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CD liner notes

February 1, 2013
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Organism I (2009/sold) Acrylic on canvas, 50×50 cm

CD liner notes to The Discovery and Exploration of Planet HERO

Improvisation is the essence of all art, where intuitive and spontaneous action gives the impulse, and imaginative and innovative action shapes the form. Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and Helge Lien create instantaneous music and hold on to the one excellent idea, which they explore and develop through a dynamic interplay. At once, there occurs a ”kairos” – a magical turning point where the listener’s attention goes from analytical observation to total commitment and participation.

The listening experience of this CD may very well be described in such a way. However, ”kairos” doesn’t just occur as the result of an excellent idea and imaginative playing. Behind it lies years of solid experience and a deep insight into the artistic potential of sound. The entire specter of sonic resources is exploited on each of the two instruments, in such a manner that a third element also makes its presence felt, in addition to the saxophone and piano. And it grows as the music evolves. It constitutes the symbiotic relationship between the two musicians, where the combined properties of sound, the compositional structure, and their individual artistic charismas meet. While playing, Nystrøm and Lien listen with religious deference to this third element. In fact, I feel that this entire CD is an ecellent illustration of the acronym which constitutes the duo’s name – HERO; a combination of Helge and Rolf-Erik.

And that this third element is like an unexplored planet – the Planet HERO – where two musical astronautes arrive and immediately set out to investigate, reporting continously to the listeners back on earth, describing the perils they encounter, the variety of terrains and the deep and mystical atmospheres.

When leaving the surface of the planet, the listeners are left with an indelible, everlasting impression – a picture in the mind of a surrealistically beautiful and alluring world. And having once been there, we all want to go back.

Home safe on our own earthly planet, both soul and mind are bursting with the experience of totally new musical adventures. The door is opened, revealing an excitingly new sonic universe. HERO is discovered.

All the same, I suspect that only a small part of the planet HERO’s secrets have been disclosed. I want to hear more – much more – for here there are no bounds.

CD liner notes to Frøy Aagre’s Countryside

I sat completely still for several minutes after having listened through this album, completely captivated by an entirely other musical universe. Easy to enter, I thought, yet so hard to leave. I knew I had just experienced something quite unique, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. After a while, it came to me, as I tried to capture the essence of the total experience.

To start with, the material quality of Frøy Aagre’s music, as compositions of lines and shapes, strikes me as being transparent textures of carefully woven threads of sound – a polyphonic interplay of such poetic integrity and artistic conviction that the expressive intentionality of the music is never questioned. While listening, I found myself often nodding with a smile at the many unexpected, yet nature-like organic turns in the flow of musical events. Frøy Aagre speaks to the listener in a very personal language, and her line of thoughts, and rhetorical eloquence, is felt to be able to go anywhere on any level at any time. Like the contour of the the horizon in the countryside. Her sensibility to stylistic references seems wide open, not committing herself to the aesthetical preferences of any given style, but all the while creating a convincing and total expression which is all her own. Would I call it jazz? Possibly – but it’s Frøy Aagre’s jazz.

Out of the carefully controlled structures of the composed music, there emerges improvised sections that seem equally clear-minded, yet unmistakably intuitive and artistically credible. The transition between these two creative mindsets – the one composing “out of time” and the other performing “in time” –  is sublime and sophisticated, almost undetectable at times. This, to me, is a clear indication of a very mature composer, in her ableness to convert her improvised intuitive musical ideas into structured dots and lines notated in her scores. Yet this is no mere stream of conciousness, but rather a well structured architectural design of intergrated musical gestures, forming unified compositions rather than a continuum of spontaneous inventions.

It is also clear that Frøy Aagre knows how to pick her fellow musicians, as there is never any doubt that they are finely attuned to her artistic nuances. Andreas Ulvo, Audun Ellingsen, and Freddy Wike, on piano, bass, and drums, respectively, respond perfectly to complement the colour and shapes, and the expressive ambience, of her compositions. As does the recorded production as well, with its crystal clear sound picture, and a live-like balance of the various levels of spatial depth, as though a live performance is taking place right then and there.

CD liner notes to Helge Sunde’s Rotations

The soft spoken and contemplative expressions are not the characteristics that come first to the mind when hearing Helge Sunde’s music, despite the gentle profundity and artistic wisdom which is evident when meeting him in person. On the contrary, his music is dynamic and virile, characterised by the interplay of contemporary gestures within an effective and convincing musical drama. His music has an intensity and charm – even humor – which calls for an immediate engagement, where playful figurations join to create an organic and exciting sequence of events. Sunde’s inventiveness is rich, yet avoids being perceived as a series of clever devices. This could easily have been the case, due to his obvious technical skills. But Sunde communicates such convincing artistic insight and aesthetical command, that every composition stands out clearly as an expression of a distinct intention, giving the music a credibility and integrity that is unquestionable.

It has been said that a person, at any given point in life, constitutes the sum of all life experiences up to that point. But for a person to acknowledge this sum of experiences, while at the same time having the ability to express it through artistic means, is indeed rare. Sunde’s musical experience is astonishingly broad, from the one end of the scale to the other within several musical genres, first and foremost as an arranger and composer, but also as an excellent musician. And all on the highest professional level. Helge Sunde has truly mastered the art of fusing all this experience into his composing and created a rough and modern personal musical language.

