Sofie Livebrant finds melodies in the texts

Published: 2008-08-29 by Kristofer Kebbon

The songwriter and pianist Sofie Livebrant has set music to poems by Dan Andersson, Sylvia Plath, and Baudelaire. She is best known to a wider audience through her collaboration with Sofia Karlsson, whose album ”Svarta ballader” (Black Ballads) was enriched by Livebrant’s music.

For the past few years, the 35-year old Livebrant has worked with composing theater music for the Folk Theater in Gävleborg and has also worked with Månteatern in

Lund. She has a comprehensive education behind her: in 1994 she studied at the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm at their pedagogical department, and later continuing her studies there in composition from 1998-2000. In spite of her schooling, her method of composing has not changed so much since the first time she wrote music:

- I was nine or ten and began writing songs, she says. I found (the poet) Karin Boye on my mother’s bookshelf and created songs of the poems at the piano.

It is a method you still use.

- For me it is a little like opening a present. If a text becomes music it just comes, like a gift. It is extremely intuitive and I get a kick out of it. I also make music using craft, but the most living music comes to me immediately.

- But there is a fight going on in me right now about whether I should borrow texts from others or write my own. There are a lot of people bugging me to write my own texts. When I write my own words it’s like I get stuck in the mud and compare myself with our living and dead ext geniuses. But I can agree with the thought that if one can write it all oneself it becomes a valuable gift for coming generations, expressing what is actually happening right now in me. But I am not there yet. I need to mature a bit more.

You compose for many different contexts. How do they differ?

- In theater music, the dramaturgical events steer the music. That is the big difference. One is there as a composer in order to support what is happening onstage, that is, the play. But even in an ordinary song, the texts steer as well, so it’s not entirely different. When I write music for choir, the range and age of the choir steers my writing. Although all these frameworks exist only for one to try to find a path around them, heh heh.

What re you working on right now?

- Right now I am out playing with Sofia Karlsson as a sidekick. I sing and play piano. And in the world of composing I’m heavily into Emily Dickinson right now. She is from the 19th century so she is outside of STIM; the first thing I did after discovering her was to check the date. Once previously I had spent one and a half years setting a wonderful female text writer to music, but in the end I wasn’t allowed t use the material. A learning experience, and a hard one. Emily is a little like Dan Andersson, whose texts I have worked with earlier, she is timeless. I have understood that she is a little crafty with the language and turns the meanings of ordinary words around. In the ten or so texts that I have to date set to music, she writes about our innermost working while writing about bees and gardens. There is a lot of God and death, a little like in Andersson…

Is it difficult to keep the music at a scaled-down singer/songwriter level if one is very musically knowledgeable?

- No. For me, and this is important, I call myself a “song catcher.” Like Emmylou Harris, darn her, already called it. I am educated at a fine institution but my foundation is songs. It is melodies that come like gifts, they are already finished.

Do you do any musical research when you work?

- No, or if I do, it’s unconscious research. The Christmas play ”Mary’s question” turned out the way it did because I was listening to a lot of Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris when it was written. I do not study with the aid of paper and structures, like at school, but after my ear. At the same time, there are several years of theory behind my intuitive ear. When we did ”The journey to the West” (Färden till västern) at the Månteater in Lund, I bombarded myself with Chinese folk music and percussion music. I actually tried to copy a Chinese folksong, not that different from the Swedish folk song actually, but it finally turned into something different. That is why I became a composer instead of a musician, because I am not so good at copying songs perfectly.

Sebastian Suarez-Golborne


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