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Arve Henriksen: The Trumpet is My Pen

By Published: May 20, 2013
AAJ: How strictly do you separate improvising and composing in your work?

AH: To me it's the same thing. I try to improvise and compose every day. I have my computer and my studio up and running. I have a room in the house where I can go and record, which means I have things ready. I can record immediately and I try to do that as often as possible. Some days I can do it for many hours, and I try to do a recording every day so I feel there is a momentum going. In that way, I feel music is a part of my daily routine. But it doesn't have to be a long improvisation or a recorded sequence. I can record an idea or a sound—something. I never compose conventionally; you'll never see me sitting with a pen in my hand and writing notes and musical scores. I don't do that. The trumpet is my pen. I play, I record, I listen. I edit the material, editing away some tones; I can add some stuff; I can compose by using my trumpets, keyboards or any other sound equipment. To me it's the same thing, improvisation and composition. It is my way of dealing with it. It is based on the way I find it interesting to work.

This is an enormous topic to talk about. Some conventional composers like improvisation and some other conventional composers I know are not so fond about what I do. They think it is some sort of a higher level of composing when sitting with a pen and write scores. But to me, the output is the same: that's audio sound. You can't hear the music just by reading it, at least I can't do it. To me, you need musicians to play the instruments and then you've got to get back to the audio concept anyway. So, if you write it down or you play it by improvisation, doing editing, or composing—you can compose something on the instrument which is fixed and defined as a piece of music. It can be improvised in the beginning and then gradually built upon, as I did with the Cartography album. Some of the songs there are improvised sequences in the studio or in live setting, but they have all become songs because I can repeat them. I can do variations. I can do "Poverty and Its Opposites." I can play that as a melody now, but then it was improvised. Gradually it became a fixed composition, if you want.

AAJ: What made you want to release a vinyl box set that encompasses your career to date?

AH: I had this idea of a box set for awhile, but when I released my first album, Sakuteiki, I had the idea of releasing that album also on vinyl but it never happened. Then I released Chiaroscuro, and I still had the idea of releasing vinyl, it never happened. Then I forgot the idea for many years, and when I worked on Cartography, with producers Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, I decided I would make a vinyl box that would have all my albums on vinyl. It took us several years, from 2008 until now, to make this happen. It was a long journey and I'm very happy about it. The reason why I wanted to do that was because I grew up with vinyl as the only thing to hear. Vinyl was, for me, an adventure. It was about opening up the the cover, pulling out the record and putting it on the record player, sitting and listening to one side at a time, and then turning the record over to the next side. The design of the cover was really important to me. It was magic to me. As a whole, it was some sort of a package with journeys that I could make with my fantasy. I had plenty of time to sit and listen to music. We also had cassettes then, but even with them you could listen to one side at the time.

When I was listening to music as a kid I was very focused. When the CD player was introduced I gradually started to scan. I would be listening to the first part of it and then click the skip button and go directly to the next song. You could scan through music. Gradually I discovered that I have become impatient. I could only listen to one song at a time. Of course you can do that with the vinyl by taking the needle from song to song, but you risked destroying the needle and the record [laughing]. Now there are downloads as well as a new way of scanning with all these options and gear. There are many, many, layers here and there are many good things about what is coming up. You can get all kinds of music that is available to you with Spotify and all those streaming services. That is amazing, as you get millions of song, but I don't think we will become better in listening by having this possibility. To me, it has become a situation which is more stressful; I have problems with focusing when I'm listening to music because I can scan into a million of songs. I can go through things faster and that is very stressful.

Listening to music has become very stressful. I don't think I have become a better listener as these new streaming services have occurred. To me, this vinyl box was a way of putting things into focus—good quality music, as the MP3 format is not good. You can hear what is happening, but the sound quality is really bad when we can have FLAC or WAV files. This makes me question why we have to spend so much time in the studio making good quality music or recording when people listen to very low quality sound formats. I think that is stupid, because we spend large amounts of money on expensive studios.

If you want to record for ECM then you go to Rainbow Studios [in Oslo], which costs a fortune. And why do we want to do that when we listen to MP3s? We can make lo-fi recordings which are very cheap. To me, this box is a signal to people to listen to good quality recordings for good quality music. I think that the vinyl is a fantastic medium to present music. It has a character. The box set has liner notes written by All About Jazz editor John Kelman and BBC radio host Fiona Talkington. I'm very happy to do this, I feel very honored to have Rune Grammofon releasing it. I think this was very important, at this point in my career, to do that, and the response from the Norwegian press has been very good. Generally, they think this is a very good album, with emphasis on the quality of the recorded material. Many people are very tired of the MP3 format and this is one of the reasons why this box received such positive reviews, so far.

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Download jazz mp3 “Plume of Ash” by Arve Henriksen