Reindeer skins and sonic looms: Borealis music competition dives into Sámi tradition

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Reindeer skins and sonic looms: Borealis music competition dives into Sámi tradition

On stage in a former industrial constructing within the Norwegian metropolis of Bergen sits a wierd, if not bewildering, number of objects. There’s an upright, warp-weighted loom, one of the historic and fundamental types of human expertise, with a weaving in progress on its body. There’s a kettle, a heating ingredient, and an old school hand-cranked espresso grinder. There’s something that appears like a miniature upside-down desk – in reality it’s a warping board, the construction on which the vertical threads of a future textile are organised earlier than being fitted to the loom. The one actual trace that that is the prelude to a live performance is the presence of a looper and a few microphones, abrupt guests from the twenty first century.

That is the set-up for a brand new work by composer Elina Waage Mikalson, artist-in-residence and co-programmer of Borealis. Properly-established as an annual competition exploring the outer reaches of music and sound, this 12 months’s occasion has been centered, for the primary time, on experimental music made by Sámi artists – creators from Europe’s solely Indigenous nation, Sápmi, which spans the fashionable borders of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia’s Kola peninsula. It’s not only a first for the competition. The occasion additionally represents the primary formal gathering of Sámi experimental musicians: an opportunity to think about how endangered conventional types of cultural expression will be enriched and renewed – or, presumably, diluted and imperilled – by innovation.

Three younger individuals come to the stage, all carrying parts of conventional Sámi apparel. Mikalson sits down in entrance of the warping board, between whose uprights guitar strings have been stretched. Poet and musician Jalvvi Niillas Holmberg settles beside the kettle and occasional grinder. Márjá Karlsen stands on the loom and begins to weave, pushing a skein of wool via the shed earlier than adjusting the horizontal wood heddle, which, amplified, resonates with a percussive clank as she settles it again into its place. On the similar time the loom weights – items of stone tied to the underside of the warp threads to maintain them taut – rattle and reverberate, equally amplified. Lastly, she brushes her fingers via the gentle woollen warp threads, as in the event that they have been harp strings.

Sonic loom … Elina Waage Mikalsen’s Wolffish Tooth {Photograph}: Frid Tronstad/Borealis

Towards this repetitive loom-rhythm, digital sounds develop and loop. Holmberg units the kettle on the ingredient with a faucet, and, with a gravelly rasp of metallic towards bean, begins to grind espresso. After the kettle boils and the espresso is made, its aroma fills the air and there’s a second of relaxed rigidity as Karlsen pauses to drink. Holmberg speaks improvised poetry, however his phrases arc into music, and Mikalson sings too, for those who can name it music, a repeated word that sounds one thing like a goose’s excessive name, and all the pieces appears to be round – the to-and-fro movement of the weaving, the round motion of the espresso grinder’s deal with, the lip of the espresso cup, the looped strains of voices, even Mikalson’s physique, which sways backwards and forwards because the music turns into extra frantic and hypnotic.

Mikalson’s forebears would recognise practically all the pieces on this stage, from the weaving, or rátnu, a conventional observe that her personal grandmother did a lot to protect and revive, to the cups, historically crafted from birch burrs. Nonetheless, with its resonating loom and aromas of espresso, Stáinnarbánit – Wolffish Tooth, because the work is titled (named for the sample inscribed into the material), is clearly stretching the probabilities of sound and efficiency – and raises the sort of query that this competition has been designed to convey to the fore. Can traditions which have needed to be preserved towards the chances be performed with with out loss?

That tradition consists of the Sámi languages, as soon as far more quite a few than the 9 which are nonetheless spoken; the livelihood of reindeer herding; the act of handcrafting symbolically embellished artworks often called duodji; and most crucially in a musical context, the yoik, the haunting, improvisational vocal approach and kind that’s key to Sámi identification and expression, and that Holmberg employs in Mikalson’s piece. “Yoiking isn’t solely a musical language, it’s a non secular language, a method of telling tales and a manner conserving reminiscences alive,” as one other Sámi musician, Viktor Bomstad, explains a few days after the efficiency of Wolffish Tooth. When a yoiker yoiks about an individual, a spot or a creature, it’s not a lot about representing that particular person, place or creature, however embodying it, he says. “I like to make use of the phrase manifestation.”

