"Working with the uniqueness of the bodies present", an interview with Kim Myhr

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Music, danse and meaning.


Photo: André Løyning

In the wake of last month's release of In the end his voice will be the sound of paper (Hubro), his collaborative piece with Jenny Hval and the Trondheim and one of this year's highlights so far, we sent Kim Myhr a few questions, to which he answered kindly and widely. Here is the transcription for everyone to enjoy. Thank you Kim!


In the end his voice will be the sound of paper, just released on Hubro, is an excellent album (reviewed here on DPM) born out of a collaboration in 2012 with Jenny Hval and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, with which you had already collaborated on another great commission-work called Stems & Cages in 2009. How did the writing collaboration with Jenny Hval work?

Basically Jenny and I exchanged sound files over the course of a summer. I composed fragments, orchestral ideas that I was going to arrange out to the orchestra, and she added melodies and lyrics. Jenny is a very intuitive artist, and she works quickly. It was a very nice process. Compared to the other piece I did for TJO, this is composed on a more detailed level I would say.


The piece sounds like the perfect encounter between yours and hers aesthetics, with a great attention to movement and melodic freedom through a repetitive structure with micro-variations. Was it any room for improvisation in the writing/performing process?

I am happy that you mention the structure of the music, as this was a strong focus from the beginning. I wanted to make a piece where many small elements of sound come together like in a wind to form songs, and then quickly deconstruct again. The forms are often built from very small fragments. Some elements are set, and others are more general ideas where the musician has a bigger degree of freedom. In any case, I think for such crossover projects between improvisation and composition, knowing all the musicians well makes a much easier process. You try, already from the outset, to incorporate people's way of playing into the music, in such a way that they can totally be themselves within the compositional framework.


Speaking of movement these last few years you have collaborated with choreographers Francesco Scavetta and Orfee Schuijt on a couple of productions (one short but thrilling piece can be heard below). How much has it affected your work as a composer? Have you planned to include some of it in your future solo records?

Working with performance arts have taught me a lot, and I really enjoy doing it. As a composer, I feel an affinity with choreographers; a lot of the time the material the dancers use in a performance is created in a long process where choreographer and dancer are working together. So the material is developed collectively, but the choreographer has the large-scale vision. He is working with the uniqueness of the bodies present, instead of making material for a generalized body, where the dancer is required to know how to do certain things (reportoire). Working with the uniqueness of the bodies present, is a good analogy in how I worked with the two jazz orchestra projects. I think the challenge when you work with such personal and complex material at hand, is to make interesting structures out of it, and in that sense I think this last project developed interestingly. There was a lot of work put into creating interesting and surprising transitions in the music; how to move from one kind of material to another. Transitions that could never have been improvised.



You have a few exciting projects in the coming months, first of all a piece with sound artist/producer Lasse Marhaug for 8 speakers to be performed at the MetaMorf festival in Trondheim this month. How did it come about? What can we expect from the meeting of noise and harmony?

Working with Lasse was very natural actually. We worked about 3-4 months on and off,composing and adjusting the music. It's nice to compose collectively like that, and especially with someone like Lasse: he works fast and has thousands of good ideas.We both share an interest in the richness of raw sound, and this piece really has plenty of that! We are hoping to have the music released at some point, and we are also discussing other collaborative plans as well.


Then there is an album (on SOFA) and short European tour with your new quartet called Circadia. Is it a more rooted in the jazz tradition (whatever that means) than in the minimalist approach of your recent electro-acoustic/free-improv offerings with Mural? Does this distinction make sense for you? Do you consider yourself more as a composer or as an improviser?


Each project I do will be influenced by whoever is involved in it, and in this particular case, the instrumentation of two guitars, bass and drums could make you think of the band more in the jazz, rock or folk vein. That was a bit the idea from the beginning: to work with a basic instrumentation, but create something very unusual out of it. Having moved through periods of using preparations, objects etc I feel very interested in working with the guitar without any additional sound extensions. And this band is really a nice vehicle for this. I think it's a very egalitarian group in terms of musical roles: we all have equal influence on the music. Sometimes the guitars have the driving rhythmic elements, while the drums and bass plays more texturally. It's interesting to break down the traditional functional hierarchies of music, so that each instrument is free to be wherever it would want to be.


You also have written a piece for Bozzini Quartet for this year's Festival International Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville. It will feature frequent collaborator Ingar Zach on percussion and Erika Angell on voice. The text has been written by Caroline Bergvall, whom I consider to be one of the most interesting poets today. "In the end his voice will be the sound of paper” was also very much a matter of words, this time written from Jenny Hval. How do you engage with writing music meant to be a vehicle for meaning (or lack thereof if need be)? You have collaborated with very textual and experimental writers, is it a challenge for the composition? Do you consider yourself as occupying a similar, although sonic, ground as them?

I don't see the relationship between music and text to be as black/white. I am skeptical of those who say that music is abstract and has no real meaning, whereas text has is concrete and has meaning. I think music and text can be equally ambiguous, and equally musical too. What I like about Jenny's work is that I find no separation between words and music; they are integral parts of the whole. It's not words or a message set to music; they are elements with equal power in the work.


From a musical point of view, I'm approaching the piece with Caroline quite differently from the one with Jenny. "In the end.." was a collection of fragmented songs, elements in constant transience. This new piece should feel like one single song that just stays for a long time. I've been quite inspired by Robert Ashley lately, and was wanting to make something longer and slower; intimate and with a soft tension present.



Last project announced so far is the release of your second solo album, Bloom, by Hubro this time, in June. What can you tell us about it? How much is it different from your precedent, critically-acclaimed endeavour, All your limbs singing? How has evolved your own solo voice since then?

At the surface "Bloom" is quite different from its predecessor: lots of overdubs, electric guitars, electronics and some acoustic guitars too. It's a studio record developed over about 8 weeks of recording, so the music was constructed quite differently. "All your limbs singing" was developed over a few years of playing concerts, and then playing live in studio. I think I was interested in making a bigger sound here. I was also interested in trying to create a big sound without the manual labor that is necessary when playing acoustic guitar. I think some way the new record in is less self-referential than "All your limbs", which might make it sound a bit more generous. It's still a natural continuation of the music, I think.



Circadia is on tour in Europe in May. Live review to come on DPM. Check http://www.kimmyhr.com/ for updates.


permalink: permalink -- -- tagged: • Kim Myhr • Jenny Hval • Trondheim Jazz Orchestra • Lasse Marhaug 
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