Exercises de style by Raymond Queneau is a book where one simple tale about a man on a bus is rewritten in 99 different versions. as short stories, poems, plays, sonnets, in mock Italian and a number of other forms. the book, which is also included in the Ultima programme this year, is profoundly serious, hysterically funny, simple and complicated at the same time.
I am intrigued by all forms of music that somehow have a bit of a curious, exploring attitude, that experiment with its own boundaries and inhibit an «unfinishedness». For a festival like Ultima, building any absolute boundaries between art and popular culture and using a traditional, institutional definition of quality as backdrop for the programme would be feigned. Challenging conventions and seeking new connections and relations that might occur in new contexts is far more interesting.
Many theories have been created and plenty of opinions formed on contemporary art and music. What are the works of art supposed to mean? Who are they really made for? Should they please or provoke? all i know for sure is that there are no simple answers. However, one factor motivates me more than anything – the certainty that art has the ability to uncover different shades of all things.
This year, Ultima takes place alongside the Contemporary Stage Festival hosted by the National theatre. the two festivals have common ground and are similar in ways that we hope will form further perspectives on the respective events and enrich our audiences.
In darkness let me dwell
The headline is a song by British renaissance composer John Dowland featured in his work Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens (“always Dowland, always dole- ful”). Fellow brit and contemporary composer Harrison Birtwistle has based some of his own compositions on this work from the early 17th century, compositions that will be performed during the Ultima festival.
In all times, people have to the best of their abilities tried to cope with the general absence of meaning, the irreversibility of time and the nite nature of man. melancholy has a cultural history of its own. in his book Det indre mørke (”the darkness within”), Espen Hammer regards melancholy as a reaction to the extreme rationality of society today and the happy superficiality it demands of people. Melancholy is “a rejected attitude to life” and “an active response to something”, he argues. this kind of attitude has to be regarded as fundamentally optimistic, as it implies a profound belief in the fact that things, despite all, can get better.
Marcel Proust once said: “there are as many worlds as there are people”. We hope you, the audience, will make the most of our festival this year. Fortunately, we are not able to control the individual experiences each of you will go through. We have tried to accommodate for new experi- ences in many ways, including publishing a current newspa- per in several editions throughout the festival, a new website, fewer venues than before and a shortened festival period. in addition, we have created a program that spans wide, both regarding expressions and the- matically. a number of threads run through the program, to be pursued or ignored. It’s en- tirely up to you. For instance,
It was only yesterday I realized that there might be threads that connect renaissance composer Dowland, contemporary composer Harrison Birtwistle, DJ Jackson and the black metal genre. this thread might not exist, or perhaps these lines direct to the connecting point:
In darkness let me dwell
the ground shall sorrow be
The roof despair to bar
all cheerful light from me
The walls of marble black
that moisten’d still shall weep,
My music hellish jarring sounds,
to banish friendly sleep.
Thus wedded to my woes,
and bedded to my tomb,
O, let me, living, living, die,
till death do come.
First of all, I would like to apologize to those of you who were not admitted to the concert on litteraturhuset Saturday evening. We are truly sorry, but the influx of people was simply much larger than expected. We hope this does not stop you from attending more events. After a full house on Stratos on our opening night, 500 people that listened to Drumming and Bygdin in bright sunlight on Tullinløkka Saturday afternoon and a packed litteraturhuset, it falls easy for a festival director to be in a good mood. Even though, again, I am truly sorry that we did not have room for everyone that wanted to attend the litteraturhuset concert. I also apologize that the event was somewhat delayed due to re-rigging to t in as many attendants as possible.
Admittedly, much of the music at Ultima often demands an effort in order to gain a nice experience. this was evident to the 100 people that was present at Fagervann in Maridalen Sunday morning, after spending the night camping or walking up a steep hill for 40 minutes to get to this outdoor concert hall before 06.30 a.m. Regarding audience numbers, this was a huge risk. i hoped for 50 people, but feared that less would turn up. Nevertheless, I would defend this event no matter how many or few attendees it would attract. if the Ultima festival stops taking such risks, ceases to challenge established conventions and begins to settle for the safe, it is a much graver danger than varying audience numbers.
Our goal is to reach as many people as possible with contemporary music. in my opinion, Ultima is a festival containing something cutting-edge for everyone. Our greatest challenge is to target new audience groups. according to a music critic from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, as festival director i should answer the question “who is contemporary music for?” this is nonsense. Contemporary music is for everyone, but our goal is not to make everyone enjoy everything. the practice of the artists de nes what contemporary music is – I don’t. Communicating with the ever increasing amount of audience groups is a great challenge. the feedback so far shows that we at least do something right, though we constantly work towards improving ourselves. Narrowing the range is definitely not the answer.
In the two previous festival papers, i might have forgotten to mention that this year’s festival has a theme. The theme is rewriting. At first, I decided not to tell you, but i changed my mind. Changing your mind is ok.
A speech on quality
A contemporary music festival should envision artistic points of view, not moralize. What one loves, another one hates, and this is no less true when it comes to the contents of the Ultima festival. This is why it is important for the public discourse that Ultima shows the diversity in the works of performers and composers today. Their ways of expression span from impressive virtuosity and knowledge to dismal aesthetics, new amateurism and being inclined to resignation.
A festival with ambitions to present brand new and un- known music necessarily need to take some chances to present projects with outcomes that are difficult to survey or control. Precisely this risk, this gamble, creates an interesting festival for contemporary art. this is our lot: doomed to being perpetually annoying. But it grows on us, as the alternative is so much worse.
Disagreement is healthy in an artistic context, and debates around the concept of quality is one of our most important contributions as a festival. We greatly appreciate all the positive reviews, but equally important is the many engaged conversations about the contents of the festival. all in all, music is more fun than statistics.
The last six months have been intense, and I would like to thank everyone that has contributed to making this year’s festival possible. A particular thanks to the Ultima staff.
Goodbye, and thank you very much!
Lars Petter Hagen