Over the past decade, Norwegian fiddler and folk musician Susanne Lundeng has distinguished herself as one of the genre’s most innovative, communicative and colorful representatives. Her music and her personality have earned her the love of a diverse domestic audience, as well as made her one of the prime exporters of Norwegian traditional music.
Audiences in Great Britain, Germany and even Korea have embraced her trademark fusion of distinct, transparent melodies and an energetic, unpredictable, arresting and entertaining performance style which mirrors both her allegiance to the tradition and her fiery personality.
Lundeng’s latest album, Forunderlig ferd (Remarkable Journey) on KKV, was released this year. As with her previous record, it consists predominantly of Lundeng’s own compositions, but also finds room for a few traditional tunes. Lundeng is featured as the album’s producer as well, making it a very personal record.
We interviewed her by phone from her home in the spectacular Fleinvær Isles of Nordland in North Norway; she had recently returned from a chamber music festival in Ireland.
MIC: Your music has been openheartedly welcomed abroad, not least in the U.K. and Germany. What is it about your expression, do you think, that is so readily embraced in these countries?
S.L.: Regarding the U.K., I think there’s a deep affinity between the music of the British Isles and the tradition that I am a proponent of. “Coastal music” always strikes me as sharing many constitutive traits: There’s always an emphasis on melody and there seems to be a common love for purity and clarity. There is not much ornamentation and conscious complexity, but more matter-of-fact direct dealing with the emotions at hand. I think it mirrors the experience of living by and with the sea.
In Germany they also have a love and tradition for lyricism, of course, but what strikes me first and foremost about that country and my audience there is that they’re so incredibly culture-minded. People come to experience all kinds of different music and performers, and they’re really curious and attentive. Where else would people show up in the hundreds, in the middle of the day, to see a foreign folk musician they’re unacquainted with?
MIC: Do you feel that their experience matches the emotions and images you put into your music yourself, or are they prone to projection and romanticizing due to ready-made images of Norway and “The North?”
S.L.: Well Germans love Norway of course, and maybe my music in some way caters to something they associate with Norway and its nature. But chiefly I think the music generates feelings and imagery they appreciate, regardless of its Norwegian roots. It’s simply something they find moving and arresting in some way.
I really love playing in Germany. I always experience devotion and great appreciation of my music.
MIC: So you prefer the German audience to the British?
S.L.: It’s a different experience to play in Britain. There they are so relaxed and easy to communicate with. This affects my performance, which is really vital and extrovert. I think I go further on stage; take more chances and address the audience in a different way in Britain. Somehow it’s closer to home, in terms of their being verbal and outspoken, which is a trait of us North-Norwegians
MIC: How would you describe your process of composing and your coming-of-age as a composer?
S.L.: First of all, I focus on my belonging to a tradition. I’m a folk musician and I spent a long time exploring and appropriating the full extent of the language to which I belong. This was a very conscious choice and accords with my attitude to my craft. I wanted to own this heritage and be firmly situated within this horizon before I ventured to compose original material. This way, I now feel that whatever I do is done on a background that will be in place automatically. My personal expression pops out from, and is conditioned by, this horizon. I want to be certain that one can always hear the tradition operative in my music.
When I compose it is usually with the instrument in hand. However, I’ve lately worked more with singing, and also composed using my voice alone. Anyhow, “singability” is always a foundation for me, and a test as to whether or not something will work in the end.
MIC: Do you also arrange the songs and develop the sound yourself?
S.L.: No. My business is the melody; the foundational mood and spine of the tunes. My band does the arrangements and each musician works out their own part in accordance with the melody and my solo fiddle. The rhythm and structure is often where the traditional aspects most clearly shine through.
MIC: You also produce your records yourself?
S.L.: Yes. I don’t think the (external) producer role where the producer is as important as the tunes is appropriate in folk-music. Therefore, I want to be in charge myself, and keep the production in accordance with the roots that I want to see shine through. However, another motivation for learning the craft properly is that I can then more easily let someone else take over in the future, confident that I will be able to judge their influence.
MIC: Is working in the studio the ultimate situation for you as an artist?
S.L.: Not at all. Live is the real thing; both the expression and the experience. This is true both because of the tradition to which I belong, and because my personality is more attuned to the direct connection, and the concentration and effort performing live entails. I love playing around; giving it all, and then come home exhausted.
MIC: So now is a time of post-festival relaxation?
S.L.: Indeed. But I’ll soon start working with new material again.
MIC: What are your plans for the near future apart from that?
S.L.: Well, there certainly won’t be a new record for a long time. I’m kind of slow in that respect. I’m going to Germany in the spring, and then I’m really eager to play in Sweden. That’s being organized and I’m looking forward to it tremendously. And then there are a lot of things happening in Norway, as always.
Susanne Lundeng, Folk musician, Violinist