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Karl Seglem - "The call of the goat horn"

There is Ying and Yang, black and white in everything. In Karl Seglem's world there is traditional Norwegian Folk Music and Electronics combined with his own interpretation of what jazz is. Karl Seglem plays the tenor-sax as well as several goat horns but countersteers in his music with a lot of electronic input. In his band the hardanger fiddle player Hakon Hogemo represents — besides Seglem's goat horn — also ancient aspects of music.

Karl Seglem

The Hardanger fiddle and the goat horn connect with basses, drums, percussion, electric and acoustic guitars to form a very special musical cosmos. Seglem claims to be not influenced by the American Traditional Jazz. He stands for something else: the European Jazz with its contemporary musical ideas and the respect for traditional Norwegian Music.

Carina Prange talked to Karl Seglem for Jazzdimensions.

Carina: The 'archaic' and the 'new', traditional folk and electronic music, these are some of the elements your music consists of. How do you manage to combine these poles and create a music that is not just a combination of elements, but your own music?

Karl: I guess only work and work again is the reason that I am now creating a sound that is "mine": The sound of Karl Seglem—and not anyone else's. All music comes from an "archaic" point inside of us that we can develop into sound of different kinds. I find it very interesting combining this archaic pole with the "modern pole", using electronics transforming old sounds into something new. But still to manage to keep or show, or make listenable, that the need for expressing music comes from deep inside me, from this archaic pole.

Carina: Do tradition and modern life sometimes contrast in a way that they cannot be connected to each other so easily in music and in life?

Karl: Difficult question. The traditional Hardanger fiddle music is not at all incorporated in the music community in Norway. Neither on concert stages or in the average cultural life. The music is totally hidden and is living its life underneath the surface. There are no places where this music is presented (in general) for those "outside" the folk music community. So it is not easy to connect the old traditions to the modern Norway. And the old dance traditions that are very connected to this music also have a very hard time being kept alive.

Carina: Concerning the playing on the goat horns: How does one have to practice and what techniques are important to make it not too stressful to get enough air in the lung?

Karl: As on all blowing instrument. Keep in good condition (walk ten kilometers a day :-) and blow long notes as often you can! Use the stomach—as all good singers and blowers do.

Karl Seglem

Carina: Is there a story, a history behind the playing of goat-horns in general? You once said to me in another interview, that "the one with reed is more difficult to play" than the other. Please explain the difficulties!

Karl: The reed goat horn is rare. And I mean really rare. The goat horns where not used to make music but to "scare away" animals and as a kind of early mobile telephones—keeping people in touch by blowing signals through long distances. The horns are not "tempered" nor tuned. So it takes some time to learn how they react within the normal terms of tuning and playing of music. It has this nature scales "built in" and these I like and use.

Music needs this. Music is not perfect. Life is not perfect or clean in reality, but we can dream that it is. I want both (and more than both) sides to be heard in my music. Not only the clean and perfect. That´s not interesting for me—as a listener and as a player. I must have both. The beautiful things in life would not be beautiful if there was not an ugly or dirty or dark side to compare it with. We need both. Also in music.

Carina: The harmonics (overtones) are the connecting elements between the instruments fiddle, tenor-saxophone and goat horns. When did you discover this connection and are there other instrumental combinations thinkable for you that work in a similar way?

Karl Seglem

Karl: I was suprised first time I played with hardanger fiddle—about the sound. Really. It was a great experience and after years I've become a better player. I understand now how to get this rich sound exposed. This also has to do with volume: The music is more powerful when I play softer (not stronger) on the tenorsax because this instrument (the tenor sax) is so much naturally louder than a hardanger fiddle. Its about the laws of sound. There are always new things to learn from this. And I think the sound playing in duo with hardanger fiddle now is incorporated better also in the band. Because this band understands or hears the rich sounds that we all expose together as a unit. A band. The contrasts and the power and the silence or soft moods. Music can be very powerful even when played very soft, not loud.

Carina: To come back to the Norwegian folk music: In which way does it differ the most from folk-music of other countries?

Karl: It´s hard to say concrete. But both rhythm and the melodies are in a way different, both the hardanger fiddle tunes and some of the vocal traditions. And you can find similar elements in other folk musics—like in the Irish music and also in some Arabic and eastern folk music. Instruments with sympathetic strings are seldom found in the world, but the sitar and hardanger fiddle have it, making this special sound.

Carina: You grew up in Western Norway, is there a folk-idiom that especially exists in this region?

Karl: All regions in Norway have different dialects. And the western part of Norway also has many different dialects. This also shows up in the traditional music. When you grow up close to a fjord with 1200 meters mountains on each side it does something with you. Something I can not explain in words, I mean we all have different identities because we come from where we come from. It´s inside us in a way. I did not listen at all to Norwegian folk music before I was twenty years old. Only pop and rock.

Carina: There is only one professional builder of goat horns, right?

Karl: There are some more, some of them in in Sweden. But only one professional in Norway.

Carina: Because of your playing of the instruments, are meanwhile more people interested in building them?

Karl: The interest in goat horns is growing. Now there is for example a professional trumpet player, a woman, making an album where she plays only goat horns. I don't have any students presently but I get a lot of requests all the time. And more than before.

Karl Seglem - "Urbs"

Carina: In comparison to the former albums, what is new on "Urbs" in your opinion? Is it a fresh kind of balance between improvised and written music that you try to achieve with your new album?

Karl: The integration of a guitar player is new. Another, a different string instrument, that is one of the main things that have changed. Going from quartet to quintet. This also when it comes to improvisations. We now are two front improvisers and this makes the music stronger and more complex. I always work a lot with this balance between impro and written tunes, and think it is very important. If you put our band in the "world music" box we have a real strength. Because a lot of this bands don´t have good improvisers. This is why they sound like they do—and not always very interesting for my ears.

We fall in between chairs—and I know that. But those jazz-people that are open, open to listen to musicians improvising on other material and other sounds than the usual chord progressions will be suprised! And hopefully pleased.

Karl Seglem

Carina: You told me in our last interview that sounds, travelling, to meet people, literature, paintings, good food and nature are part of what inspires you for composing and playing music. Do you remember details, facts or incidents that inspired you for the songs from "Urbs"?

Karl: To mention some: "Urbs", the tune came to me practicing. It is very minimalistic like most of the tunes I find on that horn, the trumpet goat horn. "Morenelys" is inspired by the sun glittering on the stones in the river outside my composers house, "the soft against the hard" may be a good description. The tune "Over Oslo" is inspired by the view from my house. I can see most of the city from my windows. "Rudlande" is inspired by the Konting-(ngoni) playing of Olav combined with a concrete rhythm 6/8 used in the hardanger fiddle music.

Carina: Do you have plans for the next album?

Karl: Only that I have already composed some tunes ... and that we'll play them live! And I want the new album to be recorded mainly live with all musicians playing at the same time—and then eventually add some more tracks and electronical stuff afterwards in the mix.

If I look ahead I hope that we can manage to do this during first part of 2008 and then release it spring 2009 or autumn 2008. And there's a DVD produced with interviews and concerts in Norway and Germany. Hopefully this will be out by autumn.

Carina Prange

CD: Karl Seglem - "Urbs" (Ozella Music/Inakustik OZ014)

Ozella Music im Internet: www.ozellamusic.com

Mehr bei Jazzdimensions:
Karl Seglem - "Urbs" - Review (erschienen: 9.2.2007)

© jazzdimensions 2007
erschienen: 21.3.2007
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