Part VII: Atli Ingolfsson – ‘Radioflakes’, new virtuosism
‘Radioflakes’ by Atli Ingólfsson is a solo accordion work from 2004 commissioned by the festival ‘Présences’, organised by Radio France in Paris. There score is published by the ‘Iceland Music Information Centre’.
FH: The festival takes place annually in the big radio house in Paris. For quite a few years they had a focus on contemporary Nordic music, and I played there several times. For this particular concert I was performing ‘gagaku variations’ by Maja S. K. Ratkje with the Renoir Quartet, and I also was asked to suggest an accordion solo commission, preferably by a Nordic composer. I felt very lucky, it doesn’t happen that often to get this chance, especially not to commission a solo work. I didn’t know Atli Ingólfsson very well, we never met in person before, but I knew some of his music. For me, this composer had a kind of mythical reputation, partly because he was performed and recorded by the Arditti Quartet, which is an internationally renowned, almost legendary string quartet, specialized on contemporary music.
Ingólfsson is from the most Nordic country of all, Iceland, all though he lived in Bologna (Italy) at that time. Icelandic music life is very exciting, they have some really nice composers, musicians and festivals there, not only limited to Björk and Sugarcubes. There’s so much happening for such a small and geographically isolated place.
Note: the cd is ‘Enter >>’ from 2005 (label ‘BIS’) with only compositions by Atli Ingólfsson performed by The Arditti String Quartet’, Atli Ingólfsson (electronics), Gudni Franzson (clarinet), Massimiliano Viel (keyboard) and ‘The Caput Ensemble’.
FH: There is another CD where the Arditti Quartet recorded only Nordic repertoire. They recorded Lindberg and others and they really set a new standard, probably they established a kind of new Nordic canon of composers.
Note: in the mentioned cd (‘From Scandinavia’, published by Montaigne in 2001) the Arditti String Quartet, Kari Kriikku (a Finnish clarinet player) and Jukka Tiensuu (harpsichord) recorded music by Bent Sørensen, Kaija Saariaho, Jukka Tiensuu and Magnus Lindberg.
FH: But there were other things about Atli that made me interested in him, for example the fact he lived and worked in Italy.
LP: And he writes perfect Italian!
FH: His wife is a composer too and she has also written for accordion, I know at least one concerto composed for Geir Draugsvoll. Her name is Þuríður Jónsdóttir (Thurídur Jónsdóttir Ed.). (her website)
LP: Let’s speak about the piece. How was the collaboration with Ingólfsson?
FH: In general I will not take much credit for this piece; it came very much from the composer himself, we did very few changes in his original score, very, very little.
LP: We can have closer look the structure of this piece.
FH: Yes, the first part is a gradual build-up with few elements, there are not so many tones but there are some other things happening: vibrato, accents, bellows turnings, and a clicking noise from a metal ring on the left hand thumb. Another particular effect from the beginning of the piece is the register changes executed while holding notes. The register changes effects the sound colour, of course, but the clicking noise from the change has a rhythmical effect as well. All of these technical parameters were his ideas. He actually even decided that in the right hand you should change between three registers going on in a cycle. I only suggested the order of the registers. I guess that we didn’t want any octave changes in the opening, so there were not so many possibilities: a single cassotto register, one senza cassotto, and the register with both 8′ together.
LP: But if you don’t have them among the chin registers, there are even less possibilities…
FH: I didn’t use the chin registers in that section, or any time there are rhythmical register changes in the piece. He didn’t want me to use them because on every register change he indicated a marcato; it says in the score: “register changes may be noisy”. I think he wanted them to be heard like a ‘click’. You can get some noise from your chin too, but the noise is better if you change alongside the keyboard, also it’s closer to the sound of the left hand register changes which also appear in the piece.
LP: The first part is built up by adding one element after the other, and it gets more and more intense until bar 80.
