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Blowing the Horn

img  Tobias

A rough and harsh wind charging in from the north-east batters a meager landscape, strewn with grey rocks some bad tempered giants may have thrown about to temper their rage. Fog is hanging in the air, a drizzle wets everything around, the sparsely scattered and low growing grass, the paltry shrubs. It is cold, near freezing. Below, where a wild and relentless ocean batters stoic rocks since eternity, over and over again, hiding between huge stone walls some small huts lean towards the natural walls. They almost disappear in their own surroundings, grey and inconspicuous. Here safety is provided to its inhabitants, while the winds constant sounds, using the rocks edges as the oldest of all instruments is producing an ancient melody only natures powers can compose. They are waiting, waiting for their people to return. Waiting to return to them with rich quarry from a dangerous hunt.

Maybe three thousand years later….

It’s about 9 o’clock in the morning. The man wears blue jeans and a leather jacket. He talks to his wife and kisses her goodbye. His two twin daughters hug him, and then he is off to work. He drives through the bustling traffic of Oslo, the Norwegian capital, until he stops his car in front of a building. After opening some doors he enters a room that is stuffed with musical instruments. There is a drum set, some tenor saxophones, a fiddle, computer equipment, keyboards and guitars. Microphones and amplifiers, sound equipment and a labyrinth of cable. But his hands reach for an aquiline horn. Feels like bone. It has three holes drilled into it. He raises the pointed end to his lips, while the open, wider end points to his chest. Deeply inhaling he blows into it, and it produces a moanful sound. It is a goat horn, an ancient instrument, used ages ago….

The man’s profession: Musician and composer.
His name: Karl Seglem.

As with every artist, be it a writer, a painter or a musician, Karl Seglem didn’t chose to be a musician and composer. Rather music has chosen him. And the genre of music he operates in didn’t point him into a career as a rockstar, with world wide fame and loads of money. He has chosen the way of a man who composes and plays the music that is truly close to his heart. During years of personal development he has now achieved the status of a well-known musician in his native Norway, but the tours with his talented band now lead him through countries such as Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Sweden, Pakistan, Finland, Ireland, Scotland, England and more.

His CD production has to be called impressive at the least, and the last release from only a few months ago (‘Urbs’) is extremely fascinating. Anyway, by talking with Karl Seglem I tried to get closer to the nature of his unusual music, often billed as jazz. Certainly, the jazz elements can not be overheard, but how does a fiddle fit in, and how, for Gods sake, a goat horn? Let’s find out.

Jazz and Folk
‘Always being fascinated by music, I started to play at an early age,’ Karl says, ‘as a member of a marching band at first, then, of course, I heard all the popular music. Jazz touched me pretty soon and I made the tenor sax my first choice.’ His heroes were John Coltrane, whom he adores to this day and who is one of his example. But in his list of musical greats we also find Johann Sebastian Bach and some well-known Norwegian folk singers.

How do you combine in your compositions all these jazz elements and Norwegian folk?
‘I never had the feeling that these elements contradict each other. Quite the opposite is true, they go together very well. What they actually do is combine the traditional Norwegian folk elements with modern jazz music.’ Asked about how he composes his music Karl is very precise: He works on some themes, sometimes with keyboards and computers, then introduces the product to his friend and hardanger fiddle player, Hakon Hogemo, and then they start experimenting with it. Once they agree on a basic version, the whole band comes into play, and every player adds his vision on his particular instrument.

‘The more often we play, the more precise the whole theme is being worked out, until we hear the final product.’ When I ask Karl, whether they play each song exactly like we hear it on the CD, he laughs: ‘No, not really. My music always includes an important element of improvisation. And that’s what we do. All depends on the given situation, and it varies from time to time. People tell me that our music seems to be better live, but I do not totally agree. I guess, you have to check on that for yourself, because it is a highly individual process to make the music, but also to listen to it.’

Critics are eager to place Karl Seglems music into a certain genre. Is it jazz with folk elements? Is it folk with jazz elements?
Karl: ‘I don’t really care how people call my music, and I’ve never tried to put a name on it. It’s just my and my bands music, no more, no less. I don’t think it is very important to categorize music at all. We do what we like, and when people say that a fiddle has no place in jazz, they should listen to our music. I think, it fits extremely well, just as the goat horn.’

It must have been almost the second day now, when far away a drifty sound seems to appear out of nowhere. Still being weak, hardly cutting into the monotone melody rocks, wind and ocean produce, it is there, reality. It’s a moanful sound and it makes the huts inhabitants excitedly dress in protective clothes and get outside. They watch up the cliffs, their eyes following the small way that leads down to their huts, and there they come: Tall men, weathered figures, long hair and beards covering battered skin, wearing helmets with long horns. They carry their prey on sticks, large animals  that have been caught by their hunter’s spears. It was a good hunt. And while the people below cheer, the man who is leading the band brings the goat horn back to his lips and blows it, now unambiguous, loud and triumphant. And it’s sound mingles with those that have been around and will be around for aeons…

Where do you get your goat horns from?
‘There still is one man in Norway who produces them, from real goat’s horns, just as our ancestors did. They feature some holes which have to be applied in just the correct intervals from each other, depending on the length and width of the horn. I use the goat horn because I feel connected to our traditions, and it makes my music all the more interesting.’

Since Karl Seglem lives in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, I wonder how he keeps in touch with the more traditional life in his country.
‘I have a small place in a rural area, at the west coast, where I stay on a regular basis. This place offers me contact to the country life, away from the city and the traffic, where I can be in touch with nature. This helps me a lot to contact our roots and I think, part of that flows into my compositions and thus, into my music. I really do enjoy to stay there.’

Kid in a candy store
And, Karl, what’s up next for you?

He laughs: ‘I will keep on going. I’m off to Portugal now and then, pretty soon, there will be extensive touring through Germany, Switzerland and Austria. And I will keep on composing, playing and having a good time with my music,’

Karl Seglem, without any doubt, has accomplished what few musicians could do. He successfully combines ancient traditions with so called modern music. And he achieves that in an excellent and very impressive way. Somehow, somewhere he reminds me of a kid in a candy store: He takes what he likes and he just lives his musical life without ever thinking about the ‘industry’. His work is extremely important in these times, that are categorized by categories for all and everything. Karl Seglem doesn’t play this game. He plays his own game, playfully being photographed with two goat horns held to the side of his head, which make him look like a true Viking. And he smiles on that photo, fully aware of its comical and yet true expression. Remarkable music, remarkable compositions, a remarkable connection of living traditions: A truly remarkable artist.

By Fred M. Wheeler

Homepage: Karl Seglem
Homepage: Ozella Music

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