Report from Ålesund – Norway

A view of the Mountains
Rob Edgar reports from the Norwegian town of Ålesund where he spent two days exploring its culture and music:

Ålesund is a unique town on the west coast of Norway – sometime home to trumpeter/composer Nils Petter Molvær and full-time home to artist Ørnulf Opdahl who paints the dramatic landscape surrounding. Molvær will be showcased at Scene Norway 2, curated by Fiona Talkington at Kings Place on 15 – 17 November, alongside Spin Marvel (with whom Nils will be guesting), singer Sidsel Endresen, folk violinist Annbjørg Lienn (joined by Molvær), singer Hilde Marie Kjersem (her London début), and Jan Bang (who will be performing as part of the Not So Silent Movies series with Molvær). Molvær will also be playing a solo set on the first night with improvised visuals by Tord Knudsen. Running alongside all this, is an exhibition of new paintings by Opdahl in the Kings Place gallery

The town - surrounded by islands, prosperous due to its factories and extensive fishing industry (I was told that dried cod or Klippfisk as the Norwegians call it probably came originally from here) - is home to a number of cultural venues and curiosities bubbling quietly beneath the surface.

One of Ørnulf Opdahl's studios

My first stop was to one of Ørnulf Opdahl's two studios where he paints the beautiful but often violent landscape which surrounds him. The paintings are remarkable in their use of shade, space and flashes of light, all the more striking because of the often dark (but never bleak) colours filling the rest of the canvas. “I don't paint images” he explains, “I paint the feeling – it's kind of a happy melancholy like Nils Petter's music”.

The entrance to Opdahl's studio

Indeed, there are strong parallels between Molvær's music and Opdahl's art: thoughtful, profound and lyrical with special attention paid to colour and space. It is the surroundings which inspire them both (on my first day here – a ship sounded its horn which reverberated around the islands before gradually petering out, perhaps providing a clue to the origins of the echoic and sparse sound of much of Norway's jazz).

We visited the Ocean Sound Recordings studio where Molvær's 2011 release Baboon Moon was recorded, it is completely self contained, musicians rent it out for as long as they need and live there for the duration, they have a mixing desk purchased from London's Mayfair Studios and they still record onto analogue tape.

Ocean Sound's Reel to Reel Recorder

Terje Erstad (studio manager) and Lars Berg Giskeødegård (project manager for Ocean Sound and marketing officer for Momentium – festival organisers) talked about the the Sommerfesten that they put on every year (at its peak it saw 35000 people, but they have since reduced it to a more manageble 5000) featuring music from many different disciplines, they are also involved with the Midtsommerjazz festival which takes place in a square overlooking the quayside, the Jugendfest (showcasing the best of Ålesund's youth). I also heard tell of a Kammermusicfestival (Chamber music) featuring many concerts dotted around the town.

The view from the mixing room of Ocean Sound

Norwegians are nothing if not industrious, the disused factories and warehouses have been transformed into modern flats, office spaces, and restaurants. There are plans for an art gallery and concert space built under the ground near the Alnes Lighthouse (a functional lighthouse that also serves as an art gallery and restaurant serving local food), with the roof covered in grass to preserve the landscape. There is the Teaterfabrikken, a pub filled with charming bric-a-brac (the shark's jaw-bone hanging next to the bar, and radios from the 1930s being perhaps the most striking) which puts on everything from hard rock, jazz, stand-up comedy, and theatre pieces, its wide-ranging entertainment ensures that it serves the whole community.

Opdahl also showed us round the buildings he is currently renovating, they are traditional wooden houses (rarely seen in Ålesund since the fire in 1904 which razed almost the entire city to the ground). One will be yet another concert space and children's theatre doubling as an office, the other, a house built in the mid 19th Century which will eventually become a museum and testament to the town's old way of life.

Rob travelled to Norway as the guest of Visit Ålesund

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