Gestures, accidental tones, small sonic details: for most composers, these are means to an end at best, unwanted side-effects at worst. For Ivan Vukosavljević, they’re at the core of his sound world.
Most of Vukosavljević’s works originate from his fascination with the sonic possibilities of instruments. ‘If I have to write for a certain instrument, I research it thoroughly, asking musicians to show me all the possibilities of it. “Can you do this? Can you show that?” And whenever I find one really interesting technique or sound, I try to make a piece out of it, using everything that’s in that sound as the basis of the formal structure.’
The Atlas Slave, for example, is built around the sound produced by using a bow on guitar strings on the left of the fingering position on the guitar neck. ‘It’s these byproducts of certain ways of playing that are really interesting. I’m fascinated by these small ‘unwanted’ sounds. I try to capture those sounds and make a composition around them.’
It is from these sounds that he constructs his works, with a strong emphasis on consistency and always maintaining a very minimal sound. ‘It’s minimal so that there’s time for sounds to develop and you can hear and appreciate all the complexities that are going on within the sound. And I allow no foreign elements, there is a complete consistency in the sound. So I never introduce something mid-piece that has nothing to do with what’s been going on. Everything that happens comes from something that happened before.’
His compositions sometimes seem like monolithic blocks of sound. Fittingly, The Atlas Slave was based on sculpture and Michelangelo’s concept of the “non-finito”. ‘It stems from this idea of Plato’s theory of Forms and Aristotle’s theory of dynamis, the effort of a form rising from an endless potential. Michelangelo represents this by leaving a part of the sculpture untouched, or ‘unfinished’. I tried to simulate that by writing chords that you can hear struggling to rise from an endless droning sound.’
In his search for interesting sounds and ways of playing, Vukosavljević finds a lot of inspiration in improvised music. ‘It’s in the improv scene that some of the most interesting music that’s happening nowadays is made. Contemporary classical music is famous for doing research and experimenting, but nowadays you can find it in many other places.’
Similarly, the use of uncommon playing techniques can cause his pieces to sound slightly unpredictable each time they’re played. ‘There’s always room for unexpected things to happen. Which I’m completely fine with. I formalize my pieces in a certain way so that even when something like that happens, it still fits within the context of the piece and it’s not perceived as a mistake. It’s not like in traditional classical music, where when you play a wrong note, it ruins the whole piece. That doesn’t happen with what I’m doing.’
Photo © Anna van Kooij