Av Heloisa Amaral, musiker, asamisimasa
I must admit that I was not only schocked by the rudimentary quality of criticism in Arvid Skancke- Knutsen´s article about the opening of the Happy Days Festival. I was also horrified and filled with anger by the stupidity of certain of his statements.
It is difficult to comment on such an inconsistent article, therefore I think that the best would be to quote the passages that seem to me most controversial.
Let me start with the paragraph on Bodil Furu´s video, which opened the Happy Days concert at Parkteatret on Wednesday:
“På Parkteatret,[…] premieren på videoen “Musikken året etter” av Bodil Furu, som var et bestillingsverk til årets festival. Furus video, som både var sympatisk og interessant, om noe tidstypisk ironisk-eklektisk, ble av et fåtall publikummere møtt av latter, straks den svarte blues-artisten Otis Rush kom i fokus i en kort intervju-sekvens – uten å forsøke å være spesielt morsom. Jeg ble sittende nokså vantro, og ble attpåtil unødig paranoid: Lo denne håndfull mennesker fordi Rush var neger? Fordi han representerer en “primitiv” musikkform? Eller bare fordi han var et “uventet innslag” i en samtidsmusikk-setting? Den siste forklaringen er forhåpentlig (og ganske sikkert) den riktige, men likevel ikke fri for en eim av elitisme som Ny Musikk-publikummet eventuelt bør parkere for godt, særlig når den overordnede ideen rundt Happy Days-festivalen er å utfordre konvensjoner, og attpåtil proklamere at musikk kanskje ikke en gang strekker til. Om man ler av Otis Rush, og med Jon Øystein Flink, er det ærlig talt noe nokså galt på ferde.”
It is astonishing, in my opinion and certainly in that of all the others that were present at the concert, that somebody would come to the idea of laughing about Otis Rush because he is black. It is already astonishing enough that Skancke-Knutsen needs to emphasize the fact the Otis Rush is not a blues artist, but a “svarte blues-artisten”. He continues, nicely enough, hoping not to be surrounded by racist-elitarian new music listeners: maybe we are laughing because he represent a primitive musical form, he suggests. This argument is quite childish coming from a music critic, that should know better how to use some terms like, for example, primitive. Is something primitive something negative? Is something primitive something that does not keep up with all the intelectual expectations of a demanding and arrogant new-music crowd? That we deduce from his use of the word. Or does primitive mean something completely different? A music critic should know better, and take care of his vocabulary.We also deduce that he must himself consider blues a lower and simple form of music to be able to even imagine that the whole audience in Parkteatret would not have known better.
A certain lack of sense of humor and of critical sense must be lacking in a man that does not see that the image of a very lazy-looking famous musician seating nonchanantly in his chair and affirming that he is not sad all the time ,but plays the blues to be able to pay his house rent is not only an ironically funny image, but also mirrors pretty much the reality of new music. By choosing this, Bodil Furu probably only intended to make fun of the myth of the always inspired, sucessful artist.
Also quite preposterous the fact that Skancke-Knutsen can decide himself about the meaning of people´s laughter. We were laughing about Rush, but with Flink. Who is he to know how and why people laugh? You don´t interpret people´s laughter as you would interpret your own. But S.Knutsen does not even laugh, he seats there terrified by the thought that around him, hundreds of cannibals are seating laughing about all those things he is imagining… He had a poor time at the concert.
What is amazing is that he affirms, in the next paragraph, that maybe this whole matter was not that important, after all: “Okay. Det var et øyeblikk, og kanskje ikke en gang så viktig.”
If it is not important that people might be laughing about racial issues or being overtly arrogant, like he suggests that the audience might have been doing, then there would be a big problem, it would be of enormous importance. Or are these subjects not that important in your opinion, Mr. Knutsen?
It is difficult not to get angry, and maybe overreact after reading purposes like that, but overreacting is never enough in such cases.
But let me continue with my quotations: after affirming, somewhat ironically, that “Tankeløse mennesker er åpenbart ingen mangelvare, selv i samtidsmusikk-kretser”, he complains about the conventional form of the concert,
” Men presentasjonen av Happy Days’ åpningskonsert ble uansett overraskende konvensjonell. Alle innøvde nivå-forskjeller var på plass: Forholdet sal/scene, resitasjon/resepsjon, lytting/applaus. Happy Days lot til å snakke (ironisk) om revolusjonen, men foretok få grep som lå utenfor et trygt og gjenkjennelig register av konvensjoner og godt innøvde geberder.”
Now, it is fine to expect innovations, we all do ( at least I hope so). But how to define these innovations, or the kind of innovations one expects is a more delicate matter. The relationship between room and scenery, recitation/reception may be seen by some as old-fashioned concert habits, I have to admit. But listening and applause…music without those would be quite intriguing. Besides, Happy Days offers good alternatives to this concert-schema. A Caravan driving around Grönland is not a daily experience, and I have heard from musicians that on Wednesday, an irakian old-lady was sitting in the caravan for a while, chatting with the musicians. The same old lady would certainly have trouble to have live contact with non-elitarian punk, heavy-metal or rock musicians, etc., in her own neighbourhood. This shows clearly, as well as the enormous amount of festival posters hanging around town, that the goal of the festival is not only to attract old new music fans. To suceed is another problem, but the festival must at least be given credit for trying, what Arvid Skancke-Knutsen seems to have forgotten.
About innovation in the program of the festival: innovation does not necessarily means schock.
“Om åpningskvelden ikke ble det sjokket eller den åpenbaringen man skulle ønske…”
Innovation can also mean bringing to Norway new music tendencies from abroad, in this case Germany, playing a kind of repertoire very little-know. If this is shocking or not should be left to each listener to decide, not necessarily for the festival direction ( whose obligation is to present what they think is new hoping that others are going to think the same) but much less for a critic who claims to read people´s mind.
I was suprised though, reading further, to find that the same man, thirsty for the new and dramatic changes, who is not able to get enough food for thought or challenge, well, this same man seems, contradictorily enough, quite happy to find himself at home in the Blå concert.
” Men da undertegnede ankom Blå litt senere på kvelden, var det som å komme hjem ”
Finally he is surrounded by people he recognizes, music he knows well ( indeed, with which criteria should a critic judge a music he does not know quite well? With which expectation? That is something that remained unclear in A.S.K. article, professionally quite “primitive”, to employ his own term).
He can finally cite names expertly, recall earlier experiences and associate, in a few words, he found himself as in the cosiness of his living room.
Where one really is prepared to deal with the conflicting intellectual matters of life, where creativity and innovations are not further than his cup of tea.
Written by Heloisa Amaral, anonymous new music enjoyer who also laughed with Otis Rush on an ordinary april evening.