For the year 2017, Hull, a northern port on the east coast of England, was selected as the UK City of Culture. This led to the city commissioning or organising a series of artistic and cultural events throughout the year. One such event was the commissioned work "The Height of the Reeds" which celebrated the long seafaring relationship between Hull and Scandinavia.
Composed by the Norwegians Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang, for three months from April to June, the music was used to accompany a sound walk across the mile-and-a-third Humber Bridge, the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world that it is possible to cross by foot. The event attracted so many visitors that its run was extended to three months from the originally-planned one month.
So successful was the music that, with some minor modifications, it has now been released by Rune Grammofon. Although written and performed by the Norwegians, fittingly, they were joined by musicians closer to Hull. From the bridge, local sound artist Jez Riley French made field recordings of the river below, the noise of engines, creaking of wires, wind blowing reeds and so forth.
The choir and orchestra of Opera North provided atmospheric settings for the soloists. Two Hull actorsMaureen Lipman and Barrie Rutterand a seven-year-old girl read translations of poems by Norwegian poet Nils Christian Moe-Repstad to music arranged by Aleksander Waaktar. As the publicity for the sound walk said, "Head on over to the Humber Bridge, put on a set of our headphones and disappear into a sound adventure, walking the epic span of the Bridge, with a world of sound in your ears."
Although all of that may make it sound as if the music is on an epic scale, the album actually consists of nine tracks, totalling forty-two-and-a-half minutes, the longest being just under nine minutes, the shortest just under two. Across the tracks, a variety of sounds and settings are heard. But, as is so often the case with Arve Henriksen albums, at the heart of the album, irresistibly attracting attention, are the plaintive sounds of Henriksen's falsetto vocals and keening trumpet playing a series of short, melodic phrases that merit no other description but "simply beautiful." Admirers of Henriksen's past work need only know that The Height of the Reeds is fit to follow in the footsteps of Chiaroscuro (2004) and Places of Worship (2013). Newcomers to Henriksen can safely join here, too.
Come April; Reefs and Roots; The Swans Bend Their Necks Backward to Look at God; Height of the Reeds in the Wetlands; Is There a Limit for the Internal? ; Nymphs and Eurasian Horses; Waders; The Wind in the Willows; Pink Cherry Trees.
Arve Henriksen: trumpet, voice; Eivind Aarset: guitar, electronics; Jan Bang: samples, programming; Jez Riley French: field recordings.
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