S e q v e n s
Bassist and composer Eske Nørrelykke releases his debut solo album Seqvens on Oct. 11. 2018.
With this virtuoso 7:38 piece, Nørrelykke establishes a series of compressed picturesque scenarios brought to life by a combination of original compositional concepts and improvised elements, performed by an ensemble of string quartet, electronics, spoken words, cello and himself as soloist on double bass.
Thus, Nørrelykke weds approaches from his musical upbringing in jazz and improvisational music with the precision, discipline and tools inherent to contemporary classical music. This methodical encounter makes the core of Seqvens from which the storyline unfolds.
We nowadays know exactly what to expect from stories set in Viking time: strong, tall bearded men clad in helmets and furs who set off with their axes for expeditions of violence and plunder. But when the album Seqvens opens with a bass solo, then a compelling string prelude followed by the crisp announcement: “Viking time is animated by the current of myth and violence generated voltaically in the cells between its boreal cathode and agricultural anode”, this is not the beginning of this stereotypical Viking tale. Viking time appears here in the midst of new modernism music as a sort of common ground between Danish composer and bass soloist Eske Nørrelykke and British writer and performer Neil Bennun.
The text, revolves around a battery metaphor which is introduced in this first sentence. Viking time is generated by this battery, there are currents of myth and violence connected closely to the two poles of the battery, the nomadic Saami people in the North and the settled farmers and craftsmen further South.
Neither these farmers or the Saami seem to be Vikings, because the narrator tells us that “The Vikings call them ‘the Finns’” and “The Vikings call them ‘farmers’. Viking time is thus far from exclusively inhabited by Vikings; it is in its own way multicultural with the Saami who hunt bears and live a nomadic life, the farmers, bakers and tillers in permanent villages, and the (probably English) “we” that speaks for those invaded by Vikings.
The narrating voice tells us that “a ‘viking’ is an action performed when you beach your shallow-bottomed boat and take your axe to the monastery” and that “a ‘vik’ is a camp / a camp is a thing for the meanwhile”, thus reducing the Vikings from a people or a culture to a mere action of violence or temporarily and unwelcomed settlement. In fact, the Vikings are almost eradicated completely from the text, when we are told “The Vikings don’t call themselves Vikings”.
What is elaboraed on is instead the diverse cultural practises of Viking time. We hear of the mythic beliefs of the Saami, who with buckets that “of course are songs” draw memories of a distant, surreal past where “spring, snow, fire, bears, salmon, reindeer, women, men and drums were created” from the black and the blacker lake. It may seem hard to believe it, when the narrator tries to assure the listener that “The black lake is a real place”, but it of course can be if we understand it as a place in the shared cultural imagination of the Saami. Beliefs and mythology are then as real as geography. We also hear the villagers who impersonate the thoroughly undramatic everyday life of “bakers and tillers” who build houses, get married and grow crops. The most exciting aspect about the farmers is their domestic disputes when they drink: “When the husbands and wives get drunk, they throw sour apples at each other.”
Either these farmers are those who stay at home when the Vikings take off in their boats, or they are the inhabitants in the villages that the Vikings attack, or they are maybe both at once.
The battery as the core structure of the text introduces a flexible concept of time that flows throughout the text. The two main metaphors, the battery and the black lake with buckets in it, belong to two extremes; the battery is a modern, scientific invention, while the black lake is situated in a mythic reality and explains the origin of everything. It is natural science on one hand and a cultural practice of remembering and understanding the world through myth and songs on the other hand.
The text borrows models of explanation from both today’s rational approach to the world and ancient history’s mythic worldview. Viking time as concept is thus generated and negotiated somewhere in between the historic reality and practice and today’s assumptions about it.
As the intertwined points of view (the Vikings who observe the Saami and the farmers, the “we” who observe the Vikings, and the “I” who at the same time is situated in Viking time and today) in the text indicate, the concept and understanding of Viking time varies depending on who see and tell the story. And in this text, it is everyone concerned but the traditional warrior Viking.