Look, a blog!
As a sort of follow-up to my previous “Penalty Post”, I once again have to face the consequences of my own lack of continuous blogging, and attempt to cover the entirety of 2015, and the first third of 2016 in one single blog entry. Shudder!
If this continues, the next time I write a blog entry I will probably look like this:
Ch-ch-changes and ho-ho-honours
You might notice some minor/slightly major changes on the design of this site. My favourite design change is on the projects page. All projects now have lovely square thumbnail images with text on them. It’s hip to be square, and 1×1 has always been the “format of choice” as visual companions to musical projects – like vinyl or CD cover art. Going “all square” on the projects page means every project gets to look like a tiny record cover, which I like. And since some of the projects have indeed been released as albums, this makes it fitting to use the actual album covers as the thumbnails. There is also a new “Discography” category which lists all album projects, both “music-only” projects like my solo albums, the Molly & Partner albums and the upcoming Taiga Woods album, but also the film and stageplay projects which have also been released as soundtrack albums. Most of these projects now have an embedded Spotify player on their respective project pages (instead of Soundcloud), which lets you listen to the actual album on the rather popular streaming service Spotify.
Other keen readers will notice a rather significant update (for me at least) on the Honours & Awards page. Yes, the Norwegian Arts Council (Kulturrådet) has granted me a one year work grant (arbeidsstipend)! This means that the Norwegian State actually wants to help me with buying some time to be able to fulfil my own projects and develop my own artistic voice. This is a fantastic recognition and a great honour for me!
April 11, 2015, I received this package from NRK Radioteatret. It contained all the scripts for the rather hilarious radio sitcom FAMILI GHOLAM, written by Bahareh Badavi and Mathias Calmeyer. With a great ensemble of actors (featuring Toni Usman, Lavleen Kaur, Tonje Thwin, Assad Siddique, Johannes Joner, Anne Ryg, Andrea Bræin Hovig and Trond Høvik in the leading roles), FAMILI GHOLAM is a very silly and very funny sitcom, poking fun of everything from accountancy to terrorism.
Crafting the music for this project was a bigger challenge than I first anticipated. Yes, there should be themes, but there’s not really a lot of place for music, other than very short cues telling us about a change in the scene, like when moving from one room to another, or a passage of time (in true sitcom fashion). Yes, the family Gholam is from Iran, but the music shouldn’t just try to copy Persian folk music – for the same reason that we don’t simply use Norwegian folk music when describing a random fictional character from Norway. Yet the music should carry some clear indication of their cultural background, especially since there are no pictures, and the whole concept of the series and the characters are severely caricature based. It’s a difficult balance for sure. Also, the billionaire Oscar Schjødt is in deep financial crisis, and his whole character is somewhat sad, and his wife Lilleba is not very bright, yet their musical themes should treat them with at least a bit of dignity. Trying to craft a rather strange mix of styles seemed like the only way out of this mess… For the family Gholam’s themes, I ended up with string melodies inspired by Persian modal scales, some Persian percussion, mixed with synth sounds inspired by 80s pop, kind of hinting at what kind of music Fahranaz and Saman Gholam (the parents) might have been listening to on their first dates, way back… Tango inspired accordion and strings, with an edgy, sorrowful trombone would portray the sad state of the very rich and snobbish family Schjødt. Some totally over the top accordion themes describing the jovial janitor Torjussen, who never gets to finish a sentence, as no one seems interested in hearing his long stories. Add to this mix a main title theme where the Norwegian and Persian inspired melodies gets mixed up in a synth pop frenzy and finds the groove together, which is my way of saying that wherever we are born in the world, we’re still the same bunch of silly humans making silly mistakes, and we’re not really that different.
I’m happy to say that some of Norway’s absolute best musicians are participating on this soundtrack. The legendary Stian Carstensen (Farmer’s Market) on accordion, Erik Johannessen (Jaga Jazzist) on trombone, Harpreet Bansal (Rumi Ensemble) on violin and Erlend Viken (Erlend Viken Trio) on fiddle. If that’s not a dream team I don’t know what is!
FAMILI GHOLAM “live stunt” at Dramatikkens Hus, August 2015. From left to right (bottom pitcure): Me, Andrea Bræin Hovig, Johannes Joner, Anne Ryg, Bahareh Badavi, Mathias Calmeyer, Lavleen Kaur, Toni Usman, Tonje Thwin, Assad Siddique, Trond Høvik and Torgny G. Anderaa. (Photos by NRK Radioteatret/private/Dramatikkens Hus)
NRK Radioteatret wanted to do something special to celebrate both the premiere of FAMILI GHOLAM, and the tradition of radio dramas in general. So the whole team got together at Dramatikkens Hus and actually performed the two first episodes live! Not as live theatre, but as live radio theatre. With the actors in the centre and me on the left corner, I performed the episodes’ music on my Playback Machine™ (actually it was probably 10% live and 90% playback). On the right corner, Torgny G. Anderaa did a brave job of improvising foley effects.
In the autumn of 2015 I had the pleasure of composing the score to director Iselin Saga’s brilliant short film ERICA, an intense chamber drama starring Ine Marie Wilmann, Mads Ousdal and Anne Ryg. Later, in early 2016, I joined up with director Christian Lo (THE TOUGH GUYS, RAFIKI) for our third film together, and this time a short film – the coming of age comedy FROM MICE TO MEN. Interestingly enough; Even though these two films are very very different in character, their use of music is not that dissimilar, both utilizing a soundscape consisting of dry pizzicato strings and various melodic percussion, and a fairly minimalistic approach to melodic material, with a music that is kind of distant to what is going on in the film. In both cases, I guess it just felt right at the time.
ERICA (Still photo by Runar Sørheim)
FROM MICE TO MEN (Still photo by Bjørn Ståle Bratberg)
My long time friend, rock guitar god and stoner pop songwriting and riff making genius Erik “Scumbag” Skundberg, whom I have previously worked with in band projects such as Scumbag Travel Agency, Blodøks and Isme, has got a new and very cool band project going on. It is called Taiga Woods and Erik is currently working with producer Kai Christoffersen at Calmeyer Studio, finishing its debut album. I had the honour of playing the drums on all 7 songs during the recording sessions last year, and had a total blast doing so! When you live inside the studio most of the time like I do, it is sometimes easy to forget the sheer joy of just playing an instrument. I was actually a pretty good drummer once upon a time. And on every occasion I step behind the kit again, I find I should not give up being a drummer entirely. Because playing the drums is so immensely fun! Besides, when Mr. Scumbag asks, it’s very hard to say no, since his music is literally awesome. The Taiga Woods album will be released on vinyl and on all leading digital music services later this year.
The web based quiz app KAHOOT! has quickly become a huge phenomenon, with millions of users worldwide. It is being used in schools, at seminars, and in every thinkable situation where a fun, massively multiplayer quiz battle (MMQB, the new MMORPG?) might be just the right thing to jazz up the atmosphere. It has spawned a huge fan culture, and people have both been uploading the original game music on YouTube and their own fan-made remixes on Soundcloud, just because they love the game (and the music!) so much.I was contacted by the KAHOOT! team last autumn, when time came to try to take the music in a new direction. The result is the new “British” theme which was incorporated into the game as of January 2016.
The new lobby theme is basically a reworked arrangement of Alf Inge Wang’s great original tune, with a “British indie pop” inspired sound, with dry drums, nerdy synths, bells and glockenspiels. The same sound is incorporated into the new in-game music. The reception was generally very good amongst Kahooters worldwide, with YouTube viewers commenting with great enthusiasm “OMG THIS BEAT IS SICK” and “THESE TUNES ARE EPIC”. But obviously, you can’t please them all:
Looks like I’ve got a new fan!
The Merry Widow
You probably already know about that 1905 operetta THE MERRY WIDOW, with music by that French fellow, Franz Lehár. What you probably didn’t know (unless you live in Norway, which maybe 90% of the readers of this blog do anyway) is that it has recently been re-made into a 50% burlesque and 90% crazy musical, by stage director maestro Svein Sturla Hungnes. I say 90% crazy because there is actually still a sweet story underneath all this madness. And the music itself, masterfully transformed from operetta to musical by maestro Petter S. Kragstad, truly comes to new life here… I was hired to create all the electronic parts of the music, and certain sound design parts, supplying Petter’s already excellent arrangements. The whole thing ends in a big, bizarre and burlesque trance party… Once again it was great to work with director Svein Sturla Hungnes and an almost ridiculously talented cast, featuring Herborg Kråkevik, Hans Marius Hoff Mittet, Anders Hatlo, Trond Høvik, among many other amazing people! This was also my first job for Oslo Nye Teater, a place I quickly became very fond of, and hope to work a lot more with in the future. The play is in its last week now, so you really have to hurry up immensely if you haven’t already experienced it!
Trolls, trolls, trolls!
