Name: Ingebrigt Håker Flaten
Occupation: Bassist, improviser, composer
Nationality: Norwegian
Recent Release: Ingebrigt Håker Flaten's (Exit) is out via Knarr.

If you enjoyed this interview with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, visit his official homepage for updates and more information. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

Over decades of performing and recording, Ingebrigt has played with a wide range of performers, including Mats Gustafsson, Nate Wooley, Ståle Storløkken, Tony Buck, Mette Rasmussen, Bugge Wesseltoft, Gerald Cleaver, Gordon Grdina, and Jamie Saft. Find out more about them in our dedicated features:

[Read our Mats Gustafsson interview]
[Read our Ståle Storløkken interview]
[Read our Tony Buck interview]
[Read our Mette Rasmussen interview]
[Read our Bugge Wesseltoft interview]
[Read our Gerald Cleaver interview]
[Read our Gordon Grdina interview]
[Read our Jamie Saft interview]

Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?

I play an instrument with an amazing big range in both dynamics and pitch and I am still - after almost 30 years of playing the bass - learning and experimenting. I love dealing with all the aspects that the instrument offers and I always work on expanding my vocabulary.

I am a gut string player, and I think the sound of thick gut strings on a double bass brings out the wood and soul of the bass more than anything else. It changed how I play back in -93 and I can never go back!

What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?

I consider it two sides of the same thing but also two completely different approaches to the process of creating music. I enjoy working with both composition and free improvisation in my projects.

Both disciplines require an understanding of their respective history and tools. I’ve played / play with some amazing improvisers which inspire(d) me greatly and helped me understand and develop my own language. Composition is an ongoing study and something that I always want to learn more about to be able to get my ideas developed into music for my groups.

I feel strongly that both approaches to the creative process feeds and inspire each other but still feel like a novice to the practice.

Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?

When I think of materials I think - above other things as gear and physical preparation - of vocabulary and historic references ... and I think - aside for learning your instrument in and out,  it's key to the process to develop a wide understanding and appreciation of the many ‘dialects’ thats involved to become a more diverse and skilled improviser.

I can also relate to the history that improvisers like, for insistence, Derek Bailey came from with his strong jazz background, and then the need to move away from it. I think of myself as a jazz player but I have always felt an urge to move away from its harmonic restrictions, as much as I am drown to it. I’ve been very fascinated and inspired by the many ’school's’ coming out from John Stevens, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland, and such.

The Spontaneous Music Ensemble developed and defined so much of our music in the late sixties, as well as the South African musicians that were in exile in London that time like Dudu Pukwana and Louis Moholo Moholo which again drew with them their own musical traditions from South Africa and mixed it with the free improvised music, simultaneously as the free jazz revolution was going on in the US; what a defining time for our music! I had the absolute honor to perform with one of the late jazz greats from the South African scene; Zim Nqgawana for many years in the late nineties, aside for (still) playing with the amazing multiinstrumentalist Joe McPhee, which is still in his eighties and rocking it.

We’ve developed strong friendships, and playing with them, alongside so many others, have been some of my most important experiences and been shaping me as an improviser! It’s been both transformable and stimulating.
Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a  group compare to a solo situation?

Yes! John Stevens and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble defined the standard for so much of the European Improvised music today, one of my ALL TIME favorites is the Karyobin album!  

And what you mention here make absolutely sens to me. I feel that playing (improvised) music is all about being able to hear each other and create together. I think a shared understanding of the history we’re all coming from is as important and again creates an understanding of which we draw our music from and makes us able to create new experiences from together. After all we’re living in 2021 and I'ts more than 50 years since they started.

So, I think it's also very important to question the authorities, to contrast and go against what’s happening around you. It’s like a dialogue; you gotta listen to understand what’s going on and respond, but you can choose to be 'less polite’ and create tension that makes it more interesting.

I am very drawn to punk rock and find particularly many references to that compared to the free jazz revolution in the US in the late sixties, we cannot forget that jazz in many ways started as a protest music!!

In a solo setting you get to deal with the space and timing in a whole different way and it’s a really fascinating but extremely challenging format to operate in, as well as very rewarding!! I love playing solo but do it too seldom these days!

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind for yiur improvisations and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

Good question. I always try to reach for that right state of mind when going into the concert situation. There are so many factors that come into play.

