Somnambule - Writing About Music

Arve Henriksen and Terje Isungset ~ Two Friends In Nature

18 November 2003, Purcell Room

Arve Henriksen: dark haired, almost boyish, appears on the darkened stage and seats himself on a stool lit by a single pool of light. He picks up his trumpet and proceeds to demarcate space and delineate feeling by the force and dissipation of his breath.

Arve understands the nature of his instrument as a mechanism to catch and channel the wind into music. Tonight he diverts into the auditorium everything from the gentlest of breaths barely able to stir a leaf to a gale-like fierceness that might denude a whole forest. At whatever intensity he plays, Henriksen’s music strains to reach the ineffable and makes of that effort a Shinto-like offering. As he does so and despite visual proof to the contrary, his trumpet appears to metamorphose into a shakuhachi flute, a clarinet, a baritone saxophone or other, as yet unnamed musical instruments.

Henriksen himself undergoes a brief metamorphosis partway into the concert and becomes golem-like as he mischievously and with utter sincerity growls, spits and moans his disdain for America’s visiting president against a trumpet loop. Afterwards, he builds a piece of music which begins with figures sampled and looped, weaving notes together into strong lengths of yarn which accrue a piercing emotional intensity nurtured alternately by Arve’s angelic, gently breathtaking singing and the caress of his trumpet. He gestures to the audience to join with him in song and the response gains a touching middle ground between gentleness and timidity. In this rousing of his audience out of silent contemplation and into active participation he builds a brief community.

Terje arrives upon Arve’s departure like an older brother. Tall with curly blond hair, his intent, blue-eyed gaze bears a striking resemblance to that of an unstartled deer. Terje’s drumkit is a sculpture in itself: bleached wooden branches, bells and horns hung in a semi-circle like a hermit’s talismans, his drumsticks are bundles of twigs taped together. Serene with eyes closed, eyelids fluttering and a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, he begins to play. In contrast the rhythms he produces are the pounding hooves of cattle, simultaneously rhythmic and chaotic.

At other times, the rumbling of the bass drum and the tinkling of small bells sounds for all the world like a spooked storm or the arrival of an earthquake in the dead of night. Terje guides the audience to remote regions, calling and singing out to animals and spirits along the way. After a lengthy solo on a jew’s harp made from the fuselage of a German fighter aircraft which crashed in Norway in the second war, he tells us:
“My favourite is silence. It’s true. A complete silence. In the winter there are sometimes lots of snow and this very light snow. It absorbs all the noise and all the sounds. I have one favourite place where I can go in the mountains and if I go there very early in the morning when the moon is on his way down and before the sun rises, there is completely silence. It’s amazing.”

After this short speech he stirs stone upon stone to make an ancient sound above which a whistle sounds long, clear notes. Then with a long echoing yell he rattles bundles of dry, bleached branches together to make the sound of water and bones and pebbles. All set against his beloved silence.

Arve returns to the stage and joins with Terje for a final 15 minute piece which is propelled by a galloping, circular rhythm above which Arve’s trumpet wheels like a large bird, swooping this way and that. The audience departs having witnessed an inclusive musical dialogue with nature, beauty and silence.

Arve and Terje arrived alone on stage, but they depart together.

Colin Buttimer
Published by Me