Robert van Heumen Composer Improvisor Laptop-Instrumentalist Sound-Designer
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Borealis re-visited

In March I visited the Borealis festival in Bergen Norway to give a lecture on STEIM and perform with John Ferguson from Culturelab (Newcastle UK) as Whistle Pig Saloon. Before the concert, we spend a day in the BEK studio, recording possibly the next Whistle Pig Saloon album. BEK is a place very similar to STEIM, although smaller. Many thanks to Trond Lossius, BEK's artistic director, for arranging all that.

The studio was on the 9th floor, with windows on two sides looking out over the bay and the mountains - a very inspiring view! Recording went well, first we were searching a bit, but things became more tight later. I haven't gone through all the takes yet, but I think there's some nice new material.

We also took some time to think about a structure for the concert, something we didn't do for the DNK concert the week before. My notes:

  • start free, John standing
  • after a while, go to a big buildup
  • after the climax, repetitive small sounds are leftover, very quiet
  • John goes into granular stuff, balancing the guitar/Wii
  • John sitting down, ebow & more plain guitar
  • back to textural, repetitive, Robert introduces the final forcefully
  • in general: stay a while at certain places, give space to eachother
This seemed to work well while rehearsing, although we found it hard to stick to the structure. And that actually happened during the concert too - which was a bit frustrating. I guess this has to do with our inexperience with playing together in a live situation (this was actually the 2d full set we did live) and also with my inflexibility to let go the structure and just play (usually not a problem really, but possibly also triggered by again unfamiliarity with John's thinking in a live situation).

Borealis 2009 was the first installment curated by Alwynne Pritchard, winner of the Ton Bruynèl price 2005 in the Gaudeamus Music Week in collaboration with STEIM. The program was varied under the theme 'George and the lion'. There were a number of works by Michael Finnissy performed by the Asamisimasa ensemble, works for a huge stack of organs, installations in a church, the Dutch POW Ensemble performing on the local race track and a couple of films being shown in an intimate setting.

The highlights:

  • MEM1 (Laura & Mark Cetilia) created a beautiful soundworld of subtly processed cello and an analog synth, building up from barely audible via high pitched screetching to waves of noise, moving between the 4 speakers with grand gestures. At the end, after 40 minutes, I wasn't sure if the chill on my back was from the music or someone opening the outside door to let the Bergen air come in.

  • Pascal Baltazar presented a number of improvisations, using crispy sounds and heavy bass, performed using a custom tabletop controller. The broad and active gestures of the performer and the well-balanced structures made for an impressive concert.

borealis-mem1.jpg borealis-wps.jpg

(photos by Thor Brødreskift)

More photos at Flickr.