Arve Henriksen – The Height Of The Reeds
(Rune Grammofon RCD2201. CD review by Peter Bacon)
There has always been an elemental nature to the cultural connections between the North East of the UK and Scandinavia, and Arve Henriksen’s work The Height Of The Reeds, a commission as part of Hull’s UK City of Culture celebrations in 2017, is one of the strongest yet.
It began as a sound installation for the Humber Bridge, the sounds being made not only by Henriksen (trumpeter and voice), Eivind Aarset (guitar and electronics), Jan Bang (samples and programming) and the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North, conducted by Justin Doyle, but also the Humber Bridge itself and its surroundings, courtesy of field recordings by sound artist Jez Riley French. With this CD release you don’t have to don a pair of headphones and battle the blustering winds off the Humber. What you miss is the interaction of music and landscape, but the sounds coming from my hi-fi speakers are substantial enough to stand alone.
We get the unmistakable sound of Henriksen’s trumpet and almost otherworldly falsetto – they are very closely related, subtle variations on the same timbral and tonal range. We get the similarly personal guitar/electronic washes of Aarset. Riley French’s field recordings include the bridge cables resonating and the percussive clicking of the reeds. The music for the orchestra and chorus, arranged by Alexander Waaktaar give Henriksen his biggest musical soundscape yet, and if the music they produce is not particularly adventurous, it is completely in keeping with the trumpeter’s precise focus. What Bang does I have always regarded in the same way I view the work of adept magicians – I have no idea how it’s done; I am happy to marvel and be enthralled.
What these nine pieces – their names are a joy: The Swans Bend Their Necks Backward To See God, Nymphs And Eurasian Horses, Pink Cherry Trees are examples – do so well is convey contradictions: a sense of the vast river but also of the overbearing man-made landscape, the loss that comes with industrial decline but also the natural renewal of wildlife, the light and shade in the Nordic soul and similarly the North-Eastern soul too. Or maybe that is all in my imagination… Henriksen’s music is like that – it gives the listener freedom to find in it what most appeals.