Sunde’s musical thought process deals with music on its own terms. The titles of his works more often than not point to the musical material as such – for instance the form, the structure of the sound objects, or dynamic characteristics. It’s as though he invites the listener into the sound arena itself, for a trip into a sonic landscape of colourful shapes and gestures. The music doesn’t seem to be alluding to extramusical references, like emotions or existential allegories. Sunde seems rather to want to expose to the listener the vast potential of a purely musical experience which is present in every sound element of the composition.

And this CD, with its compilation of older and newer works, is ample documentation that this artistic approach is ever present and deliberate. For at the same time as the compositions are written for a variety of ensemble types, within a time span of 12 – 13 years, they all show the common traits of Helge Sunde’s unique musical universe.

Helge Sunde is himself the performer on his ”little office piano” at the outset of the first piece on this CD, ”Ridche”. Actually, this short heading might serve as an illustration of Sunde’s general dramaturgical character, being:  preaction – action – reaction, or, introduction to an impulse with a subsequent aftereffect. The impulse segment is often in the form of a structural outburst of energy of various magnitude, as the result of an intense building up of momentum. In the aftermath of such an outburst, there is a repercussion of the immediate event which sums up the entire three part dramatic sequence before introducing a new buildup. But in between these envelopes of drama, Sunde sometimes gives rest to the momentum of energy by creating colourful spatial segments through repetitive structures, having the effect of richly ornamented tableaus. I perceive these moments of rest as Sunde’s rooms of adventure, where he basks in instrumental inventiveness and displays a colour phantasy which I have rarely encountered in the music of contemporary Norwegian composers. The aspect of storytelling as such is apparently not the main issue in Sunde’s musical drama. It’s rather the way in which the story is told. The essential element is the language itself – his fascinating eloquence – and which I find so exciting. He is truly the virtuoso improviser, where the drama lies first and foremost in the smaller gestures and figurations, rather than the larger form.

When I say that ”Ridche” seems to illustrate a general representation of Sunde’s music on this CD, it is, of course, roughly put. There are plenty of exceptions, where the music suddenly enters into an exploration of a sound texture, pursuing it far into the silence. In ”Festina Lente” – or ”hasten slowly” – there are figurations that are barely audible, yet not leaving any doubt that they are there. The two parts are imported from the album, ”AbsolutePlingPlong”, from 1995, which Sunde, along with seven of his classmates, recorded after finishing their composition studies at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. Helge Sunde says himself that the Festina Lente movements ”is an attempt to write a piece where you sweep the darkness (the sound) with a spotlight and once in a while discover interesting shapes (objects of sound) which you zoom into. They are given focus and become temporarily active, until the sweeping continues…”

A totally different storytelling technique is represented in the two pieces, ”Paroushnon” and ”The 1002nd Tale”, for saxophone and percussion, and saxophone quartet, respectively. The title, ”Paroushnon”, is constructed by combining every other letter in the two words, percussion and saxophone, as an analogy of the symbiotic fusion of the sound of the two instruments which characterises the music. And ”The 1002nd Tale” alludes to Edgar Allan Poe’s postulate that “Truth is stranger than fiction”. Both pieces represent a storytelling technique where the figurations in the music create a driving momentum through the use of rhythmic patterns and lively gestures, telling the story about themselves….

(I might add, that in these two pieces, Helge Sunde’s references to modern jazz are evident. In particular contemporary written ensemble jazz. This is a genre which he masters in an impressive way, although belonging to an entirely different musical arena. In any case, it is an exciting perspective to be aware of while listening to the music on the CD at hand.)

”Charade” and ”Caglia” are described by the composer as ”gestural-overtone-desk-improvisations”! ”Charade” was written for Ensemble Ernst and performed the first time at the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival in 1999, while ”Caglia” is written ”within a closed form, with boxes of apportioned time segments and spectres of harmonics which were filled with various contents…”

The last piece, “Rotations”, was commissioned by Oslo Sinfonietta in 1996. Sunde says that ”… it s written in five movements, with the piano as the ”hub” in the ensemble. It has many references, for example to variations of Scriabin’s mystical Prometeus chord, the title being closely related to Boulez’ ”Notations”, yet alluding to permutations of a simple 9-tone row, being the basis for the whole piece and in some parts appearing as a large ”macro melody”: the  4th and 2nd part (3rd and 4th on the recording: The rotations meaning also that the different parts may be rotated, and on the recording the constitute the sequence 1 3 4 2 5…) This principle, where all the pitch relations can be traced back to one tone row, or melody, applies incidentally also to Festina Lente (1995), which is closely related to Rotations, and Caglia, where the melody may be heard as ”points with an echo” in the beginning.”

This description shows clearly that Helge Sunde applies a great deal of thought to his composing process, the working material being carefully developed in accordance with relevant models and references. This is where he documents a combining of pure and spontaneous improvisation on the one hand, and a controlled dramaturgical and structural strategy on the other. The result is an ever present dynamic intensity in Sunde’s music, created in the field of tension between the impulsive actions of the moment and the planned sequence of events that evolve. This is an improvisational dialectic situation that characterises any mature artist, be it the painter, film director, author or stage artist. In addition to being the excellent musician who composes, Helge Sunde is also the mature artist that composes, where technical skills go hand in hand with the reflection of theory and insight of aesthetics.

From → English texts

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