“Influences do not necessarily operate as cause and effect. However, to recognize affinities in viewing the record of what was made and how it was made, initiates responses and allows disparate fragments to come together in unexpected combinations.”1 (Richard Serra)
4.1 Here comes everybody
The capacity of creating is difficult to achieve in a vacuum. Influences and inspirations come from everywhere; from working close with a musical instrument (and getting ideas directly from that source), to inspirations far away from it. In other words; ‘a zooming in and a zooming out’. Listening exclusively and inclusively to all the sounds existing inside and outside the musical domain, one learns to be aware of intriguing soundscapes created everywhere. One comes to understand one’s place within it, developing an understanding of how one fit into the larger, endless music of the world.
Concentrating deeply on a subject, like the saxophone’s sonics, causes endless analogies to collect around it. These could eventually start to affect the subject itself – positively or negatively. At times one is quite conscious of the influences and their contexts – even begging them to generate some inspiration. Other times it just happens without one even noticing it. In best cases, they represent a leap in one’s artistic practice. ‘Influences do not necessarily operate as cause and effects, as the American artist Richard Serra is saying in the above quote. It is a matter of how you respond to all the sources that can possibly inspire and influence you. To be able to find one’s autonomy within them. Then, impressions and curiosity can turn into gratifying surprises – leaps in one’s music could be waiting behind the next door.
The musical sources that motivate me and influence my work with the instruments and music are numerous: being involved in free improvisation, jazz and electronic music (the piano strings’ overtone structures, the trumpet’s split tones and use of the overtone series, the drum set’s texture and rhythmic patterns, etc.) Interpreting and listening to a vast amount of classical music, being captivated by composers like Feldman, La Monte Young, Lachenmann & Ligeti, as well as collaborating with composers in the contemporary music field. Experiencing the double bass’ (and other string instruments’) textural use of multiphonics. Having an interest in ethnic music like Norwegian folk music, the polyrhythmic song tradition of the Pygmies and the Sardinian Launeddas (triple clarinet). Listening to and playing the Japanese wooden flutes Shakuhachi. The spirit burning in the music of other saxophonists, from John Coltrane’s ‘sheets of sound’ experiments, to Evan Parker and John Butcher’s further development into more advanced multiphonic structures. Finally, the analogue and digital electronic instruments’ freedom and endless sonic possibilities, the ever-changing environmental sonorities around me –trying to transfer part of these sonorities and conceptual ideas to my acoustic instrument.
And, I have not even mentioned my – at times – obsession with the spectral transparency of Gérard Grisey’s music, the elegant phrasing in Stan Getz’s tenor sax playing, the electronic (and later acoustic) spatial idiosyncratic compositions by Éliane Radigue, the contrapuntal and free floating balance between composition and improvisation to be found in the recordings of Jimmy Guiffre’s trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, Shenai player Bismillah Khan’s energetic improvisational mastery, the projection and beautiful timbre of the classical saxophonist Daniel Deffayet and the overwhelming expressive and structural power in the music of Cecil Taylor.
Occasionally, I find myself deeply involved in a rigid study of certain influences, yet at times, they ‘merely’ resonate strongly with me on an intuitive level. Nonetheless, all of these sources (and many more) have sparked my imagination towards getting possible and impossible sounds to vibrate through my instrument - striving to get the sound of the saxophone to go in other directions (after all, it is a very distinct instrument and has a pretty heavy historical reference). How can it function as a ‘many-sided’ and subtle solo instrument within the acoustic format? Can the sound palette of the saxophone be further unfolded? I guess that’s what I initially, in this project, wanted to find out.
Sometimes the answer seems hidden inside the instrument – other times I have to look far beyond it. In my research, I have spent equal time concerning myself with this fluctuation between inside and outside. My multiphonic findings and the music I have constructed with them would not have existed without many hours of improvisation and experimentation with my instruments alone. However, the motivation and inspiration would not have been driving if I hadn’t also aimed attention at all the other sources that trigger my imagination and ‘inner ear’.
Some of the musical ideas that found their way into ‘The Poetics of A Multiphonic Landscape’, have come through working with other musicians such as Barry Guy (double bass), Koichi Makigami (throat singing and theremin), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Maja S.K. Ratkje (voice & electronics/composition) and Agustí Fernández (piano), as well as many other musicians and ensembles I have been involved in during the years. Obviously also through listening to a lot of concerts and recordings from all kind of music fields and additionally reading about music and studying scores, improvisational strategies, composition, and concepts.
It is not all about organized sound though. Some ideas emerge from being interested and curious in things outside the music domain of course: Fine art, dance, theater, movies, literature, philosophy, and politics amongst others. Naturally, all other phenomena and human interactivity that surround me have an impact on me as a musician. How could it not?
I realize this chapter could take up a lot of space if I were to dwell on all of my influences. Instead, I will confine myself to one particular impact that surprisingly became a turning point in the project. It contributed to a different notion of my instrument’s textural possibilities and ways of using them in musical events – particularly in terms of creating a spatial awareness.
