Unni Løvlid: rooted explorations

Womex '09: Unni Løvlid is everywhere: her musical projects are numerous, the genres many and the collaborators diverse. Almost constantly she travels the world to perform in the most disparate of contexts.

Listen to and download Unni Løvlid releases here

Unni Løvlid 2009

-I like that things are constantly changing, says the young, experimental folk singer. As a musician I guess I am very restless, I am always searching for new vantage points and new directions to move in. However, it is not a frantic kind of quest that I am on, I feel that there is always this basic thing that I bring with me, a constant element amidst the dynamism.

This element is her firm rooting in Norwegian folk music and the sense of belonging to a tradition. Løvlid started out as a celebrated traditional singer, and it is from this base that she has developed her personal idiom and explored the universe of music; a journey that has taken her in different directions, towards contemporary and classical music as well as electronica and experimental expressions.

-My musical identity is intimately bound up with my background in folk music, which allows me to be myself in all the different settings. Folk music is my anchorage and I could not be who I am, or do what I do, with a different point of departure; that I am sure of.

Løvlid is very conscious of the great privilege it is to feel such belonging, and also of the responsibility one accepts entering into a tradition that reaches backwards in time and that also needs to look to the future:

-Traditional music is also about values and attitudes, says Løvlid. It is about receiving something that one has the responsibility for passing on. This notion of being trusted gives me a sense of security that allows me to experiment and explore.

Vita, Løvlids 2006 record of religious folk tunes, was such an experiment. It explores the limits of music in the meditative direction one could say: a musical experience that brings to mind oxymorons, like Milton’s darkness visible. The almost-nothingness of the production makes the sparse sounds stand forth in utter intensity.
Is there, in her conception of music, a tug between the meditative and the communicative we wonder? -A conflict between the solitary and the social?

-I don’t think there is any contradiction between these two aspects, says Løvlid. Communication is at the heart of music; it is the only reason for being a musician. But on the basis of a communicative goal I think it is interesting to push expressions in the direction of sparseness and near-quiet, both musically and semantically.

Words mean a great deal to Løvlid, she reveals, in a natural way they constitute the fundamental aspect of singing.

-I love literature and poetry and I am always looking for good lyrics that I can use. -Especially poets that emphasise and master the phonetic aspect. I admire such people immensely; because I know how hard it is and how much work it takes.

On her previous solo record, 2008’s Rite –a piece of music that took its lead from Vita and pushed things even further, into the realm of primordial awakenings– Løvlid wrote all the lyrics herself.

-It was very demanding, really very tough. Writing myself was what I wanted, but I could never be a full time poet or writer, it is too demanding for me, and perhaps too reclusive and solitary.

Music however, Løvlid writes all the time; different genres – or most of the time beyond genres really– but also specific projects and commissions. What is the musical writing process like we wonder?

The writing is pure craftsmanship, says Løvlid. But I use different approaches. Sometimes I compose on an instrument, other times I make it into more of a mental process, entailing a lot of thinking and purely abstract experimentation. I often find that I think in systems, but many systems at the same time! And I always change my perspective continuously as I go along, which entails that I try to make use of the first sketches, because they are often the most poignant and powerful. My musical orientation is towards the intersections where communication takes place despite the differences. Again, this is something connected with my roots in traditional music. The tradition is a constant, if not as manifest music then as a horizon of values. The nature of folk music is that something is upheld as a constant while something else is in continuous development.

At Womex Løvlid will mainly be performing material from Rite. As a first-timer her expectations for the event are high:

-One part of it is the business aspect of acquiring contacts and hopefully opening up new markets and possibilities. But most of all I am looking forward to meeting other musicians and hearing new music. I love being in the audience and just soaking up inspiration!

The record that will follow in Rite’s path is evolving in Løvlid’s mind:

-It will be a record in the same spirit as Rite, and again I will write everything myself. But there is no telling when it will be ready; it is not something I can hurry along.

There is no need to wait for new music from Løvlid though; only a few days ago she released a record with Norwegian saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and Mauritanian/Senegalese guitarist Becaye Aw. Seven Winds is a collection of songs based on the poems of Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge, and like Hauge’s poetry the music is a fusion of Norwegian folklore and the three musicians’ distinct musical dialects, with all their global influences.

Unni Løvlid’s MySpace site

Unni Løvlid’s Last.fm site

Unni Løvlid on Spotify

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