Background and Career
Wayne Siegel was born in Los Angeles in 1953. Most important in the way of early musical influence was the American folk music tradition (Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, etc.). Major influences during the 1960’s include the Afro-American blues tradition and avant-garde rock (The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart). From 1971 to 1974 he studied composition and philosophy at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), where he concerned himself mainly with the European avant-garde tradition. After three years at UCSB he decided to complete his Bachelor of Arts degree while studying with Per Nørgård in Aarhus, Denmark. He remained in Aarhus and in 1977 he received his Danish degree in composition from the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus. In 1978 he was awarded a three-year grant in composition from the Danish Art Council, working as a free-lance composer in the years that followed. After two years as administrative director of the West Jutland Symphony Orchestra and affiliated chamber ensemble, Esbjerg Ensemble, he was in 1986 appointed director of the newly founded national electronic music center, DIEM (The Danish Institute of Electroacoustic Music) in Aarhus. In 1994 he chaired the 19th International Computer Music Conference (ICMC) in Aarhus. From 1996 to 1998 he served as chairman of the two music committees of the Danish State Arts Foundation. In 2003 DIEM became part of The Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, and Siegel was appointed professor of electronic music. In 2013 he was awarded a life-long artist’s stipend from the Danish Ministry of Culture for outstanding artistic achievement.
Despite early rejection of folk, blues and rock influences, these influences have surfaced in Siegel’s music, becoming increasingly apparent and conscious through the years. Other important influences include Györgi Ligeti and Steve Reich; all of Siegel’s works from recent years reflect a strong sway towards American minimalist aesthetics. Though Siegel has written music with elements of collage (“String Quartet No. 1”, “Narcissus ad fontem” for large orchestra) he now rejects what he believes to be the philosophical and musical inconsistency of combining diverse cultural elements without first having synthesized these elements into an organic and personal style.
Siegel’s works of the late seventies and early eighties are often constructed around a single musical process, especially canon technique. In Domino Figures (1979) for 10 to 100 guitars, a huge canon is created by having the guitarists send musical figures around a semi-circle in the manner of a chain reaction (like falling dominoes). The first guitarist begins playing the first figure, at the same time signaling the player to his left. The second player waits on “beat” before beginning the figure while passing it on to the player to his left. It takes about 30 seconds for the figure to travel from the first player to the last, but in the mean time the first player has sent several new figures down the line, so that the different figures are combined in a kind of evolving sound wash which has a singing, sustained quality not usually associated with the guitar. Despite its unusual instrumentation, Domino Figures has been performed frequently in Denmark and abroad. The piece been recorded for radio and LP, and in 1993 a television production with 105 guitarists was made to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Denmark’s TV2 – a record-breaking performances that found its way into the Guiness book of records!
Techniques similar to the one used in Domino Figures are found in Music for 21 Clarinets (1980), Watercolor, Acrylic, Watercolor (1981), Devil’s Golf Course for large orchestra (1986), Three Canons for Two Guitars (1987), Cobra for four-channel tape (1988) and Tunnel for four channel tape (1995). Watercolor, Acrylic, Watercolor was one of Siegel’s most frequently performed works. It was written for an instrumental combination that is unusual for Siegel’s production: wind quintet and string quintet. Influence from Ligeti’s testural music and American minimalism meet in a delightful musical fusion which has a unique charm owing to the use of a claissical instrumental ensemble. Although this piece cannot be called pluralistic, the traditional ensemble gives the work’s synthetic surface a touch of the past which is treated in a very contemporary way. The piece consists of three uninterrupted contrasting sections. In the outer section (Watercolor) each musician plays in his own tempo as in Domino Figures, while the middle section (Acrylic) is synchronized in one tempo with one repeated polyphonic figure abruptly following another. The work is performed without a conductor.
In Devil’s Golf Course for orchestra he uses repetition to create a bold and aggressive dynamic music. In addition to large orchestra the instrumentation includes two synthesizers and two drum sets, serving to place the work between genres, a tendency found throughout Siegel’s production. This tendency is also characterized by his use of electronics and computers. He has often worked with electronic delays to create synchronized canons for solo instruments. Autumn Resonance (1979), for piano and two digital delays, utilizes the delays in two different way: both as a textural element and a rhythmic device. In Voices Recurrent for cello and delays, the part is intertwined with the delays creating a virtuoso cello trio performing at 16 beats per second.
