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Robin B. James
December 12/05/20, 2020
Blended acoustic and electronic instrumental music combining sustained melodic progressive themes and lots of acoustic textures that build and strengthen, using cello, hand percussion, keyboards, guitars and various interesting gizmos. I particularly appreciate the special Norwegian melancholy that stalks the background in places. In the ambient electronic universe, this newest album from the Green Isac Orchestra invokes to my ears a bit of the progressive rock traditions, but without any vocals or virtuoso power-play. I hear actual melodies and tempos, rich acoustic instrumentation mixed with electronics, and even some propulsive crimson riffs at times, all the while residing warmly in the cerebral realm of soothing ambient meditative instrumentals.

The album is available from Spotted Peccary Music in LP vinyl format and in 24-BIT AUDIOPHILE, CD QUALITY LOSSLESS, MP3 and streaming formats. All links: https://orcd.co/b-a-r

b a r was recorded and mixed at Frydenlund Studio, Oslo, Norway, where it was mastered by Lunds Lyd, with cover art by Nils Olav Bøe, who did the previous Green Isac Orchestra album cover illustration. You will hear five musicians lending their skills, secrets, and dreams to create together an elegant and intricate instrumental orchestral tour de force. The orchestra includes Jo Wang playing piano, therevox, mellotron, organ, and synths; Tov Ramstad playing cello and electric cello; Morten Lund playing electric guitar, lapsteel, electronics, baritone guitar, and gizmotron; Frode Larsen playing percussion, mallets, and grand cassa; and Andreas Eriksen playing drums, percussion, synth bass, programming and arpeggiations.

The album title b a r is a word with a lot of different meanings, variously: a long rod used as an obstruction, for fastening, or as a weapon; a counter where alcoholic drinks are served; a deposit composed of sand, silt, or pebbles in a river; a candy bar; to prevent someone from doing something or from going somewhere; a stripe with colors; a term for the legal profession; a line through a letter; a punctuation symbol; as well as specific nouns, family names and geographical designations. The album begins with some moments of power on the first song and settles into a calm meditative groove with a few climactic episodes blended in, creating some interesting dynamic tensions in the mix.

“Green Isac Orchestra is the extension of the duo Green Isac,” Lund explains. “It was put together in order to play live versions of Green Isac material, but soon the band started to make new music. Minimalist and ambient were the core ideas in the beginning, but on b a r there are several hints to prog.”

The album cover art is an image created by the Norwegian artist Nils Olav Bøe (http://www.omniweb.no/nob/), his imagery is sometimes of constructed urban and industrial landscapes, atmospheric and dreamlike miniature tableaus, often warping perceptions of dimensions and distances. "We feel there is a relation between Nils Olav Bøe's artistic signature and our musical expression. The naked minimalism in his art suits us well."

As a duo, Green Isac have always been known for the fresh and exciting recordings they created in the studio going all the way back to 1990. Now that the lineup has expanded to a quintet, the project has transformed into a living organism where the unmistakable Green Isac sound is developed and arranged with the musicians working together in a live setting, spontaneously crafting and refining their musical ideas through a process of realtime collaboration.

“Typically a small theme, rhythm, or soundscape is presented as a start point, and then the arrangements are made in rehearsals until we feel we are ready for recording.” says Eriksen. “It has been quite refreshing working together as a group in this way, and we have really been focused on listening and responding to each other. Hopefully this reflects in the music and makes it more alive.”

The music's complexity of character brings to the mind's ear progressive themes drawn from whole cultural experiences brought together respectfully, without fear or prejudice, creating an ear-opening warm resonance illuminating the mysterious, the intuitive, and the passionate, sometimes integrating sampled and found sounds, with electronic music techniques, while showing a preferred mixture of electronic and acoustic instruments over pure electronics.

When asked, GIO describes their inspirational starting point as containing "a mixture of minimalism (Steve Reich, Philip Glass) and ambient (Brian Eno, Jon Hassell)... The palette has of course expanded over the years, with rhythms being equally important as the ambient aspect. The last records also have several nods to classic prog rock expressions."

