Meyer, who has studied internationally, amassing an eclectic mix of influences including Feldman, Stockhausen, Kevin Volans, African music and experimental pop. Here’s a sound poetry piece of his based on the Danish alphabet: http://www.rudigermeyer.com/lydfabet.html
Fellow Frankenstein compere, sound artist and composer Niels Rønsholdt was also present. Student of Helmut Oehring, Bent Sørensen and Karl Rasmussen, his music is a truly original blend of delicate instrumental and harmonic colour with elegant electronics. And video.
He is married to fabulous media artist Signe Klejs (with whom I’m collaborating in a few weeks). They both could be models and really do look as they appear in this pic. They are a rare example of artists partnered up in life and work, still happily collaborating after 10 years of marriage. And have kids.
There’s hope. It can be done
I asked Niels if he’d ever considered being a model like American “virtual choir” composer phenomenon, Eric Whitacre. “Porn! Filthy Porn”, screamed Nicolai on overhearing the name. “Kill him!”
Composer Eric Whitacre, recently signed by Storm Model Agency
And now moving swiftly back to the Lab experiments:
Anders Børup explains his looping process to the audience (below)
The Literaturhaus is the ideal setting for this kind of evening with it’s atmospheric church architecture, downstairs kitchen and cheap bar with many kinds of unpronounceable beers.
Anders Børup sat behind his laptop, sang into a mic and experimented with new looping software triggered by pitch range and speed that also kicked off electro beats; Mette Nielsen, now freshly shawn of dredlocks, sat behind her laptop and played us her mean new electronic “feedback instrument” with ten times more decibels than a White Stripes gig;
White Stripes duo, famed for their signature raw feedback frenzy, outdone at last by Mette Nielsen’s insanely loud feedback machine
and Casper Cordes got members of the audience to record into smartphones to mix into new software behind his laptop, while I improvised into a mic to the resultant cacophony with appropriate weirdness.
Casper recording audience members for his live interactive smartphone experiment
A man with a beard carrying a large pizza asked a lot of questions about looping, another man with a different beard carrying a plastic Fakta (Tesco) bag wanted to know about which kind of phone apps interact best with certain kinds of audio software, and a lengthy discussion was had about the intricacies of pre-programmed internal feedback mechanisms and their relationship to electronic processing with regard to MAX MSP.
Frankstein Lab pix by Anders Børup and the Danish Composers’ Society’s in-house talent, Katrine Gregerson Dal
There was not a single question or comment afterwards. Except from Rudiger, who asked me about my childhood, and glamorous opera singer Maria Hanke who wanted to know how one of the backing tracks was done.
The unavoidable but honest answer was: “with a Steinway.”
In trying to address my technological inadequacies, it quickly became clear that redemption lay buried in the sands of ageless antiquity.
For my astonishing findings in ancient Egypt, via Denmark, watch this space…