From the early eighties, Siegel became increasingly occupied with computer music. His Street Music (1981) uses synthesizers and delays to create a percussive Latin-American rhythmic canon, while Supreme Sacrifice (1981) for keyboards and voice is an electronic science fiction ballad. Like Autumn Resonance, both works are written for and performed by the composer. In Cobra (1988) for four-channel tape, the sound material is derived mostly from the human voice. The material was digitally processed to create hybrid instruments – crosses between sung vowels and plucked string instruments. The work is a strict twenty-voice canon with the voices distributed in a large circle. Another frequently performed work by Siegel is his second string quartet, Tracking. Commissioned by the legendary Kronos Quartet, the piece is written for string quartet and computer. The electronics are used as an extension of the acoustic instruments, the computer controlling both sound treatment of the live musicians as well as a battery of synthesizers playing digitally altered string sounds and synthetic sounds. The work is more aggressive than most of his earlier work, with two repetitive, distinct outer sections joined by a seamless, textural wash of ever-changing timbres. Eclipse (1991), commissioned by the London-based vocal group, Singcircle, is written for four voices and live electronics. The voices are treated electronically using various techniques, transforming the texts into a type of sound wash. In some of the sung passages, delays are used to create a rhythmic canon in combination with the singers. In other passages, computer processing is used to transform the sound spectrum, spatial location and reverberation of the voices. Jackdaw (1995) for bass clarinet and computer, the sounds produced by a small European crow called the Jackdaw are manipulated, morphed and transformed along with the sounds of a bass clarinet to create a lively dialogue between the instrumentalist and the computer. The work was commissioned by Dutch bass clarinet virtuoso Harry Sparnaay and has received over 100 performances throughout the world.
The, science fiction opera Livstegn (Signs of Life, 1993-94) is Siegel’s most extensive work to date. This two-hour work involves four singers, nine musicians and several computers controlling interactive computer music programs and computer graphics as well as live video scenes. Commissioned by the Danish Music Theater, Livstegn was premiered in Copenhagen in November 1994, receiving nine performances. The story and libretto were written by Siegel’s wife, the Danish novelist Elisabeth Siegel. In the opening scene, two young scientists, Adrian and Natalie, arrive by space ship at a base on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, where they are to study conditions in the vast ocean beneath the icy surface of this foreign world. As the work unfolds, it becomes more and more apparent, that Adrian is also a foreign world to himself. When he unexpectedly discovers signs of life from the depths of what he thought to be a completely barren wilderness, a fateful chain of events is set into motion. In several scenes, performers appear on a large video screen, interacting with performers on the stage. There is a seamless boarder between sound effects and music, and the interaction between human beings and the sophisticated machines that protect them from a hostile environment in the story is reflected in the interplay between musicians and computers in the performance.
During the 90’s Siegel explored the possibilities of interactive computer music. Best known are his “Music for Wind”, an outdoor installation which responds to wind speed and wind direction and “Movement Study”, followed by “Sisters”, both interactive works for dancer(s) and computer, in which the dancer’s movements control the music. The two parallel works for solo instrument and computer, Match I for percussion and computer and Match II for flute and computer also employ specially developed computer programs as integrated parts of the music. Siegel worked on research in the field of interactive music, and published several articles on the subject. Siegel continued to compose instrumental (acoustic) works, including the two virtuoso pieces Savanna for percussion duo (1997) commission by the Safri Duo, City View (1996-99) for saxophone quartet commissioned by the Danish Saxophone Quartet and Millennium Café (1999), a concerto for trumpet and chamber ensemble commission by the Danish Chamber Players.
From 2000 to 2013 Siegel continued his research and activity in the area of interactive music, concentrating on motion-control of sound and music. Working with the Swedish choreographer, Marie Brolin-Tani, he developed motion-controlled compositions including the dance installation “The Gift of Pandora” presented at the ARoS Museum of Art. This technology also inspired the sound installation “Drowning/Burning” that allows museum guests to create sounds and improvise by moving on an interactive podium. Siegel also began composing and performing solo works for using motion-controlled computer system including “Two Hands (not clapping)” commissioned by the Dark Music Days in Reykjavik and “No Water, No Moon” commissioned by the Royal Library in Copenhagen. In 2010 he was commissioned to compose a concerto for pipe organ and symphony orchestra by the Aarhus Symphony and organist Ulrik Spang-Hanssen. Working with the impressive Klais organ in the Aarhus Symphony Hall inspired Siegel to create “Everyone Talks about the Weather” for robot-controlled pipe organ and weather satellite in 2013.
With his American background, Wayne Siegel occupies a unique position in Danish music. This background has quite naturally led him to feel less bound by European tradition than other composers in Denmark, and Siegel’s wholehearted adhearance to an aesthetic derived from American minimalism represents in itself a consistency and strength that is exceptional. His use of electronics and computers is perhaps also of American derivation, but his work in this field has undoubtedly had a major impact on a new generation of Danish composers.