Eivind Aarset: Guitar Anti-Hero
The past couple years have been increasingly busy for Aarset, despite clearing his schedule of touring with Molvær. He has been collaborating with Arve Henriksen, and was a key part of the trumpeter's debut for ECM, Cartography (2008), an album that's been met with considerable critical and popular acclaim. In performance, Aarset's contributions are often incredibly subtle, his slower approach to sound evolution works extremely well with Henriksen and Jan Bang's sometimes more rapid transitioning of Henriksen's hauntingly beautiful music. "Live, Jan and Arve move much more quickly than I do [laughs]. Not in terms of fast playing, but in terms of moving from one atmosphere to another. I'm trying to figure out the tonalities of the different tunes, since Jan is playing a lot of prerecorded samples, so there is some structure there. I really like to play in this setting, but it's also a big challenge because Jan and Arve have played a lot of this material as a duo, and it doesn't seem to need a lot more. I really have to play and avoid destroying what's already there. I was very happy with the Kristiansand gig."
For the past couple years, Aarset has also achieved something that few musicians can: the opportunity to play with a major influence. Since 2008, Aarset has been touring and recording with Jon Hassell's Maarifa Street group, and hearing the trumpeter's return to ECM, Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street (2009) and in performance, it's no surprise, as Aarset's own approach to atmospherics dovetails wonderfully with the trumpeter's personal nexus where the intellect meets the physical. "For me, it's a really big thing to do," Aarset enthuses, "and I'm still finding that I'm learning new thingshow I should approach the music mentally for the gigs, and about his timingthat's really so slow, yet it works really well. I have to relax in this atmosphere, and when that happens it feels great to play with him."
There has been some talk about a follow-up to Last night the moon..., but at this point nothing concrete. And while Aarset has ceased touring with Molvær's regular trio after the release Hamada (Sula, 2009)one of the trumpeter's best albums in recent yearshe will be doing some duet gigs that will turn down the volume, a good thing because in the last few years Aarset has developed tinnitus, a hearing problem where loud music can cause sometimes unbearable ringing in the ears. That Molvær's trio with drummer Audun Kleive (and now, Stian Westerhus replacing Aarset with an almost diametrically opposed approach to the guitar) can be a problem for Aarset's condition, when playing with his own groupsequally loudis less problematic might seem curious on the surface. "There are two things," Aarset explains. "First, it's a different kind of loud, so to speak, with Nils Petter. In my group we don't use any beats and it's somehow these hard, programmed beats in the monitor that are the worst thing for my ears. I'm playing fewer loud gigs and that helps. I've also been trying to keep the monitor levels down since the tinnitus began, but Sonic Codex Orchestra is still a very loud group. The stage levels have to balance, and the expression of the music, it's just not soft music."
One suggestion might be earplugs, but for the kind of subtle sonic work Aarset does, it's simply not an option. "It's really hard because I work so much with fading sounds in and out, and morphing different sounds together," Aarset says. "If my playing was more about riffs I think it would be OK, but unfortunately I lose total control of the dynamics and sound when I wear them."
And so, for 2010 Aarset plans to continue working with his group. "I still play in a trio and the quartet with two drummers. But it's very expensive to travel with six people so it's only possible for the really well-paid gigs." Aarset will also be touring in a duo with Jan Bang, in support of the live sampler's first album as a leader, due out later in the year on British experimental singer David Sylvian's Samadhi Sound label.
Even more exciting to Aarset fans will be his next project: a solo guitar album, in the works for release in 2011. "It will be a big contrast to the live album," Aarset says. "Live Extracts is a document of the kind of expression that we as a group have established over the years, and I think it was important not to do so much editing, just keep the live energy and let it be a document of what the band is about. So now, the solo guitar album will be, I think, much more focused on sound; much more electronic sounding. It will also be interesting to try something so very different from the live album."
While Aarset may not be in Norway for this year's Punkt Festival, there's little doubt his spirit will remain. "Punkt is Jan [Bang] and Erik [Honoré]," Aarset asserts, "and I love to work with them and their approach. There's all that this festival has created, these new possibilities, and including more people in this sort of environment has been very successful and really interesting." Aarset has, since Punkt began, spent time with German producer/electronic/ambient music performer J. Peter Schwalm, and the two have plans for more collaborations. "It's very easy to work with him; we have a good connection, and it seems that every time we hook up we find new ways to work togetherit's very cool."
From Hendrix to Hassell and Miles to Molvær, Eivind Aarset continues to evolve a personal musical aesthetic that's all about breaking down artificial bordersbecoming, in the space of a little more than a decade, one of the most singularly unorthodox and inventive guitarists on the scene today. His seamless integration of technology, unconventional technique and broad harmonic and melodic acumen contributes to other artists' quest to define their own musical turf, and with his own small but significant discography, has carved out a unique place for himself that few can match. With a busy schedule that continues existing musical partnerships but inevitably finds new ones always on the horizon, there's plenty to watch out for in the coming years.
Eivind Aarset & The Sonic Codex Orchestra, Live Extracts (Jazzland, 2010)
Andy Sheppard, Movements in Colour (ECM, 2009)
Jon Hassell, Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street (ECM, 2009)
Nils Petter Molvær, Hamada (Sula, 2009)
Jan Gunnar Hoff, Magma (Grappa, 2008)
Eivind Aarset, Sonic Codex (Jazzland, 2007)
Jazzland Community, Jazzland Community (Jazzland, 2007)
Mike Mainieri, Northern Lights (NYC, 2006)
Dhafer Youssef, Divine Shadows (Jazzland, 2006)
Punkt, Crime Scenes (Punkt, 2006)
Nils Petter Molvær, er (Sula, 2005)
Arild Andersen, Electra (ECM, 2005)
Eivind Aarset, Connected (Jazzland, 2004)
Nils Petter Molvær, Streamer (Sula, 2004)
Ketil Bjørnstad, Nest (Universal, 2003)
Ketil Bjørnstad, Before the Light (Universal Norway, 2002)
Marilyn Mazur, All the Birds (Sunt, 2002)
Eivind Aarset, Light Extracts (Jazzland, 2001)
Ab Und Zu, Spark of Life (Curling Legs, 2000)
Marilyn Mazur, Jordsang (Dacapo, 2000)
Arild Andersen, Arv (Kirkelig, 1999)
Eivind Aarset, Electronique Noire (Jazzland, 1998)
Nils Petter Molvær, Khmer (ECM, 1997)
Bendik Hofseth, Colours (Sonet, 1997)
Marilyn Mazur's Future Song, Small Labyrinths (ECM, 1997)
Featured Story by Jan Hangeland
All others by John Kelman