Photo: Stian Andersen

a-ha conference and exhibition in Oslo

International conference about a-ha entitled "Living a Boy's Adventure Tale: musical interactions in the decades of postmodernism" presented by the National Library of Norway and Music Information Centre Norway.

National Library and MIC Norway present:
Living a Boy's Adventure Tale:
musical interactions in the decades of postmodernism

Conference date: October 20, 2010, 9am - 3pm
Venue: National Library of Norway, Oslo

Pop history was written in 1985: The Norwegian group a-ha went straight to the top of the Billboard chart with the single “Take On Me”. This is the only time a Norwegian band has achieved a first place ranking on what is perhaps the most important hit list in the world. This feat was also the start of a long and successful international career, unequalled in the history of Norwegian popular music.

The conference aims to highlight different periods in the band's career through empirical research and analysis. We will investigate the concepts of musical interactions and popular culture in a postmodern world, including topics such as:

- Researching formulas for international pop success
- Cross-cultural and musical interactions in a global world
- The impact of music videos as commercials or works of art
- Artistic interactions discussed on the basis of authenticity, eclecticism and contemporary art

The conference is held in connection with the opening of the National Library's exhibition Hunting High and Low: 25 years with a-ha. The exhibition is open to the public October 20, 2010 - January 29, 2011.



Welcome: Vigdis Moe Skarstein, National Librarian

Introduction by Richard Gjems (National Library of Norway)

Trond Valberg (National Library of Norway): The Song that changed everything: A phenomenological analysis of “Take On Me”

Stan Hawkins (University of Oslo): Third Time Very Lucky!: “Take On Me” made the video star

Coffee break

P. A. Stenersen: a-ha – from Bridges to Butterfly – cataloguing the Norwegian pop adventure tale

Andy Linehan (British Library Sound Archive): A-harcheology – looking for a-ha’s history in the UK


Musical live act: Jørun Bøgeberg

Larissa Bendel (Universität Hamburg): Fame and fandom: Autobiographical notes and abstract musings on an intercultural experience in Germany

Jan Omdahl: Fandom in the Amazon: Some thoughts on a-ha’s Latin American success

The end

Opening of the exhibition Hunting High and Low: 25 years with a-ha

Deadline: October 1.

The seminar will be held in English and is free of charge

More about the exhibition at the National Library's website.


Larissa Bendel
Fame and fandom: Autobiographical notes and abstract musings on an intercultural experience in Germany

Abstract: From 1988 to 1998, a-ha's official international fanclub was based in Hamburg, Germany, run by two teenage female fans. The club had a membership base of more than 2.000 members at peak times, published a quarterly magazine and answered letters asking for autographs or information about the band from fans from all over the world that were sent to the club or to a-ha's former record company WEA.

The speech, given by one of the former club leaders, wants to reminisce about this period from an autobiographical viewpoint and elaborate on what it meant to maintain such a professional enterprise while growing up: What it meant to get hold of the latest news concerning the band, to regularly send out a journalistic publication around the world, to keep contacts and have friends worldwide, and to simply be a fan: to enjoy a-ha's music, travel to concerts, and meet the band. The lecture further aims at evaluating the fanclub as an intercultural experience which both reflected and took part in shaping a-ha's image and success in Germany.

The lecture is going to be a mixture of entertaining anecdotes and analytic observations in relation to its topic, whose main thesis is that Germany has always been a rather special and active place in shaping a-ha's career in various respects: their fan culture, image in the media, and concert audiences.

Bio: Dr. Larissa Bendel was leader of the international a-ha fanclub in Germany 1988-1998. She is Dr. phil. in American literature, and has since 2005 been a lecturer at the University of Hamburg. Dr Bendel is currently working on a new university research project in the field of "Star Studies".

Stan Hawkins
Third Time Very Lucky!: “Take On Me” made the video star

Abstract: Recorded in 1984, “Take On Me” needed three releases to hit the top of the charts in the UK and thereafter the US. a-ha’s full exposure on MTV coincided with a flood of British pop stars onto the international pop market. Under the direction of Steve Barron, the video of “Take On Me” had the corny enough theme of a romantic boy-girl narrative, but due to its highly original design and production techniques it became a hit.

This paper probes at some of the issues surrounding the first MTV generation of pop stars through an audiovisual analysis of the now legendary “Take On Me” video. What then made the video so successful; how did music play a role in this process; and why evaluate this video twenty-five years on? The discussion of sound’s influence on moving imagery is commonplace in popular music research, and the starting point for this paper will be an investigation of meaning in this song.

Music functions to tell the viewer how to feel and this is culturally determined. Two questions of interest emerge: First, what does music bring with it ideologically into the video performance of “Take On Me”. And, second, how does the video frame Morten Harket as a pinup star and object of desire. The suggestion here is that the musical experience of a pop video not only ascribes feelings and erotics that lead to pleasure, but also, from a postmodern standpoint, it makes us rethink a set of aesthetics and gender codes that shape the musical experience of pop.

Bio: South African born British musicologist Stan Hawkins is professor of musicology at the University of Oslo, and adjunct professor at Agder University, Kristiansand, Norway. He is a leading international scholar in the field of popular music research and started the first-degree courses in popular music and recording at the University of Salford, Gtr. Manchester, in 1990, where he also established the Popular Music Research Unit, with Beatles producer, George Martin, as patron. He is author of The British Pop Dandy: Masculinity, Music and Culture (2009), Settling the Pop Score: pop texts and identity politics (2002) and co-editor of Music, Space and Place (2004), and Essays on Sound & Vision (2007). Currently Hawkins is co-authoring a book on Prince with psychoanalyst, Sarah Niblock, due for completion in 2010. From 2010-2015 he will lead a project, Popular Music in a Transcultural Context, which has received funding from the Norwegian Research Council, carrying with it four new research posts.

