ISSN 2605-2318


María de Alvear | «When I improvise I compose in the moment» Frank Gratkowski



An interview by Ruth Prieto for El Compositor Habla

Gratkowski publishes his latest album on María de Alverar World Edition, a surprising CD: Mature Hybird Talking. Frank Gratkowski, renowned for his improvised music, collaborates for the first time with the Ensemble Modern on a 45-minute piece dedicated to James Joyce and Iannis Xenakis. Inspired by the rhythm and sound of Joyce's language, they create a musical work that changes dynamically in interaction with diverse compositional materials. Structured improvisation becomes instant collective composition, offering a space where the unexpected is constant. Listening to it is embarking on a sound journey through changing landscapes, where the fluidity between the precomposed and the improvised is essential.

1. Ruth Prieto: World Edition has just published your latest work MATURE HYBIRD TALKING, what will we find on this CD?
Frank Gratkowski: A beautiful journey though different musical territories with sometimes very unexpected turns. My personal way of composing for an making music with a fantastic new music ensemble.

2. R. P.: How has this pairing been between your world of musical improvisation and the world of contemporary avant-garde music that Ensemble Modern represents?

Frank Gratkowski: For me it was incredibly exciting. Having this beautiful ensemble as a performer for my music I had finally the chance to write very complex music which most of the musicians I play with in the more Jazz context couldn't play that way. I studied a lot of contemporary music which became a major influence for me as a composer and as an improvising musician.
«When I improvise I compose in the moment. Form and structure are very important for me. Things have to feel right»

3. R. P.:  If there is music that is exceptionally complex to classify in the panorama of contemporary creation, it is probably yours due to its originality. How would you define your music? 

Frank Gratkowski: That's a very difficult question! I always look for the unknown. I try to write and play music I don't know but love. In order to archive this I use different kind of techniques and strategies. Composing is a way to move the players to do something. It can be done by instructions, fixed notations, mobile structures or graphics. Depending on the players I choose different ways.
I also like a certain amount of imperfection. Most of the written parts are not possible to be played perfect because of the complex rhythms the microtonality and sometimes extreme intervals. 
Also because we had only 2 days rehearsals. So the players have to "improvise" a personal interpretation of the written music which gives it almost a jazzy flow. That's what I love. 
The influences of my music comes from almost everywhere. Literature, nature, mathematic concepts, ethnologic music, classical music, jazz, pop, rock.

«For me there is not a big difference between Jimmy Hendrix and Arnold Schönberg, they just use different tools to say what they want to say»

4. R. P.: The CD includes this 45-minute piece dedicated to James Joyce and Iannis Xenakis. Why have you chosen this starting point?

Frank Gratkowski: Joyce was likely the most important influence for me in finding my own music and myself as an artist. While visiting a friend as a young student, I stumbled upon a selection of Joyce's work with an introduction by T.S. Elliot. As I read it, I was immediately fascinated by the sound and rhythm of the language, even in the German translation. It was like music to me. After reading Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stephen Hero, I finally tackled Ulysses, which was to become something of an epiphany for me. I spent a year reading the book, mostly aloud and even with the help of secondary literature. I still work on Finnegan's Wake.
Xenakis was a strong influence to me too and the performance of Mature Hybird Talking took place in the year of Xenakis 100th birthday. His Music always fascinated me and composing with algorithms using stochastic techniques became one of my compositional strategies too.

5. R. P.: Richard Barrett says in the notes that accompany the CD "Listening to Mature Hybird Talking involves taking a journey in time through sonic landscapes, as if navigating a river whose every twist and turn can bring something new and unexpected". What is expected and unexpected in this CD?

Frank Gratkowski: That depends on the expectations of the listener I think. When someone hears music there are always expectations how it moves on. These expectations are sometimes fulfilled and sometimes not. This keeps it interesting. I often try to surprise myself when improvising or composing, so I change things when even I wouldn't expect it to change and sometimes the other way round. 

6. R. P.: The use of unorthodox performance techniques, contemporary improvisation and the "no" clear distinction between composition and improvisation are characteristics that we often find in his works. Is it an important part of his creative process?

Frank Gratkowski: It is very important to me because I like thinks a bit unfinished in order to be surprised even at the 10th performance of it. Using improvisation in composition needs to trust the players choices. That's why I need to know the players before I compose for them. I'm not sure if there are unorthodox performance techniques in Mature Hybird Talking. There are unorthodox instructions, sometimes contradictions. Unorthodox performance techniques is more something I developed on my instruments as a player.  

7. R. P.: What would you like to offer the listener as an expectation of listening?

Frank Gratkowski: I would recommend to listen to it without expectations. I thinks one should always listen without expectations if listening to a piece for the first time. The listener should just enjoy the 45 minute musical journey, maybe get carried away by it and hopefully get touched by it. Enjoy listening!

Photos by Peter Tummers courtesy by MdA-WE

More information at Maria de Alvear World Edition



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Este trabajo tiene la licencia CC BY-NC-SA 4.0