Woke up in a Norwegian hotel for the first time in my life, barely covered by the apparently compulsory dual single blanket on a double mattress, still totally surrounded in darkness. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was not going to get much fuel until very late at night, so Voicehandler, my fine colleagues for the evening, joined me in having a double continental breakfast. It was somewhere between a bonding experience and high-end carb loading for a gain session that we all knew was never going to happen.
We then waddled to the sauna, where half of today’s activity was about to roll out. First up, a discussion largely between the festival organisers and the week’s musicians about the reality of sustainable creative practices. Each group of national representatives was asked about how they go about operating as promoters and creators in their community/ies. This quickly escalated to a heated discussion about the whether it’s better to strive to exist outside the institutional system, or demand that government and other wealthy institutions become active participants in the funding and furthering of art. I made sure to represent Perth well by using only a moderate amount of swearing, instead going for the whole “talk about what you know” approach. As someone who is largely outside creative institutions, but who was in attendance largely thanks to government support, I was in a complex superposition between the “we’ll build it ourselves” DIY anarchists and the “institutional rebel” contingency. I think governments should have a supportive custodianship of diverse contemporary artistic practices, but I too am wary of the not-so-hidden checks and balances required of those of us who do receive this kind of money.
Following the heated discussion, we were up for a different kind of heat (god I am SO sorry for this segueway but it was right there). It was time for the sauna performance. I was having some difficulties deciding on whether I wanted to participate or not; as a fat, mixed, heavily tattooed trans person, my body is not generally accepted in public spaces, least of all ones where partial nudity is par the course. Some of the opinions around gender in the morning’s discussion had also set my teeth on edge and reminded me that for some people there are still only (cis) men and women in the equation, and the only focus is on the continued oppression and underrepresentation of those women at the hands of men. While I agree with the sentiment, I’m also aware of the complicity all of us have in perpetuating structures of exclusion, and the fact that the men/women debate is hugely reductive and unupdated.
Nonetheless, with Christian’s loving support, I pushed on and took part in the performance. It was heavy and surreal: Skævv produced a severe wall of noise of electronics and live drums, with an acrylic drum kit specifically purchased for the event (as wooden drum kits would not survive the heat). Everyone was down to their bathers, if not less, including the performers. Meanwhile, as we are being subjected to this intense noise, we also had the opportunity to look through the giant windows that form the entire back wall of the sauna out into the snow and towards the Oslo Opera House. Here I am, sweating into my bikini and watching two dudes hammer out some harsh material, while passers-by in all-out snow gear (including skis!) stared into the sauna in confusion and bemusement. Alongside recording for the BBC earlier in the week, I now have two things that I need to write into my bucket list and immediately scratch off.
After towelling off and heading to the hotel for a rest, it was time for the second performance at National Jazzscene Victoria, with my act as the opener. I played as part of a quarter with Andreas and Voicehandler. I won’t comment on it, but it felt very good and like people were really listening to each other.
Next was a live set by Wave Behaviour, who put my attempts at their workshop the previous day to shame. The live light cinema was accompanied by the sound of electronics almost mimicking the loud clicks of the film cameras. It was incredible to watch how the two light sources interrupted and coalesced, and what happened when one would flicker or disappear altogether. Like fireworks under a microscope.
Wave Behaviour’s set bled into Oyamao’s set, which started with all the members scattered throughout the audience and eventually moving towards each other. It was a bit too disparate for my liking, but I’m sure that’s a sinful statement to make about experimental music in some circles.
MacDonald/Davidson/Duch/Welch started the wind-down of the evening, with lots of long notes and guitar scrapes. Finally, IOIOI came on stage. Her set was a particularly intense one, as the person she was scheduled to play with, Z’EV, passed away suddenly a few weeks before the show. This transformed the closing set of the night from a musical performance to a slow, harmonic eulogy. The last minutes of the set were simply of Z’EV’s music, the last that he sent IOIOI in preparation for the festival, played over the PA, while people walked out of the venue and towards the sauna where they released candles onto the water in commemoration.
The final day of the festival started with a panic attack for me. I think I’ve been having it so good here that my brain decided it was time to spice things up a bit. Why not season this incredible experience with a bit of social mortification? Great idea... Luckily my partner Melissa was there in spirit/iPhone to take me down a few gears and remind me that I’m very prone to this particular brand of self-sabotage.
