Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Nils Aslak Valkeapaa - 'Goase dusse' (bird symphony)

Many years ago now I ran a business distributing cd's - basically assisting small, specialist labels to get thier music into shops & on mail order catalogues. We had a strong reputation for tradition based musics & were, at that time, the only serious importer of musics from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark etc etc. It was during this time that I first heard Sami traditional music, a tradition based around the yoik (a form of sung poetry). Nils Aslak Valkeapaa was a particular favourite. Not only for his voice but because his works often combined the yoik with field recordings made in the Sami landscape. Many of the cd's released under his name (on the DAT label) were extended compositions for yoik, field recordings & occasional instrumentation. I should also mention that the same label released the cd by Johan Anders Baer - 'Mahkaravju' (dat12) which is, basically, Johan sat on the edge of a cliff yoiking to the ocean & the seagulls. As with much of Nils' output, in the wrong hands this could easily fall into the trap of being tacky, but thankfully it avoids that particular trap. It retains a creative, unaffected quality that speaks of a reality & the same is true of much of Nils' work.

I have to admit that I hadn't listened to any of the cd's by Nils I aquired for a few years but the other day I was reminded of the 'Goase dusse' cd (dat15) & gave it a listen. It's probably fair to say that when this cd was released (1993) it was one of the few 'field recording' cd's available that offered something a bit more than the new age approach & as such it made a strong impression.

The work, which won the Prix Italia Radio music award in 1993, is, as the title suggests, a symphony made primarily of bird song, with a short section also featuring yoik & the sounds of reindeer - and of course the sami wind makes itself heard. I'm sure some of you are thinking that this could be terrible & indeed it could well have been. However Nils' composition is simple & honest, leaving the sounds of the various birds to create thier own movement through the piece. Nils had a genuine and instinctive connection to his surroundings & this natural respect and empathy shows.
a short MP3 sample can be found here.

So, I decided to write about this work as I suspect many of you out there have never heard it. Indeed I think it's an overlooked classic of the genre. Sadly Nils died back in 2001 on his way back from a trip to Japan.

Do track the cd down if you can. It's well worth the effort & if you can't find it most of the DAT releases seem to be available to download & previewed from here.

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