The Wire


Listen to Ellen Arkbro's forthcoming release on Subtext

April 2017

The Stockholm based composer focuses on tuning, intonation and harmonic modulation in her new works on for organ and brass

Ellen Arkbro looks back at her studies in just intonation with La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela and Jung Hee Choi to create the music on her new two part album on Subtext. The title piece for organ and brass was composed for the Sherer-Orgel, an instrument with a specific type of tuning known as meantone temperament.

“This piece came about while I was spending time with the meantone temperament of the organ in the German Church in Stockholm,” explains the composer. “I soon came to realise that I could use this traditional renaissance tuning in a non-traditional way that would allow me to compose music solely with septimal intervals. These are sounds that I have to come to love for their unique character. There is a textural aspect of these intervals which make them stand out from the rest. And then there is the equally important affective aspect: a kind of open, clear sadness [which are] some of the reasons to why I’ve ended up working with these intervals.

“When we had decided to make the recording,” she continues, “we needed to locate an organ in Germany with this exact kind of tuning and with the right kind of sound. Despite our high demands it came as a bit of a surprise to me that it would be so hard to find the right instrument. After looking around and trying many different instruments, we finally went to Tangermünde in early spring last year to try their organ. Finally, we had found the perfect instrument for this music. It sounded so beautiful, such a warm and organic sound, slowly pulsating, in perfect stability.”

The second composition, called Three, uses the same principles of harmonic relativity – except it’s not for the organ. The brass parts on both tracks are performed by Zinc & Copper, a trio made up of founder Robin Hayward on microtonal tuba, Elena Margarita Kakaliagou on horn and Hilary Jeffery on trombone. The trio have previously worked with CC Hennix and Christian Wolff.

For organ and brass is released by Subtext. It’s reviewed by Claire Sawers in The Wire 399. Subscribers can read her review via Exact Editions.

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