LARGE BIRD MASK
Rolf Wallin & Kjetil Skøien
Commissioned by Cikada
14. September 2019
Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival
We are increasingly made aware of animal species on the brink of extinction. The populations of many common birds have been more than halved in the matter of a few decades. This has led composer Rolf Wallin and director Kjetil Skøien to ask: when we exterminate the birds, do we also exterminate what they symbolise deep within us? The dream of flying, the dream of singing freely and exuberantly and indeed the very dream of freedom?
Maybe it's time to show a bit of humility? In many so-called primitive cultures, the shamans use masks to become one with the animal spirits, so that the animals can be harvested sustainably by the hunters without disappearing. Instead of masks, Cikada's musicians use their instruments to "become birds". The music they play is extracted from the song of some of the endangered bird species, stretched in time so that our slow ears can appreciate their fascinating melodic swirls. And with text and choreography they move into a larger scenic unity, with projected images and videos telling the story of these fantastic creatures and our vulnerable relationship with them.
Large Bird Mask (2019) 60'
Seven Disobediences (2018) 25'
World Premiere at Donauechinger Musiktage 20.10.2018.
Birds Within Us (2019) 21'
consist of three movements: Starling, Nightingale and Skylark.
World Premiere at Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival, 14.09.20
The two parts can be performed individually or as a full night performance with theatrical elements.
The performance includes text excerpts from:
Göran Sonnevi Oceanen
Pål Hermansen Fuglenes Magi
The birds in us
A naturally flowing performance that makes the spectator feel and think differently.
The stage lies in darkness. Loudspeakers fill the air with soft birdsong. A stagehand walks onto the stage to move a chair before the concert, and suddenly, she is perched on top of it, seemingly listening, like a bird. Naturally, she is a dancer (Cecilie Stensrud) and part of the ensemble.
Later, she reads short, quiet texts about the swift, the swallow and the starling. Musicians come in, one by one, accompanied through the door by virtual birdsong, as if from a forest or a garden. They take their seats with searching, birdlike, careful movements.
An elegant performance unrolls with live music, bird sounds, musicians voicing fumbling squeaks, flocking around the grand piano and gently tapping on its body; vulnerable musicians in bird poses, balancing unsteadily on one foot.
We see images of birds on the backwall, masks and beaks, old footage of shamans dancing, sepia photos of angel statues. We see humans with wings, but also scientific information: graphs showing the reduction of bird populations these last forty years, short texts about the lapwing, the snowy owl, the song of the common snipe, set to well-made electronic sound, beautiful lighting and, at the end, a bird mask and a cloak in strong colours.
Internal and external. What convinces me, is how everything turns into formal elements of a naturally flowing performance that makes me feel and think differently. Even the graphs and texts become elements in a composition, a concert and theatre staging where internal and external experience is put into play in a playful and questioning way. Vulnerable as the birds themselves.
We know that birds around us are extinguished at a raging pace. It is serious. The populations of songbirds, seabirds, waders, birds of prey, owls have been drastically reduced in only thirty to forty years – in Norway, in Europe, in the world. We read about it, we hear about it, it concerns us, we carry on as before. What does this do to us? Not only with the birds out there (which is dramatic enough), but with the birds in us, like mythical images, winged beings in the mind and in the world.
Art can tell us something else about the environmental crisis than what articles, reports, scientists and politicians do. Something that touches us more profoundly and more delicately.
Rolf Wallin and Kjetil Skøien have made a thoughtful, beautiful and humoristic performance about an alarming theme. The score is based on the structures of birdsong, but stretched and bent in time and space, pinned down by Wallin’s great experience in computer-assisted composing. Does the piece have a satisfying form? Are the transitions smooth? Yes. Christian Eggen conducts the music with precision and authority.
Flute, clarinet, violins, viola, cello and double bass, piano and abundant percussion, plus electronics: it is a classic line up of the post-war modernism. I hear both Messiaen, Boulez and Berio, as well as the avant-garde’s attentive plucking and tapping on instruments, in a style that Wallin has long since incorporated, and yet, developed into something new and effortlessly his own.
Out of the comfort zone. The ensemble, Cikada, celebrates its thirty years this year . They have played an invaluable role in contemporary music. The musicians perform in a refined and articulated manner, highly professional, again this time; here, they also step out of their comfort zone, but unceremoniously, friendly, caringly, without it ever becoming clumsy or awkward.
Two musicians lift a third one and hold her mid-air, but gently, suggesting a bird in flight.
This year’s Ultima festival is themed “traditions under pressure”. Various concerts and performances bring up different kinds of threats or pressure from the wider society. In this work, it is not only cultural traditions but actually nature that is threatened. The transitions from outer to inner reality get blurred. The information and graphs have an impact on us together with the images and the sound, the shaman cuts, the music and the stage directions. It is never obtrusively carried out. It is beautiful. It is poetical. It is actually touching. It is an alarm!
Erling E. Guldbrandsen, Morgenbladet 19.September, 2019
Photos by Signe Fuglesteg Luksengård,
Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival