on life, music etc beyond mainstream



A long time ago (how long, depends on your sense of time), two albums appeared out of some nowhere that can be seen as an early starting point for a new old; an old new kind of music: far away from the usual retro touch, Jan Bang, Arve Henriksen and Erik Honore (with the soulmateship of some other outstanding musicians like Sidsel Endresen, Eivind Aarset, Audun Kleive et al.) offered a highly original approach to sounds, immediately recognizable, yet surprising without end.

These albums, Arve Henriksen’s CHIAROSCURO (2004) and Punkt’s CRIME SCENES (2006) drew their inspirations from many sources: the ambient textures of Brian Eno, the meditative streams of free improv, refined sampling methods, distant echoes of new classical spheres and home-grown and faraway-folk, as well as the most introspective moods of David Sylvian’s chamber-art-pop.

After the Garbarek-generation a surprisingly new, thrilling Norwegian palette of melancholic sound colours was born (at different places, many more musicians involved than mentioned here, from Terje Isungset to Christian Wallumrod, from disturbing hinterland underground scenarios to arctic ambient explorers!) without any big gestures (well, Nils Petter Molvaer’s KHMER surely was a big gesture, but he wasn’t really melancolic in the first place), and miles away from the cliches of being dark and depressive, and yet managing to be dark and enlightening at the same time.

Some of these hunters of sound used such early discoveries (the two albums mentioned above were no stand-alones – think of Arve Henriksen’s early solo albums on Rune Grammofon, some soft standstill passages from Supersilent 4 and 5 (no complete list intended here!) as a constant source of inspiration, without repeating a formula.

UNCOMMON DEITIES (by Jan Bang and Erik Honore, 2012), and DREAM LOGIC (by Jan Bang and Eivind Aarset, 2012) are exquisite examples of those old new ways of creating multi-layered textures that flow softly, mixing the melodic and the experimental, revealing new details with every listen. Jan Bang’s solo albums “… AND POPPIES FROM KANDAHAR” (2010) and “NARRATIVES FROM THE SUBTROPICS” (2013) are essential stuff (though Jan could afford a little dramaturgic mistake on the former one, the groovy Jon Hassell-piece being just too long, a minor quibble for sure).

The “sound aesthetics” created by Erik Honore and Jan Bang (artistic directors of Kristiandsand’s outstanding Punktfestival) and their companions, can easily cope with stylistic diversities and disturbing ideas, but even the most promising areas imply the danger of being trapped inside a modus operandi working in “autopilot mode”. For example, think of Arve Henriksen’s album PLACES OF WORSHP (2013, recorded with the usual suspects Jan and Erik at his side).

Sidestep 1: This was Arve’s “Chet Baker-goes-Norway”-work: way too smooth, relying too much on its atmospheric “standard values” and missing holes and weirdness all along the endless way of “holy places”. CARTOGRAPHY (2009) is, in comparison, a roller coaster ride, a thrill-seeker’s paradise! PLACES OF WORSHIP works more like a tourist’s guide or soundtrack for the “Jakobsweg” – from the mystical title to the overall, uninhibited softness. It’s also a parallel to the time Jan Garbarek stopped creating exciting new music and was looking for a comfort zone of international acceptance, sweet melodies, old stuff and a spiritual aura that was much too close to “new age”-nirvana: trapped in a time-loop. All sharpness gone.

Sidestep 2: To be honest: a music critic can be such an unreliable factor: at first, I was disappointed by this record, then I liked it because of its rigorous sweetness (wasn’t it, in the end, a courageous statement to cancel all bleeding edges?), then I returned to my first point of view as an all too easy exercise in simple beauty. For all the good reasons, Arve returned to form with his “Sun Ra”-moments, CHRON / COSMIC CREATION (2014), a double album of wild electronic experimentations, and his new work “THE NATURE OF CONNECTIONS” (out now on Rune Grammofon).

