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Kongsberg Jazz Festival 2017

Henning Bolte By

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Kongsberg Jazz Festival/Kongsberg Jazzmeeting
Kongsberg, Norway
July 6-8, 2017

Kongsberg, a former important silver mining town, is situated in the eastern part of Norway 55 miles west of Oslo. The Kongsberg Jazz Festival, founded in 1964 has a long tradition of offering a specific program for international guests (presenters and media people) to get acquainted with/learn about developments of the Norwegian jazz scene. There was a special festival route of the meeting within the festival that focused on a selection of Norwegian musicians/groups plus a few from elsewhere too as e.g. The Chicago Art Ensemble. This year Ståle Liavik Solberg (1979), member of the program committee of Kongsberg Jazz Festival, gave the Kongsberg Jazz Meeting shape and appeal with a clear emphasis on freer forms of jazz. He did it in close collaboration with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (both musicians are also organizers of the famous annual free jazz meeting Blow Out in Oslo). Solberg (1979) is one of the most colorful and dynamic figures on the scene especially in the way he combines a multitude of musical and organizational roles.


During the three days of the Kongsberg Jazz Meeting I got the chance to experience a selection of four vocal performances, covering a broad spectrum and each remarkable in its very own way: Trondheim Voices, Agnes Hvizdalek, Sissel Vera Pettersen (in a collaboration with percussionist Terje Isungset) and Karin Krog (in company of the two Englishmen John Surman and Howard Moody).

Trondheim Voices

Directly after arrival I had to hurry to catch the performance of the eight-piece vocal ensemble Trondheim Voices (TroVo), unique in its kind and its evolvement as a collective since 2001. TroVo is Sissel Vera Pettersen (artistic director), Tone Åse, Heidi Skjerve, Silje Ræstad Karlsen, Anita Kaasbøll, Torunn Sævik , Mia Marlen Berg and Live Maria Roggen. The group has just released On Anodyne, a vocal—drum work with Jon Balke's percussion group Batagraf based on Yusef Komunyakaa's poem from "Thieves of Paradise." In Kongsberg TroVo presented new work in progress making use of a new custom made electronic device called Maccatrol extending the possibilities of voice projection and control.

There are many possibilities to extend, magnify or minimize the quality and reach of the human voice that have been developed in our world's different musical cultures. As a break away from Western classical music different kind of extended techniques and modes of singing have been developed and applied to gain new ways of vocal expression. Electronic processing and manipulation eventually made their entrée. One of the famous forerunners is Steve Reich's "it's gonna rain" and his "come out to show them" from 1964. Extending and multiplying the voice (by looping) as well as interacting with its electronic projections is presently widely applied. TroVo itself however ís already eight voices! In their new work under the direction of Sissel Vera Pettersen TroVo work with a new, custom-made electronic device, the power controller Maccatrol, meeting the specific needs of just this ensemble. It has been fabricated by Asle Karstad, one of the great Norwegian masters of sound, artist in residence at TroVo in 2016 and regular sound designer of the group. The small device worn on the hip can be operated by each individual singer during the performance. It especially allows working with the performance space in special ways. It can relocate the voice's sound across the whole space such that you get migrating voices in a surround sound space (for further details see the links here).

Besides usual electronic manipulations TroVo work with the migration of the voices' sound, the physical movements of the group through the performance space and light design (by Pekka Stokke). The group members' physical movement through the performance space had been developed in earlier work in connection with a controller reacting on body movement. As a consequence the sound variation induced movement patterns vice versa—choreography of sound.

The new device opened new possibilities with respect to the emergence of the music from deep space, swirling through space, minimizing/maximizing voices' sound and curving/liquefaction of sound (see also the DrawNotes in the Slideshow). All could be experienced in the group's improvised performance. As a work in progress -working on dynamics, the aesthetics of diffusion and on the active perception of vocal music by the audience -it was a fascinating and stimulating experience that carried its listeners to a dreamland of the human voice in sound. The new work will be performed in November at Berlin's Memorial as part of Berlin Jazz Fest 2017 in collaboration with British pianist Kit Downes.


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