Norway’s Borealis Festival Is A Gender-Balanced Experimental Music Experience

by Laurie Henzel

As a relative nube when it comes to experimental music, I was slightly trepidacious about attending the Borealis fest in Bergen Norway this month, mostly because my uninformed views expected four days of “Nails On A Chalkboard.” Luckily for me, while there was plenty of noise, it was all interesting, and the acts were incredibly diverse and surprising.

The festival, founded in 2004, covers everything from string quartets to avant-garde opera, noise, spoken word, field recordings, chamber music and dance hall. In addition to the musical acts, there were lectures and workshops by the composers and various guest speakers. One of the highlights was the “What Future, What Female” talk, hosted by Jenny Moore, where attendees sat around in a circle and, in “rap-session” style, talked about the issues of women and genderfluid folks in the music scene. It was very refreshing to see a true 50% gender balance within the acts that were booked, as well as the staff. As a matter of fact, Borealis was actually awarded a Gender Equality Prize from the Norwegian Society of Composers in recognition for their stellar line-up. Yeah, you read that right, a gender equality prize! Can you even imagine having something like that here in the States? Me neither.

XINLI DAG5 WFWF 26 2aeb0Jenny Moore leads the discussion on What Future? What Female?

XINLI DAG3 TTS 43 fbca4Jenny Berger Myhre created a beautiful soundscape

There was so much to see. One of the standouts was the curated event within the festival entitled “Things that Shine and Things that are Dark,” a collaboration with Danish artist Joachim Koester. The program was an evening of live performances exploring the ideas of altered states and ritual present in Koester’s larger exhibition, Bringing Something Back, which was housed at Bergen Kunsthall, the site of Borealis. Norwegian sound artist Jenny Bergher Myhre performed and used field recordings mixed with her own voice, guitar, and several doo-dads to make music that was at times quiet, adventurous, and pretty magical.

XINLI DAG3 TTS 30 924d3Raven Chacon I also really dug Raven Chacon’s set. Raven is a Native American composer who works in different mediums and refers to himself as a “post- commodity artist.” This particular collage sounded sometimes like being inside an airplane engine and transitioned to quiet moments of birds and children’s voices (that I later found out were recorded at Standing Rock protest camp). It could have also passed for a really cool horror movie soundtrack.

XINLI DAG3 TTS 5 44185Hypnotist Shauna Cummins works her magic on attendees

New York-based hypnotist Shauna Cummins lead a hypnogogic meditation journey, prompting attendees to conjure physical sites from Koester’s exhibition entirely within their imagination. Accompanied by live synth music from composer Craig Wells, participants lay on the ground induced into a dream-like state experiencing the exhibit in an unseen light in their mind.

XINLI DAG3 TTS 72 b2268Sandra Mujinga’s alias NaEE RoBErts

Other highlights were Duo Hellqvist/Amaral pianist Heloisa Amaral and violinist Karin Hellqvist. Philly’s own MHYSA, and DJ Haram represented the US of A, and DJ NaEE RoBErts aka the Norwegian artist Sandra Mujinga also slayed.

Of course, the city of Bergen itself is so cute, small enough to walk end-to-end in 30 minutes. I’m so glad I attended the Borealis Music festival. If you’re looking to expand your sonic horizons and impress your sound artists friends, check it out next year. 

Photos by Xin Li/Borealis

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