Frode Haltli - between tradition and innovation.

The time has come for accordionist Frode Haltli’s second release in his own name on the ECM label. In terms of content Passing Images is a step away from the contemporary oriented debut Looking on Darkness. Instead it approaches improvisational and traditional music. But the latter in significantly reworked manner: -I am fond of music which is difficult to determine in terms of whether it is composed or improvised. The idea behind this album is related to the work mode of some jazz composers, relates Haltli in this interview with Carl Kristian Johansen.

Frode Haltli - forfra (Foto: CF Wesenberg)

By Carl Kristian Johansen/Translated by Christian Lysvåg

Five years have elapsed since Haltli’s debut, and when his sophomore is now released Haltli’s has just turned 30.

Your previous album was about contemporary music, while your present concern is predominantly traditional music. Can you fill us in on this evolution?

-Since Looking on Darkness I’ve been striding at least two parallel paths. I have not given up playing composed contemporary music, but I found that it would be exiting to release a second album communicating something completely different, says Haltli.

Passing Images consist of reworked pieces of traditional music that have been with Haltli for years.

-During the recent years I’ve been doing solo versions of this material and deviated quite a lot from it, but I’ve kept the ground mood intact. Then I progressed and included three more musicians. The foundation is definite, and on its basis I’ve incorporated impulses from contemporary music, improvised music and other genres too.

Tradition and innovation
Which is closest to your heart, traditional or contemporary music?

-That depends on whether I am answering as a listener or as an active musician. In respect of the latter I’m definitely most engaged in new stuff. Creating new soundscapes is a core concern of contemporary music, and it’s an aspect I find very interesting. This is also true for me as a listener, but in that role I’m also deeply engaged in authentic traditional music; the pure and untarnished execution of musical heritage. “Untouched” music is of course an illusion, the point is that am fascinated with the entire spectrum.

But Haltli does not regard himself as an executioner of traditional music, and Passing Images is not in his view a traditional album, something evidenced by his choice of co-musicians.

-The three musicians I’ve brought along have all redefined the sound of their instruments. Arve Henriksen’s (Supersilent) trumpet does not sound like a trumpet, and Maja Ratkje (Fe-mail, SPUNK) has modelled her very personal vocal expression, which is not really textual but more like an instrument. I had not worked with the violoncello legend Garth Knox before, but it worked extremely well.

One can detect traces of improvisation on your new record. How have you worked to incorporate these passages?

-I’m very fond of music where the line between composition and improvisation is blurred and hard to determine. The guiding idea of this album is therefore related to the methods of jazz composers. Still it is difficult to define in terms of genre.

Since the material on this album has been with you for many years, is it fair to say that it is a more personal album than Looking on Darkness?

-Difficult to say, but in some ways it is. The material is semi biographical. It is stuff I discovered in my early teens and it has taken a good many years to develop it further. But musically I put just as much of myself into Looking on Darkness. On this one some of the original sources are so distant that I feel that it is my own material. And at times it was a bit of a headache to classify it for ECM. Some of the tunes are interlacings of traditional themes and my own original ideas.

Is it not potentially controversial to regard inherited traditional material your own?

Well, it’s a certainty that not everyone in traditional music will be happy with this album, but developing material of uncertain origin must be allowed as long as the sources are consistently cited, this has been done since Grieg.

Not the commonest instrument
Haltli’s instrument accordion is relatively rare within the segment of professional music, which comprises classical, contemporary, traditional, improvised music and jazz.

-The professional accordion is an advanced version of the common traditional instrument in Norway, explains Haltli, and the difference is that on the professional version one may play chromatically with both hands, which gives more leeway.

The accordion has not always been regarded a serious concert instrument. What is its status in this respect today?

-It is still an instrument on the fringe of the sphere of serious music. But for me this has never been significant or an obstacle. There are still prejudices towards entering a classical concert stage with an accordion, but to me nothing is better than overcoming these. The fact that the accordion is a “half breed” has to do with historical and not musical factors, and this is something I can use to my advantage.

Being relatively lonely as a professional accordionist, at least in the kind of context we are here discussing, is that an advantage or disadvantage?

-In my view the daily challenge is an advantage. Pursuing one’s own path is perhaps easier on an unusual instrument than on a common and acclaimed one. But on the other hand it might be more difficult to create a musical career on an instrument still regarded a rarity. There are few “pre fixed solutions” and no orchestral engagements. But for me it has not been a problem.

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