1.5.1 Musical background

Operating in genre-crossing musical scenery, I see that many of my early experiences with music are still important and evident in what I do today. Therefore, as a start, I will explain briefly where I come from.

Like many singers, I started singing as a child, continued throughout my youth and started my formal musical training at the age of 20, as a classical singer. Side by side with Grieg, Bach and Mozart, I was singing in rock bands and gospel choirs, and gradually discovering and singing jazz. I was introduced to and inspired by a lot of records, concerts, fellow students and enthusiastic friends. In order to describe these musical influences briefly in a concrete and efficient way, “namedropping” actually seems to be the best method. Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Monica Zetterlund, Radka Toneff and Chet Baker were some of my vocal jazz inspirations. Jan Garbarek, Keith Jarrett, Jan Johansson and Chick Corea were important among my first strong instrumental jazz experiences. At the same time I listened to a wide range of artists; Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Kate Bush, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, The Police, Manfred Mann, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Bob Marley were among the most important ones, representing different times and styles in the field of jazz/pop/rock music. I was also introduced to a fascinating new world of classical contemporary music through composers like Stravinsky, Berg, Schönberg, Nordheim, Valen and Cage, and traditional music from all over the world, with vocal music from Burundi perhaps making the strongest impression.

Still, throughout my initial years of formal education, I think it was the meeting with Tom Gamble, the British pioneer of children’s music education, and his course in classroom composition, that made the strongest impression[1]. Gamble introduced us to a method for practical and creative work where the focus was on the sound and timbre of group improvisations/compositions. To me, this opened up aspects that I had never previously been conscious of as a listener, performer and creator of music. I see this as my first experience with free improvisation, without knowing anything about the traditions behind it. After teaching and studying part-time for some years, I spent the last year of my Bachelor’s degree course as a classical singer at the Music Conservatory in Trondheim (now the Department of Music, NTNU). I chose this institution because of the opportunities provided for working with improvisation; at that time it was the only place in Norway where one could study jazz, and I was lucky enough to get extra classes in improvisation with one of the founders of the Jazz Section, the saxophone player John Pål Inderberg. Meeting and working with a fellow student and jazz singer, Eldbjørg Raknes, in both the cappella group called Kvitretten and working with Raknes’ music for children, was an important inspiration and influence towards exploring further the possibilities of voice and improvisation. I was introduced to the music of singers who worked with the voice in a (to me) new and more instrumental way, some of them using alternative or extended vocal techniques: they introduced me to new ways of making voice sound, using special skills that differed from traditional singing techniques. These techniques were sometimes inspired by different types of traditional singing or the imitation of instruments or “real-life” sounds (like the overtone song and bird imitations of Shainko Namtchylak, or Bobby McFerrin’s “flageolet sounds”). I listened to the works of artists like Diamanda Galás, Maria Joao, Shainko Namtchylak, Bobby Mc Ferrin, Cathy Berberian, Meredith Monk and others. Further, the whole creative environment in and around the Jazz Department at the Conservatory in Trondheim was extremely important for focusing on different kinds of improvisation in further education and musicianship.

In 1989, during my period of teaching, I met the Norwegian trumpeter Jan Magne Førde, who used a small effect pedal at a concert with the “The Brass Brothers” ensemble. The sound produced by the effect pedal and the trumpet led me immediately to buy a similar pedal, and I started (slowly) to try out some electronic devices, which gradually became part of my live performances. I was not the only one working in this way: both my fellow students, Eldbjørg Raknes and Kristin Asbjørnsen, were experimenting and developing the use of electronics at that time. During this period I also started working with what later became the trio BOL, with Ståle Storløkken and Tor Haugerud. I return to the impact that this band had on my work with electronics in Chapter 3. My Master’s degree in musicology, with jazz vocals as my main instrument, commenced in 1994. My vocal teachers were Elin Rosseland and Sidsel Endresen, two great performing artists who have been inspirational for me both then and now. After years of professional practice as an improvising performer and teacher (and being a mother), I finished my Master’s degree doing research on my own practice (NTNU 2007).

[1] Cambridge University Press 1984, Gamble, Tom: “Imagination and Understanding in the Music Curriculum”.

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