Through a concept called "Kanal" ("channel" in Norwegian) the Ekko festival has been exploring the borderline between concert experience and dance floor, and between composition and performance. This is nothing new as such, as this can be traced back through Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception of Jazz, to swing bands in the 30s and even further back to folk music traditions everywhere.
But the Ekko festival has its own approach to this, and among the central elements is a multi-channel sound audio system for club music. The festival then commission work from artists to explore this concept. The last few years have seen commissions by artists like Todd Terje and Casiokids, but this year the festival approached two artists that haven't worked together before.
When it comes to electronic ambient music, Geir "Biosphere" Jenssen is a true pioneer. After leaving the band Bel Canto in 1990, he started exploring purely electronic music, first under the name Bleep, later under the name Biosphere. Through several albums, the most famous being "Substrata" (1997), Jenssen has moved more and more in the direction of minimalism.
Jenssen is no stranger to commissions, and an example of this is the work he performed with Helge Sten ("Deathprod") at the Tape to Zero festival in Oslo in March of this year.
Bård Aasen Lødemel aka "Skatebård" is a DJ, musician and producer, who might be best known for being part of Norwegian rap group Side Brok, but who has also released three electronica albums under the name SkateBård. The latest of these, "Cosmos" (2008) was nominated for the Norwegian grammy award.
Even though they hadn't worked together before this project, Lødemel has said in interviews that Jenssen is one of his all-time favourite artists that he has been listening to since 1994.
Lødemel's idea was to make something danceable, which Jenssen found interesting since he himself hadn't done much of that since the 90s. Each of them would create sketches and send to the other, who would remix it and send it back. Gradually the pieces for the puzzle would emerge. During the last week before the concert they were in Bergen working on putting the pieces together.
The first two stretches of the concert seemed to have a clear division of responsibility between the two artists. Jenssen would build up his trademark ambient soundscapes of later years, and Lødemel would provide a catchy rhythm and some light keyboard fills to soften things up a bit.
After a while, it became less apparent who did what. The heavier beats were still clearly Lødemel's, but the textures became somewhat more complicated and had an inherent rhythm within themselves.
The sound was divided across up to eight output channels for the audio setup in the room, and Lødemel had invested in a brand new synth with four separate audio outputs for this purpose. This equipment seemed to give him some trouble at one point during the concert, but he and the sound technician managed to get things back on the track for the rest of the concert.
Lødemel was, as expected, the more extrovert of the two, often watching the audience with a smirk, gauging how the music was received, while Jenssen would seemingly focus exclusively on his equipment and the occasional eye contact and one or two words with Lødemel, not paying much attention to the audience.
The two artists managed to strike a fine balance between the danceable and the ambient textures, giving a packed room of younger people what they came for on a Saturday night, either they were dancing or just hanging out, taking in the music.