Inspiration can come in many forms. Kristianstad (Norway) is a summer getaway that has family attractions and untouched nature on land and water. Punkt International Music Festival, or Punktfestivalen (https://www.punktfestival.no/), is a music festival that has been arranged every year in Kristiansand since 2005.

"We have attended the Punkt Festival in Kristiansand for several years. This is a small, alternative festival dedicated to electronic/improvised music, and has been a great source of inspiration. It is always inspiring playing live for a dedicated audience that is open minded for such musical direction GIO represents."

One version of the GIO odyssey begins in Norway, with the label Origo Sound, an independent record label formed in 1990 by Harald Lervik. The first albums released that year were from Erik Wøllo, titled Images of Light, and Green Isac's Strings & Pottery, which were soon followed by more Norwegian artists including Geir Jenssen (Biosphere), Sverre Knut Johansen, Karsten Brustad, Langsomt Mot Nord, Eyeman Reel, and Neural Network. In 2007, Planet Origo came about, and in 2013 Origo was re-established.

Let's go back further in order to set the stage for where we are now. In 1978, along came an album called Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich; in 1980 came Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics by Jon Hassell; and in February of 1981 an album was released that really changed the world, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno–David Byrne. All of this set the course that led to the birth of the various Green Isac projects.

In Norway in the 1990s there was plenty of electronic music happening, with adventuresome collaborations and musicians moving between projects from time to time, as tends to happen in any exploding musical scene. There was a strong influence from a little settlement located way up above the arctic circle, in Tromsø, Norway. Mostly Oslo is the place to be. Some names to pay attention to are Bel Canto (Geir Jenssen: synthesizer, programming; Nils Johansen: synthesizer, violin, bass guitar, guitar; and vocalist Anneli Drecker), Erik Wøllo and Sverre Knut Johansen.

"We were directed to Origo from another company in this segment. Green Isac and Erik Wøllo were the first two releases on the label in 1990, followed by several releases of Biosphere. When Geir Jenssen quit the ‘arctic pop’-act Bel Canto to start Biosphere, he was replaced by (future) GIO´s drummer/percussionist Andreas Eriksen. Bel Canto toured extensively worldwide during the ‘90s."

Ethnic electronica (aka ethnotronica, ethno electronica or ethno techno) is where artists combine elements of electronic and world music. Folktronica is a genre of music utilizing elements of folk music and electronica, often featuring stringed, or any type of acoustic instruments.

"We had some time ago a project called Etnotronica, a series of concerts where we invited guest musicians to perform with us. One of these performances has later been released as GIO-tracks («Thon» from Green Isac Orchestra). We definitely look forward to performing live on stage again."

Let us return to the notion of world music, where there is a blending between the ancient and the current, foreign and contemporary, and pottery with liquid soundscapes to create a new melodic richness. "Andreas and Frode have traveled several times to West-Africa to study traditional drumming and rhythms. We have all listened to folk music from all over the world for inspiration different from the typical western expressions. It is important for us to blend these influences with our own musical ideas without copying them directly."

When asked for a definition of "music" the discussion turned to the German philosopher Arthur Schoppenhauer (1788 – 1860), "Music as a human form of expression is a unique phenomenon in the world, a phenomenon where one encounters something that cannot be replaced by anything else." Schoppenhauer deemed music a timeless, universal language comprehended everywhere, that can imbue global enthusiasm, if in possession of a significant melody. Many would argue that this applies to any artistic expression, but until abstract painting emerged in the early twentieth century, music was the only art that unfolded freely in its own purely artistic material that served no other purpose than music. He was among the first Western philosophers to contemplate Indian asceticism, denial of the self, and the notion of the world-as-appearance. Schopenhauer is famous for his influence on many artists and philosophers, providing for some a spiritual world and a new awareness of happiness.

Next I asked GIO for a definition of listening.

"Listening is a very central aspect of music making and especially during improvisation. It is as important as the playing itself."