Erik Honore’s debut album HELIOGRAPHS is the next highlight on this long and winding road. Aside from one shocking moment, meditative moods prevail; the calm, unsettling side of Sidsel Endresen’s voice appears and vanishes here and there, moving under your skin without using common language or ecstatic outbursts. Ingar Zach plays poignant and soft percussion, Eivind Aarset’s guitar enriches the colour fabric, Jeffrey Bruinsma’s violin strays (on his one and only appearance) through a strange territory of twilight zones, Jan Bang only occasionally intervenes with ghost-like samples – no doubt about it, Erik Honore is the central figure, yet working out of the shadows with his liminal melodic lines, samples, synthesizers, field recordings and other carefully chosen sounds.

Sidestep 3: When the release concert of HELIOGRAPHS took place in early September, 2014, during the 10th Punktfestival, Erik Honore didn’t just replay his compositions, but also offered new perspectives on the different routes the album was taking. But after this impressive (a bit too short) performance softly entered the “live-remix area” – Erik Honore and Italian saxophone player Raffaele Casarano shared the stage, and that became a real let-down. Suddenly adventurous settings were replaced by an overdose of melodicism, the sweetest sax sounds “Garbarek-style” were carefully wrapped into peaceful, thornless eletronic texture. Please, no! The most delicate studies of decline lost all their refinements within seconds. A revealing moment nevertheless, describing the thin line between intricacies and banalities. Easy to understand in the context: the 10th installment of PUNKT contained a bit too much self-appraisal and too many jubilee rituals.

Sidestep 4: Whenever, from year one of the Punktfestival onwards, from their first collaboration on CRIME SCENES till her ethereal expressionsism on HELIOGRAPHS, singer Sidsel Endresen guaranteed class A performances, if singing ghost lines along Jon Hassell’s trumpet, playing furious duos with guitarist Stian Westerhus (doczmented on a “killer record” on Rune Kristoffersen’s label) – or delivering an unforgettable presence at every moment of sharing the stage and studio with Jan Bang and Erik Honore. Where is the record that will finally show this trio a the height of their powers? Please: simply do it, enter a studio, throw away the key, look for a good catering service and, three weeks later, a masterpiece will be born.

Returning again to Erik’s new album, after the ups and downs of this year’s edition of Punktfestival No. 10: not for god’s sake, but for the ability of Erik Honore to be very self-critical, HELIOGRAPHS doesn’t deliver one wrong footstep – it’s a stunning album from start to end. On the cover you see the sun shining through a greenish coloured indoor area with bicycles, windows and plants. Like a visual interlude between late summer and autumn, and maybe one possible reading of the album, as Erik once told me is that of the shadows of remembered or half-remembered things from childhood days. There are no limitations to the listener’s fantasy: I once read the album’s tracklist, with titles like “Pioneer Trail”, “Red Cafe”, and “Last Chance Gas & Water” – and suddenly I imagined traveling through Edward Hopper Country (though there are no American signature sounds at all). And who says that deep listening needs any inner pictures at all?

HELIOGRAPHS is music for drifters, drifting through various zones of our conscious and unconscious minds, thereby creating very personal responses. It’s not the kind of music that begs for attention; it’s all too subtle, too ethereal, too dream-like for big headlines. But, very often, the things that last shine from the margins – and vanish with dignity. So make sure you get your hands on a physical copy of the cd or the vinyl edition (okay, a digital high quality download is possible, too) – there’s no reason for HELIOGRAPHS to leave the scene too early. It will stay with us for a very long time. How long? Depends on your sense of time, and your love of the relentless, unflinching side of fragility.

How to get Erik Honore’s HELIOGRAPHS:

International release is 21. 11, the album (CD or vinyl) can also be ordered from the label’s webshop: (The 180 g vinyl in gatefold sleeve also includes the CD.)

This entry was posted on Samstag, 22. November 2014 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Comment

  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

    The manafonistas year’s-end-lists will be posted from December 1st onwards, one or two every day.

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