Since you’ve taken the trouble to write me at such length, I will attempt to answer some of your critique. I am sorry that my review seems to have offended and angered you. I did not intend to insult anybody by my remarks.
In answer to the first part of your letter, dealing with the audience’s reactions (and mine), I would like to point out that a few people actually started laughing the very moment Otis Rush appeared on the screen. I have no problems with the humorous aspects of Rush’s statements towards the end of the video, but frankly, it seemed odd to laugh at his first remarks (and even before that).
I do NOT think that people laughed at Rush because he was black – that would have been an astonishingly stupid and racist reaction. I did, however, feel that there was a certain element of arrogance in a few of the people’s reactions. Perhaps these people were laughing because Rush seemed out of context, belonging to a different musical sphere, and if so, that was my entire point: I think Rush had every right to be taken as seriously as, say, Lars Amund Vaage, and certainly Jon Øystein Flink, who clearly aimed to provoke.
I basically think it was a friendly laughter, though, but that does not really alter the point. I simply saw no reason for the laughter in the beginning of the video – even if Otis Rush possibly came across as “a very lazy-looking famous musician seating nonchanantly in his chair”. But then again, as you point out, I am certainly not a mind reader.
I did note that Otis Rush was black, simply because he might not be a household name for all our readers, and because it seemed relevant in the setting, as far from all blues artists are Afro-Americans. It was not my intention to imply that this was a racist audience (as I clearly stated, we are talking about a handful of people here), but perhaps a somewhat elitarian one. I offer three explanations for the laughter caused by the appearance of Rush, and I even deride my reactions as being “unduly paranoid”.
For the record, I certainly did not feel myself surrounded by “hundreds of cannibals” (!), but simply questioned the reactions of a very few individuals. I have no problem in accepting that even these people were laughing good heartedly, but I simply could not see what was so hilarious about the initial scene.
I am well aware of the qualities of “primitive” music, and have often used the word in a positive sense. I certainly do not consider blues “a lower and simple form of music”, and am sorry that you think I do. I have written about music for more than two decades, and have chosen a quote attributed to Ornette Coleman as my personal motto: “When you like music, you like a lot of music”. Be it Laibach or Lachenmann, John Cage or John Cale, Robert Johnson or Daniel Johnston.
Okay, back to the main point: I did feel it was somewhat rude to laugh at Otis Rush, no matter what the reasons might be. You might very well disagree, and that is as it should be. I quite liked Furu’s little movie, so we might at least agree on that.
In writing “Okay. Det var et øyeblikk, og kanskje ikke så viktig” I simply wanted to introduce the readers to the idea that I might very well be mistaken – and that my musings were out of proportion. That you take this to mean that I am reducing the importance and the seriousness of racist behaviour, I find very peculiar. I simply described my personal uneasiness with a few people’s reactions, and then wanted to go on to the matter at hand, which was the concert.
Again, we seem to disagree, but I must say that you seem very adamant to take my writings in the worst possible sense. As a music writer, and as the editor of Ballade, I regret having caused such a reaction in you. But I was honestly a bit disappointed with the concert, especially the two pieces by Ablinger.
I think Ablinger has some pretty interesting ideas, as witnessed by the interview in Parergon, but the music presented this evening simply did not impress me too much. Whereas I applaud the fact that Happy Days chose to present fairly little known composers, I also think the works must be judged on their own. I went to Parkteatret with high expectations, and was a bit let down – especially since some of the works seemed pretty conventional for their genre. I had quite simply anticipated something a bit more radical, in whatever direction.
However, that does not mean that I dismiss the entire festival, as you imply. On the contrary, I underline that this was my impressions of one single concert out of many, and nothing more than that. To quote myself, “undertegnede satt igjen med en følelse av at festivalen på åpningskvelden ikke klarte å rive seg løs fra sjangerens egne konvensjoner – og heller ikke helt hadde truffet planken rent repertoarmessig”. I stand by that, and that is why I also wrote: ”Om åpningskvelden ikke ble det sjokket eller den åpenbaringen man skulle ønske, gjenstår det fremdeles tre kvelder med spilt musikk, samt installasjoner og beslektede opplevelser.”
And even more to the point: ”Happy Days-festivalen er naturligvis ung, og bør gis en tilsvarende rett til å finne sin bane. Det er en festival laget på tilnærmet sparebluss, som ønsker å skue utover det rent musealt-musiske, og som gjerne vil hente inn internasjonale tendenser og talenter.”
I am a bit baffled when you overlook this passage completely, stating: “The festival must at least be given credit for trying, what Arvid Skancke-Knutsen seems to have forgotten”. Ballade has published five articles concerning the festival, focusing on the entire programme in some detail – with a positive spin, I should add. In other words, I do think we have given the festival credit – and also pointed out it’s variety.
A fairly important passage, which you also fail to quote, is this one: ”Happy Days (vil) forhåpentlig bli et årlig og livskraftig tilbud i regi av Ny Musikk…” And further down: ”Happy Days – et tvetydig navn, med nikk til bl.a. Samuel Beckett – er et fint tiltak, med alle muligheter til å vokse seg betydelig og interessant”. Hopefully, Happy Days will go on, and keep providing us with interesting concepts, such as the caravan at Grønland. I do not believe that the sole form of innovation is to “shock”, but I do expect to music to intrigue, interest and entertain me on some level.
As for the concert at Blå, I am sorry that you were not present, as that perhaps would have made my points more clear. It is true that it represented something akin to the cosiness of a living room, but of a “hjem som ommøbleres fortløpende, som byr på skiftende utsikt” – a constantly changing environment, showcasing a variety of talented musicians, who definitely also wanted to challenge the state of things.
The concert at Blå was not “better” because it was familiar by nature, but because it was something of a helter skelter-ride of music, ranging from dada sound poetry to leftfield electronica, from beat-like poetry readings with be-bop leanings to hardcore noise rock. Even though I had not seen most of the acts before, I must admit that these are all musical and literary forms that I enjoy, when they are well performed. But I also enjoy contemporary art music, jazz and blues, so I fail to see your point here.
As a writer, one is something of a stand-in for the readers, trying by way of words to convey a personal experience, but hopefully also making some relevant points of a more general nature. To put it bluntly: The concerts at Blå were fun, but in a challenging, not a trivial sense. The concerts at Parkteatret were in comparison a bit stiff and unexciting, with the obvious exception of Carola Bauckholts quite beautiful “Geräuschtöne”. If you find that inconsistent, so be it.
I have replied at some length, as I think your letter merits it. I am sorry that you find my writings so poor, but there is probably not a lot I can do to change that. I felt uncomfortable with some of the audience’s reactions at Parkteatret, so I wrote that. I felt that the concerts presented by Ny Musikk that particular evening were somewhat unadventurous, so I wrote that. And I wrote of my enjoyment of the happenings at Blå, feeling that this was indeed “new music”, presented in a highly enjoyable manner. I also concluded that Oslo is quite blessed, when two concerts of this kind can take place in a single evening.
As I am sure you are aware of, there is probably not a single publication in Scandinavia that writes as much and as frequently about contemporary art music as Ballade. The last six months we have published roughly fifty articles involving Ny Musikk and their activities. That is because we do take the art music scene seriously, and believe that it often holds great qualities, which a larger audience could do well to discover. That does not mean that it is above criticism, or should only be discussed by people with the proper academic credentials.
To answer your question,”with which criteria should a critic judge a music he does not know well”, I think the answer would be “with caution, but with honesty”.