Alive and imperfect

Some people see recording improvised music as a problem. Do you?

The way I see it, improvising is a way of composing music. I am always in search of creating complete compositions when I improvise. In this perspective, recording improvisations is actually a necessity; it’s the only way to capture those moments where a logical and complete musical form is created on the spot. Perhaps I will never reach this goal completely though, it is maybe not possible to compete with a real composer who has hours and hours perfecting the form.

It is hard to reach the same level of complete clarity. However, improvising may give some very interesting results based on the fact that it is much more intuitive. It will never be perfect, but it can be alive. As I see it, improvisation has some unique qualities that are hard to achieve through a traditional composing process. The result of an improvised piece of music will always be different than a composed piece of music, but that doesn't necessarily mean a lower artistic value.

In the 20th century, the relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema most importantly - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?

Visual elements very often become the dominant part when combined with music. Music is of course extremely important for instance in movies, but it remains under the picture and the story. I like music the most when it is standing on its own, and where the images and stories are created within each of the listeners. 

However, it's also clear that the combination of music and film has an enormous potential to create extremely strong artistic expressions, especially where the music is given an equal weight.

In how much, do you feel, are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences – and in how much, vice versa, is the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences?

This is an essential point. I personally regard jazz and improvisation as a kind of folk music. The most interesting music is, at least for me, where the musicians are using their full cultural identity as the primary source. I rarely become deeply touched for example by Norwegian musicians who try to play authentic American jazz, but I can smelt totally hearing an American jazz artist playing the exact same music. What you play has to relate to who you are, where you are coming from, what kind of cultural influences you have throughout your life. 

Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?

It is not important for me that the audience can understand the music. The only thing I am interested in is that they will have some kind of experience , that something happens inside them when they listen. The only way for me to achieve this is to go very deep into it myself, and to use my own emotional reactions as a filter and the primary source of development. 

I search and then I notice my reactions on what I hear or experience during the search, and when something does affect me deep down, that's where I start digging further. This has been my working mantra for many years. My hope is that the music then will have the potential to reach a listener equally deep down. 

Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience. But listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?

The dynamic between musician and audience is a fascinating aspect of a musical performance. I am very sensitive toward the energies coming from the audience; it represents a strong force and source of inspiration for me when I play. It is definitely a two-way thing. My approach to performing music is at first sight quite introverted, so I guess the audience has to be present and aware in order to find me. While I don't make a show or theatrical tricks to get their attention, I believe that if an audience is actively connecting to me, they will feel that I am strongly present with them. 

Music-sharing sites and -blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today? In what way does the abundance of music change our perception of it? 

Yes, the world is flooding with music these days. Everywhere we go there’s music, in shops, in elevators, always on the radio, on TV commercials etc. Also, it has become so easy now for musicians to record themselves using quite cheap recording equipment and a laptop, and the possibilities to have the music released is much easier now. 

It is perhaps a problem that we all get over-stimulated with music. However, maybe I’m naïve, but I still think that the need for real, deep and serious music will always survive, and the listeners will always be able to find those artists who provide this. 

Music is extremely important, for each and every one of us on a personal level. It is perhaps the artistic expression that is best able to touch people directly in their deepest emotions, without requiring any intellectual or analytic abilities. People need this. My hope is that people in the future will be able to choose more what they want to listen to, and then also to filter away all the things they don’t want. This is good, because it makes us aware of what music means to us. The choice belongs to the audience more than it does to the big record companies now, this is actually quite exiting.  

Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention. 

First of all I would like to recommend one of my absolute favourite musicians, my good friend and the other part of the duo HERO, sax player Rolf-Erik Nystrøm. He is just amazing. He plays mostly contemporary music, often with his trio called Poing, but he also does a broad range of music, everything from rock, African folk, free improvised etc. He has an incredible technique and he always puts a lot of personality into the music he plays. 

Secondly, I recommend the fine pianist Christian Wallumrød, who is probably known to many people from his many releases on ECM. He is a very inspirational musician for me. I am deeply fascinated by the way he blends the Norwegian folk music into his compositions and improvisations, and makes a unique and personal expression out of it. He is also a very interesting synth player; his collaboration with Sidsel Endresen is well worth a listen. 

To read and hear more Helge Lien, visit www.helgelien.com

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