Trygve Seim: Vanguard of a New Wave
While press releases talk about Seim's developing occupation with contemporary classical composers, he takes inspiration from other sources as well. "Breathe," on Different Rivers, has a remarkably tranquil, calming effect, much like Brian Eno's Ambient Music. "It's funny that you should say Brian Eno," Seim says, "because I remember, before I wrote "Breathe," that I was listening to Eno's Music for Airports almost every day, and "Breathe" clearly comes from a similar space."
But for Sangam what Seim sees is an evolution of the concepts that began with the Trondheim Kunst Orchestra and were first recorded on Different Rivers. "I feel I have come much farther as a composer," explains Seim, "that I'm learning to write more complex things and how to use the ensemble better, both individuallyhow to use Arve, for example, not as a trumpeter but as he is, and also the sound of the ensemble, because we did a lot of touring after Different Rivers, and I learned a lot from touring because I heard what would work and what wouldn't."
Meanwhile, Seim is always looking for unorthodox ways to bring new colours to the ensemble. On Different Rivers Henriksen uses an instrument called a trumpophone, while on The Source and Different Cikadas Seim himself is heard using a strange hybrid called a clarophone. "Well, to make a trumpophone," Seim explains, "Arve got a soprano mouthpiece from me and uses it instead of his trumpet mouthpiece, which makes his instrument react very strangely; intonation is all wrong, everything becomes wrong, but he makes a very tough sound with it. The clarophone uses a tenor saxophone body with a bass clarinet neck and bass clarinet mouthpiece. I had to make some adjustments to make it fit into the top of the sax body; a sax repairman made that for me. It has a similar function to the trumpophone; the saxophone doesn't react the way it normally does, a D doesn't come out a D, for example. I don't want to study how it works, I like this idea that I don't know what I'm playing, and so when I use the clarophone it's for a strange sound, a strange effect."
Different Rivers was funded completely by Seim, with assistance from the Norwegian government. It was also produced mainly by Seim, with assistance from Christian Wallumrød and Øyvind Brække. "Christian was up for two days in the studio," says Seim, "and Øyvind was there for another two days, but it was mainly self-produced, because I worked on that record for many months, mixing, and re-recording things. [Rainbow Studio Engineer] Jan Erik Kongshaug gave a copy of the CD to Manfred Eicher, as did Nils Petter Molvær, but I didn't think anything would happen; it took a year before I heard from ECM and I almost put it out on a Norwegian label. Then, by accident, I met Manfred and he told me that he had listened to the record and that he really wanted to release it. It was worth waiting for, as so many more people got to hear it because it's on ECM."
Sangam, on the other hand, is produced by Eicher, and there are some noticeable differences. "The sound of the two records is quite different," says Seim. "Different Rivers was a drier record, and Manfred has a strength in blending the ensemble in the mix. Also, when he is in the studio he comes to you with a very small, sometimes abstract muse that makes people play differently. He often hears music more like a film; he talks about it like that, very visually. It's a nice way of looking at things, because movies are so obviously narrative-based, but in music it's not always so.
"Also, on Sangam, some of the music is more classical in nature," continues Seim, "and I'm so happy that Manfred was in the studio for the pieces where Christian Eggen conducts and had total control over it. There are so many things to think abouthow to place everyone in the studio to get a good sound, for example; when you need to do another take. Manfred's instincts are very, very good.
"Manfred always wants to have this more intuitive way of working," Seim continues, "this 'in the moment' way of working. He has made a lot of fantastic records doing it that way. It's the same way he works when he records classical music. He doesn't want to edit. When you hear typical classical productions, not on ECM, normally there are many, many different cuts inside a piece, sometimes hundreds. That's the way they work now, when they work with a symphonic orchestra they record maybe two or three tracks and then they have a Tonmeister who sits and listens to every bar, and picks and chooses the best takes and edits them together. Manfred hates that. He wants you to hear the life, the nerve in the music, and I think he's often right about that. Even though I can hear mistakes and pitch problems on some of the classical CDs he has recorded they are still so strong. They may be flawed but they are human, and that's a very important issue.
"It's really kind of his trademark," Seim concludes, "he really feels that the music has to be made before the microphones, and he is able to do this because he uses really good musicians. You think of Keith Jarrett's Belonging Quartet, they play so well why should you cut anything? But also, I think maybe that's one of the reasons why he has won Grammies as a classical producer, that he makes recordings with live music, because in the end I think it is much better. I see myself on a similar mission. I have a large band with a lot of musicians, and it's acoustic music. I want to be in this tradition of making acoustic music survive, because I think it's so important. It's a very strange thing to me that people talk about DJs as musicians; I want to work for the acoustic music.
As is normally the case with ECM recordings, Eicher is also intimately involved with the sequencing of the material to create the final running order. "Different Rivers is mainly my order," Seim explains, "but Manfred made one quite significant change, so in a way it's his order anyway. I wanted to start the record with 'Ulrikas Dance,' which is now the second piece, but I think it really made it a lot stronger that he changed it to open with 'Sorrows.' There again, I think his interest in film comes in, he always sees a record as one long story. Many people have said to me that Sangam sounds like one suite, and that is Manfred's work, because after I experienced his order I decided, when it comes to the order, I would just sit down on a sofa and listen to what he has to say. I watch how he works, and it's so fascinating because every time I think he comes up with a great order that makes the record sound like a whole, like on Sangam, The Source and Different Cikadas and the new one with Iro; I didn't say anything. I just sat down and listened to him because I'm so impressed with how he does that."