Trygve Seim: Vanguard of a New Wave
The other experience which directly led to Seim's broader compositional focus in the context of larger ensembles was time spent as part of Oslo 13, first a vehicle for Jon Balke but later, after Balke left the ensemble, an opportunity for Seim to flex his own compositional muscle. "I started to play with Oslo 13 in '92," Seim says, "and it was, for me, an important experience. We had a one month tour with Jon Christensen and Auden Kleive on drums and they both played fantastically. Balke's music was great, I really still admire his writing, and so this was, for me, a lucky star of sorts. It was, in fact, my experience with Oslo 13 and Edward Vesala that prompted me to write music for larger ensembles, and so in '93 I started a group called Trondheim Kunst Orchestra. That was a group with Arve Henriksen, Håvard Lund and Per Oddvar Johansen. Both Per Oddvar and Jarle Vespestad played drums, and the idea of two drummers was, of course, from Oslo 13. At the time I also had two bass players, which came from a Roscoe Mitchell concert I saw in New York in '92. There was a lot of energy and improvisation, and so I wrote a lot of small sketches that were used as an entrance to improvisation."
The Trondheim Kunst Orchestra was to be the beginning of what would ultimately evolve into the ensembles that recorded Different Rivers and Sangam. "In the beginning it was much more improvisation than composition," Seim says, "but that's mainly because I didn't have much experience writing for such a large group. It was funny because with two drummers, two acoustic bass players, guitar and four wind instruments, we actually did a couple of tours with the group in '93-95, but all the time I wanted to write more, to control more of the final music."
At the same time Seim was working with this larger ensemble to develop his own compositions, he was involved in a collaborative quartet called The Source which, along with two Norwegian releases, issued the 2002 ECM album The Source and Different Cikadas, augmenting the core quartet of Seim, Per Oddvar Johansen, trombonist Øyvind Brække and double-bassist Finn Guttormsen with the Cikada String Quartet, as well as Arve Henriksen, Christian Wallumrød and accordionist Frode Haltli, "The Source is another story in a way," explains Seim, "it's lived its own life because Øyvind also studied at the conservatory the same time as I did, and we started this quartet with Øyvind, myself, Per Oddvar and Finn.
"Per Oddvar was an important musician for me," continues Seim, "not only to play with but to listen to music with. He's an amazing drummer I think; every time I hear him, he's one of the only drummers I know who, all the time, really, really plays together with the musicians. Very often drummers are either playing very boringly or playing too much. He doesn't do that, everything he does is connected to what everyone else does, right down to very small details. And I remember at the time when we studied together, he played in Airamero, he played in the Source and in my group, but he showed me a lot of musiche showed me Ornette Coleman's music, as I was not so much into that when I started to study. He opened my ears to a lot of free music. But the story of the Source is that it has always been a collective group, we all write music for it, although Øyvind has written most of it. When someone comes in with a new piece we break it down and say, 'ok, we can use this part and take away that part'; we work like that, in a collective fashion."
In fact, one of the more remarkable things about The Source and Different Cikadas is how the writing styles from the different members seem to meet on common ground. The plaintive "Mmball" may have been written by Johansen, but it would sound equally at home as a Seim composition.
While Seim's two projects under his own name are clearly the product of his own musical imagination, he is as democratic with his ensemble as The Source. As much as the material is written with specific instruments in mind, it is also written with specific players in mind. "Arve Henriksen is the kind of musician," Seim explains, "that when you choose to work with him it's not like, 'I need a trumpeter,' it's for his specific style and sound. He's a great person to work with; he has a lot of ideas about how to make the compositions better, and he often says, 'maybe you should try this or that,' and I go home, work with it and come back and it becomes more interesting. And the same with Håvard and Per Oddvar.
"So when the material is rehearsed," continues Seim, "there is often input from others in the group that will ultimately change the way the music is played. And that's one of the great things about having this ensemble. If we do a concert and I come in with new material to rehearse before the show, I can try it out, hear what I think and what others might say to me, and then I can go home and work with it some more. The next time I might be happy…although usually I'm not happy because when we're on stage I always think of how I could have made the compositions even better. But that's also one of the hard things about playing your music yourself. If you write music for someone else, like classical composers do, they don't have to meet the music so much, maybe they hear the premiere and then they don't hear it again; whereas I have to live with it each and every time we play it. I also have to live with compositions I wrote many years ago that we play now, it's like the knowledge I now have makes me wonder, 'did I really write like that?' And you're always learning new things all the time.
"Speaking about instrumentation," Seim concludes, "it can sometimes be a balance of what I want to have versus who I want to have. At one time I wanted to have two bassists and drummers, it was about a musical idea rather than the specific musicians; I wanted this heavy thing in the bottom end. Of course it started as an odd combination at the beginning, with two drummers, two bassists, tuba, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and guitar. But I see it as an evolution because I started the group in '93 and with Different Rivers and Sangam the ensemble is more or less the same as the beginning, I've just changed some of the musicians. After a period with the two bass players I wanted to have no bass players, then I wanted only one drummer, and I brought in the cello because I was fascinated by the sound of the instrument and wanted to see how it could blend into the group. It's not the easiest thing to have only one cello amidst all these wind instruments."
As for writing, Seim uses whatever tools are available at his disposal. "My ideas often come to me when I'm sitting at my piano. I'm not a good pianist, so it takes a lot of time, so that is one thing that I've decided I'm going to work on a little bitto try and become a better pianistnot a pianist per se, but to be able to play the music I write, because when I write sketches on piano, I can then go to the computer and write it in a notation program, and I can hear itnot with good sounds, but I can still hear how the lines interact. And that's a great tool actually, because with piano it's very different from how it's ultimately going to sound. And when I work with the notation program and hear how the lines work together it often gives me new ideas that are even more advanced."