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Posts tagged ‘Arve Henriksen’

The Height of the Reeds

Humber Bridge 1Halfway through the 40-minute walk across the Humber Bridge on Saturday,  I started to slow down. Eventually I came to a halt and just stood there, looking out over the water. The reason: I wanted to enjoy the music.

What music? A sound installation titled The Height of the Reeds, a contribution by Opera North to Hull’s year as the UK’s City of Culture. It was composed by and features three of my favourite Norwegian musicians — the trumpeter/singer Arve Henriksen, the sampling wizard Jan Bang and the guitarist Eivind Aarset — in collaboration with the Hull-based sound artist Jez riley French, who made field recordings of the noises emitted by the suspension bridge’s component parts, including the resonances of its vast anchor chambers and the creaking of its many steel wires. The arrangements for Opera North’s orchestra and chorus are by another Norwegian, Aleksander Waaktar. Also embedded in the piece are translations of words by the Norwegian poet Nils Christian Moe-Repstad, read by three Hull voices: the actors Barrie Rutter and Maureen Lipman and seven-year-old Katie Smith, a pupil at a local primary school.

You listen to it on a pair of headphones attached to a small receiver worn on a lanyard. The piece lasts 41 minutes; it’s in eight sections, each transition triggered at a particular point during the 2.2km walk across the bridge. It begins quietly, with some of the sounds recorded by French, and with the young girl’s voice. Thereafter I was too busy listening to take notes, but there are several passages of heart-stopping beauty as the music accompanies your journey from the north to the south shore. Were it available on CD, I’d have bought one as soon as the walk was over, and I imagine many others will feel the same.

As for the bridge itself, you can’t spend time in proximity to such a thing without admiring the genius of the civil engineers who turned an architect’s design into physical reality. I was awed by the sheer mass of the tilted and tiered concrete blocks holding down the structure at either end, the soaring simplicity of the two towers, and — most of all — the sense of countless lines and points of tension held in stasis by spun steel wires (well, not exactly stasis: the centre of the bridge, which carries four lanes of traffic with a walkway on either side, is designed to accept lateral movement of 4m in high winds).

All sorts of thoughts cross your mind: some to do with the weather, which is liable to change during your passage, and others concerning the landscape’s ancient history and its reshaping in the age of human intervention. As you approach the southern shore, you see a bed of reeds, a muted orange against the pale grey-brown river and the dark green of the riverbank. Visible in the far distance are the steel chimneys of an oil refinery, an arrangement of silver pipes looking like some strange percussion instrument from another world.

The good news is that the installation is open to the public for the month of April; the bad news is that all 5,000 tickets have already been sold. In the light of that success, it’s hard to believe that Opera North and the Hull authorities won’t find a way of prolonging its run. The bridge was opened in 1982 and has a design life of 120 years, so future generations could be enjoying this remarkable creative response almost a century hence. I hope they get that chance.

Philip Clemo at Kings Place

philip-clemoPhilip Clemo did well to attract Arve Henriksen not only to play on his sixth album but to participate as a member of the octet that launched Dream Maps in Kings Cross last night. The Scottish-born guitarist and composer’s work was greatly enhanced by the contribution of the Norwegian trumpeter and singer, who proved himself an excellent team player as Clemo’s soundscapes unfolded beneath a screen on which film of tundras, mountains and oceans gave an indication of the music’s subtexts.

The cellist Emily Burridge, Sarah Homer on clarinets and soprano saxophone, Steven Hill on guitar, Martyn Barker on drums, Simon Edwards on  bass guitar and the singer Evi Vine were the other members of the octet, which concentrated mostly on pieces from the new album. Gently insistent grooves, to which the combined texture of cello and bass clarinet added an interesting flavour, alternated with jangly folk-like structures in which the guitars came to the fore. Henriksen’s improvisations on regular and pocket trumpet were the highlights, but he also joined Vine and Clemo in vocal passages which made use of distortion, both natural and electronic.

Artfully mixed together with recordings of heartbeats and water by the sound engineer Phill Brown, the music washed gently but insistently over the clearly beguiled near-capacity crowd in Kings Place’s Hall 2. A term like “ambient trance” might have been evoked, but there was substance, too. The occasional rough edge betrayed the fact that this was Clemo’s first live gig in 10 years; its success should encourage him. And Dream Maps — on which Henry Lowther, B. J. Cole, John Edwards and others also make appearances — is well worth investigating by anyone who enjoys the territory explored by the likes of Jon Hassell (with and without Brian Eno), Jakob Bro and Henriksen in his various other guises.

A place of worship

Arve Henriksen 2During a public conversation at the ICA a couple of weeks ago, Brian Eno mentioned his interest in churches as potential performance spaces. After all, he pointed out, they were built with the idea of providing an environment for reflection. The truth of his words was evident in London last night, when the Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen presented the music from his 2014 album Places of Worship in the Jerwood Hall at LSO St Luke’s, the deconsecrated and repurposed Anglican church built in Clerkenwell by Nicholas Hawksmoor and John James in 1733.

