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A Thousand Ancestors

A Thousand AncestorsThe picture of the oarsman was taken by the Costa Rican photographer Michelle Arcila, and is part of project called A Thousand Ancestors, conceived with her husband, the Norwegian bassist Eivind Opsvik, at their base in Brooklyn. The results are out now in a 12×12 box containing 10 of Arcila’s prints and a matching number of Opsvik’s short solo pieces for bass, organ and other instruments, included in both vinyl album and CD forms.

According to a piece on Opsvik’s excellent website (which also includes links to the music he makes in a group called Overseas with the saxophonist Tony Malaby, in a duo with the singer/songwriter Aaron Jennings, and with others), the individual pieces of music correspond to specific images. The artists describe it as “an exploration of family history and the continuing influence of ancestral narratives on the present generation.”

The aim, they say, is to “slow time for the observer, and allow him/her to perhaps uncover distant buried memories of their own during the encounter.” Here’s an example: an image and a piece titled “A Strange Gratitude”.

The images and the music are as easy and rewarding to appreciate separately as together. Arcila’s photographs — whether portraits, landscapes, interiors, or close-ups of flowers and graves — display a cool, poised vision that certainly encourages you to spend time examining them (here’s her Flickr gallery). Opsvik’s miniatures incorporate a certain amount of relatively gentle noisemaking while also featuring solo and overdubbed arco strings in passages of powerful lyricism, sometimes using systems-like structures, occasionally floating free. Like his partners’ photographs, they’re austere but approachable.

Both elements are strong on atmosphere. I’d sign Opsvik up for a film soundtrack tomorrow. And I might very well ask Arcila to shoot it, too.

* A Thousand Ancestors is released on Opsvik’s Loyal label. The details are on his website:

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