Sidsel Endresen: The Place to Be

Sidsel Endresen: The Place to Be
Adriana Carcu By

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Sidsel Endresen is one of those rare artists who, after covering a vast musical territory—in her case reaching across from the Nordic folk songs to the rich cultural heritage of Arabic, Chinese and the Japanese traditional singing—have created their own form of expression, and gradually perfected it into a new musical language. She uses her voice to process the immediate sonic environment into a musical presence that emerges like a new energy, both suave and highly technical, to meet and round its digital pendant right in front of the audience.

Ha! (Rune Grammofon, 2011), her recently released collaboration with Humcrush, reveals one of the many facets of an artist who is exploring the hidden potential of her own voice to address our sensitiveness in a most direct way. Together with the musicians belonging to the Nordic jazz tradition, Endresen has been engaged, for more than three decades, in the interactive pursuit of new channels destined to transform an ethereal form of artistic expression into pure emotion.

All About Jazz: What is your voice made of?

Sidsel Endresen: I think that a voice is more like a channel. This is what I feel after working with it for so many years. It is the muscle that connects me with the world; an instrument I can use for that purpose. The other thing is that, being part of the body, it is very connected to my thought processes. There's no filtering between, which is a good thing but, on the other hand, it can become very private, and I don't want that to happen. I want to be personal but not private. There's a fine line there. I also want to be able to move my perspective; to be able to move and look at my voice from a meta perspective in order to see how close I am to fulfilling a musical idea. It is like an instrument but without the material filter all other instruments have. There is nothing in-between. For me, the voice is like having a very happy marriage between your intuitive musical self and your intellect. They don't function well separately, and merging them takes a lot of time. Whenever I research something new I am more cerebral than intuitive, but then when I spend enough time working on these new parameters, it kind of clicks in where it belongs. In other words, being spontaneous requires a lot of pre-work.

AAJ: Was it a focused kind of effort?

SE: Not really, now that I look back at it. When I was a younger musician I worked within very different musical genres, and with different parameters and structures without having any kind of pre-conceived concept. Later on as I started working more methodically, particularly with the sound modules, the basis was already there, through my continuous work with more straight material. So I had a deeply grounded departure point in straight, pre-organized material. This has proven to be all-important for me in my current work with free-improvisation.

AAJ: Did you decide, early on, that you were going to become a singer, or was it rather an accidental course of events?

SE: There was always a lot of music in my home. My father was a classical violin player and my mother an amateur opera singer. I was around 14 when my father gave me a guitar and I started learning to play it, and started making songs. Probably around that time, I recognized that I could carry a song. I don't think I ever decided to become a singer; it was rather coincidental. It happened through people I met when I was very young, who were working with music. And it just grew from there, slowly. I didn't really consider my singing as a possible career until I was about 24 or 25. Before that I was into many things and possibilities. I studied social anthropology and English literature. I actually never studied music formally. I was involved, as a side-project, in a couple of bands—and we started doing some gigs in Oslo, and soon I found myself a part of the music scene in Oslo. No strategy here and, thus, a true surprise that so much happened from these local gigs.

AAJ: When did you start writing music? Was it the result of a maturing process or just pure inspiration?

SE: It was definitely the result of a maturing process. At first I was making very sentimental songs with the few basic chord sequences I knew, and then, when I started working with professional musicians, my level of ambition grew and, although I continued making music, I realized how much I didn't know, so I didn't want to show my writing anymore. There were many years when I only wrote the poetry, the lyrics, because I had been doing that since I was very young, I felt I had a strong voice there. In fact I stopped making music for many years because the musicians I collaborated with at that time wrote better music for my lyrics than I did.

AAJ: Did it have an inhibiting effect on you?

SE: Not really. It was rather more like facing reality. In the mid-eighties I started making music again. More based on my own musical ideas. In the meantime I had been gradually moving towards improvised music. So, you see, all my musical processes have been just that: process-driven and very gradual. Even now, as we speak, I find myself right in the middle of another learning process. It is a continuous challenge—and, therefore, a good place to be.

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