Thursday, June 18, 2009

2000 : 32 "Var" by Nils Økland

No discussion of the music of the Aughts is complete without reference to Norway's Rune Grammofon, perhaps the single most consistently intriguing label of the decade.

One reason this label's releases appealed to me so strongly was because of their eclecticism. They adhered to no particular genre stricture, and consequently they were free to romp across an intimidatingly broad expanse: their discography includes albums of electronica, modern composition, cerebral jazz, stark drone... They seemed perhaps happiest releasing albums that violated genre boundaries in and of themselves, or otherwise proved hard to classify. As evidence, one need look no further than their very first album, Supersilent's 1-3 (1998): a three-hour, three-disc set consisting mainly of free improvisational pieces that unexpectedly melt down into passages of electronic abrasion.

But today I want to talk about something prettier. Specifically, Rune Grammofon's 15th release, Nils Økland's Straum (2000), an album consisting primarily of fiddle music. It's very lovely, but no less of a damned thing in terms of classification. This track, "Var," for fiddle, piano, trumpet, and voice, is airy and drifty enough that it could fit on a New Age sampler without incident, and yet it's impossible to listen closely to the piece without noting its roots in jazz and improvisation. And Økland's playing the Hardangar fiddle, a traditional instrument of Norway, so maybe we should be talking about it in terms of "folk music?" Or should he be treated as a composer for the fiddle, creating something that fits that oxymoronic category, "modern classical?"

Sigh. One really shouldn't agonize over something this beautiful.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Nils Økland >> "Var"

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