Gunhild Seim is a Norwegian composer and trumpet player. She is coming to Bodø with the installations VELKOMMEN:HJEM, a collaboration with scenograph Terese Arildsdatter Riis. VELKOMMEN:HJEM can be experienced at Nordic Kids Hub.
Gunhild Seim has been characterized as “an abundant source of ideas”. Twice a receiver of Norwegian Artist working grants, she has released 5 albums: three with her band Gunhild Seim and Time Jungle, «Story Water» (2013 – a commission by the festival Vossajazz), and her latest «Grenseland» (2018 – a collaboration with Marilyn Crispell and David Rothenberg). She is one of the founders of the Stavanger-based large ensemble Kitchen Orchestra. She works in the area between improvised and contemporary music, including crossovers to other art forms, for instance “Lyden av Vann» (2016), a commission for the 150th anniversary for the poet Sigbjørn Obstfelder.
Do you have any thoughts on music’s role in our identity? Do you think of your self as a Nordic composer?
Everybody comes from somewhere, also composers, and are connected to their personal history. I believe that the «mind-on-music» state of mind can be compared to moving through an inner landscape, visiting places. The personal meanings of the places you «visit» during listening to a piece of music, will affect the experience of the music, for instance, memories and associations. Perceiving new music is similar to mapping a landscape, maybe it reminds you of something, maybe not. And everybody has these types of connections to places in their inner landscape – which could be called their roots. However, the roots are to their personal history and musical preferences as well as to the geographical roots. As a composer, you should try to utilize this phenomenon. I don’t know if it is possible to hear a Nordic sound in Nordic composers. It should be possible to hear that different composers have shared roots – but quite often listeners also think they hear things out of an expectation to hear something particular. Maybe a program text has told them what they are going to hear. Sometimes people listen with their eyes and not their ears…
You are both a performer and a composer. How do you use your musicianship in your compositions?
I’ve worked as an improvising musician for many years, playing trumpet and electronics. I gradually developed from performer-composer into also composing for situations where I don’t play myself. As a composer, having this background makes me very aware of the performer side of music-making. For instance awareness of the body as a source of actions that the music is built from. It has taught me to have an open approach when working on musical material – to be prepared that ideas are just a starting point since during the process one might find something unexpected. One could say that I started as an improviser also when composing, relying mostly on intuitive processes. Often I started with one step and felt my way to what the next step should be, like in improvisation, maybe with a set of rules that could guide the way. Over time I have become interested in going beyond improvisation and work with other design methods. But improvisation and my musicianship will continue to be important to me.
Is music, often wordless, freer than other art forms? Any thoughts on this?
Music always exists in a context, for instance in my composing process I am always somehow present. It is me who explores the material and makes decisions about what to focus on and what to leave out. This is especially noticeable to me when trying to mix music and activism. It is a balance, on the one side, one needs to have opinions, on the other side one needs to step back and leave a good amount of space for the listener. Activism in music is better when you investigate, not conclude. In the case of «Velkommen Hjem» the activism played a bigger role in the work than usual. When the stories you are tracing are vast and important, like the question «What means home?» , I want to make sure that the music I’m making is not taking the attention away from what I’m trying to convey. In Velkommen hjem, I ended up following the «less is more»-path for the wordless material, and let the spoken word have more focus, although this is something I’d rarely do. I want sound to be the main channel of communication in my works, I want sound itself to give intuitive meaning.
VELKOMMEN:HJEM is an installation by Gunhild Seim (concept/music) and Terese Arildsdatter Riis (concept/scenography), for audience 10 years and up. It has the form of a tent village, in which the audience can explore and reflect. It has multichannel sound in the form of sounding sensor-objects/games and small speakers. Through sound, music, visual and sensory impressions, the installation deals with different questions about the concept of home. What it is to have a home? Does the home feel real? Do you feel welcome? How does one deal with the impermanence – or loss – of a home? The installation includes recordings of real people’s stories about what home means to them, individual people’s very different truths about for instance what staying in a tent means.