One of the things I really want to do with this blog is write about networked and digital art and literature. I do far too little of that. I don’t attend the really interesting things that happen in Bergen because I’m tired or can’t find a babysitter or because I’m away, and I don’t take the time to experience art and literature on the web that I want to because, well, I don’t know why. Other things are more pressing. It sucks.
I’m not a specialist in electronic music, but I still wanted to write about the installation in the greenhouse in MusÈhagen last week: Farteins hage, Fartein’s Garden, which is part of a larger Fartein Valen project at the Bergen Festival this year. I walk past their every week, and since I discovered a few years ago that the greenhouse is actually open to the public (and always entirely empty of people) I’ve taken to walking through it every now and then. The warmth is magical in the cold Bergen winter, and there are plants there that I remember from my grandfather’s garden in Perth and from the gardens where my sister used to live in Malaysia. Yet I found every possible excuse not to visit the sound installation in the greenhouse. My camera battery was flat and I wanted to wait until I could take a photo, maybe some video. I would hurry to work now, get stuff done and visit the exhibition on the way home. Only by then I had left work too late and only barely had time to get to my daughter’s school before closing time, let alone visit a sound installation. Repeat. It is astounding how easy it is to prioritise stress ahead of space, time, meaning, writing, thinking.
Fartein Valen is one of Norway’s great composers. I knew far too little about him, though his name is so strange it’s completely familiar. I hadn’t realised that he also loved the greenhouse in MusÈhagen. He spent a few childhood years in Madagaskar, and so, I assume, missed the warmth as I miss the open spaces of Australia. He’s remembered for having brought contemporary music to Norway, and is particularly noted for his atonal, polyphonic compositions.
The installation in the greenhouse is by Nils Henrik Asheim, one of our contemporary composors who was born a few years after Valen died. You can play the video to get an inkling of the music, but the sound quality is terrible and sadly my battery died before the most interesting part of the soundscape began. In addition to the haunting sounds you can hear in the video, Asheim has mixed recordings of Valen’s voice with the soft voice of a Madagaskan woman. I’ve lost the sheet of paper explaining it, but I think the poster said that the woman’s voice resembled that of his Madagaskan nurse. The voices mixed together sounded like a song, neither male nor female, and speaking no language or all languages. The speakers were placed on the windows of the old greenhouse (small white plastic crosses that spread vibrations through the glass) so it was almost as though the greenhouse itself was speaking.
Before I entered the greenhouse I heard nothing but the sound of the Student Centre being demolished nearby, but after I left I could hear the quiet voices speaking from the empty glass house. I didn’t quite understand it, but I liked its mystery and the idea of memories, the very idea of tropical plants and humidity in a tiny glass building in Bergen.
They’re taking the installation down after tomorrow. I should have written about it before.