Ansgar Beste is a Swedish composer living in Norway. He is coming to Bodø with the piece Mascarade Obscure, performed by Esbjerg Ensemble.
Ansgar has studied composition at 7 music academies in 4 countries, with Michael Obst, Luca Francesconi, Adriana Hölszky, Wolfgang Rihm, Hanspeter Kyburz and Beat Furrer.
His music has been programmed/played in 20 countries, by 19 radio stations and at 47 festivals like Venice Biennale (Ita) 2009, ECLAT Stuttgart (Ger) 2011 / 2016, Darmstadt Summer Course (Ger) 2012 / 2016, Donaueschingen Festival (Ger) 2012, Nordic Music Days (Fin/Isl/Gbr/Nor) 2013 / 2016 / 2017 / 2019, Wien Modern (Aut) 2013, ISCM World (New) Music Days (Aut/Slo/Est) 2013 / 2015 / 2019, MATA New York (USA) 2014, Lucerne Festival (Sui) 2015, Ultima Oslo (Nor) 2015, Borealis Bergen (Nor) 2016, Gaudeamus Muziekweek (Ned) 2016, Klang Copenhagen (Den) 2018, Ars Musica Brussels (Bel) 2018.
Ansgars commissioners include prominent ensembles, both at home and abroad.
He has been awarded several major international prizes, such as the Stuttgart Composition Prize 2010 and the Delz Prize 2015, in addition to scholarships/grants from Villa Concordia Bamberg 2011 (Ger), Darmstadt Summer Course 2012 (Ger), Künstlerhaus Lukas Ahrenshoop 2012 (Ger), Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation (Ger) 2013 / 2015 / 2016, Akademie Schloss Solitude Stuttgart 2015 (Ger) and Künstlerdorf Schöppingen 2015 (Ger).
Ansgar Beste’s three main concerns in composing are: innovative sounds, structure and theatricality. He is focusing his musical material on complex sounds and noise elements produced on conventional musical instruments in an unconventional, purely acoustic (non-electronic) way: By de-familiarizing the instruments’ familiar sound world with a wide array of extended playing and vocal techniques and newly discovered preparations, he likes to play with the listeners’ expectation, perception, experience and comprehension.
How do you work when choosing your sounds? What do you listen to? Can sounds be innovative?
Before choosing my acoustic noise sounds, I try, first of all, to get an overview as comprehensive as possible over the status quo: books on extended techniques, scores with experimental music, audio and video recordings, live performances, offline and online. Thus I try to avoid reinventing the wheel and to lay a fruitful foundation for the next step: experiments.
At home, I’m having several shelves full of musical instruments, objects, and materials, continuously collected over the last 11 years. These are my resources for systematically and purely acoustically trying all kinds of preparations and modifications, both known and unknown, on traditional musical instruments.
Mostly, I’m searching for ways to get as far away as possible from the conventional timbre of the instruments, i.e. to make the instruments as unrecognizable as possible. That’s most fascinating for me.
Having tried a huge amount of options, I finally choose the most efficient ones. Though the chosen sounds are never innovative by themselves: all possible sounds are pre-existing in nature and technology. However, the way they are produced on acoustic musical instruments, remains highly innovative, even in today’s era of technological dominance.
Your piece Mascarade Obscure was inspired by dance rhythms of popular music from former and current centuries. Is it danceable?
Yes, sure! It’s no simple dance with regular meters and eight-bar periods because the selected dance rhythms are continuously changed, by means of treatments like augmentation/diminution, permutation, and modulation.
However, the permanent existence of dance rhythm cells creates a permanently grooving musical texture (with varying degrees of density). I’m sure this would be easily danceable, at least for a professional modern dance company.
Can you say something about the way you think as a composer? It seems as natural for you to work with traditional classical ensembles as with machines?
In my musical thinking, machines can never be of the same value as musicians playing traditional classical instruments, mainly for two reasons: expressiveness and freedom.
Deep human expressiveness is probably the most obvious and unique quality of live music towards any kind of machine music. Even if a piece of electronic music can be impressive and touching, a machine is not equipped with the ability of live musician(s) on stage to transfer their human emotions directly to the listener(s) in the auditorium.
Secondly, I have been strongly influenced by Igor Stravinsky’s famous quotation about finding artistic freedom within limits or obstacles: “My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go even further: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles” (The poetics of music, 1947).
I’m finding my artistic freedom when searching for maximum timbral innovation within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself: traditional musical instruments in purely acoustic usage.
In the other two efficient fields of timbral innovation, instrument building, and electronics, I run into danger to lose myself in the limitlessness of possibilities.
The work Mascarade Obscure was inspired by dance rhythms of popular music from former and current centuries. By means of treatments like augmentation/diminution, permutation and modulation, these dance rhythms appear in diverse variations, forming a rhythmic texture with varying degrees of density, partly through polyphonic superpositions. In combination with instrumental noises, a musical form emerges that consists of three more animated and two contrasting calmer sections (A B A’ C A”).
I associate the sounding result with a courtly masquerade resp. with a traditional masked ball including all its imagination, sensuality and informality on the one hand and all its secretiveness and obscurity on the other hand.