Renowned, classically trained violinist and innovative Hardanger Fiddle player Nils Økland has set out on a mission to expand the range of traditional Norwegian folk music. Taking on the role of the re-newer of traditional forms of expression, Økland manages to bridge classical, contemporary and improvised passages with folk music that has its origins centuries back in time. While conveying the traditions of the past, Økland simultaneously manages to create a highly contemporary sonic landscape – effectively bridging the past with the present. His latest solo album ‘Bris’ (Rune Grammofon) is a testament to his mastery of the Hardager fiddle as well as uncanny abilities to create powerful forms of expression within an intimate group context that features harmonium, double bass and a crew of percussionists.
All of the compositions on ‘Bris’ are penned by Økland and the tunes were initially composed for a play about the life of the 19th century Romantic painter and fellow West Country inhabitant Lars Hertevik, who was brutally incarcerated at mental hospital and, in pure desperation, famously painted dramatic landscapes onto every object in his cell. The result is an album that brings forth sonic landscapes that are open and sparse, displaying confidence and an ability to bring across a wide range of expression without overloading the mix with unnecessary elements. Wrote one of the world’s most widely respected music publications, The Wire, in its review of the album last autumn: “These devastatingly beautiful compositions are devotional and spiritual in scope, while maintaining a dignified and understated earthiness.”
The Wire’s Clive Bell met up with Økland during last autumn’s Huddersfield Contemprorary Music Festival. Writes Bell on Økland’s latest album: “Nils Økland’s third solo CD, Bris (Breeze), released on the Oslo-based label Rune Grammofon, places the Hardanger fiddle in an intimate group context – harmonium, double bass and a brace of percussionists – where Økland’s self-composed pieces combine Nordic austerity with a gentle, sensuous violin sound. Originally a conservatory-trained violinist, Økland retains the classical player’s obsession with perfecting the acoustic sound, but has laid aside classical flash and virtuosity in favour of a delicate and highly personal music, drawing on Norwegian traditions to forge tools for reaching deep into the listener’s soul.”
The in-depth interview touches on Økland’s training and diverse musical background as well as his fascination for Norwegian music history. Says Økland on his role on the folk music scene: “…I’m not into any special tradition. When I was a kid I played folk dance music with my uncle, later on I became interested in Balkan music and free jazz, and I played in a punk band. So when I started on Hardanger (Fiddle - ed. note) I tried to use the instrument simply as an instrument, not trying to learn a tradition.”
Økland says that it was an eye-opener to re-discover the complexity of traditional Norwegian folk music after having being focussed on other exploratory genres: “It was odd, because I was always interested in strange Balkan music and free jazz, and then I came home and suddenly realised that old people here knew this strange and complex music.”
Nils Økland is set to bring some of his aesthetic bowing to the London audience in February. On the 16th he plays Geir Tveitt’s Concerto No2 for Hardanger Fiddle And Orchestra at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and on the 18th he’s scheduled to play a duo concert with Mike Adcock at The Spitz.
Økland’s ‘Bris’ (RCD 2042) is now out on Norwegian indie Rune Grammofon – distributed by Cargo in Europe and Forced Exposure in the US
Check out The Wire site.
Nils Økland, Folk musician, Violinist