Double breakfast was on the menu again today, as I continued to be unsure of where I’d end up sleeping or if lunch was going to match up with my hoity-toity food cravings. Danishta, Jacob (Heule, other half of Voicehandler) and I made quick work of the buffet, including a brave move by Danishta in having a portion of the individually-packaged Omega 3 tablets which sat next to the cereal and single-use toothpicks. God bless Norway.
The morning session was spent in the SALT sauna, although this time the heat wasn’t turned on. After some loitering around and asking about the sleeping concert (which I missed due to being too chronically ill to sleep on wooden floorboards), the events kicked off properly. First up, a conversation about community development and knowledge-sharing. Some strong opinions again, which was absolutely fantastic. I’m really privileged to have been involved in such intensive conversations with such a diverse group of people. Unfortunately there were no spicy arguments about anarchy vs. playing the system, but there was definitely a small cell of people (including myself) who defended the idea that audiences are not homogenous, and some people need far more encouragement and support to breach the audience/performer division line.
We ran out of time to spit everything out, but Danishta leaned over and whispered “don’t worry, I’ll have the last word”. And so she did, starting Voicehandler’s set by stating that there are communities of colour and other points of diversity who are pushing to break those boundaries and are creating amazing work, they just need to be listened to. This statement was followed with an incredible set. Jacob produced synthesizer-like tones and Hitchcockian soundtrack noises from his minimal kit, while Danishta pushed out three or more simultaneous voices and thumped her chest into a bruise while distorting found sounds through her complex modular rig. I felt like this show should have had the heat on; it hit me somewhere really deep, and I would have loved to match the body’s state to what my mind and spirit were going through. I think this effect was equally the result of the amazing music as it was the conversations that we’d been having all week about the ways in which marginalised people create creative space through rituals, volume, political action, experimentation...
The remaining concert of the festival took place in the main library. Luckily, I was on the verge of exploding with the need to go to the toilet, which led me through this giant old building as I struggled to understand what the various signs meant. It looked like a library taken right out of that movie The Pagemaster, horrifyingly large bookshelf ladder included. No one was turned into a cartoon, at the very least.
Will Guthrie’s set was completely trance-inducing, with super controlled tones driven out of bowls and gongs making a hyper complex melody. At one point there was a rhythm in 5s that made me completely lose track of time, I just nodded my head and disappeared. This is my second time seeing him perform and it was even better than the last, I feel totally fortunate.
Ayumi Tanaka brought the festival to a close, with an incredibly sparse piano set. I couldn’t tell if it was the reverberance from the space or whether there were microphones hidden somewhere, but the notes moved around the room and seemed to make little mini concerts in the corners, under the chairs... A super beautiful, serene way to end what has been a very intense and involved 4-day musical endeavour.
The festival closing party took place in a small sports bar 100 metres down the road from Guro’s house. Our merry gang was quickly joined by a gaggle of soccer fans who spent the next 95 minutes screaming every time Man U scored, and remaining in mournful silence when the opposition did the same. Being my oppositional self I decided to try and weep every time they yelled, but was quickly discouraged. Full of pizza from Dr Pizza’s pizzeria which was conveniently placed next door, the remaining partiers dragged ourselves up to Guro’s apartment. There, Will Guthrie and I spent half an hour being good cultural ambassadors by educating the Nords, Americans and French about the complex Aussie linguistics around cannabis consumption, as well as generally putting on our best ocker accents for maximum effect. In return, we were taught that it was racist against French people to refuse to dance, and had an in-depth discussion about the reason why Norwegians only use single blankets (although I still don’t really understand...) This was truly a cultural exchange, and I am deeply sorry.
I eventually caved into my deep jetlagged, and made Christian help me crawl back to his place, where I was going to crash for my final night. My suitcase now full of gifted records, I settled in for my final sleep in Norway.
This morning was off to a good start with a serene listening session at Christian’s which included his newly-acquired copy of Aussie grindcore legends’ Captain Cleanoff’s “Symphonies of Slackness” (recommended by yours truly; never say I’m not a great cultural ambassador!) After explaining how you write grindcore (“there’s a blast, a d-beat and a breakdown, and you just kind of shove them together”) we headed off, and I was directed to a little bookshop near the centre of town. Cappelens Forslag, according to its owner, is “like walking into a Swedish home”. This meant books in Norwegian and English side by side, some interesting approaches to the alphabet, and black coffee as the singular menu item. I left with my second SOFA Records LP for the trip, a copy of Search For The Dice Man, and my head full of a conversation about free will and changing drunk guys’ lives with esoteric literature.
