A folk singer, musician, author and composer from the Hardanger district in south-western Norway, Benedicte Maurseth is a leading exponent of the Hardanger solo fiddle tradition. Having studied the instrument with master musician Knut Hamre for the past thirty years – a continuing process – Benedicte Maurseth has since toured, recorded and collaborated extensively with a wide array of contemporary jazz, classical and experimental musicians, pitching her fiddle against the baroque viola da gamba, lute, vibraphone, tympanon, double bass and electronics.
Released on 25 February 2022 last on the Oslo-based Hubro label, Hárr is a remarkable multifaceted project at the intersection of traditional folk music, improvisational jazz, experimental musique concrète and ambient electronica.
As a folk musician, Benedicte Maurseth has already recorded extensively a traditional or newly-composed repertoire associated with the distinctive eight-stringed instrument whereby the four understrings vibrate in unison with the bowed top strings. An ethno-musicologist at heart, she has also carried out in-depth research on the oral transmission of the tradition through Å Vera Ingenting (To Be Nothing – 2014), a collection of conversations with Hardanger fiddle master Knut Hamre. More recently, she published Systerspel (Sister Game – 2022), a comprehensive history of Norwegian female fiddle players from the 1700s to present day.
Taking a step back from a purely instrumental perspective, Hárr adopts a more holistic stance by focusing on the geographical area of Hardangervidda National Park and interrogating in the process what makes the music that originates from the Hardanger mountain plateau so unique.
In many ways, creating music and hiking are the same thing, at least to me – they evoke an awareness of beauty, deep listening and presence when our spirit is open. You can experience them alone or share them with others, in silence or in conversation. Both require time, effort, patience and repetitive continuity. Both are also a reminder of something else, something larger than the individual self, that makes one feel forever humble as a human being. Benedicte Maurseth
Part “musique concrète” project, part nature walk, all the music on Hárr stems from field recordings captured in the area. It also includes snippets of songs or interviews (Kollasj I & II) of the musician’s great grandfather Leif Maurseth and great-great grandfather Frantz Gustav Andersson Törna who features on the record cover. The archival time capsules are beautifully intertwined with field recordings, percussion, bass, electronics (and even dub-style echo at times) into evocative sound collages.
“Reindeer, European golden plover, bumblebee, running water at Tinnhølen, rock ptarmigan, rough-legged hawk, great snipe, Arctic loon, common crane and mountain owl” are all credited as making “guest appearances” throughout the record. Their sonic presence shapes the direction of many compositions, including “Hreinn” or the majestic “Heilo” in which hardanger fiddle, marimba (Håkon Mørch Stene), double bass (Mats Eilertsen) and saxophone (Rolf-Erik Nystrøm) harmonise with bird calls.
Benedicte Maurseth’s great-great grandfather originally came from northern Sweden but settled in the Hardanger region as a reindeer herder. This distinct cultural feature is recalled in the moving and ethereal ambient improvisation “Reinsdyrbjøller” (reindeer bells) for cowbells, percussions, water stream, electric guitar, fiddle, bowed double bass and electronics.
If the slow airs “Eidfyrder” or “Snø over Sysendalen” are associated with the traditional Hardanger style and complemented with double bass and electronics, the title track “Hárr” is a magnificent modern dance driven by Mats Eilertsen’s double bass with Jørgen Træen (electronics) and Stein Urheim (percussions).
Hárr beautifully illustrates the concept of the “soundscape” and of the “soundmark” (a sound which is unique to an area) explored by Canadian composer, writer and researcher R. Murray Schafer in the late 1970s for instance. And at a deeper level, the musician also connects her wholesome compositional approach with Ecosophy, a concept also introduced in the 1970s by Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss.
“This is based on the view that humans are part of an ecological system that is interdependent with nature, and that all of life and all of nature’s rich diversity have equal value.” Benedicte Maurseth