Phase 3: Musicians from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Cambodia recording in Kristiansand, Norway (Spring 2015)
Although the pure responses were interesting from a research perspective, we did not see any immediate use for them in a musical setting, and decided to discontinue this phase, since it was time-consuming. We wanted rather to challenge the responses head-on in order to play along with the sources after hearing them once (or as they heard them the first time). This was, in fact, close to the intention of a pure response, or at least a variation on it. The important aspect was to capture and record the immediate musical thoughts from the response, which would likely be improvised in some way, even if this took the form of them playing a traditional tune from their own tradition. When performing this together with a tune from Norway, a new situation was created to which the musician had to adapt – hence the need for improvisation of some kind.
In our experience as musicians and producers through the years, it tends to be that one of the first three takes ends up being used in a production. A musician or artist will, in many cases, do five or six takes, always wanting to optimise the faults (in their ears) of the first ones. But there is a nerve and a presence in the first takes that is lost when you overfamiliarise yourself with the music. In every session we found this to be true. It is especially the case here, since in this project most of the artists are out of their comfort zones but nonetheless very focused in the first takes. They draw on their experience as masters on their respective instruments and past work with different music traditions. Each artist or musician had up to three hours in the studio, and this was a timeframe that we maintained throughout the project.
The musicians held workshops for students at the Academy of Music and Drama at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway, over a two-week duration. At the latter institution, we held several,´ separate studio sessions. A rare moment occurred towards the end of a recording session with the Khmer singer Ouch Savy, with Yun Theara on the traditional Cambodian fiddle, Tro. After hearing the tune Nystev by Berg for the first time, Savy asked the meaning of the Norwegian lyrics, went in to the recording room, and then improvised a new melody and new lyrics in Khmer during the first and only take, with Theara simultaneously following her melody closely. This is a unique skill that Savy has, and moments like this are rarely captured in studio. In a later session, the Syrian Qanun player Feras Charestan added his response. Further to this, we can hear the Nepalese traditional flute of Durga Khatiwada responding originally to the source. Here is a preliminary mix of the song:
The Lebanese percussionist Rony Barrak masters a wide range of instruments, specialising in the Arabic traditional instrument, Darbuka. As a response to the tune Nordafjells (Jew’s harp, Brokke), he wanted to build a percussion composition following the tune from beginning to end, adding layer by layer of different percussion instruments and rhythmical variations. Here is an example in which we first hear the source and response separately and then, finally, together:
Most of the musicians in this session responded to the original source, some hearing other responses on some tunes but always with the source playing in the take as well.