I try to be open and not too judgmental of myself or those around me even though sometimes that can be hard. You have to trust yourself, the music and the musicians around you ... and key to me is to be connected to the sound.

If there’s composed materials I need to learn the music by heart to be able to ‘hear’ and to connect with it and I am very sensitive to my bass sound and need to feel ‘connected’ to my instrument to be able to get into the right state of mind. I found that avoiding using the piezo mic and solely use a microphone in front of the bass has helped create the right sound and vibe for me. It’s all about how to move the energy from the time the string is plucked until it reaches your ears without having to artificially reproduce the bass sound through a piezo and bass amp. A speaker cabinet is still needed in most situations but I have been surprised how it is possible to reproduce the bass sound quite naturally and have everyone hear and feel the bass. It’s pure physics in the end and we deal with vibrations that again moves us and create the vibe.

Of course, there are ways to reach the right state of mind through different kind of mediations prior to the time of the performance which I also do. It's important to figure out what works for you and there are no right or wrong answers here. The history is also full of examples where jazz musicians have been using various drugs to reach the 'right space'. But this is a slippery slope and a very insecure route that can have many unwanted side effects. (laughs)

Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?

I try to remain open and get into the space, the key is to be in the moment and have the music be the crux! As George Russel once said; ‘follow your core, it won’t lead you wrong’ ... I’ve tried to live by that example but sometimes we all fail and that's also part of the process.

Maybe one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that nobody really cares anyways. (laughs) And whether or not I play the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ note is absolutely not interesting. Who cares? It’s about being in the moment and create music that matters, then the decision making comes by itself. It can go extremely fast sometimes, or it can be very spacious or dense, in any genre or situation, it's all about being in the moment. I am still learning how to do that!!
How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?

Improvising in the studio situation can be very very tough. It’s so much about responding to the audience and that’s obviously gone in that situation. But again, music has its own life sometimes and even after a studio session that felt dead it happened on several occasions that when listening back to it, there was music being created. Sometimes all you need to do is give it some time before listening back and there can be gold there.

As improvisers we’re always digging for gold and I always loved the production part of the studio process where you're trying to find the stretches that had most life and tension. I rather cut and move things around than necessarily leaving a long piece untouched if it's not interesting. Many people feel different and want the process to be part of that production but I always thought that in the studio situation it's possible to tweak the music differently and I love doing that. Same goes for composed materials, there it's possible to push the envelope even more sometimes. I like tp create illusions.

Playing for an audience is a whole different story and that’s what we live for! The audience give (and take) energy and we breathe together. It's a social music and we need the audience as much as they need us. I think we all learned to understand this on a completely new level now during the pandemics. It’s healing and we all need live music!!!!!

Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

The first albums of The Thing (the thing-crazy wisdom) and Atomic (feet music-jazzland) definitely both had the feeling of breakthrough works for me (and probably for all of us I believe). They were both recorded around the Millennium, both in Atlantis Studio in Stockholm, and they were the start of 20 years of ongoing touring and lots and lots of amazing albums and numerous intentional collaborations. The energy in those two recording sessions was ’though the roof’ and I remember we spent minimal time recording the material, it all ‘literally’ just popped out.

Both bands were very democratically run ensembles and we all had a say in the process of making those albums. Atomic came out of an already long and important collaboration that turned into another long and important collaboration with that first album, and The Thing was originally put together as a recording session to honor late jazz great Don Cherry and which turned into a collaboration that changed all of us over a long time. It’s been an important brotherhood and the musicians have all been my most important and closest friends ever since. We’ve been on the road since then and I know we changed and inspired many people around us! Now after more than 20 years of high octane activity we have decided to put both bands ‘on the shelf’ and move on. Life is intense and full of surprises.
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music express about life and death which words alone may not?

Yes, improvisation is a way of life.

One of the most inspiring books I’ve read recently is the travel journey called IMPROVISING; the story of the incredible journey through Africa by Emma Fischer (painter, graphic designer) and Terrie Hessels (guitar player in The Ex). I absolutely recommend that book to everyone and I feel it prove the point that improvisers can handle life in a way that could be inspiring to many people in other fields and groups of work. It helps me adjust to challenges in a different way for sure.

Music and the fearlessness of improvising is healing! Amen! (laughs)