Composer Anders Hillborg on creating synthetic sounds, studying under Brian Ferneyhough and the influence of The Beatles

Swedish composer Anders Hillborg began his career as a keyboard player in a pop band, but was soon writing for the world’s leading ensembles and soloists across a range of genres and instrumentations with his trademark playful, virtuosic style

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I like creating ‘synthetic’ sounds from acoustic instruments. I think this comes from my experience working with electronic music in the 1980s. The electronic music studio was a fantastic laboratory for studying sound and gaining an awareness of the properties of different registers and harmonies.

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Electronic music made me very aware of the difference between humans and machines. I now place humans at the centre of my music and try and simplify my writing so it can be as rewarding for the performer to play as it is for the audience to listen to.

I collaborate with the soloists I’m writing for as much as possible. I always try and tailor the piece for them and enjoy throwing ideas at the soloist – even if they’re not playable! I would rather not restrain myself by sticking to what I think might be playable. If something turns out to be unnecessarily difficult, I’m open to changing it as long as it doesn’t damage the core musical idea. My Clarinet Concerto, written for Martin Fröst, involves theatrics and dance which was his specific request, but it can also be performed without these elements.

As I came from a pop music background, The Beatles were my first major musical influence. I’m still in awe of their exquisite harmonies and the ingenuity of their music-making. Subsequently, Ligeti was hugely important in bringing me into the modern music scene. The usual suspects of Stockhausen, Berio and Xenakis were all very important too – as was Prince, again from the pop world.

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I studied under Brian Ferneyhough. However, I’m a long way from his so-called ‘New Complexity’ school of composing. New Complexity involves complex musical notation, and I think sound is so incredibly complex in itself. The only complexity I accept is aural: it doesn’t matter what’s written in the score – it only matters whether you can hear SWNS or perceive complexity.