My long time collaboration with Hunderfossen Familiepark also continues! In the summer season of 2015 I made a rather large batch of of new music for the 2015 edition of the park’s TROLLNATT concept, most notably for the new stageplay ASKELADDEN OG KAMPEN OM TRONEN, based on a new script by Mathias Calmeyer, and directed by Bjørn Helge Warud and Marius Havik. In this rather hilarious new play, Askeladden has to compete against the big and rather dumb troll Galder to win the Princess and half the kingdom, in the form of a bizarre competition which closely resembles a modern TV reality show… For this stageplay production (adding to my already established TROLLNATT themes and songs from previous years), Askeladden gets a new folky theme song and the King also gets to sing a tune… that can only be described as “baroque reggae”. Yet another song was added to the park’s own fairytale universe for the 2016 winter season in February, a touching duet between a princess and her queen mother. Now working towards the summer 2016 season, I am currently finishing a batch of new instrumental songs created exclusively for the park’s major new installation “Lekehuset”, a big and colourful playhouse with numerous activities for young kids.
From the stageplay ASKELADDEN OG KAMPEN OM TRONEN, with actors Jonas Strand Gravli and Rebekka Opdal Christiansen. (Photo by Hunderfossen)
Making the world a better place for film composers™
It’s not all music making laziness, you know. I’ve also been fortunate to work behind the scenes, as the Norwegian representative of the Nordic Film Composer Network work group, with our continuing mission to spread the joyous word that is The Art of Nordic Film Music. In other words, the HARPA Nordic Film Music Award, which this year was held in Berlin for the first time, during the Berlin International Film Festival – The Berlinale. The award has now been expanded to consist of two actual award categories: Best Film Score, being the best Nordic film score of the year 2015, and the Honour Award, going to a composer of huge talent that has been making his or her mark in numerous productions for the last year or years. The Norwegian nominees this year were Knut Avenstroup Haugen (Best Nordic Film Score) for his masterful score to SOLAN & LUDVIG: HERFRA TIL FLÅKLYPA, and Ginge Anvik (Honour Award) for his overall great contribution to Norwegian film and TV music. Typically though, Iceland won all the awards, so the Norwegian delegation had to act happy during the after party instead. Seriously though, we had a great time!
Posing at HARPA, Berlin! From left to right: Me, NOPA boss Ingrid Kindem, composer Knut Avenstroup Haugen, author and musician Emília Rovira Alegre, composer and sub god Ginge Anvik and film music critic and karaoke god Thor Joachim Haga. (Photo by Lights Promotion)
My dear label Pling Kong Recordings continues to release some of my own stuff that I’m most fond of. Since the last time I wrote about this I have released two stageplay soundtrack albums: PEER GYNT: SELVETS KEISER and BRØRNE LØVEHJARTE (The Brothers Lionheart). I have written substantially about these two projects earlier, and they are both very dear to me. But I have to say that especially the latter holds a special place in my heart. It’s not every day you get to work with Astrid Lindgren’s dark children’s classic, an immensely moving story that so many readers of all ages hold dear. And when you do get that chance, you kind of need to do a good job. I made lots and lots of music for BRØRNE LØVEHJARTE, a lot more than the album’s 53 minutes, so the cliché about killing your darlings really came into full fruit on this one. But I really wanted the album to work as a satisfying listening experience for all fans of not only Svein Sturla Hungnes’ incredible new 2014 stage rendition at Det Norske Teatret for which the music was made, but for fans of Astrid Lindgren’s classic novel in general. My hope is that I have done just that, and that the album can also work as a companion to the original book – without words, but with the instrumental score as the only guide.
About 10 years ago I recorded this solo album called Escapades. It was an experimental pop album, which was clearly too weird for the commercial labels, and too pop for the weird labels (today it would probably be labeled “indie pop” and maybe even be hip as hell – who knows). No one wanted to release it of course, so I had to take care of this myself, but not until I finally had my own label up and running in 2011. Now, ten years later, I am taking the first steps of continuing my pop solo project. All I can say is that I am actually making a new EP. That its opening track is called “Traces” and its second track is called “The Table”. That it will be full of piano, strings and synths, and be quite a bit more “pop” than Escapades, but still hopefully a challenging listen. That the lyrics will hopefully be a bit more meaningful than what I managed to come up with in my early twenties. That my new one year work grant by the Norwegian Arts Council makes it a lot easier to actually put aside time to do this right. And that it will hopefully be done before the end of the year. As they say – watch this space!
Lots of other stuff has happened during the last 16 months too. I’ve found the love of my life, visited a marzipan museum in Estonia, and discovered my new all-time favourite animal: The capybara!!!