WORKING IN THE
It was in the
winter of 2007, while we were in the process of mixing The
Light, when Manfred Eicher came up with the idea for Night Song
at a coffee bar in Oslo. It was particularly welcome for me that
he wanted to invite Svante Henryson to participate, as I
remembered with great pleasure a duo concert Svante and I had
held at the Bath Festival two years earlier. I remembered some
of the powerful compositions Svante had presented to me on that
occasion, and as always, I found it easy to compose for him. I
took my own fascination with Schubert as my point of departure.
Ever since I sat evenings in the school gym as a 14-year-old,
playing his sonatas in the dark, afraid that someone would
discover that I had borrowed the caretaker’s keys without
permission, I have been nearly obsessed with Schubert’s linear
melodic and harmonic patterns. It is no coincidence that in my
novel ‘The River’ (‘Der Fluss’), the protagonist Aksel Vinding
sees Schubert twice in dream sequences. Schubert’s almost na´ve
openness, his existential sense of wonder and his emotional
passion make him at the same time both concrete and mythical. He
is a musician one wishes one had known, could talk to, could
confide in. Schubert lacked much of the theoretical knowledge
that many of his contemporaries possessed. Perhaps it was
precisely this limitation that attuned him so intensely to his
own originality. Night Song was conceived as a musical dialogue
with Schubert and as a tribute to him. Without paraphrasing him
directly, many of Schubert’s musical ideas are used in this
suite, not least the linear model apparent in many of the
subsidiary themes of his piano sonatas, as well as the frequent
shifts between major and minor keys.
this starting point, I met Svante for the first practice
sessions before making the recording and discovered that he
shared the same musical frame of reference in his compositions.
Svante’s unique responsiveness makes him the perfect chamber
musician. And Manfred knew this, of course. Because when we
entered the studio he wanted us to sit as close to each other as
possible, and to play acoustically, without headphones or glass
It is always
special for a musician when an ECM production evolves through a
dialogue with producer Manfred Eicher from the very beginning.
It can probably be compared to what an actor felt, or feels,
when working with a film director like Ingmar Bergman or
Jean-Luc Godard. The director’s, or producer’s, own aesthetic
sense and creative techniques can be so compelling that the
actor, or musician, willingly defers to a conceptual universe
that may have a wider scope than the ideas he or she had been
working on. When Manfred Eicher decides to produce a musician,
he knows precisely what this person is capable of. But he may
want to coax forth other elements than those in the original
concept. This could result, for instance, in a composition with
an entirely different structure or dynamics than those of the
dialogue between the producer and the musician is typical of ECM.
When you go into the studio with Manfred, you are keenly focused
and prepared for hard work and sudden surprises.
Just as I did on
my recordings The Sea and The River, I experienced maximum
presence on the part of Manfred, which meant that he sometimes
literally sat beside me and conducted the music. As a former
young bass player in an orchestra, he knows what the task of the
conductor involves. It is as much a matter of defining limits as
of providing freedom. But freedom is not something that can just
be grabbed and used successfully. Using freedom is something
that must be learned, often through hard-earned experience.
Manfred Eicher has always shown enormous confidence in his
musicians by not interfering with the music before it is
presented in the studio. The musicians’ intentions become clear
to him in just a few minutes. Then it is also easy for him to
hear what is superfluous or unnecessary in the relevant context.
Being produced by Manfred Eicher is very much a question of
becoming aware of one’s own expressive idiom, while at the same
time being able to surrender oneself to his vast musical space,
just as an actor must surrender to a director, and to believe
that he or she is exactly the right person to see what is unique
while also respecting one’s integrity of expression.
Creating music from such a starting point is a cathartic process
which can be a shock to an inexperienced musician. But in the
final analysis it will always be perceived as liberating. Many
of the compositions on Night Song ended up with a totally
different expressive quality than in our original concept, but
there was never any doubt as to the path we had to take.