Nils Petter Molvaer: Colors, Noises and Moods
“ We are a small community in Norway. There is a quite strong musical tradition that doesn't have anything to do with the American music. We improvise from quite different platforms; we come from a different place. ”
Molvær performed recently at the 2010 Enjoy Jazz Festival in Mannheim, Germany, with FoodThomas Stronen and Iain Ballamyalso featuring Christian Fennesz, and is preparing to record the follow-up to his well-received Hamada (Sula, 2009) with his current trio that also includes guitarist Stian Westerhus.
All About Jazz: How would you define your music, in a single word?
Nils Petter Molvær: I have spent the last 15 years trying to find that word. I would define it as: open.
AAJ: How would you describe it in many words?
NPM: I would describe it as the energy created by the tension between contrasts.
AAJ: There must have been a moment in your evolution when you realized that you are a musician and you would be doing your own thing. Can you identify that moment?
NPM: Sure. I was 16 or 17 years old, and I was working as a bricklayer, building a swimming pool. I remember that at some point I told the guy I was working with: "You know, I think that I am going to be a musician." At that time, I had some private music lessons and I was playing in a band. Shortly after that, I applied for the music school and got admitted. I was in that school for two years, together with very nice musicians. Later I went to Trondheim to the conservatory, but I couldn't get admitted because I didn't have the secondary school certificate, and you cannot do the exams without it. I was supposed to attend the classes on the side, but I never really did, and almost two years later I left for Oslo. After that, things went very fast. Soon the group Masqualero was founded, and from then on I was living from music.
AAJ: When did you start composing music?
NPM: I stared to write quite early. At first, when I was with the band in the school I started writing the instrument parts, and I wrote right from the beginning of the Masqualero. I made a song called "Remembrance," and on the second album I started to write songs, which were kind of leading to what I do now. Then a strange thing happened. One day, a very good friend of mine, [singer] Sidsel Endresen, brought me a cassette I had given her in the late '80s with music I made on the computerI started doing music on the computer very early. I could recognize quite a few things there, and because she didn't use them I took those songs and developed them into Khmer (ECM, 1997). In those days, I also started making music for ballet shows.
AAJ: Can you follow an evolution course here?
NPM: For me personally, the work I did with a Norwegian traditional singer, who now is almost 80 years old, was very significant. I always liked rhythms and grooves, and I started to hang out in clubs and work with DJs, and then there came a time when I wanted to merge these things together. I was trying to find a form that summed it all up. And the result was Khmer. If you look at the references, you can see that I and Bugge Wesseltoft were working almost on the same thing but separately. We used to have a band in the late 80s, like a quartet, with Audun Kleive and Bjørn Kjellemyr as rhythmical section.
AAJ: And now?
NPM: The way I work now with the band is more open. What you will see tonight is totally improvised. It kind of developed naturally from the way I improvise. Now I try to work more with colors than with chords; I work with noises and moods. I make skeletons which I can interact with. Do you know what I mean?
AAJ: Yes, you can hear it! What factors have defined your style and your choices?
NPM: A significant reference leads back to the beginning of the '80s. In that time, I wasn't listening to much jazz. I was somehow tired of the trumpet, and I was playing kind of hard. Then I heard the duduk players, the shakuhachi players, also Jon Hassell the trumpet player, and that was like a revelation for me. Then I started working with the traditional Norwegian singer I mentioned before, and he told me how he experienced things.