Improvisation is musical extemporization in the moment, traditionally without planning or preparation but in the Ambient world, there is often a vague plan, places where musical signatures will change, places where special textures are deployed. In a group setting this is particularly interesting because there is a wonderful tension between the plan and the spirit of surprise or discovery. In the Jazz tradition there are long established patterns, when to take a solo, when to return to the base theme or groove. It's all about the results, how it sounds for the listener, but sometimes it is about discovering new and unexpected things, for the musicians, and the scientists.

"You could say that all our music is improvised since we never write anything down. However, we use a lot of time on arrangements. The approach is a little bit different between Green Isac and Green Isac Orchestra. The duo material is mostly studiowork with a lot of overdubs, while the 5 piece GIO is rehearsed and arranged by the band and then recorded with all members playing in the studio. There are of course overdubs afterwards, but the core arrangements are recorded live in the studio."

"We have had a recording studio for many years, and most of the ideas are developed there. Our studio is downtown Oslo, the capital of Norway. The inspiration for us here is more the sounds and noises from the city life, rather than mountaintops and sunsets. Living in a small country in Europe, we are heavily influenced by Anglo-American culture."

On the first track, bowed strings and tapped cymbals with exotic electronic spices make way for a journey into a somewhat dark wilderness landscape with primal geologic eruptions, a plethora of twists and turns into many interesting dimensions. This is probably the album's most energetic track, "Volcanic" (7:47), a vast epic landscape that constantly morphs into a series of cycles, a glowing orange bubbling and simmering lava flow that suddenly bursts into a powerful crimson eruptions and then returns to the quiet lava flow.

Quietly emerging from darkness, slowly building patterns and details, featuring layered instruments, mainly piano and cello, peppered with acoustic percussion and keeping a meditative mood that slides into a beat, "Le Grand Sportif" (7:05) contains atmospheric displays of group interplay moving fluidly between musical worlds. No showy heroics or athletic power stunts as the title might somehow infer, this is a complicated uniquely magical marriage of the traditional to modern organic electronica, with incorporated elements drawn from classical, jazz, and world music.

"With Hat" (3:25) is a portrait of a subject keeping still and thinking about many things, the subtle facial expressions keep shifting while the subject appears to stay perfectly
still. This is a delightfully understated picture of a person posing and allowing the music to illustrate moments of expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness and power, while the tempo is majestically slow and dignified.

Dawn breaks, I hear the cello embraced by intricate guitar layers and haunted by a changing range of pleasing surprises. A groove is established and then tweaked ever so slightly every so many measures, so that gradual changes add up to dramatic ones. "Don Progini" (7:03) ends with a burst of energy mixing of layers with distinctly foreshadowed build-up and release. The cycling theme weaves interpretations of a single theme above a steady rhythm, with a free-floating feeling that tends to find a different meaning everywhere it lands.

Oneiric is an adjective that describes things related to dreams and the fifth track has to me a nocturnal, spacey, dark and oneiric, perhaps an even more melancholic feeling. While showing respect for the old traditions, it is also willing to think along new lines. The title is "Aarwaaken" (6:10), which might translate from Dutch for "to watch." The instrumental floats free, like a planchette moving over a Ouija board guided by many fingers, where everyone watches the pointer float in various directions but no one is quite sure how it gets there or what is doing the pushing. Darker, with a beat, visited by turns and layers, yes, this one is my favorite in this collection of some unusually fantastic songs.

The closer for the album is a second portrait of a subject, but this one is not standing still, now we are walking at a brisk tempo, enjoying a new morning, luxuriating in a sound that doesn’t tell you what to feel. "Without Hat" (5:50) mixes layers with a distinctly foreshadowed build-up and release, innovative, eclectic elements, large-scale experimentation, and the use of non-standard and unconventional sounds, instruments, song structures, playing styles, repetitive circular rhythms, ornamentation, the use of acoustic stringed patterns, the sense of beatific endurance, electronic treatments, sound manipulation and minimal hypnotic motifs. And then it ends abruptly.