Thanks to a painstakingly sympathetic restoration, there isn’t a nicer place in London to listen to music. It certainly provided the perfect setting for Henriksen’s marvellous invention, a sequence of impressionistic pieces inspired by churches, chapels, cathedrals, cemeteries and other such places around the world, in which he was joined for this concert — and for the other dates of a short UK tour — by the guitarist Eyvind Aarset and the sound artist Jan Bang, both of them long-time collaborators, with lighting and projections by the artist Anastasia Isachsen.

Each musician had a table full of laptops and other sound-modifying tools, among them Henriksen’s mini-keyboard  and iPad, Aarset’s filters and looping devices, and Bang’s mixer and various other boxes of tricks, with a grand piano also at hand. There was a great deal of live sampling as they went about the job of re-imagining the pieces from the original album, creating soundscapes over which Henriksen could deploy his regular and pocket trumpets and his poignant counter-tenor voice.

The sounds shifted constantly in light, density and texture, making me wonder why we spend so much time listening to music that sounds the same all the way through — and also why anyone might ever have thought that electronically generated sounds necessarily robbed music of human warmth.

Henriksen’s extraordinary range of exquisite trumpet sonorities, from chapel-band brass to Zen-temple shakuhachi, found their perfect foils in Aarset’s great subtlety (including a perfect solo that consisted of widely spaced pings) and Bang’s artful manipulation of the available sonic material, including the establishment of unobtrusive rhythm beds. As the music and its visual accompaniment took shape over the course of an unforgettable 70 minutes, the hall itself, with its grey stone walls and pale columns, seemed like an equal participant in the act of creation.

Two kinds of modern beauty

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It was my friend and erstwhile Guardian colleague John L Walters who made the neat comparison between the experience of listening to the Necks and a stroll through an art gallery, during which the attention might wax and wane as the eye is caught, becomes absorbed, moves on, glances briefly at something else and moves on again. While listening to the Australian trio’s new CD, Open, which consists of a single 68-minute piece, I thought of a different analogy, one that works better for me. It’s like being on a long train journey, perhaps through several countries: the view can change many times in the course of the trip, gradually but inexorably, perhaps from vast wheatfields to industrial landscapes to valleys between snow-capped mountains, and the weather modulates along with the scenery. Occasionally you might dive into a tunnel, requiring the senses to adapt, and the landscape might have changed again when you re-emerge.

“Open”, which is also the name of the piece, starts with the gentle clanging of something that sounds like (but almost certainly isn’t) the strings of an abandoned piano being struck with a rubber mallet. Little cymbals are struck, a double bass enters (with the sort of sparse, sonorous, simple figure that so often provides an underpinning to the Necks’ long-form pieces), and a real piano makes its appearance, sounding a series of vaguely oriental arpeggios with the sustain pedal held down. Tony Buck, Lloyd Swanton and Chris Abrahams are all aboard, and we’re on our way.

The landscape changes pretty slowly on this trip. As it does, there’s always one element — perhaps the bass figure, or the tapping of a closed hi-hat, or the piano holding the key centre — to maintain a sense of continuity. There are quiet periods when nothing much seems to be happening, and passages of great intensity. In the first third there’s some fine drumming from Buck, whose ability to draw a lovely tone from his instruments reminds me of the young Tony Williams; around about the mid-point the oscillations of a single octave-doubled note held on a Hammond organ blend with a baleful industrial noise; there are several passages in which Abrahams moves between the quietly ecstatic approaches of Alice Coltrane and Charlemagne Palestine; and the gentle final stages feature what sounds like a choir of Swanton’s overdubbed basses.

It’s their 17th album, and even at this early stage of listening it sounds like one of their best, up there with Aquatic and Silverwater, in my view. And there are UK gigs — including three nights at Cafe Oto — to look forward to next month.

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Arve Henriksen is also visiting the UK in November, to play Andrew Smith’s Requiem (inspired by the Utoya massacre) with a choir and the organist Stale Storlokken at St Luke’s in London and elsewhere. In the meantime there’s his new CD, Places of Worship, a work of very special beauty.

I’ve never heard Henriksen’s trumpet (or his counter-tenor vocals, for that matter) sound as profoundly and consistently expressive, that ability to mutate tone and attack matched by some wonderful phrase-making and a powerful sense of continuity. Nor has he ever benefited from more lustrous electronic backgrounds, the samples and programming mostly manipulated by Jan Bang and Erik Honore, with occasional help from Eivind Aarset’s guitar and Jon Balke’s keyboards. As a tailpiece, there’s a pretty song called “Shelter from the Storm” (not that one), sung by Honore.

In his five-star review in this morning’s Guardian, John Fordham drew a comparison with Sketches of Spain. That had been going through my head, too, particularly when listening to “Le Cimetiere Marin” and “Bayon”, two of the album’s 10 tracks. I was also reminded of Siesta, Miles Davis’s soundtrack to a 1987 film (directed by Mary Lambert) that nobody seemed to like but for which Miles, with the help of Marcus Miller, produced some beautiful moments at a time when conventional ideas of beauty did not seem to be high on his agenda.

Where Open demands a proper degree of commitment, Places of Worship opens its arms to any listener. In their different but equally wonderful ways, these are likely to be the albums by which I’ll remember the year.

* The photograph of the Necks — left to right: Lloyd Swanton, Tony Buck and Chris Abrahams — is by Camille Walsh. Their album is released on the RnR MEGACORP label. Henriksen’s album is on Rune Grammofon.