Recently we have seen a renewed interest in craftsmanship through the growth of art movements like DIY (do it yourself) and craftivism. these do not focus on the traditional idea of solid craftsmanship but on the political, on independence through self-production, and as a counterweight to the demands of consumer culture to hire someone else to do the work. knitting groups, for example, are on the rise in the United states (as they supposedly have always been in times when the country has been involved in major wars!). In an interview with the Norwegian magazine Billedkunst, American knitting activist Sabrina Gschwandtner says that she also regards the knitting wave as a reaction to digital communication technologies. “knitting in a community brings people closer. It gives them the opportunity to do something together, slowly, face to face and in a physical room”.
The DIY attitude in music is often linked to punk and other subcultural forms of expression, and to art movements like Futurism, dadaism and Fluxus. At the moment, it looks like this attitude is finding its way back into the traditionally more academic eld of contemporary music, maybe as a result of technological developments freeing the production and distribution of music from institutional and/or commercial middle- men and opening up the definition of quality in an interesting way.
As musicians, we talk often and gladly about craftsmanship, whether it be number of rehearsal hours or studies in counterpoint. but in the complex musical reality of contemporary music today, the concept of craftsmanship has various meanings in different aesthetic paradigms. when the performance artist Ann Liv Young sings in the black box theatre during this year’s festival, it sounds nothing like Salome Kammer’s interpretation of Kurtág at the National Opera & Ballet. Yet they both represent the best of performance craftsmanship in today’s art scene. It is in this diversity that Ultima 2010 finds its inspiration.
At one end of this year’s programme we find choir music. Gregorian chants form one of the starting points for the entire western classical music tradition. From here, notation and musical institutions developed and formed the backdrop for the academic form of contemporary music as we know it. At the other end we find the autodidact traditions, connected in Norway first to folk music but later also to much of modern electronic music including the noise music scene. And again, of course: both noise music and folk music have long ago entered the academies while a number of score composers like Giacinto Scelsi and Helmut Oehring regard themselves as self-taught.
For Ultima, it is important to showcase the diversity in the work of today’s musicians and composers, simply because it is the sum of their artistic practises that de nes and constantly re-defines the term “contemporary music”. the complex reality of Oslo’s music scene at the moment, combined with the high quality of the results and open musical attitudes makes the city the object of international attention. The programme for this year tries to reflect this. You could say it is about rules or maybe the lack of them. It is about challenging tradition and convention so the music can develop even further, and continue to move us.
Arne Nordheim passed away on June 7, 2010. More than anyone I have known, Arne displayed a sincere curiosity and openness to new ideas and musical expressions. Though we have lost him he continues to put his mark on the Ultima festival. In its twentieth year the festival proves that there is still much to discover, if you take the time to listen.
Lars Petter Hagen