Q&A: Composers Frans Bak, MBD73 and Ejnar Kanding on “Nordic Noir”



The music of Danish composers Frans Bak, Carsten Bo Eriksen (MBD73) and Ejnar Kanding accurately reflects the kind of mindful, steady tone that would give the genre a name like Nordic Noir. We asked the composers a few questions ahead of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME)’s Nordic Noir performance on Thursday, October 6th — see what they had to say below!

Frans Bak

You are an extremely accomplished film composer and “Sound of North” features music from your score for the popular TV series “The Killing.” Thomas Golubic (music supervisor for “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead” and “The Killing”) wrote about your “myriad of different approaches to creating tension and suspense” and “ability to find lots of different ways to bring you to the edge of your seat.” Will the audience at Le Poisson Rouge get to hear any of these approaches to creating tension and suspension? If so, can you talk about them?

I think what Thomas meant were about different approaches telling the story musically regarding to the series we were working on together (The Killing – US version).

On the set I will play with ACME at Le Poisson Rouge, I will play one piece of 20 minutes, with music from my latest album “Sound Of North” — including a theme from “The Killing” as well. You will hear many different approaches to creating tension. Since I have the opportunity to play with the great string quartet — ACME — I have arranged the set especially for this event — they will be featured at some time — but also be a part of the music fitting in with the electronics I will provide.

How does your compositional process differ when writing music for film vs. a live concert? What adjustments did you make to the music which was originally the score for “The Killing”?

Writing for film and TV is about telling the story, help fulfilling someone’s vision; be part of a team and not to push your own ideas. It is of course very important that you use your talent find a way to contribute to the story, but you will have to set your ego aside — and focus on the story!

Writing for a concert is different. You don’t have to relate to what is happening in the picture — and you can give the music its own importance. I like to try to follow the natural melody and see where it leads you — that opens for a lot of possibilities, which you maybe later can bring to your film music — or not 🙂

The theme of the program is Nordic “dark sides” or Nordic Noir — music that captures a coolness, calmness, and a mindfulness. Can you talk about how “Sound of North” fits that theme?

I think Nordic Noir as a genre is related to some of the Nordic TV series that have had great success. I composed the music for one of them, “Forbrydelsen,” and that has been a turning point for me. I have worked a lot in that field since, and liked it a lot. I still do, but now I am also very interested in following new paths.

In my set at Le Poisson Rouge I will definitively pursue the coolness, and calmness — you will not hear any virtuoso playing but there will be space in the music for your dreams and I am looking so much forward to this concert!


Carsten Bo Eriksen (MBD73)

You are writing a new “memory piece” for ACME (with electronics and video) which will revolve around the theme of “lost memories and sounds.” Can you talk a little bit about what this means? Does the piece evoke sadness and melancholy over losing something that was once known, or is it about the happiness of rediscovering something that was once lost?

Memory Pieces works as a selection of musical postcards. They are a glimpse of a feeling, and an ambience/climate of something that once was. It’s about all the things you can’t see, what’s in between things, like hope, sorrow, faith and love. The music is contemplative, melancholic and beautiful at the same time. Every minute we lose a little bit of time and lose our memories too. We are so very fragile. The new memory piece written to ACME has the title: “Passacaglia.” It’s based on a bass ostinato and it’s a canon. I’ll try not to say to much about the piece, as it’s always about the listeners’ memories, not necessarily my memories. But for me it’s about saying “goodbye” and “hello” every day to the ones you love, and waking up and falling a sleep with the sun.

Can you talk about the role of the electronics and video that feature in your new piece?

The electronics support the strings and underline the atmosphere of the individual piece. The video works mostly as wallpapers, but very much in the same way as the electronics. There is no narrative, just a “room” that opens up, to support the atmosphere of the piece. The visuals have a philosophical color scale, just like the music has, and they works as a counterpoint to the music.

The theme of the program is Nordic “dark sides” or Nordic Noir — music that captures a coolness, calmness, and a mindfulness. Can you talk about how “Memory Pieces” fits that theme?

Memory pieces has a calmness and mindfulness to them, because they are rather ambient in their expression. The music has a dark and melancholic tone, but still evokes beauty at the same time. It’s light and heavy, cold and warm. It’s a paradox really. There is a limited selection of colors in the music, and it’s simple, but still emotionally complex.


Ejnar Kanding

You write music that combines electronic and acoustic sound in complex textures. Can you talk about some of the textures we will hear in “Sensitive Shades” at Le Poisson Rouge?

Sensitive Shades focuses on two textures: the first involves different slowly descending and fluctuating delicate long lines with colors created from tremolo, harmonics, thrills and pizzicato; and the second is a monochrome, ambient extended moment of light chords played as harmonics. These two textures reflect the two parts in the piece.

Can you talk about the electronics are used in “Sensitive Shades”? Did you need to push the boundaries of your computer software and equipment for this piece, or were you able to employ existing techniques for sound processing?

The live electronics of Sensitive Shades use real-time processing of the string instruments. Most of the sounds in the electronic part is directly derived from the acoustic instruments, that is instantly transformed and manipulated to mirror the expression and intensity of the acoustic part of the music. I have developed the electronics in the software MaxMSP (created by the software developer Cycling ’74) specifically for this piece.

The theme of the program is Nordic “dark sides” or Nordic Noir – music that captures a coolness, calmness, and a mindfulness. Can you talk about how “Sensitive Shades” fits that theme?

In Sensitive Shades you will hear something in the same time distant and close; intense and still calm; profound and melancholic. A sensuous voyage to the unknown areas of inner life.

 A music that acknowledges the diversity of life, pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow.