Somnambule - Writing About Music

Midnight Sun

28 May 2003 / 93 Feet East

Norway has been an extraordinarily fecund hotbed of musical experimentation in recent years and three of its key players - Arve Henriksen, Sidsel Endresen and Supersilent - were showcased in the mini-Midnight Sun festival organised by UK distributor, MacTwo.

Arve Henriksen may not be an immediately familiar name to many, but he is a prolific player who has guested on innumerable recent Norwegian recordings. In the all too brief 15 minutes of his set Arve guided his audience like a Nordic pied piper into a different world which was at once mournful, sweet and astonishingly beautiful. He began almost silently, his trumpet sounding like a cry emanating from the night. Gradually he built up motifs which were melodic, breathy and heart-rending and under which were woven short repeating samples of his trumpet. For a brief period he put his horn aside and began to sing in a falsetto keening which seemed to invoke the spirits of wolves and lost souls. Returning to the trumpet he built the music to a climax and stopped suddenly, after which the audience stood momentarily awed by the emotive beauty of his performance before applauding rapturously.

Sidsel Endresen stirred together elements of sprachgesang, melody and even occasional mimicry of domestic appliances. She was joined by Jan Bang on samples, rhythms and intermittent mannequin poses, and Christian Wallumrod who struck angular chords, scurrying lines and hushed, delicately placed notes on keyboards. Together they played a mixture of new material and pieces that were recognisable from her most recent release on Jazzland, Undertow. These latter acted like half recalled stories: fragmented, adapted and exaggerated in the retelling. Familiar waystations such as ambient, house, folk and jazz were made strange in the process and threaded together by Sidsel’s voice which was alternately spooked, grainy and at times haughtily Nico-like.

Arve Henriksen returned to the stage to join the three other members of Supersilent for the final set of the evening. They sat huddled, facing inwards towards their instruments like a group of monks intensely focused upon a devotional task. Together they created a leviathan of sound which ebbed and flowed as their shared momentum gathered strength and dissipated like waves caught in slow motion. At the peaks the sensation was one of being sucked into a guttural maelstrom, a vortex of musical noise. In the troughs the detail of their playing became discernable. Such was their group power that it was difficult not to perceive them as a force of nature which it would be foolhardy to resist.

Most writing about Norwegian contemporary music invokes the singular aspects of the country’s landscape to the point of cliché. This evening’s musics invoked such comparisons only in the most tangential of ways, instead these three performances illustrated the possibilities of music unconstrained by genre, allowed to flow freely and hybridise anew at each moment with the possibilities presented by the past, present and future. If you have the opportunity to hear any of these artists, don’t hesitate.
Colin Buttimer
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