I’ve just come back from 3 days in Oslo, thanks to the endless contact book and contagious enthusiasm of Fiona Talkington (Radio 3 Late Junction, Scene Norway, etc. etc.) and also the kind support of the Norwegian Embassy in London.
The trip centred around seeing Garth Knox and Unni Løvlid perform their (very) new and stunning collaboration curated by Fiona for her ‘Conexions’ series with the venue Riksscenen. The trip extended into meetings and conversations with Nymusikk, Ultima Festival, Nordsk Jazz Forum and some of Fiona’s (and my) favorite musicians.
I have to admit that many of my perceptions of Norway were formed by the covers of ECM albums and the evocative soundscapes of artists like Arve Henriksen and Terje Insungset (all that snow and months of darkness you know!). That, linked with the obvious (but changing) financial differences between Norway and the UK and the fact that they trounced us in the race to the south pole (primarily by being just better, albeit a bit full of it), made the approach irrationally daunting for me.
Luckily I’m not Scott and the Norwegian music scene isn’t Amundsen; I’ve rarely felt so welcomed. The overriding experience was of a group of people who think deeply about what it is they do and why. We talked of little else, and actually managed to achieve many great, solid, creative things as well as talking about them. Time will tell, but the major things I’ve taken away from the trip (other than some nice but overpriced duty free chocolate with Fjord pictures on) is a much stronger sense in my own head of the validity of all our approaches to music.
Almost all of my strongest, fastest and sometimes only reactions to music are emotional. Scraping my way through a music degree and ending up (happily) in the promotion of contemporary music (note the small ‘c’, though we do big ‘C’ too sometimes) I’ve always felt rather guilty about this. So much rigorous and challenging thought goes into festivals like Ultima and programmes like Nymusikk, magazines like The Wire etc. that I’ve always pictured myself as somewhere on the other side of a binary divide from intellectually articulate places like this. It struck me, talking to clear-headed Lars Petter from Ultima Festival (in a coffee shop too cool for carpet in Grünerløkka), that actually (obviously) music is the porous divide between these approaches to music, a Venn diagram with the actual stuff we all get excited about fighting it out for our attention in the middle. In other words, we’re all right and when we’re wrong is when we say we’re not….
On the occasions I’ve moved through the music to an intellectual understanding of context and process which I can actually grasp, it’s only heightened my emotional appreciation. I love Countdown by John Coltrane viscerally because It was the first time I realized what it was he was playing (all the notes in the chords), not because I had a strong emotional reaction to it when I first heard it; I love field recording because of the focus it gives to our everyday experience and the fact that it allows you to think about that. There was also a strong sense amongst the people I met that there’s no point doing something (in our case presenting sound and music) without knowing deeply what it is you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what sense it makes given what’s around it. I must always strive to do that: my job as a promoter of music and sound should be to bring people in from all approaches to music, from the Venn diagram spanning both intellectual and emotional responses, through the music, to the ‘other sides’. That all sounds obvious I guess and I sort of already knew that but it’s still a newly internalized realization to me.