In January 2019, the renowned guitarists Ivar Grydeland and Henry Kaiser met in a studio in Oslo and, playing electric guitars, recorded a duet soundtrack for the Norwegian silent film Ellsworths flyveekspedition 1925, which is about an unsuccessful 1925 attempt by polar explorer Roald Amundsen to fly over the North Pole by plane. Norway's Grydeland is best known as a member of the trio Huntsville and the quartet Dans Les Arbres, while Kaiser is a member of America's "first generation of free improvisers." He has recorded so many albums with such a range of collaborators that citing any one in particular seems arbitrary and pointless. Despite mutual admiration, this was the pair's first meeting. Remarkably, the two met having decided to create a soundtrack for a classic Norwegian silent film, without knowing which one. After half-an-hour spent setting up, Kaiser suggested a short test recording to Ellsworths flyveekspedition 1925. An hour and fifty-six minutes later, they put down their guitars, having played for the film's entire length without breaks, thus creating a complete soundtrack for the film, in real time. Five tracks, running for sixty-five minutes, were selected for release on this album. The tracks' titles indicate the particular content of the film which was the inspiration for each piece. Given the above details of this album's creation, the resulting music is truly extraordinary. In no way does it sound like it was recorded by two guitarists who had not met before, played together or discussed what they were going to play. Instead, it would be far easier to believe that it was the end result of planning meetings, run-throughs, extensive post-production and mixing. As with any soundtrack music that is heard without also seeing the visuals which inspired it, the obvious question is, "Does it stand up on its own?" In this case, the answer is a resounding "Yes"; Grydeland and Kaiser sound completely tuned into each other's thoughts and their playing could easily be from a pre-composed score, albeit an impressionistic one which aims to conjure up visual imagery in the minds of listeners. (Anyone keen to see the film and soundtrack together should find that a Google search of the film's title takes them to a Vimeo page with the full film plus soundtrack.) On "Roald Amundsen 1925," with extensive use of pedals and effects, Grydeland and Kaiser constructed elaborate soundscapes of sustained high notes over more menacing, lower-frequency sounds. By comparison, "To the North Pole" is a conventional duo with the guitar lines weaving in and out of one another. Like the rest of the album, both effectively complement the film's visuals but can also stand alone in their own right. In whatever way the music is heard, its quality is beyond dispute. As a soundtrack to accompany a film without dialogue, it stands shoulder-to-shoulder as the equal of such impressive soundtracks as Bill Frisell's Buster Keaton films or Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi trilogy. As music heard without visuals, it makes enthralling listening and will certainly stand the test of time.
Roald Amundsen 1925; Spitsbergen; To the North Pole; n25; Into the Arctic Dreamtime.
Ivar Grydeland: electric guitar; Henry Kaiser: electric guitar.
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