Andy Linehan
“A-harcheology – looking for a-ha’s history in the UK”

Abstract: In 1985 the New Musical Express list of new records for the week ending 21st September was headed by the announcement: AHA ‘Take on me’/’Love is the reason’ (WEA) current US hit – out now, limited edition picture-book sleeve. The following week the single entered the NME charts at number 45. The release was neither reviewed nor commented upon.

From this low-profile beginning a-ha went on to spend 133 weeks in the UK singles charts and 148 weeks on the album charts. As someone who at the time was more interested in the dance scene I will be setting out from a point of little knowledge to try to trace the legacy of a-ha in the UK. Using the British Library’s collections as a starting point I aim to discover what resources are available to help me find out about the band, their success, their influence on the UK music scene, and whether the provision of resources in the UK are adequate for such a task.

Bio: Andy Linehan is Curator of Popular Music at the British Library Sound Archive. He has written and broadcast on many aspects of pop music and for nearly ten years taught Popular Music History at the Royal Academy of Music. Publications include the pop music periodicals index POMPI, Aural History – Essays on Recorded Sound and the journal Popular Music History.

Jan Omdahl
“Fandom in the Amazon”: Some thoughts on a-ha’s Latin American success

Abstract: In his presentation, journalist, author and official a-ha biographer Jan Omdahl will share his thoughts on a-ha’s Latin American success and, according to himself, “other, perhaps more compelling reasons for writing a biography on Norway's largest pop success”.

Bio: Journalist, commentator and author Jan Omdahl wrote the critically lauded a-ha biography, The Swing of Things: Twenty Years With a-ha, back in 2004. This fall an updated version of the book, The Swing of Things 1985-2010, was published in Norwegian, English and German. Also getting rave reviews, this version includes the final six years of the band’s career and has the most complete information on a-ha compiled in print so far.

P. A. Stenersen
a-ha – from Bridges to Butterfly – cataloguing the Norwegian pop adventure tale

Abstract: When the band Bridges released their self financed LP “Fakkeltog” (Torchlight Procession) in 1980, few professed this to be the start of a success story unparalleled in Norwegian pop and rock history. When a-ha released their first single in October 1984, the situation in the Norwegian music scene was introvert with very few artists stepping out beyond the borders of the homeland. Through multi-million singles and album sales, a-ha quickly established themselves as a player to be reckoned with. With many of the contemporary artists of the 80’s fading into oblivion, the a-ha machinery has kept it going for more than 28 years before literally ending on a high note.

The presentation will take you through a select body of their discography, highlighting items of collector’s value, but also focusing on the width in their global distribution. The great importance of the early days of Bridges and Poem will be touched upon as well as presenting a few “mythbusters” as far as their musical history goes. Through sound and slides, this boy’s adventure tale will be presented from the view of a music lover, fan and collector.

Bio: Avid collector and a-ha expert P. A. Stenersen has followed the band since the very beginning in 1984. Stenersen started collecting in early 1986 when the 4 singles off their debut album, were snapped up in one go. In addition to travelling Europe to see them live, he has kept with the band as a collector ever since and today boosts the biggest collection of a-ha and related in the world. With a three volume book edition capturing the band’s musical career as the ulterior target, the groundwork laid forth has given him recognition as one of the main experts on the band and their global discography.

Trond Valberg
The Song that changed everything: A phenomenological analysis of “Take On Me”

Abstract: “Take On Me” was the turning point as well as the starting point of a 25 year successful career for the Norwegian trio. Furthermore, a-ha proved that hard work and getting the right connections, as well as a dash of luck were the formulas to become the first true international pop stars out of Norway. The song doesn’t seem to be particularly “Norwegian”, nor does it sound very much like their other recordings. Instead “Take on me” reflects the popularity of English synth pop bands which dominated the pop scene in the early 1980s. And, also through the song’s music video a-ha mirrors the postmodern world by erasing the distinction between fantasy and reality. a-ha is certainly a striking example of 80s pop music, not only in view of their early albums but through their whole career.

The basis for the analysis is what you hear – or what you think you hear – rather than other theoretical aspects. The phenomenological study will point at reasons for why it became such a huge hit, assuming that numerous people share the same experience. The study, however, will also use terminology from traditional musicology in an attempt to analyse the various parts of the composition and lyrics, along with a focus on sound and production. A complete transcription of the album version will be presented in the form of a full score.

Even if a-ha may not be seen as true innovators in pop history, they have proved to be outstanding songwriters and artists, and source of inspiration for other international pop acts. The farewell tour entitled “Ending on a high note” may also reflect the starting point, including Morten Harket’s vocal range of more than two and a half octaves.

Bio: Trond Valberg is head curator at the Music Archive, National Library of Norway. Valberg has since 1996 been responsible for collecting, preserving and accessioning sound recordings. Trond has been a member of the Norwegian Jazz Archives Board (1997-2001). On premises of the Norwegian Council for Cultural Affairs he was one of the main contributors to the published Plan for the Preservation of Norwegian Sound Recordings (1997). He has also been involved in the international work of various non-governmental organizations within the AV field. Currently Trond is the Chair of the IFLA Audiovisual and Multimedia Section.

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