After becoming a little snowblind and losing my path, I made my way onto a tram and onwards to the Norwegian Music Academy, where I had my first experience playing with a viola player (Tuve). It was pretty exciting contrast to what my ear is used to hearing from a violin (played by Hans Kjorstad), and I probably spent too long nerding out about it. We played some musical games, including my personal favourite “compliment and contrast”, which involves constantly supporting or opposing what other players are doing. After recording some tunes and figuring out the night’s plans, it was time for the show.
Tonight’s performance took place in NyMusikk, a New Music organisation based in Oslo but with branches in several other regions. AllEars made sure everyone was stuffed with curry and bread before the show began, although my personal partaking may have been a mistake. At this point I’d been awake for about 15 hours, and the comfort food meant my brain was ready for sleep. Nonetheless, I pressed on, and managed to only embarrassingly nod off and snore one time.
Jöelle Léandre started off the night with a set of demonic conversations between her voice and her contrabass. It was like watching someone negotiate for a front-row seat in the Sixth Circle with the only other person intent on sitting closer to the infernal flames. Next up was WEDOMAGIC’s set, which involved a clarinetist, bassoonist/flutist and contrabass player being live-mixed by a fourth player. Their set was like a deconstructed musical: foley, sampled conversations, and waterside noises were mixed in with looped key clicks, string screeches and flute spits. Unfortunately this was the set where my body gave up; the music was too immersive and I was too susceptible to becoming immersed. Sorry!
Before the final act, there was a panel on sustainability in a musical and political context. Short and brief, some of the night’s performers and festival organiser Guro discussed their perspectives on the ethics of sustainable musical practices and beyond.
Finally, BNSU ensured I had enough energy to make my way home, with an improvised splattercore set which was half Agoraphobic Nosebleed and half something from the Bloody Fist archive. Nice.
With 22 hours of wakefulness, I finally dragged myself home and into bed for my final night in this apartment.
Today was a day for running around. I left the apartment of my gracious host at 10am, dragging my tiny-wheeled luggage through snowy paths beyond its design. Having overcome several physical and mental barriers, and one Sisyphean hill climb later, I arrived at Ila Fysikalske for the workshop with Wave Behaviour. The French duo took us on a living autopsy tour of a 16mm film camera, from the bulb to the lens. We were then invited to take turns making our own films: using only the light from the camera and a series of props (magnifying lenses, perforated screens, zebra-stripe duct-taped lampshades) we were each given the opportunity to explore how light travels through a camera and what happens when you disrupt this path. This may have been one of the most generous workshop experiences I’d ever had.
Following the workshop, I dragged my belongings through some more beautiful, viscous slush and arrived at my hotel. Being the clever, seasoned traveller that I am, I decided the best use of my time between arrival and heading to tonight’s event was to watch the new Jim Carrey documentary and give myself a full-blown existential crisis. Why am I here? What is the mask I wear for my art and what is real? When I quit making albums, will I have to grow a beard? Simply awful.
Eventually I left the hotel and made my way to tonight’s event at National Jazzscene Victoria. It’s a spacious hall, with two balconies, comfortable back seats and a performance/dance floor that was partially occupied by additional audience seating. It’s a $9 fancy cola kind of place, but the vibe was right.
Andrea Parkins’s set was a quadraphonic experience of looped bells, rattling items and accordion. Originally an installation, she adapted it to a live performance especially for allEars. Maybe it was the accordion, but Pauline Oliveros instantly came to mind as I felt myself constantly attending to different speakers and trying to figure out the individual voices of the piece.
Jöelle Léandre and Kazehito Seki played for the second time this festival, this time as a collaborative duo. Squelching, guttural inhales and murmuring were the main vehicles for the performance, and rather than one winding piece they relied on producing a series of moments. At one point Jöelle exclaimed “I don’t know what I’m doing”, which seemed to fit the mood just fine.
