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Arne NORDHEIM (b. 1931)
The Nordheim Tapes: Electronic Music from the 1960s:
CD 1
Collage I [16:52]
Collage II [10:47]
Collage III [12:08]
Collage IV [7:12]
CD 2
Intermezzo [1:38]
Den Lille Prinsen [2:44]
Hjemkomsten [3:04]
Her Bor Vi Sa Gjerne [1:49]
Nar Vi Døde Vagner [2:55]
Hamlet [2:45]
Faust [5:28]
Mot Bristepunktet [1:38]
Myrfolket [5:29]
Dagen Vender [3:54]
Mandagsbilden [1:20]
Vi pa Alfabulator [2:30]
Dei Kjenslelause [3:54]
Amaryllis [5:28]
Papirfuglen [12:40]
Original recordings for Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) 1960-1970.
Collages prepared by Risto Holopainen at NoTam studios in 2007.
AURORA ACD5051 [47:03 + 57:25]
Experience Classicsonline

This beautifully presented two disc set comprises electronic music from Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim. These piece were composed in the 1960s during electronic music’s developmental stage, as incidental music for radio theatre. The music was stored as fragments of sound effects, and was thought to have been lost, but its discovery - and subsequent first release - has provided us with the opportunity to hear some of the early experiments of one of Norway’s leading contemporary composers.
 
Most of Nordheim’s pioneering work in the field of electronic music took place in Warsaw, since Norway did not have its own electronic studio at the time. This material, however, from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) was made before he went to Poland, and shows that his experiments began earlier than previously thought. The music heard here dates from 1961 onwards, and served Nordheim as compositional studies which he would refine in later electro-acoustic works.
 
The first disc contains a series of four collages created by Risto Holopainen and made up of sound samples from Nordheim’s early pioneering work. The music comes from the sound-world now popularly associated with the early Sci-Fi television programmes, such as Doctor Who, with sine waves, filters, ring modulators, pitch shifters and synthesis in abundance. The music is expressive and the manufactured sounds have a human feel to them, as if each individual sound was crafted with care to remove the harsh, machine-like edges of some early electronic music. There is real beauty in this music, with the collages giving an opportunity to explore the sound world without interruption. There is surprising scope to the music too, with Nordheim’s earliest experiments using live instruments and tape techniques also being evident.
 
Disc 2 incorporates tracks directly from the radio theatre works, often fusing live instruments with electronic sounds. Nordheim’s use of electronics is sensitive, accompanying the live sounds and creating new colours.  The choice of instruments also shows an understanding of colour; Nordheim makes frequent use of alto flute, harp and percussion. The tracks are mostly short snippets of sound; only the final track, Papirfuglen has a duration longer than five and a half minutes. Track 3, Hjemkomsten is a single line solo for sine wave, with gentle glissandi moving from one pitch to another. The lines are simple but the position of this piece of music after two live instrumental tracks shows the thought processes involved in Nordheim’s electronic creation, using mechanical means to replicate a line similar to the solo flute of the previous tracks. In Track 4 the scope is increased to include electronic sounds which are similar to the harp and percussion heard earlier. Organ sounds also feature quite heavily in this music, and track 5 is a duo for organ and white noise generator. One immediately thinks of white noise as being unpleasant, but the use here is extremely effective. Volume levels are well balanced with the organ, and the sound gradually changes to allow different overtones to emerge. For me, this was one of the most fascinating moments of the disc. Track 7, Faust, includes a choir, birdsong and some wonderful tape manipulations, while track 8, Mot Bristepunktet has an array of electronic sound effects resembling water, and distant alarms. Track 10 has a menacing use of monastic sounding male voices against the backdrop of an organ, while Track 11, Mandagsbilen includes the narration of the radio play text to show the electronics sounds in context. This is an excellent addition and helps to give a sense of how Nordheim’s music was used. The sounds in track 12 are more aggressive than most of the rest of the disc, showing a different element of what could be achieved in electronic music at that time. Dei Kjenslelause’s high pitched organ-like sounds are heard over an accompaniment of electronically produced percussive landscape sounds (perhaps akin to insects in an exotic world). This is one of only a few high pitched moments on the disc and the multiple layers in the music give an impressive sense of depth and space. Amaryllis (track 14) continues with the high pitched material, this time using pitch shifting to create a melody line which works in parallel between low and high pitch. Occasionally the pitch shift settings are altered to allow for a pitch bend in the lower part, which gives it a sense of having a life of its own. The final track, Papirfuglen is the longest on the disc, at over twelve and a half minutes’ duration. Creating a range of complex sounds from metallic bell sounds to modified piano tones Nordheim creates a soundscape of beauty and imagination, keeping the textures relatively simple to allow the individual sounds to be appreciated and presumably also to allow space for the voice-overs.
 
This is a wonderful pair of discs which are unmissable for anyone interested in electronic music. The sound quality is excellent, and the presentation is second to none. Arne Nordheim’s compositions are crafted with expertise, even at such an early time in his development as a composer, and deserve to be heard.
 
Carla Rees
 

 


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