Tuesday night saw the world premiere of what must easily be one of the fieriest musical constellations imaginable: American vocalist extraordinaire Mike Patton and the Norwegian multi instrumentalist and tonal wizard Stian Carstensen.
The occasion was the opening of the Borealis festival for contemporary music in Bergen. Now in its fourth year the festival is about to establish itself as a true focal point of avant-garde music in an international perspective. From a troubled start in 2004, audience numbers have since doubled each year, and with such magnesium bright attractions as last night’s premiere, the future looks luminous enough for the festival.
Patton had signed up for Borealis 2008 before Carstensen, and it was in fact Patton himself who expressed a deep desire to perform with the Norwegian, whom he has been an ardent admirer of for years. The feeling was mutual and the collaboration was decided on; with a distinct notion, shared by both musicians and the festival, that something very special indeed was in the making: exclusive world-premiere posters were designed, spirits and expectations soared.
Let this review testify to the success:
-The audience was left with stars, and sometimes tears, in their eyes over the combination of these two musical phenomena. The way they played together was as if taken out of a surrealistic painting. (Mads Iversen)
The duo performed such incongruous pieces as Bowies’ Life on Mars –for accordion and voice- the super Mario theme and several numbers from Carstensen’s and Patton’s own catalogues. The leitmotif of the concert, as in both artists’ musical conceptions, was the exploration of resistance by the sheer force of their musicality and absolute diversity.
This theme is also the expressed chief concept of the festival this year, articulated in the slogan: “High trees and extreme tradition.” Borealis takes up the context of Norwegian west coast musical traditions and invokes the image of music made and played in extreme weather: standing firm, like trees, but also being pushed and warped by the conditions.
Resistance, in the above meaning of extreme tradition, is thus the common denominator of this year’s festival, something that is also evident in the choice of festival composer, Mathias Spahlinger. He was introduced by the Ensemble recherché on the opening night. The ensemble is regarded the foremost interpreters Spahlinger’s refined tonal landscapes.
An(other) extreme traditionalist is the renowned Hardanger fiddler Nils Økland, who will premiere a commissioned work at the festival.
As for Patton, his love affair with Norwegian contemporary music continues: Already known for his collaboration with John Erik Kaada, and with the project with Carstensen a smash success, he is eager to explore and help Norwegian artists further. Next week his label, Ipecac recordings, will release Carstensen’s band Farmers Market’s new record “Surfin’ USSR.”
Carstensen is very happy about the Ipecac backing: “the absolute artistic freedom is invaluable,” he notes.
More on Borealis here:
Sample Carstensen here:
Explore Patton here: