Interview with Anna Thorvaldsdottir

On the 16th of November, Bit20 will play “Hrim” by Anna Thorvaldsdottir. Anna is the recipient of the Nordic Council Music Prize 2012 and her debut album “Rhizoma” won the Classical/Contemporary Album of the Year award in Iceland.


Anna, you mention Nature as a strong influence. Is this something quite abstract for you or are there real sounds that play a role in your music?

Nature indeed provides me with my greatest inspiration. I don’t seek to portray the actual sounds heard in nature, but rather to let nature inspire me as a grand design with regards natural proportions and flow through natural forces, shapes, landscapes, and images. I use this inspiration as a tool to listen conceptually and “compositionally”, both on an inspirational level as well as to search for ways to write and construct my music. The music comes from within and the inspiration comes from without.


What’s your process of composition like? Do you start with a basic idea or with a structure in mind?

Initially, I “listen” for the structure and sound-world of the music – I never start to notate the music with an empty head. It varies from one piece to the next what form this listening takes, and also how much time it takes until the piece has formed a structure. This stage of composing is often referred to as a pre-compositional process, but to me this stage is one of the most important ones in the entire process of composing. This is where the ideas behind the piece, its structure and form are largely determined and where the piece takes its initial form. This initial notion of the piece is then defined and developed throughout the entire compositional process. The structure, development, and progression has a rather clear presence in my mind from very early on so when I start to notate the piece I already know where I am going in the music.

During the initial steps in the process of making music, when I have a clear idea about what the piece is going to sound like, I draw graphic representation of the music in order to remember the world it presents – its form and sounds. I easily connect to the visualization. It keeps the music alive in a way that triggers the memory, providing my mind with freedom from having to retain the music in the front of my consciousness until it is down on paper in the form of notation.


You worked at UC San Diego which has a strong reputation in music technology. Do you use many technological tools in your music? 

There is certainly a great reputation in music technology at UCSD. I have worked somewhat with electronic music, although I primarily work with acoustic music. I’ve also worked a little bit with video art that I’ve constructed in connection with some of my electronic music.


Your “Hrim” was originally programmed as a companion piece to the Ligeti Chamber Concerto. What’s the relationship to the Ligeti?

Hrím was written as a commission for the UCSD Palimpsest Ensemble to accompany Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto at a concert, so this is where the instrumentation is derived from. This is the primary link between the two pieces – other than that I did not in particular think about a musical connection to the work.


What are you working on right now?

I’m currently working on a few pieces, for example a piece for the New York based ICE (The International Contemporary Ensemble) which will be a concert-length work – about an hour or so. I’m also working on a piece for the Icelandic CAPUT Ensemble and on a piece for the Nordic Affect Ensemble.


go to Anna’s website

go to the Bit20 website

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