Next up was a double duo featuring Malaysia-based Yong Yandsen and Siew-Wai Koko and Norwegian natives Mofjell and Sandtorv. It was basically an alien invasion being greeted by a very upsetting saxophone and drum orchestra, along with some traditional tuned cymbal for a truly interplanetary experience.
Arma Agharta’s set was an amazing combination of broken toys, Casio drum sounds, DJ gear and plastic fruit. I’m not really sure I can explain it much further. It was... a lot.
Finally, The End carried us out in a heavy duty set of metal riffage and duelling baritone saxophones. You could tell there were some prepared bits in there, but the overall feel was as jittery as it was furious.
A sick and fitting continuation to the opening night, topped off by me falling asleep while watching The Fifth Element for the millionth time.
Shoshana Rosenberg is visiting Oslo for All Ears festival this month. She will be documenting her time there in the form of a Journal, excerpts of which will be uploaded here.
Listen to her live performance on BBC Late Junction here.
After nearly 48 hours in transit, around half of which were spent trying out every uncomfortable, nowhere-to-lie-down bench as well as “who let me in here?” lounge luxury, I finally arrived in Oslo. Christian Meass Svendsen (identified by his signature green beanie) greeted me at the train station, and gently led me through the first couple of hours of culture shock/general touristy gawking (i.e. “oh my god it’s snow!”, ”fuck, Satyricon and Emperor are playing on the same bill!”). I settled in with some Cheerios, Goldfisk and salted potato chips (I’m on a health kick), slept like the dead, and eventually hauled my carcass two floors up from Christian’s apartment to Andreas Røysum’s flat.
After a deep Rahsaan Roland Kirk listening experience I was left to prepare for my recording session for the BBC’s Late Junction program. This included some playing, but mainly the mental task of remaining (relatively) lucid as I made my way across mortifyingly deceptive iced pavement to Guro Moe’s house, and then onwards with her and our third trio member Danishta Rivero to the BBC broadcast session. Luckily Danishta was similarly lagging in the jet department, which resulted in us being asked to be our “best, most quiet selves” before going on air.
We managed to be on our best behaviour and played some nice noise for our invisible, potentially quite conservative audience. Maybe it’s easier when you can’t see people frowning, or maybe I just managed to visualise some inspirational audience frowns in my mind. Either way, I left feeling accomplished, despite missing the opportunity to photograph a sign that said “Bro” which stood tantalisingly out of reach as we ran out of the building to catch our respective busses and trams back home. I’ll get it next time I see a bridge, no doubt.
I spent the first hours of this day still awake from the previous night, being regaled with stories about NecroButcher from Mayhem’s aunt and Darkthrone’s Fenriz’s passion for local soccer and handball teams. Other than watching tiny dogs bravely tread through the snow that my fur-less feet need boots for, I couldn’t think of a better way to solidify in my mind the fact I really, really am in Norway. Aside from these stories, most of my night’s end consisted of listening to the Norwegian language slowly chatter past me, while Ustad Bismillah Khan played in the midground. Being a non-understanding listener here feels like becoming washed over by a really beautiful aural texture, and the lack of obligation of attention is very liberating. I recognise the privilege of being able to tune out of comprehensible linguistics, whilst feeling safe in the knowledge that at any moment I could be brought back into the conversation by my colleagues’ crisp and careful use of the English language. I’ve been really thinking about the creepily-globalisational but also crucial role of the English language in these situations, and how it is slowly (quickly?) becoming what Esperanto could never be.
After catching some haphazard Zs, I met up with Christian and went for a record store tour; the fancy shop (Big Dipper), the tiny shop (Tiger), and the scary shop (Neseblöd). I feel like I’ve got all bases covered now, having purchased a microtonal tuba record as well as a collaboration between allEars founder Lasse Marhaug and noise legend John Wiese. All that’s missing is going back to Neseblöd and buying that Sarcofago LP (and posing in front of the cheesy black metal nativity scene in the basement, of course). Only then will my nerdy music tourism be truly complete.
The night ended with an exchange of unpleasant Norwegian customs tales between myself and the newly-arrived Yong Yandsen and Siew-wai Kok. I got off easy with a deeply uncomfortable conversation, while the other two spent some more time getting to know Norway’s finest government officials. Seems like Norway wants to make sure we’re here for a good time, not a long time.
I’m writing this entry at 4:30am. The festival starts in a few short hours, and I’ve still got some sleeping to do and some donuts to make.