Because the competition unfolds, it turns into clear that there are not any clear solutions, or relatively, there are many attainable solutions, particularly in a historic and political context wherein the Sámi individuals have for hundreds of years been on the sharp finish of compelled assimilation. In Norway, utilizing Sámi languages in colleges was legalised solely within the late Sixties; in 1997, the king of Norway apologised for hundreds of years of oppression visited on the Sámi individuals by the Nordic colonisers. Sápmi has lengthy been exploited by nation states for their very own extractive ends – whether or not for nickel mining in Russia, timber in Finland or, more and more, the constructing of windfarms on conventional reindeer herding lands in Norway, which is very disruptive to the animals, affecting their migratory patterns. (There’s ongoing controversy about Fosen windfarm, the constructing of which was challenged by the Sámi and declared unlawful by the Norwegian supreme court docket; a variety of younger Sámi activists are at present standing trial for his or her half in protests towards the windfarm.)

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One other uncommon venue … Margrethe Pettersen’s jiennagoahti was designed to be heard in a conventional Sámi residence within the mountains. {Photograph}: Frid Tronstad/Borealis

A consequence of all that is that many youthful Sámi individuals discover themselves rediscovering the tradition of their grandparents or great-grandparents, at instances actively relearning languages that their mother and father can not converse, and looking for out data of practices that they haven’t essentially imbibed rising up. Blomstad, for instance, got here to his Sámi musical roots via his enthusiasm for a band known as Intrigue, who mix parts of yoik with heavy metallic. The final yoikers in his household, he says have been within the nineteenth century; he relearned the artwork himself, first on his personal, practising within the bathe, then via mentorship below seasoned yoikers. For Borealis, he made a piece combining electronics, noise, guitar, yoiking and objects corresponding to reindeer bells for an viewers who listened as they bobbed about in Bergen’s out of doors sea-swimming pool.

That was not the competition’s solely uncommon venue. Borealis additionally introduced viewers members a chunk by Sámi artist Margrethe Pettersen designed to be heard within the mountains above the town in an exquisite goahti, a remaking of a conventional Sámi short-term dwelling place. (On this case the construction was original particularly as a spot for listening – it’s named jiennagoahti – the “listening goahti” – and incorporates a solar-powered speaker system.) Her subaqueous work is constructed from recordings of salmon captured with a hydrophone. I listened to it mendacity down on reindeer skins, as I did to a different sound piece, this time in a Bergen artwork gallery, by Ánndaris Rimpi. Rimpi’s piece is constructed from subject recordings: a tapestry of the sounds of reindeer, mosquitoes, and the rivers of the north, but additionally some sonic materials gathered from city southern Sweden. On the similar time, his love of western synthpop bands corresponding to Kraftwerk could be very current within the piece.

Requested by a fellow Sámi musician at a competition discuss what makes the work particularly Sámi, Rimpi replies: “It’s Sámi music as a result of I’m Sámi and I’m the product of Sámi tradition.” Pressed additional, he talks about the way in which Sámi spirituality impacts how he thinks of the character of sound. “Within the Christian custom man is lord of the Earth. In Sámi tradition we’re a part of the Earth. I see sounds from nature as topics, not objects – as issues which are saying one thing, speaking one thing to us. I wish to sharpen our listening to listen to what nature is definitely saying to us, as a topic.”

Such issues are delicate, maybe not all the time detectable to a non-Sámi viewers; however because the competition went on, I discovered myself reflecting on this discuss of the Sámi manner of listening, and tried to sharpen my listening, too – “travelling with the music,” as Rimpi stated he hoped audiences can be inspired to do. Mikalson, for her half, is frank in suggesting, once we converse, that not each ingredient in her piece Wolffish Tooth can, or ought to, reveal itself to a non-Sámi, western viewers.

What is obvious, although, is that nevertheless exploratory her music appears on the floor, in its spiralling, round kind and construction it’s deeply linked on a metaphorical degree to Sámi cosmology and spirituality. For the Sámi, she explains, the circle is current in all the pieces from the form of the goahti, to an idea of time that collapses previous, current and future, to the understanding of an act as not singular, however as one thing that additionally incorporates “the total penalties and full lifespan of that motion”. Nonetheless, regardless of the playful adventurousness of her piece, when requested if yoiking must be preserved in its most basic, conventional kind, she is completely clear. “Sure, is the brief reply,” she says. “It’s the core of who we’re, and we completely want it, to know who we’re.”


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