Øyvind Torvund: Multiple vantage points (part two)

The second part of MIC's interview with young contemporary classical composer Øyvind Torvund

Øyvind Torvund: Bandrom 3 - Happy Days 2005 (1)

Combination, contrast and juxtaposition seem to be important concepts for you artistically. Does this mean that you find music in its ordinary sense too narrow a field?

-No, my language will always be music, and my artistic objective, if there is such a thing, will always be musical. My focus is on sound and the aural situation. But I am interested in finding as many different vantage points and combinations as possible, including extra musical, contextual and semantic -and even psychological- aspects.
I’m fascinated by the fact that really unconventional music can become accessible if the context is very conventional and downplayed, or vice versa, that simple music can become ultra rich in the right kind of context. Contrasts, juxtapositions and completely opposite perspectives interest me because I believe that there is a lot happening around and beneath the ordinary musical framework, and a lot of unconscious forces to be explored.

You have also worked with combining improvisation and written music. Is it the same kind of contrast and the same kind of semi-controllable situation that you are after?

-I guess you can say that. Often I think that what I am after is a one-time experience, something that can’t be written down. Like I said, it has just as much to do with format and the aspect of transcription as it has to do with the actual sounds. Improvisation involves subconscious forces, and trying to control the improvisation and “free” musicians is about managing a complex situation. I’m really inspired by artists like Thomas Hirschorn who present complex installations and “overcrowded” pieces of art that seem to move in all kinds of directions until you realize that all the strands are connected and that there is in fact overview, control and unity there.

Is it not a contradiction to control improvisation?

-No, I don’t think so. With improvisation there is control and lack of control at the same time. It all depends on the quality of the musicians. And for me as a composer, the ability to control a complex situation where improvisation is one of the factors requires a lot of experience. I admit that so far I have not really achieved what I’m after, which is to try and manage many layers and parameters with a sense of control at the same time as being entirely open-minded about the end result. It is very challenging but it is certainly a direction that I will keep pursuing. One of the good things about working with contemporary music is the high standard of the musicians and ensembles, which means that as a composer I can use them as a precision instrument and explore the kinds of incongruous contexts and challenging contrasts we have been talking about.

So for you as a composer and artist there is no alternative to classical contemporary?

-The downside is that contemporary musicians do not fill any other kind of role than the playing itself. The brilliant contemporary instrumentalist is a somewhat one-dimensional character. Sometimes I long for working with pop singers, or other contexts where personality and role-play draw some attention away from the music itself. With contemporary music and musicians there is simply nothing to hide behind, which means that the demand for the music to be novel and groundbreaking gets all the more pronounced. That expectation makes contemporary music a difficult genre to work with. Unfortunately the demand for originality means that “new” music has a tendency to sound homogenous and perhaps more “difficult” than it really wants to.

But are not these expectations countered by the fact that “new” music to an increasing degree is being performed at private get-togethers and other one-time situations?

Sure, things are changing a lot. In fact the whole infrastructure of contemporary music is falling to pieces, which is sad but at the same time positive because the small concerts and single performances become more of the norm. I am in favour of small concerts as an artistic method, even if that means that it becomes more difficult to make a living as a contemporary composer.

Which brings us to the Intro Program, how significant has this been for you and what concretely has it amounted to?

Well first of all it has been significant because of the recognition. And then the support in developing promotion materiel, acquiring contacts and so forth has been valuable of course. In terms of financing it is not really that much money, it is not as if it pays all the bills, but knowing that you have two commissioned pieces gives a sense of security, both financially and artistically. Of the two scheduled commissions I still have to complete the last and major one, which I am working on now.
It is difficult to say just how important Intro has been because in this field everything is connected and things tend to happen by indirect routes. But exactly for this reason it is important to be active and visible and create a profile, and in this respect Intro has been very valuable.

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