Gobi Desert avant-garde

This weekend the Norwegian contemporary ensemble asamisimasa departed for Mongolia to play the Roaring Hooves festival in Ulan Bator. Open-air concerts in the middle of the vast Gobi Desert are just one of several extraordinary events coming up for the vibrant collective.


Roaring Hooves was established by the German percussionist Bernhard Wolff, professor at the Freiburg Music Academy, an institution asamisimasa percussionist Haakon Stene attended as an exchange student. A couple of years ago, Wolff felt the urge to create a festival for a new audience far from the western middle-class public that frequent the contemporary music festivals of Witten, Darmstadt, Donaueschingen, Zurich and Basel.

Says asamisimasa percussionist Stene: “He has created two alternative festivals, Two Days And Two Nights in Odessa and Roaring Hooves in Mongolia”.

Wolff also concentrates on a project that entails tracking music traditions along the Silk Road, a string of festivals from Peking, through Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and presentations of traditional music from these locations in addition to commissions from European festivals to composers hailing from countries along the Silk Road.

Roaring Hooves presents music and musicians from all over the world, as well as a multitude of genres. The Asamisimasa crew believes it’s the first time a Norwegian ensemble has been invited to the festival. Wolff’s governing idea is that musicians are to present their music traditions for each other, and for a Mongolian audience that, to a certain degree, have not experienced Western music previously.

Says asamisimasa guitarist Anders Førisdal: “The capitol, Ulan Bator has a music conservatory, but it’s a very different situation for the nomads. The infrastructure is more or less non-existing.

“Schubert played on a piano we brought along, amplified through a PA-system, was a huge success” says percussionist Stene, the only one to have played the Roaring Hooves festival previously.

The festival also sports a seminar section which enables the performing musicians to attend classes held by their peers.

“I’m happy to pass on some clarinet lessons in order to learn Mongolian throat singing” says asamisimasa clarinettist Rolf Borch.

asamisimasa was established in 2001 and is made up of guitarist Anders Førisdal, percussionist Haakon Stene, clarinettist Rolf Borch, pianist Heloisa Amaral and singer Janne Berglund.

“I guess it’s not easy pigeonhole us and determine our profile – we play music we like” says Førisdal.

asamisimasa have previously performed works by Øyvind Torvund and the ensemble has a collaboration going with composer James Saunders.

asamisimasa are scheduled to perform two concerts in the Mongolian capitol Ulan Bator, an open-air concert in the vast Gobi desert (where the temperature hovers around 30 degrees C) and several performances inside traditional nomad ger tents.

asamisimasa’s Mongolian tour is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Fund for Performing Arts.

“We’ll also play in a Buddhist monastery” says Borch. “There used to be lot of such monasteries in Mongolia, but few survived the communist era.”

Says Stene on the country he’s about to visit: “It’s a very poor but also very fascinating country. There are hardly any roads or phone lines, but the country is awash with intact monuments depicting past communist leaders. When I visited the festival two years ago I heard a band playing metal with traditional throat-song vocals. When they learned that I came from Norway their faces lit up – they knew all that there is to know of Norwegian black-metal!”

More on the Roaring Hooves festival here.


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