FH: Correct. And the connection between bar 79 and 80 is a glissando I like. There’s a term for this kind of glissando in big band music, it’s called a ‘foal’ or a ‘drop’. It’s not a big glissando, it is a gesture, a short movement. There should be no interruption, it’s just in a way a gesture leading to the new part, even though the glissando movement is downwards, the opposite direction of where your fingers should be on the keyboard right after… But you should try to connect as much as possible. I think this fast change is right in the style of the music, the idea behind the title is that the accordion is like a ghetto blaster, a portable radio and cassette player that can play any kind of music, a machine that can do very fast switches. So it is a very postmodern piece, it often changes very abruptly, and you should actually get musical energy from these abrupt changes and breaks. But from the beginning you move quite clearly from one part to another, the next part starts at bar 80 and has a very different character. It moves gradually again into the next section (bar 114).
In the second section he writes out a gradual tempo change in the accompanying left hand while the right hand keeps going. He uses the same method also in the very end of the piece, but then it’s reversed: The left hand speeds up, while the right hand keeps the same tempo.
LP: This slowing-down is very effective to smoothly degrade the high energy of the impact at bar 80 to the delicate p of the new melodic section.
FH: I agree. The next part starts at bar 114 and is like a melodic dialogue between two almost similar clearly independent voices. They are in the same high register playing around the same notes, it’s like a duet between the two hands.
From 159, I don’t think he knew how difficult it is to play chromatic runs on the fixed chords in the standard bass system. The standard bass is of course not organized chromatically. It’s a very difficult part to play because at the same time in the right hand you have this cluster glissando constantly moving from one note to the other, and also a fast, rhythmically notated bellows shake that comes and goes. I remember he wanted the finger glissando to be as equal and smooth as possible, you should not stop too much at the turning notes; there is a tenuto when you reach the high note but you should not linger too long before you start the glissando downwards again. It should be like an almost constant glissando twirling up and down. And that’s not so easy, you need to keep it rolling all the time.
Here the development is quite clear. It goes toward this more rhythmic furioso part from bar 211, which introduces some more percussive techniques.
LP: What function does the air sound have in this section?
FH: I regard all these air sounds with crescendo as upbeats. Imagine a wind player that must breathe in before he or she continues to play! This is a very energetic and furious part, it’s like the accordion also needs to breathe in order to continue.
At the end of the furioso part it’s like you can’t go any further, but then four bars from the opening section appear in bar 251, a very soft quint with vibrato on and off. This works as a short break before you go directly back to the high-energy chords again, it’s like you do a new attempt to continue.
LP: This is the essence of the ‘radio-flakes’ idea, all fragments from the previous parts one after the other…
FH: Yes, exactly. You need to play this part very efficiently, you need to keep the tension high. It is in a way collapsing anyway, because you can’t go further in dynamics and energy, but you need to see over these small intermezzi, glimpses of what has happened previously in the piece, and keep moving ruthlessly forward.
LP: It’s like you are switching, changing chaotically radio station and the changes are immediate, unexpected. It’s really schizophrenic.
FH: Well, this is post-modernism. Perhaps slightly related to the American composer and improviser John Zorn’s works, even though his cut-up cartoon solo accordion piece ‘Road Runner’ is very different in many ways. The similarity is that there is no time for waiting in between the cuts, if you wait the energy is lost.
Then you have this kind of two codas and then a small … something. I like this part from bar 307 very much. It’s very difficult.
LP: Do you also change register in the left hand as indicated in the score?
FH: Of course! I think it’s an important element. But it’s difficult to coordinate because we are not used to actually play on the registers too much.
LP: I feel that the main difficulty is that we are generally used to play on two pentagrams, maybe up to four voices, while here you have more layers and they are not just straight notes.
FH: And they must be rhythmically executed, also for the performer’s own sake. If you fall out of the rhythm you get lost. In some pieces you can fake when you get in trouble and it still sounds OK, but you can not fake this piece, because if you loose one parameter you get lost in the next, it’s all very coordinated and complex.
I like in a way this unison part in bar 354, you have also some similar short bars before in the piece. To double a run in both hands is probably not something an accordionist would recommend to a composer, and the effect of doubling is not that audible, actually. This is an example of the challenge of accepting extremes from a composer: the ambitus here is close to the furthest position I can grip in a run, but the composer really liked it to be performed by both hands in unison, and it is possible, I had to admit. The same with the big chords you commented in ‘gagaku variations’. It’s perhaps not so pedagogically wise to accept everything. I know that many accordionists think more of their own or their students convenience when working with composers than I do. I tend to accept the composer’s wishes when they seem reasonable, instead of editing too much. This is out of respect for the composer, and probably also my reaction to all the over-editing of accordion works we have seen in the past.
Atli is the kind of composer like I claimed Bent Sørensen is; Atli wrote the whole piece just from his own imagination, not as a result of dozens of workshops. It takes a lot of creativity, imagination but also knowledge to imagine that somebody can actually do all this on the accordion, it’s really technically advanced for the instrument. It’s quite impressive that he wrote this without cooperating very much with the performer.
I would love to see this piece more performed by other accordionists. I would think that this piece would attract a lot of good students for example, because it has a lot of challenges, it’s a fun piece for the audience … and it has this virtuoso quality that accordionists tend to like!
LP: Not so much the fast fingers virtuosism but more a ‘mental’ virtuosims?
FH: Well, there is also a lot of fast fingers in the piece, but you are right, it mentally demands a lot of concentration to coordinate more layers than you are used to. You have to study quite hard to make it work. You can agree on that yourself, I guess?
List of topics
Part I: Introduction to the Scandinavian culture and society
Part II: From the contemporary to the traditional music and back
Part III: Ellegaard and Nordheim, accordion meets Norway
Part IV: A personal experience, New Scandinavian music for accordion
Part V: Maja S. K. Ratkje – ‘Gagaku Variations’, Ich bin ein Japaner!
Part VI: Bent Sørensen – ‘Looking on Darkness’, researching a new sound
Part VII: Atli Ingolfsson – ‘Radioflakes’, new virtuosism
Frode Haltli (b. 1975, Norway) studied at the Norwegian State Academy of Music, then at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, graduating in 2000. In 2001 the Norwegian Concert Institute named him Young Soloist Of The Year, he was also placed second in the International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition 1999 in the Netherlands.
Concerts throughout Europe, USA, Canada and Asia. Directing his career into explorations of new music, he became associated with like-minded musicians mainly in Europe where the development of adventurous forms has grown throughout recent years.
Haltli has established links with several composers, notably Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje who is one of several who have written especially for him; others include Bent Sørensen, Rolf Wallin, Atli Ingólfsson, Hans Abrahamsen, Jo Kondo and Sam Hayden.
He has also cooperated with several string quartets, among them the Arditti String Quartet.
His debut CD ‘Looking on Darkness’ was released on the prestigiuos German record label ECM in 2002.
In 2012 Haltli released ‘Arne Nordheim Complete Accordion Works’ (Simax Classics) to great critical acclaim.
He has played regularely with the trio POING, alongside saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and double bass player Håkon Thelin. They have commissioned more than 60 works from composers all over the world and recorded several albums.
Since the release of the duo album “Yeraz” on ECM in 2008 Haltli has also toured regularly with saxophonist Trygve Seim.
Frode Haltli has developed several transcultural music projects, in India, China, Japan, North Korea, Egypt. He has also played music rooted in Norwegian traditional music, notably with RUSK in which he is teamed with singer Unni Løvlid and violinist Vegar Vårdal.
On his 2007 recording ’Passing Images’ (ECM), Haltli is joined by trumpeter Arve Henriksen, viola player Garth Knox, and vocalist Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, for a selection of lyrical explorations of folk themes couched in the form of contemporary improvised music.
This theme and combination of old and new music is further delevoped in duo with Norwegian violinist Gjermund Larsen and in The Snowflake Trio with Irish flute player Nuala Kennedy and Norwegian fiddler Vegar Vårdal.
Frode Haltli teaches accordion at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo.
To know more about check http://frodehaltli.com/.