4.2 Underwater sounds - diving for pearls
One day in late August, I was sitting with my saxophone on the lap, buried in deep, frustrating thoughts. The day before I had been playing a free improvised ensemble concert with some friends. During the performance, as so often before, I stumbled onto some interesting multiphonics. And now, while the sun intruded my studio room, I was trying to remember them and possibly explore them further. I struggled… they seemed particularly hard to unfold. The sonics that had been working so pleasingly on the gig were just not to be reproduced. ‘Why have I chosen to involve myself in this intense and solitary investigations of such complex sounds?’ I was thinking. I had a growing feeling of wanting to escape the whole nerdy path and find an easier route. Realizing that this probably would not be a particularly productive day, I decided to exploit the nice weather instead and ride my bike down to the nearby beach to wash off the disappointment.
Jumping into the water, I suddenly got a strong awareness of how the sounds below the surface resonated. I took a deep breath and kept my head under water, floating as quietly as I could, only listening. The mysterious impression it gave me somehow had a striking resemblance to some of the multiphonics that I was so captivated by.... A circular breathed sustained tenor multiphonic with minuscular variations in dynamics, small glimpses of high harmonics and a contour of slowly irregular trills. Furthermore, it was as if the weightlessness, the pressure on my eardrums and the feeling of having my lungs filled with air that also gave me the physical sensation of playing the saxophone. Had I not heard these sounds long before I even had been thinking about learning to play an instrument?
Growing up in Nøtterøy, a small island in southern/east part of Norway, the ocean surrounding it naturally had an impact on me. Consequently, I always had a notion that my many oceanic impressions had a connection to my music and musicking somehow, but I was not entirely sure exactly how. Although audio memory is fickle, I clearly remember the sensation and how I had been listening, almost meditating, while being under water in my childhood. With your ears under the surface of the water, one can hear the sound of the pulse and internal rushes of blood, and the pressure on the eardrum. Surrounding it all: The sea, with its ‘free floating’ oceanic currents, creating asymmetrical rhythmic figures and shapes. Noise, transients, and harmonics that continuously undergo complex mixing in both magnitude and direction. Because of the density of water, sound travels almost five times faster in water than in air, creating a different and fascinating soundscape full of textures to be explored. Maybe these early listening experiences were the first time I experienced that natural processes could have a musical quality. That the strangest sounds can potentially turn into music with great emotional quality. They represent, at least to me, a sort of sensuous memory.
The sound we remember is often replaced in our memory by a more recent version of the same or similar sound. I assumed that, in my case, this was primarily the sound of the saxophone multiphonics and probably partly the reason I have always been so attracted by them. One turning point in my project was when I decided to take these ‘rediscovered’ underwater listening experiences and my holistic encounter with them to full fruition, to see where it might lead me. Suddenly I found myself by the windswept Danish shores, equipped with a hard disk recorder, headphones and hydrophones (water resistant microphones). In the same manner I had hunted saxophone sounds I now started collecting underwater soundscapes.
It was as if a small river had led me to the ocean.
4.3 Field Recording
By starting to make underwater recordings, I found myself in a different artistic genre. That of the field recordist. Although I had not been working with field recording before, I had with great enthusiasm listened to the recordings of Chris Watson, so I was not a complete stranger to it as a listener. Now, however, I took up an interest in exploring other artists in this field as well as doing some reading on the subject, particularly what is termed as ‘Music Ecology’. In a paper by musicologist Maria Anna Harley, she describes what that may imply:
‘….. music ecology or eco-musicology (appropriate even if awkward) attempts to contextualize music as sound and relate musical sound-material to other sonic realities, both natural – of the non-human organic and in-organic worlds – and technologically created. This approach highlights the sensory aspects of music-making: tactile textures, spatial dimensions, and timbral riches that, due to their diversity and abundance, evade unifying tendencies of theory-making. It also brings in a renewed emphasis on the links between nature and culture, seen not as opposites, but as permeating one another in a mutual relationship.’
This field can offer a beautiful notion that eschews the separation between human and non-human environments. Furthermore, how it relates to the sensory aspect of music-making, resonates with my work in the project. Since I was captivated by underwater sound, I was especially drawn to the work of artists involved in that area (i.e. Yolande Harris’ Swim,3 David Rothenberg’s Thousand Mile Song,4 and Annea Lockwood’s A Sound Map of Hudson River.5 At fist, I felt a bit unsure about this stepping out of my own musical zone, but my interest was still my acoustic musical instruments and how to challenge and expand the expressive possibilities of these, not using the field recordings directly in the music.
Maybe that will change at some point, but for now, I’m filtering my own field recordings through my acoustic saxophone playing, letting them represent pseudo imitation of selected oceanic soundscapes, or merely let them act as just notion of the possible spatial drama they could inspire me into creating. While doing field recording I get into a hyper-attentive listening mode towards gestures and movements that are in a dialogue with space and dramaturgically interact with the context. I sense a growing understanding, of being able to listen impartially to the whole space/time continuum of sound. I felt like I had opened up a treasure chest of new possible sounds to come out of my instruments. In that sense, I do not regard myself to part of the artistic field recording realm, but very much on the side of it, using it as a method.