The early 1980s saw the emergence of a new generation of composers in Norway who played havoc with many things in relation to both musicians and the authorities. They where no longer content merely to continue to propound the prevailing view of music, but were determined to make room for their own approach. The composers of this generation were willing to think aloud about their profession and helped to establish new ensembles and the music periodical Ballade. This gave rise to a new dynamism on the contemporary music scene. After several decades in which there was no real contact between composers and musicians' circles, modernism began to take hold and the propaganda designed to scare off the public that marked the music world in the 1950s and 1960s was replaced by a new insight into playing techniques and aesthetic attitudes.
Asbjørn Scaathun (b. 1961) is the youngest of this generation, which also includes composers such as Rolf Wallin, Cecilie Ore and Åse Hedstrøm. He emerged on the professional music scene in the early 1980s, first with works performed at the Young Nordic Music Festival and then as the prime mover behind a number of concerts and ensembles. As founder of the 20th Century Ensemble of the Norwegian State Academy of music and later of Oslo Sinfonietta, Schaathun realized at an earlier stage that bringing together young composers and musicians was a means of infusing the music community with new life. In addition to these organizational activities, Schaathun was also active as a composer, having studied composition first at the Norwegian State Academy of Music and then in London (Royal College of Music) and Paris (IRCAM). His works attracted attention at an early stage because they represented a new, uncompromising attitude in Norwegian compositional practice in which the emphasis was on abstract, structural forms and planning of large-scale procedures.
Schaathun's works mark the entry of computer-aided composition into Norwegian music. What emerged was his need for structure, a need for construction of material that lies beyond the realm of immediate experience. As the composer himself puts it: I have to have structures to work towards, or else I'm not able to compose. It is a matter of moderating my own idiom.The most successful moments in my music are those where I attempt to accomplish something according to a specific line of thought, and it collides with a structure that says 'You can't do that!' This collision contains the germ of innovation.
Where does this propensity for structual thinking come from? The music Schaathun was striving to write lay beyond his reach, both in terms of intention and as regards compositional techniques. He sought to find means of creating and controlling material that is more complex than can be grasped of the outset. Decisions at the level of detail became absurd unless they could be related to a structuale whole. The first time I considered using a computer was when I tried to control a process that lay under my own time horizon. I was trying to find out how far I could stretch my perception of musical decisions before they became absurd. The inspiration for this actually comes from Stockhausen's article "Wie die Zeit vergeht", where he demonstrated how musical elements can be structured in the same way in both micro- and macrotime. I suddenly realized that there were other ways of perceiving musical times than the traditional one.
Although Schaathun uses the computer as a working tool, he retains an affinity for the compositional aspect of the process, independent of systems or structures. In that sense, the work "A Tabular System..." reveals a tendency to return to traditional counterpoint, to juxtapose lines with one another. It is important to him to strike a balance between the formal and the creative. In this respect, the composer's "poetic" attitude is just as important as the scientific methods he employs. It is a question of inspiration in the traditional sense of the word. However, Schaathun cannot deny the fact that the computer has been his most important tool for the last decade. As is clear from his work during this period, he has internalized the methods employed in this context in a surprisingly poetic manner.
As a conductor and artistic director of Oslo Sinfonietta in the early stages Schaathun has worked closely with some of the best musicians of his generation in Norway, and this has unquestionably been a source of inspiration to him. A new work should always be tried out on the musicians before it is given its final form. This is part of the process of resistance, where Schaathun consistently attaches decisive importance to the opinion of experienced performers of his own generation as to the suitability of the material.
by Geir Johnson, January 1995