Celebration

for robot-controlled pipe organ and weather satellite (2014)

Hallgrumskirkja01       Hallgrumskirkja_organ03

Celebration (dur. 60 min.) was commissioned by Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik with financial support from the Danish Arts Foundation. The piece is composed and performed by a computer connected directly to the large Klais organ in the church without human intervention. The work is based on compositional ideas and techniques developed for my 12-hour composition Everyone Talks about the Weather (2013) for robot-controlled pipe organ and weather satellite, which examined the possibility of controlling the organ directly from a computer – without an organist.

Pipe organs that can be controlled by a computer are relatively rare. However, some friends in Iceland pointed out that such an instrument existed at Hallgrimskirkja: Reykjavik’s largest and most impressive church. The church is named after one of Iceland’s most important poets: Hallgrimur Petursson (1614-1674). The church organist, Hörður Áskelsson, was enthusiastic about the idea and he agreed to commission a new work to be premiered on October 25, 2014 in celebration of Hallgrimur’s 400th birthday.

In Celebration the computer generates rhythms, melodies and harmonies according to a specially designed generative system. The computer is linked to the Meteosat-10 weather satellite, and data from the weather satellite influences the program. Each performance of the work is unique and dependent on the weather in a large area of northern Europe stretching from Poland to a point west of Iceland. The computer creates the music live, performing on the four manuals and pedals of the organ using several different generative techniques that intertwine with each other. In certain sections of the piece the computer creates variations on melodies from six different traditional Icelandic psalms that are often sung in church with texts by Hallgrimur.

Listen to an excerpt of Celebration recorded at Hallgrimkirkja in October, 2014.