An interview with Sven Helbig on his new album Pocket Symphonies and the future of classical music, held at Saatchi & Saatchi, London 30th July 2013.
Could you tell us a little bit about Pocket Symphonies, when you started composing it and the inspiration behind it?
I’ve been locking myself away for one year. This album is special for me as it is the first time I have composed it entirely in my head, without using an instrument. I usually sit down at the piano or with a guitar and develop a melody, but I realised that the touch and the physics of the instrument meant that it makes suggestions to you and changes the progress of the music dramatically. This time I just took long walks and would wait for the music to develop in my head. Sometimes there would be nothing and then it would just suddenly pop into my head.
The idea for Pocket Symphonies was to write twelve songs that capture evening moods – twelve ways of ending the day. And I wanted to use my favourite instrument, the orchestra. This is where the term ‘symphonies’ derives, and ‘pockets’ because they are just small moments; pockets of captured time.
How did composing away from an instrument have an effect on the music and would you use this technique in future compositions?
It’s free. It’s pure. Only when the music is complete in my head do I write it down. But walking and imagining music is a long process, that’s why it has taken me a year. Sometimes nothing happens and then all of a sudden there’s an idea, like a story that develops.
But it’s also a very efficient method of composition in some ways; you’re always thinking about it and you don’t waste any time at a boring party! But it also means there’s no rest. I’ve already used it for other compositions after Pocket Symphonies including a choral word for the choir in Stuttgart.
In your TEDx talk, you said that you don’t like the terms ‘classical’, ‘popular’ and ‘cross-over’, could you elaborate on this?
If the definition is so strong then it is hard to bring the walls down. I would invite a friend to a classical music concert and their first question would be ‘what should I wear’?
Cross-over and fusion have specific connotations of amplified violins, or busy drums; music from the ’70s! Everything is now so accessible on the internet, everybody mixes much more. And yet Pocket Symphonies are cross-over in the sense that they bring together so many things that have been crossing over in my head since I was young, all the different influences that have shaped me: drums, clubs, bars, my jazz trio, New York, opera, classical music…
If we try and get rid of any definitions and genre, would you say that the only future for classical music is no genre?
It’s hard to say because of course classical music has a long tradition. The concert halls with fantastic acoustics, craftsmanship…I don’t want to break this all down. That said, there is a problem with calling it classical. It sounds so old! Where does classical music stop, the 1950s, ’60s? If you say contemporary music then strange chords and 12-tone music comes to mind, but Pocket Symphonies are contemporary. Using terms is always a tricky thing.
Who is your audience for Pocket Symphonies?
It’s for my people. I played drums in a hip-hop band and here you make music for your ‘homies’. There’s a sense of collaboration between the people on stage and in front of the stage. On stage is just a bit more concentrated reflection of the life in the audience. Pocket Symphonies are for people who work, for creative people who are mixed and interested in culture. It’s for you, my friends my family and I hope you enjoy it.