Royal College of Music, Stockholm
Ellen Arkbro (born 1990 in Stockholm) is a Swedish avant-garde composer working largely in meantone temperament. Her primary instrument is the pipe organ, and she also composes for brass and winds. Early work makes ample use of the text-based programming environment SuperCollider as a tonality design resource in which "there are some very natural ways of working with rational frequency relationships."
After attending Elektronmusikstudion in Stockholm, and upon completing a degree in electroacoustic composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Arkbro studied just intonation under the tutelage of LaMonte Young, Marian Zazeela and Jung Hee Choi in New York and Marc Sabat in Berlin.
For Organ and Brass
For her 2017 debut album For Organ and Brass, Arkbro, who was raised Baptist, uses the Sherer-Orgel organ at St. Stephen's Church in Tangermünde, Germany, an instrument dating to 1624, in a church dating to 1118. The LP comprises recordings of her compositions in just intonation for renaissance organ, horn, trombone and microtonal tuba.
The [title] piece came about while I was spending time with the meantone temperament of the organ in the German Church in Stockholm. I soon came to realise that I could use this traditional renaissance tuning in a non-traditional way that would allow me to compose music solely with septimal intervals. These are sounds that I have to come to love for their unique character. There is a textural aspect of these intervals which makes them stand out from the rest. And then there is the equally important affective aspect: a kind of open, clear sadness [which are] some of the reasons to why I’ve ended up working with them.
When we had decided to make the recording, we needed to locate an organ in Germany with this exact kind of tuning and with the right kind of sound. Despite our high demands it came as a bit of a surprise to me that it would be so hard to find the right instrument. After looking around and trying many different instruments, we finally went to Tangermünde in early spring last year to try their organ. Finally, we had found the perfect instrument for this music. It sounded so beautiful, such a warm and organic sound, slowly pulsating, in perfect stability.
CHORDS (2019) was designed to draw attention to the way sound exists in space, the way tonality and harmony affect an environment. The music is intended for large speakers, allowing it to take over a home and envelop the listener.
Pitchfork finds that the album "delves even deeper into microtonal interplay, balancing heady theoretical terrain with a rare emotional resonance. [Arkbro's] music is infused with a profound emotionality that transcends its heady origins. Passing through the gates of extreme rigor, CHORDS finds private infinity in a handful or stretched-out drones."
- 2015: Spacegirls (Fylkingen Records)
- 2017: For Organ and Brass (Subtext Recordings)
- 2019: CHORDS (Subtext Recordings)
- Hroch, M., "Kam Nás Zvuk Zavede: Varhanní experimenty Ellen Arkbro a Kali Malone", A2, #20, 2019.
- Anon., Resident Advisor, Ellen Arkbro.
- Heller, R., "The In-Tune-Sound From Way Out: Ellen Arkbro Interviewed", The Quietus, July 24, 2019.
- McVicar, G., "486 Hertz—Ellen Arkbro", Stray Landings, December 12, 2017.
- Sawers, C., "Listen to Ellen Arkbro's forthcoming release on Subtext", The Wire, April 2017.
- Skates, A., "Deep Time: The Shifting Force Fields Of Ellen Arkbro's CHORDS", The Quietus, July 4, 2019.
- Bruce-Jones, H., "Composer Ellen Arkbro returns to Subtext with CHORDS", Fact, May 23, 2019.
- Anon., "Dreaming and letting go | A conversation with Ellen Arkbro", RE:VIVE, April 21, 2017.
- Joyce, C., "Ellen Arkbro’s Noisey Mix Is Mystifying Music for Deep Listening", Vice, July 16, 2019.
- Martin-McCormick, D., "Ellen Arkbro—CHORDS", Pitchfork, June 18, 2019.