Voices weave and converge ...

Text from the CD: Madeleine Isaksson, Failles (Phono Suecia, 2005)

" Voices weave and converge, float over surfaces and plateaus, accumulate, fall into gaps, evaporate out of rifts, find rest."

The above quote, taken from the score to Failles (Gaps) for recorder, trombone, and cello, describes a continually changing music that takes as its point of departure poetry, relationships, and pictures. It has been formulated by a composer who has emigrated, moved across boundaries, changed country and language.
With a father from a small village by the Muonio river, on the border between Northern Sweden and Finland, a grand-mother born in New York, and a grandfather from southern Germany, Madeleine Isaksson is in a state of continual commuting from near to far. This may also have given her the desire to travel, migrate, "to meet surroundings, a climate that accords with one's inner state, where a sensitivity for time can develop."

Madeleine Isaksson, born in 1956, studied from 1979-1987 at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. After receiving her diploma as a piano and ensemble pedagogue in the class of Gunnar Hallhagen, she entered the composition class with teachers such as Gunnar Bucht and Sven-David Sandström (composition), Pär Lindgren (electroacoustic music), Arne Mellnäs (instrumentation), and Bo Wallner (music theory and analysis).
In 1987 she traveled to Amsterdam for a year of studies with the composer Louis Andriessen, later moving on to France, where she has lived and worked since the beginning of the 1990s outside of Paris.
Meetings with composers, their different traditions and aesthetic features - Brian Ferneyhough in Stockholm and at the composition course at Royaumont in France, Iannis Xenakis, Morton Feldman and Emmanuel Nunes - have contributed to Isaksson's development as a composer. The exposure to the music of Giacinto Scelsi in Darmstadt 1986 came also to play an important role.
Her close contacts with visual art and literature - among other things with the French artist Jean Louis Garnell's color photography and the Swedish writer Katarina Frostenson's poetry - has been very important for her creativity. The continuous flow of impulses from these art forms are apparent already in the initial stages of her work, in color symbols for different instruments and forms, as well as in verbal descriptions. Her music does not tell a story, it comments, associates, and expresses atmospheres through a singular, developed language...

In the music of Madeleine Isaksson, the relationship between different sonorous sources, that which separates them and that which causes them to blend together, are in the foreground. This interest in relation-ships and ensemble is apparent in that Madeleine Isaksson has written several duos, trios, and quartets, but less often solo works. It is also unusual for her to let an instrument play by itself for any prolonged length of time; instead, the voice always finds itself in an intimate, counterpointal contact with the others. One can get a good idea about Madeleine Isaksson's musical world from seeing some of her work titles: Tillstånd - Avstånd (States - Distances), inné (innate), Fästen och fall (Handholds and falls), Andelek (Spirit Game), Rum (Rooms).
The dramaturgy comes partly from the dimension of space, and partly, on a microdramatic level, from the gesturing form of the phrases. In several pieces, such as the song cycle Å svävare (O hoverer) and in the nonet inné, the instruments are placed on the stage according to a strict seating layout. In a similar way, the percussion has a function of balancing the space in Som om (As if), where its sonorities are separate from the sweeping gestures of the string and wind parts. Here, tone color rather than emotional expressiveness is focused on, consequently, the weightless harmonics, sounding in high registers, have a higher status than the expressive playing.
A combination of intuition and strict control pervades Madeleine Isaksson's music, which is minutely composed but less calculated. Her basic frameworks can be described as different forms of space: those of interval, register, and time where the material is developed through contrasting terms such as light/dark, weightless/heavy, from/to... Returning melodic cells are made smaller and larger, together forming a sort of patterned web in which continually new aspects keep the excitement alive through an almost weightless state. The music is always related to a perceptible, sometimes hidden, often elastic pulse. This is realized through a changing metricity between increasing and decreasing lengths of pulse.

"There is something going on, something that has matured and that expresses itself in a musical form."
The quote is telling, and is applicable not only to the individual works, but also to Madeleine Isaksson's whole attitude towards creation as an organic development from spaces and shifts.

© Andreas Engström (translation: George Kentros)