Scene Norway 2 at King's Place

John Kelman By

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Scene Norway 2
Artist-in-Residence: Nils Petter Molvær
King's Place,
London, UK
November 15-17, 2013

Walking into King's Place, in London, England, is an experience in itself. A building opened in 2008 near King's Cross station in downtown London, it was built with the kind of foresight that is rare these days. Above ground is office space, largely occupied by The Guardian newspaper, along with two restaurants and a large, welcoming open space with plenty of comfortable seating for people to meet, work and socialize together.

But it's the below-ground space that has garnered the building its greater reputation. Home to an art gallery, a beautiful box-in-a-box theater that seats approximately 450 people, a second space that seats about 250 and other rooms usable as rehearsal spaces or for conferences, King's Place CEO Peter Millican—also the man responsible for its original concept and actual construction—has been responsible for placing the venue on the international map in the relatively short space of five years. Regular series are hosted, including Not So Silent Movies, where a group of musicians create in-the-moment soundtracks to films that they've not only not seen, but which they are unaware of until concert time, Folk Union, dedicated to folk and world music; and Out Hear, which provides a space for more left-of-center interests.

Millican is understandably proud of what he's built. He describes the genesis of King's Place:

Millican goes on to explain the cost of building King's Place, its overall organizational structure with respect to its artistic programming, and some of the programs that have been offered there, including this year's Bach Unwrapped:

King's Place ha s hosted a number of one-time special events. Scene Norway—the 10-day event curated by host of BBC Radio 3's Late Junction, Fiona Talkington, was its very first—brought some of that country's best music to London under a single umbrella, including a three-day Punkt Festival that mirrored the annual live remix event in Kristiansand, Norway that will be hitting its 10th anniversary in 2014. Scene Norway was, in fact, King's Place's opening event, and was so successful that it was only a matter of time before a follow-up was planned. Scene Norway 2 took place between November 15 and 17, 2013 and, while the impact of the economy in Britain meant it was a smaller affair of just three days, it provided Talkington with the opportunity to apply a much more specific focus.

Millian discusses his love of Norwegian music, and how the two Scene Norway events came about:

Fiona Talkington picks up the story:

But with only three days and a relative handful of shows to program, how to find a connective thread that would tie everything together? One obvious idea was to select a specific musician as Artist-in-Residence—and Talkington would have been hard-pressed to find anyone more suitable than Nils Petter Molvaer. Emerging in the 1980s in Masqualero (along with Tore Brunborg, Jon Balke, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen), the trumpeter/composer truly shook the world with his debut as a leader, Khmer (ECM, 1997). But with an exhibition already planned at King's place to celebrate, beginning at the same time, the artwork of Norwegian painter Ørnulf Opdahl, another thread appeared. Both Opdahl and Molvær come from Ålesund, along the country's west coast, which includes the trumpeter's birthplace, Sula, an island at the nexus of a number of fjords.

Talkington explains her reasons for choosing Molvær:

With Molvær, Opdahl and Ålesund as starting points, Talkington went on to program the rest of her series, which included intrepid experimental vocalist Sidsel Endresen, collaborating with British turntable sound sculptor Philip Jeck; Spin Marvel, the Anglo-Norwegian group started by drummer Martin France that occasionally features Molvær as a guest; Norwegian singer/songwriter (and, also hailing from Ålesund) Hilde Marie Kjersem; Ålesund-born Hardanger fiddler Annbjørg Lien, in collaboration with Swedish guitarist Roger Tallroth; King's Place's Not So Silent Movies series, with guests Molvær and Jan Bang (one-half of the team that, along with Erik Honore, created and continues to curate the Punkt Festival); and, finally, a Saturday afternoon family event featuring another Ålesunder, Maria Parr, author of the award-winning Norwegian children's book Waffle Hearts (Walker, 2013), recently translated into English by Guy Puzey, with Parr reading an excerpt in Norwegian and Talkington a section in English, all with the occasional improvised musical backing of Molvær, in collaboration with fellow trumpeter Alex Bonney and bassist/electronics artist Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, two members of Britain's esteemed Loop Collective:

Talkington continues to explain the reasoning behind the rest of her programming for Scene Norway 2:

Putting on an event like this was no easy task, and required no shortage of funding, but thankfully Talkington's connections, both in London and Norway, served her well and, after the first evening's events was already considered a success by all concerned:

While Opdahl's exhibition was not technically a part of Scene Norway 2, its evocation of the ruggedly beautiful Ålesund landscapes—as well as others found during a trip to Greenland—provided a visual dovetail to the music taking place in King's Place's two concert halls. Opdahl's own story is an intriguing and compelling one—and one that intersects, in some ways, with Molvær's own:

After three years, Opdahl moved back to Ålesund, to focus his work on his home:

Of course, painting landscapes was much different than the academic instruction Opdahl received in Oslo:

Opdahl's approach may be traditional in its techniques, but the results are anything but; impressionistic pieces where far more is implied than is actually there:

