Katherine HernandezDoctoral Student, , B.F.A.
Sånger för Spökkvarteren (Songs for the Ghost Quarters)
The materials I am working with during the course of my PhD work are drawn around themes of urban memory and transformation, psychogeography and the “ghosts” of the imagined city. There are two sets of questions I am trying to address. One is about the ability of individuals to affect their own experience of urban life in terms of collective memory and imagination, and the other is about how the combination of unusual timbral materials and real-world sounds can trigger or inform that ability. I have used Stockholm as a model so far, because I found experiential contact with the communal urban experience to be important to the integrity of both the artistic research and the compositional process. Stockholm's particular history has offered a unique contrast be- tween the optimistic modernism and industrialism of the last century and the ghost of the older pre-industrial city, as well as a third, very new strain of globalization.
The music for this project centers around a group of planned compositions utilizing modular synthesizers, processed field recordings, organ and various mechanical string "choirs” of hurdy-gurdy, nyckelharpa and scordatura violin. The project is, in many respects, a continuation and expansion of work I embarked upon during the course of my Masters degree work at Kungl. Musikhögskolan, but with the addition of some new elements in the compositional materials and processes.
The steeples of Lutheran churches are prominent in the Stockholm skyline, yet the country is largely secular. The church is a historic pre-echo of later institutions in many respects. Thus I want to expand its instruments into the world of the mechanical and the electrical, stretching back into the folkloric world and forward into the unfolding universe of electronic music technologies. The idea for the instrumentation of this new proposed work came to me in part through listening to Stravinsky's Les Noces (1923) as recorded by the Dimitri Pokrovsky Ensemble in 1994. Les Noces is written for musicians and instruments symbolizing other musicians and instruments, representing both physical objects and societal changes. In my own planned work, the choir, which is a strong part of life in many quarters of Swedish society, is represented as a "choir" of mechanical but organic instruments, dwelling somewhere halfway between the old wood and string world and the keyed origins of the digital age. The synthesizer material in this work will be drawn from a study of the Organ, particularly those practices which fuse the structured and the improvisatory. Part of the aim is to explore the relationship between the mechanized and the organic, both in the music and the environments it reflects. I will also employ field recordings, and the sonic archeology they represent, to meld these instruments together and further address questions about the spectrum between different philosophies of urban planning and the human chaos in urban environments. The piece is to be a collection of psycho-acoustic triggers for collective memory. Here the aim is to make an audial exploration into psychogeography, and learn how music and sound be used to give people a stronger sense of place and identity in their own city.
Other works of music which have initially informed this project include Encounter in the Republic of Heaven by Trevor Wishart, for its depiction of a disappearing way of life told in the voices of the city’s inhabitants and transformation of those voices into an unearthly singing; the Organ improvisations and compositions of Sten Sandell, Olivier Latry, Daniel M Karlsson, Mattias Risberg, Alexander Zethson and Olivier Messian;
The theoretical material I will turn to deals with questions of what collective memory is, and how it can be found or represented in sound. The musical application of these theoretical materials will include work around micro-tonality, synthesis, field recording, processing concrete sounds and combining acoustic and electronic instruments. I am interested in a very particular relationship between string instruments and additive synthesis. String instrumentalists utilize natural and artificial harmonics in order to play partially disintegrated sounds, where interesting tonal and timbral material is usually generated with additive synthesis on electronic instruments as well as on the organ. So I will be working to gain a better understanding of how the spitting and rearranging of harmonics and acoustic artifacts creates cohesive new timbres. These practices of sonification are once again a metaphor to urban environments, where new places are created by filling in the gaps between and building upon the foundations of the old ones. There are different methods of composition for the modular synthesizer "organ", mechanical string "choir" and field recording work. Then there is the work of setting them together into a larger, cohesive group of works.
During the 2015-16 academic year, I have made several initial projects in connection with my PhD work.
My first serious exploration into the organ this year started in the summer of 2015, in an improvised music collaboration with Mattias Risberg in churches outside of Uppsala. We made a bandcamp release of some of our collaborative work in January of 2016.
My second solo LP will come out during the summer of 2016 on Fylkingen Records (SWE) and Ehse Records (USA). Portions of the record are based on transcriptions of field recordings, urban bird song from various Stockholm neighborhoods and solar data from Stockholm’s last century.
I made a first prototype of temporary street installations in March of 2016. The music for these installations is build upon processed field recordings, and all of the compositional work is made in supercollider, to take advantage of the program’s fine gradient between randomized and determined score creation and real-time processing, with the metaphor of ghosts in mind. The first prototype was made of three sounding units, which were placed around the recently closed Konditori Kungstornet in Stockholm. More material will be forthcoming as more finished installations are completed. I look forward to working with Henrik Frisk starting from the 2016-17 academic year, who is one of the foremost experts in the field of open source programing of the kind I will be working with in these installations.
This multichannel electro-acoustic composition was created by processing pipe organ recordings taken on the music academy’s four organs through Buchla synthesizer systems at EMS and Kungl. Musikhögskolan in Stockholm. It was composed for and premiered in a 35-speaker combinatory acousmonium and surround configuration at the 2016 Intonal festival at Inkonst in Malmö.
I began work before the year began with the formation of Deuterium Quartet, comprised of two hurdy-gurdies, a nyckelharpa and myself on scordatura violin. After our first concert if a site-specific piece written for performance in Mimerlaven at the Norberg festival, we played a concert at Kunlg. Tekniskahögskolan's Dome of Visions comprised of materials from Stockholm area field recordings and rhythmic materials based on the architectural ideas of R. Buckminster Fuller. The piece was premiered as part of the “Empowered by the City” week at the Dome.
In addition to the work in music I did this year, I had the privilege of joining Christofer Elgh’s 1900s Counterpoint class at Kungl. Musikhögskolan, and the “Knowledge Production” seminar for the Doctoral students in Göteborg, led by Per-Anders Nilsson and Anders Hultkvist at HSM in Göteborg, in addition to the initial coursework I completed at MHM.
There is a great deal of theoretical work to be explored around themes of psycho-geography and urban history and identity. Although most of this year’s reading has been devoted to initial understandings of artistic research, I have read or revisited works such as Noise Design by Björn Hellström, The Acoustic City, edited by BJ Nilsen and Mathew Gandy, Köra och Vända, Strindbergs efterlämnade papper, edited by Magnus Florin and Ulf Olsson, Psychogeography by Merlin Coverly, A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, and Ljud och Andra Rum, edited by Catharina Dyrssen