Thursday, February 23, 2012

Radio Days: Resurrection

My last stint in radio was another spectacularly great one - at least for me. In 1995, I finally packed my bags and record collection and left Hustad Leir (see earlier blogposts here and here for more about that time) for Bergen, where I joined Studentradioen i Bergen. I started as an engineer mainly for the shows Skumma Kultur hosted by Svein Tore Bergestuen, Høydepunktum, and Plog. Three very different shows with very different demands: Skumma Kultur was a cultural program in a magazine format, but with Svein Tore, they covered quite a bit of breaking news, and he had high technical standards, which in turn made me a better engineer. Høydepunktum was probably my favorite show to work on - a highlight show of the week that was. As an engineer, I was challenged in reediting a lot of the pieces so they were shorter and fit a new flow. This was also in the days of reel-to-reel tape editing, so I had to physically manipulate the tapes. I loved every minute of it. And I had the fortune of working with great young women (they would probably say girls at that time): Line Hegna, Tonje Aursland, Kathrine Synnes, and, I believe, Vibecke Spjeld. Some of them have gone on to careers in NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company. The last show, Plog, was the music magazine dedicated to "roots" music, artists like The Louvin Brothers, Tom Waits, and Richard Thompson were among Thomas Ekrene's favorites, and he was the host of the show. Johan Ludvig Brattås was also involved, and he brought his eclectic taste for international traditional music to the show as well. I was introduced to Mongolian throat singing and Finnish traditional music - and I actually started liking it.

While Mongolian throat singing surely is interesting, I have to confess that Hedningarna is higher on my list of favorites. I got a chance to see them live in 1999, not too long before I moved to the US. They are a Finnish/Swedish band, and their last studio album, Karelia Visa, explores traditional music from Karelia, a historical Finnish region that largely now is part of Russia following the Winter War of 1940. The liner notes are extremely interesting - describing their experiences researching this music in a region that appears not to have changed much at all. The following song, Mitä Minä, is from Karelia Visa (Karelian Songs).

However, I started getting restless being in the control room at all times, so I asked if there was any chance that I could start a show of my own. I had a name and a concept for it that I really liked. The name was Undertoner (undertones), and it was about all the unsung heroes of music - the producers and session musicians. The people in charge liked the concept and I got my half-hour time slot. I remember shows about Rick Rubin, Daniel Lanois, Tessa Niles, and Tony Levin. However, I also remember being chastised for having one half-hour show featuring one song only, with my voice in the intro and in the middle, hovering over the effects. The song was Echoes by Pink Floyd. It was and remains my favorite Pink Floyd composition, and it showcases so many of the elements I like in music. It is droning, it is dissonant at times, yet it has dreamy, ethereal beauty in the vocal harmonies, it is slow building, and it uses dynamics effectively. "And I am you and what I see is me." However, playing one song for close to 30 minutes is not the most radio friendly thing to do...

I worked in Studentradioen until I left Bergen in 1996, then again from fall of 1997 until I left Bergen in the fall of 1998; however, I had one final ambitious project: I wanted to create a series about the history of rock music. Coda was the name of the series, and I had close to 30 parts, each at about 30 minutes (I have to check the number of episodes, but it was scheduled for the full year). When I left Bergen, I was around week 10 or so of the series, so the final 20 episodes or so were made at a high pace, trying to get it all wrapped up so they could keep broadcasting the show. It was a great project for me, and while I wish that I could have spent more time on the last episodes, I am incredibly proud that I did create it. I tried making copies of the show for myself when I recorded all of them onto DATs (they had been recorded on a computer workstation at this point - we finally had one), but I messed up a few of them - but I believe I have them on MiniDisc still.

When I left Bergen for the second time, I also left my radio days behind. However, I met a lot of great people that way, both in Radio Ung and in Studentradioen. I learned a lot about sound and music, and my musical tastes were significantly expanded. The final song this time is one that I believe I played during the Undertoner show about Tony Levin, a spectacular bass player, here with King Crimson. This six-piece version of King Crimson was spectacular - and the use of Midi with Adrian Belew's guitar is interesting. But listen to Tony Levin's deep bass singing (he is the bald bass player with a mustache) and pay attention to his bass. Robert Fripp's tritonus is creating a spectacular dissonance throughout the song, and having two drummers in Bill Bruford and Pat Mastelotto and then Trey Gunn on the Chapman stick (which also really is Tony Levin's instrument)... The double trio created very interesting music!