His series of Greenland pieces, also on display at the exhibition, had a different beginning:

Opdahl's travels have taken him as far south as the Antarctic. But while some artists make sketches that are transferred directly to what become finished pieces, in Opdahl's case, both his medium and purpose are quite different:

Opdahl's exhibition may reflect some of his most recent work, but he tends to work on multiple pieces at the same time, and so already has plenty more on the go:

Friday, November 15: Nils Petter Molvær Solo / Annbjørg Lien with Roger Tallroth

With Nils Petter Molvær the Scene Norway 2 Artist-in-Residence, it was an opportunity, as Talkington said, to really explore the breadth and depth of this Norwegian star. His first show, the opener to the event, was an early highlight: a solo performance—or, almost solo, since it was, in fact, a collaboration with the artist who has been the trumpeter's constant companion longer than anyone else. Visual artist Tord Knudsen is not just "a lighting engineer," he's a fully improvising artist who walks into most venues with just a couple of projectors, some small video cameras and a laptop computer; after that he works with whatever the venue has, and Hall One at King's Place clearly gave him plenty with which to work—more, perhaps, than most venues, from lighting spread around the balcony to a seemingly countless number of available lights on the high ceiling of the room.

Performing solo is an exhausting undertaking for any artist, especially if it's entirely improvised. Performing for a full hour, Molvær utilized some programming on a laptop to provide harmonic and rhythmic contexts to his set, but how and when he used them was not planned, and what he played over top of them was absolutely in-the-moment. As has been noted in other recent reviews of Molvær performances, he seems to be going back to his distinctive and utterly beautiful acoustic tone more often, and it's been a most welcome decision; not that he didn't employ effects like pitch shifters, delays, reverbs and more, but there were far more instances where he relied solely on the acoustic tone he's honed over the past three decades, one predicated on a unique approach to embouchure that's resulted in a sound which may have its precedents, most notably in Fourth World progenitor Jon Hassell, but which has always been less about imitation and more about inspiration.

The beautiful acoustics of King's Place's Hall One were rendered even better thanks to the participation of Norway's Johnny Skalleberg—a sound engineer who also has a long history with Molvær and who ensured what reached the sold-out audience was as pristine, expansive and, at times, visceral as the trumpeter's music demanded. Whether he was playing acoustic or processed horn, singing into the bell of his heavily effected horn, or adding thundering percussive beats from his laptop, Molvær wasn't just seen and heard throughout the room, he was felt. Atmospherics juxtaposed with near tribal pulses, all mirrored by Knudsen's compelling imagery, which included massively altered images of Molvær on the projection screen, strobe-like lights flashing, seemingly randomly, across the ceiling of the hall, and occasional upward bursts of light emanating from the floor around the balcony.

All-in-all, a strong opener, about which Molvær had to say:

Referencing his forthcoming album, Switch (Sula, 2014)—his first true release as a leader since 2011's tremendous trio recording, Baboon Moon ( Sula), with this year's Moritz von Oswald collaboration, 1/1 (EmArcy, 2013) more of a side project—the trumpeter said:

Molvær's upcoming record may surprise those familiar with the recordings he's made since Khmer, but it simply reflects his desire to move forward and to relentlessly change and evolve:

Molværremains an important part of the Punkt axis, working regularly with co-Artistic Director Jan Bang, including a stellar trio show with Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu at the 2013 ELBJazz Festival in Hamburg, Germany earlier this year. But Punkt has always been about an expanding network of musicians, and so it's no surprise that the trumpeter has plans to work with Bang and another electronics/remix artist who first appeared at Punkt in 2012 but so impressed the festival that he was invited back for this year's edition:

But beyond Switch and work with Bang and Vladislav Delay, Molvær continues to think ahead to new projects. It would be imprecise to suggest he has a five-year plan, but his mind is clearly thinking beyond the next album and tour:

Back to Scene Norway 2, as part of King's Place's ongoing Folk Union series, Talkington brought Hardanger fiddler Annbjørg Lien as the second show of Scene Norway 2's first evening. The Ålesunder delivered a largely joyful set of traditional folk music, collaborating with Swedish guitarist Roger Tallroth, whose recent recording with fellow guitarist Scott Nygaard, Rosco (Self Produced, 2009), and also featuring fiddler Emma Reid, provided plenty of evidence of Tallroth's simpatico with the instrument. Tallroth was also a constant companion with Lien, appearing on all of the fiddler's recordings from Felefeber (Grappa, 1994) through to Aliens Alive (Grappa, 2001).

The two may not have recorded together in over a decade, but the chemistry they share has clearly remained intact. Tallroth used only an acoustic 12-string guitar, but with an altered tuning that meshed beautifully with Lien's Hardanger fiddle—an instrument came from the Hardanger region of Norway and, along with four strings played with a bow, also includes either four or five additional strings that resonate sympathetically with those played, not unlike a sitar, though the effect is far more subtle.
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