The original duo known as Green Isac began with percussionist Andreas Eriksen and multi-instrumentalist Morten Lund, creating a changing sound that is always exploring electronics and technology blended with world music influences. On the Origo Sound label are their first two albums, Strings & Pottery (1991) where they began creating electronics and rhythms fusing bowed strings and pottery with vintage synths into a delightful ethnic stew, followed by Happy Endings (1997) an earthy blend of exotic strings and hand percussion. On the Spotted Peccary label their releases include Groundrush (2001), trance-dance ethno new age grooves, Etnotronica (2004), a world music flavored electronic dance masterpiece, Passengers (2014) has an exotic trancelike feeling, and their new sound, Green Isac Orchestra (2015), where the duo expanded to a five-piece ensemble, five people playing together and recording in the same room make the listening experience more alive, exhibiting fusions of styles, approaches and genres, involving a continuous move between formalism and eclecticism, assimilating some forms of almost classical music into the blend of ethnic and immersive atmospheres.

Ambient electronic means many things, much of the time the music is for listening, not dancing and there is no conventional melody or beat, or perhaps the cohesion is more about texture and exploration. Green Isac is known for fearlessly exploring rhythms and melodies from all around the globe, some dancing is allowed, some meditative trance music is included, on this new album there are feelings tapping into broader cultural resonances that connect to avant-garde art, classical music and folk music, performance and some harmonic language that was imported from jazz and 19th-century classical music. On b a r you will enjoy the rudimentary serialism and the instruments borrowed from world music and early music blended with new electronic musical instruments and technologies that transform the musicians' ideas of what was possible and the audiences' ideas of what is acceptable in music.

Tracklist:
01 Volcanic 7:47
02 Le Grand Sportif 7:05
03 With Hat 3:25
04 Don Progini 7:03
05 Aarwaaken 6:10
06 Without Hat 5:50

About Spotted Peccary Music:
Portland-based Spotted Peccary Music is North America’s finest independent record label with a focus on deep, vast and introspective soundscapes. For over three decades, the artists of Spotted Peccary have been on a mission to develop, produce, publish and release ultra-high-quality, deep-listening experiences that engage the listener and exceed expectations. Every release is carefully prepared in a variety of high quality formats from MP3 to high-res studio masters. Explore more than 165 titles and 45 artists at www.SpottedPeccary.com and www.AmbientElectronic.com.

Links:
Green Isac Orchestra. https://www.greenisacorchestra.no/
Spotted Peccary Album page: https://spottedpeccary.com/shop/bar/
Album Unboxing Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFyZ6qzyctI
Spotted Peccary Artist page: https://spottedpeccary.com/artists/green-isac/
Bandcamp: https://ambientelectronic.bandcamp.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/spottedpeccary/
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/spottedpeccary

FOOTLINKS
Spotted Peccary Music
https://spottedpeccary.com/

Origio Sound
https://myspace.com/origosound

Steve Reich
https://www.stevereich.com/

Phillip Glass
https://philipglass.com/

Brian Eno
https://brian-eno.net/

Jon Hassell
https://jonhassell.com/

Punkt Festival
https://www.punktfestival.no/

Erik Wøllo
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwVTavNxGX0qkgwRrRjdCGw

Sverre Knut Johansen
https://www.youtube.com/user/SverrekJohansen

Biosphere
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZIwR2BzL0Y

Bel Canto
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5Njw0ovIbY

Music for 18 Musicians
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXJWO2FQ16c

Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFig-OiIwDo

Karlheinz Stockhausen
http://www.karlheinzstockhausen.org/

La Monte Young
https://www.melafoundation.org/lmy.htm

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMTi73h5B_U&list=OLAK5uy_mOoJHF6_qCl1To4Wz8qnPg9YuG37u1zRo

Hybrid
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZI2GLhEo7U

Arnold Schoppenhauer
https://iep.utm.edu/schopenh/

Nils Olav Bøe
https://artpil.com/nils-olav-boe/
https://www.artland.com/artists/nils-olav-boe-8c26ec

#AmbientElectronic #ElectronicMusic #Music #NorwegianMusic #GreenIsacOrchestra #SpottedPeccaryMusic #bar #InstrumentalMusic #Percussion #WorldMusic

 

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