Asger Baden, composer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Throughout my childhood and youth, I always played and actually also wrote music. That eventually led me to study as a pianist at the rhythmic conservatory in Copenhagen. But for me, it was not so much a decision to pursue a music career, but rather pursuing my passion and along the way realising it could actually be how I made my living as well. But a large part of what brought me to that realisation was that I found out that my music went well with moving pictures, it had a cinematic quality to it, if you will. And that became an obvious way to find a concrete purpose for it apart from just getting it out of my system.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I grew up in a small town. There weren’t a whole lot of musical kindred spirits to relate to. So a pivotal point for me was quite early on at the age of 15 when I  attended a kind of boarding school with a strong musical profile. I realised there were a lot more of my kind out there and my world expanded from that point. I really believe that I wouldn’t have taken the path that I did had it not been for that crucial year.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

An ongoing challenge for me, and I think this goes for a lot of artists, is the eternal pendulum between delusions of grandeur and crippling self-doubt. My good friend and studio mate, who is a film director, framed a text and hung it in our studio space: “The Creative Process: This might be something – this is awesome – this is shit – I am shit – this might be something – this is awesome.” I’m not sure if this is the exact wording but the gist of it is that it really is an emotional rollercoaster on a daily basis. And to me it’s not necessarily in this order, but more like a dice you throw every day, and if it ends up on “this is shit” or “I am shit”, you just have to push on and continue the next day and hope it lands on “this is awesome”. But I’m finding that it does land on “Awesome” more and more often.

In a more concrete sense, one of my biggest challenges was the first time I wrote for a symphony orchestra. That was for my 2015 album “Zarniqa”. Often times my process is one of moulding the sounds and the music until it reaches its final form, much like a sculptor would do. But with a big orchestra obviously, most of the work is very premeditated and immaculate. When writing and arranging the music and preparing the scores and hoping it’ll sound like it does in your head once it’s performed. Even though this way of working is, in its essence, very controlled, it felt like a massive loss of control for me – not to be able to mould and change a thing once it was recorded.

What are the pleasures and challenges of working with other musicians?

I love working with other musicians. The blessing of collaborating is kind of paradoxical. On the one hand, there’s the competitive element which can be really fruitful. The Lennon/McCartney syndrome where you really up your game to come up with your best stuff. But on the other hand, the collaboration element is also liberating and relaxing in that it frees you from the heavy load of constantly doubting yourself to pieces because you are in it together and can pick each other up and move on in those difficult times that always comes in a creative process. The challenge is of course that you sometimes have to meet half way and compromise when you see things differently. On my new album, I was on my lonesome, and for me, that always causes a lot of struggles in terms of torturing myself with doubts. I think that’s the reality for most creative souls.

How would you describe your compositional/musical style?

One thing that is always present in my music is melancholy. Even when I try to write something lighter it always ends up being pretty melancholic. Writing in major key doesn’t change that. My music has often been described as quirky, but even though I get where that’s coming from, I don’t really know what that means, to be honest. In general it’s always been hard for me to put music into boxes of styles. Back in the day, I had a band, and people told me we did new jazz. I guess these days I fall under the category “Neoclassical”. To me, it doesn’t really matter. I hope I’m not sounding like a pompous jerk 🙂

As a composer, how do you work?

These days I want to pursue a way of writing where the sounds and their sonic qualities are just as important as the actual notes and melodies. I want to put myself in a position where my ears are ´wide open’ to the quirks, random incidents and ‘happy accidents’ rather than being totally focused on the composition in a conventional sense. To me, this opens a door to a much larger canvas, so to speak. The composition of the music generally starts out with recording many hours of improvised performances and sounds with different musicians. For instance, I recording strings and percussion in Copenhagen’s big Cathedral of Our Lady – with a huge reverb with 10 seconds decay. Plugging, picking and hammering piano strings or bowing them with fishing wire, recording clarinets, electronic experiments…. Then I cherry pick the best moments of the recordings, heavily edit, re- arrange and dub them with new recordings. Like harvesting ideas from a field of improvisations – chasing and nurturing the most beautiful moments, where both the random accidents and the conscious melodies and sounds can be equally alluring. Sometimes I write a composition around a soundscape which ends up being almost edited out. One example of that is ‘Nobrac Naked’ where the main part of the piece is recorded with a conventional symphonic string orchestra in Prague’s great concert hall Rudolfinum. In this case the exploration of soundscapes and samples serve just as much as a canvas and a part of the journey to reach the goal.

Tell us more about your new album….

The album is largely a result of the process I just described. I really like messing with the conventional sounds of the instruments to make them a bit harder to pin down. To me, this opens the door to another, dreamy augmented world. Pitching a clarinet way down to make it sound like a foghorn for instance. I’ve also been really into playing with all the different colours  of the piano. Hammering the strings to make it sound like a dulcimer of sorts, bowing the strings to make it sound kind of like an old squeaky door a.s.o. I’ve wanted to make music where not only the notes, but also the soundscape makes the listener curious and engaged.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Of course, I crave success in the conventional sense, such as recognition, getting my music heard by as many people as possible and being praised. Who doesn’t?!?  But the times I feel most successful is when I’m super inspired and obsessed with what I’m working on at the moment. Those days where 8 hours suddenly vanishes into thin air because I’ve been so submerged in it. That is the most addictive feeling on earth. It feels like everything is and exciting and glowing with a magical hue. The opposite is also true so when that magical hue is absent I’m absolutely terrified that it will never return. Luckily so far it has 🙂

What is your present state of mind?

This is an easy one. I have a new baby daughter, so my current state is one of total bliss, wonder, gratitude and exhaustion 🙂 AND I have a new album coming out(!!). I would say I’m on a roll.  Perfect happiness – right now is pretty close.

‘If the music stops, they’ll eat him up’ is the new album by Danish composer and pianist Asger Baden. The album invokes through its nine tracks a sense of mysterious and highly visual storytelling.

Danish composer, pianist and producer Asger Baden has made a name for himself as a film and TV-series composer with his atmospheric music featured in world-acclaimed productions such as “Breaking Bad” and “The Wolfpack”. After having worked on several collaborative projects and composing with his bands “The Crooked Spoke” and “Cours Lapin”, Baden now releases his next solo album, “If the music stops, they’ll eat him up” via Berlin-based label Neue Meister.

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