7.1 Background, motivation, research question and artistic idea


Part of my motivation for this project was my experience of a greater nearness between myself and the audience when I was talking to them and telling them something (as I would in a teaching or lecturing situation), compared to the musical performance situation, when I was reciting lyrics or poems, singing, or working with sound in different ways. I already had musical references (Laurie Anderson, Amy X Neuburg, David Moss) that were absolutely part of my inspiration, but first and foremost the project was motivated by these experiences of nearness and distance in a performing situation. The difference in the experience of nearness was not only related to the situation of  “not fulfilling the expected singer’s role”, as discussed earlier (Section 4.1). First and foremost there was an experienced difference between being a musician and being a storyteller. I imagined this nearness through the act of speaking as being the result of an identifying process: if someone tells you something that you can identify with, through your own experience and/or knowledge, you start to know the person in a different way than before, identifying with the person through your shared experiences. I wanted to find out if the nearness created by taking the role of the storyteller could also bring the audience closer to a musical experience and the performance as a whole. This was also motivated by the wish to open up those parts of my musical expression that for some audiences might be experienced as being too abstract or alien. Working with improvised and sometimes experimental music, I sometimes feel responsible for making music for “expert audiences”. The use of electronic processing, the improvised character and the focus on sound rather than the traditional musical elements, is something that excites me, but: could bringing in a more communicative element open up this musical world for new audiences?

When this project turned into a collaborative research project, together with musicologist Andreas Bergsland (see Sections 3.1.1 and 3.1.2), I needed a more specific research question, and it was formulated like this:

Can taking the role of the storyteller in a vocal musical performance create an identifying process between the performer and the audience? Can this process open up for the musical expression as a whole?”

I will discuss some of the problems associated with this research question later, but this was my starting point and my motivation.

Developing the artistic idea

It was important for me that the story/text should be rather concrete, and come from me, I wanted it to be my personal story. This was because I wanted to come as close as possible to telling something that mattered to me, something beyond being a “performer of text”. For the same reason I wanted the story to be in my own language, Norwegian. I collaborated with the writer Siri Gjære, telling her stories based on memories from my own life. From these stories she created several texts, and the one I chose to go further with was created from my memories of my late grandmother. (The text I used can be found in the appendix, in both Norwegian and in English). I see this choice of text – a very personal story with pictures from everyday life – as creating a starting point for this project that is rather different from works I have heard from artists such as Laurie Anderson (ex Walking and Falling (Big Science 1982)), Pamela Z (ex. Baggage Allowance 2010) and David Moss (ex. the sound poem “What About Performance, Herr Wittgenstein” 2002.)[1] With this text as my starting point, I developed a kind of  “musical monologue”.

The experience I acquired from working with this performance was in many ways very different to that acquired from my other projects due to the importance of understanding the text semantically and of telling the “story” in a natural way. The text is formed as “scenes”, like memories that pop up in your mind with no particular logical or chronological connections. Still, it has a dramaturgy that leads us forward. It starts as being somewhat open: I am sitting in a car, just experiencing the feeling of driving at night –I am probably driving to my grandmother’s house. Then there are different descriptions of meeting – or hearing from – my grandmother, about her house, the letters she wrote, how she fed the cats in the backyard, how she spoke on the phone. And all the time there are small details that provide us with an impression of her personality as being a warm, caring and generous person. The last section also contains a poetic reflection on love, life and death. In the end a car arrives at my grandparents’ house. The “underlying drama”, as some of the audience in my “expert group” called it, lies in the fact that she is no longer here, and in all the grief and sorrow that are connected to the loss of someone like that – and in the fact that this is the story of our lives – we lose the ones we love. And we die ourselves -from others that we love and are loved by.

The text material here is not something I wanted to “play around” with, except in the shorter sequences. The music has to connect to the story, so even though it has been improvised to some degree, the components, the character and the form of the whole piece have been planned – at least for now.  I started out by creating musical scenarios in connection with each section of the story. They were produced through a process of improvising and trying out ideas, initially in smaller sections, without devoting too much consideration to the overall form. After this, the sections were put together and revised several times. The nature of the text was, as stated, very important, and it was challenging to find out what I felt might work with it from a musical point of view. I wanted the storyteller’s role to mix with the other roles in a natural way, and in a few places I wanted to transform gradually between the roles. Further, an important part of this process was to find out how the music could be transformed or shifted from section to section, both musically and technically, in order to make it “flow”. I had to rehearse the technical solutions, the timing had to be precise and my focus on the storytelling could not be disturbed by technical manoeuvres.

Musically, I worked with various parameters, roles and functions, as described in Chapter 4. Sometimes I also made use of the option of taking “my grandmother’s role” and imitating her dialect and typical expressions, both in pre-recorded sound samples and in real time.

During the first period of developing and adjusting the performance, I received valuable feedback and guidance from the author/singer/actor Siri Gjære, who created the text, from the writer/dramaturge Tale Næss, and from my research collaborator Andreas Bergsland.


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[1]  Fümms Bö Wö Tää¨Zäa Uu: Stimmen Und Klänge Der Lautpoesie, Urs Engeler Editor, Switzerland, 2002.

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