Asamisimasa Plays the Music of Øyvind Torvund: Neon Forest Space

Øyvind Torvund's idiosyncratic vision is well-served by his collaborators on this collection of four works by the Norwegian composer (b.1976). The first one of note is obviously Asamisimasa, a five-member ensemble founded in 2002 whose avant-garde sensibility clearly aligns with Torvund's and who bring his eclectic material to life with assiduity and verve; the second is artist Marc Bell, whose colourful illustrations translate the wildness of Torvund's music into visual form on the release's packaging. Unusual juxtapositions abound in the four illustrations in a way that mirrors the composer's own freewheeling musical conceptions.

Asamisimasa, whose 2012 debut album Pretty Sound highlighted the music of Danish composer Simon Steen-Andersen, consists of keyboardist Ellen Ugelvik, clarinetist Kristine Tjøgersen, cellist Tanja Orning, percussionist Håkon Stene, and guitarist Anders Førisdal. On paper the line-up appears straightforward enough, yet the group's approach, characterized as a collision of traditional and left-field playing, is unusual. Conventional instruments commonly rub shoulders with junkyard sounds and field recordings, with Stene adding everything from an electric drill and toy laser gun to the group's clarinet-guitar-piano-cello mix. Like Torvund, Asamisimasa is comfortable threading folk, industrial, experimental, and chamber music into its ever-mutating soundworld. Joining the quintet on the recording are trombonist Torild G. Berg, violinist Karin Hellqvist, and, fittingly, Torvund himself, who adds noise generator, feedback, and cassette recorders to three of the four pieces.

During the five-part Wilibald Motor Landscape, guitars, harpsichord, clarinet, and cello collide with vehicles roaring down motorways, the staccato rush of tape and instrument sounds moving so fast the piece begins to resemble a collage of fragments. One section is marked by the contrast between the slow wheeze of the instruments and the Doppler-esque sounds of cars racing by; elsewhere, Tjøgersen and Orning contribute clarinet and cello solos, the natural timbre of their instruments offset by barrages of noise clattering around them. As raw and adventurous is the seven-part Neon Forest Space, wherein Asamisimasa plays along with the sounds of nature and attempts to replicate it in its own playing. With bird chirps and animal noises quietly filling the air, the ensemble's instrument sounds creak and woozily moan as if in response to the creatures' invitation. In the eighteen-minute Plastic Waves, the juxtaposition is between the natural and the industrial worlds, things created by nature versus by human hands; alternating between noise splashes and restrained moments, the piece puts Ugelvik's piano at the forefront, but there's space made for Førisdal's Hendrix-ian guitar, too.

Of the four works presented, it's Wolf Studies that's perhaps the most memorable, not only due to the incorporation of actual recordings of wolves but also by the way Asamisimasa's playing imitates the creature's howl and cry. The merging of the two parts makes for an engrossing listen, and Torvund's music in this case feels less like a jarring juxtaposition of extreme contrasts than a coherent fusion of different yet related elements. At one point, Stene's drum brushes and percussion seem to mimic the rapid trot of an attacking pack, while the cello's groan suggests the dying vocalizations of an animal caught by a wolf. In speaking about avant-garde music in an interview, Torvund said, I don't have any answers, but I believe in freedom. If no specific conclusions are necessarily reached on this hour-long collection, artistic freedom is certainly on full display throughout.

November 2015