Norwegian Electronic-Acoustica

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Wildering Haven

Morten Lund and Andreas Eriksen took their adventurous 25 year Green Isac collaboration to a new level when they expanded the duo to a five member ensemble and rechristened themselves Green Isac Orchestra in 2015. Rich with a generous helping of world-flavored percussion and minimalist textures, the music on their newest album, titled "b a r" is a compelling and often energetic fusion of fourth-world rhythms with a progressive edge.

Acoustic instruments including piano, cello, marimba and a variety of drums & percussion work in concert with live electronics such as synthesizers, mellotron, electric guitar, therevox, and gizmotron, to create a sound that overflows with imaginative originality. I particularly appreciate the special Norwegian melancholy that stalks the background in places. In the ambient electronic universe, this newest album, b a r, from the Green Isac Orchestra invokes to my ears a bit of the progressive rock traditions, but without any vocals or virtuoso power-play. I hear actual melodies and tempos, rich acoustic instrumentation mixed with electronics, and even some propulsive crimson riffs at times, all the while residing warmly in the cerebral realm of soothing meditative instrumentals.


Frode Larsen performs on percussion, Tov Ramstad brings a heightened level of emotion with his cello, Morten Lund handles all the guitar work, Jo Wang takes over most of the keyboards, and Andreas Eriksen's drumming work is a driving force for the music. Available in vinyl, Green Isac Orchestra's acoustic and electronic music is tinted with the progressive hues of Eno, Tortoise, and King Crimson. Green Isac Orchestra is the extension of the duo Green Isac, minimalist and ambient were the core ideas in the beginning, but on b a r there are several hints to Progressive Rock.

Morten Lund and Andreas Eriksen took their adventurous 25 year Green Isac collaboration to a new level when they expanded the duo to a five member ensemble and rechristened themselves Green Isac Orchestra in 2015. Their second album as the full-fledged Green Isac Orchestra and the seventh Green Isac album overall, b a r is a brilliant expression of their electro-acoustic blend of kinetic rhythms, inventive melodies, and organic soundscapes. The album releases today on Spotted Peccary Music in LP vinyl format and in all contemporary streaming formats. All links:

Green Isac began as a duo, Morten Lund and Frode Larsen, creating their first two albums, Strings & Pottery (1991) with a sound combining electronics and rhythms, fusing bowed strings and pottery with vintage synths and guitar sounds into a delightful ethnic stew, followed by their second album, Happy Endings (1997) an earthy blend of exotic strings and hand percussion. On the Spotted Peccary music label their releases include Groundrush (2001) which feature trance-dance ethno new age grooves, Etnotronica (2004) bringing a world music flavored electronic dance masterpiece, and then Passengers (2014) with an exotic trancelike feeling.

In 2015 they released their eponymous first album as the Green Isac Orchestra (sometimes in this discussion abbreviated as GIO), and expanded to five members which include Jo Wang performing on piano, therevox, mellotron, organ, and synths; Tov Ramstad performing on cello and electric cello; Morten Lund performing on electric guitar, lapsteel, electronics, baritone guitar, and gizmotron; Frode Larsen performing on percussion, mallets, and grand cassa; plus Andreas Eriksen performing on drums, percussion, synth bass, programming and arpeggiations.

This one word, b a r, brings to mind many things: a drinking place, a unit of pressure, a professional body of lawyers, a landform composed of sand, silt, or pebbles, perhaps to prevent or prohibit someone from doing something or from going somewhere, a 1906 book by Margery Williams, a line through a letter or a punctuation symbol, it could be a family name or the name of a place... let us return again to a long raised narrow table or bench designed for dispensing beer or other alcoholic drinks. "Bar" is a word with a lot of different meanings, both in English and Norwegian. GIO tells us that it's not what these meanings are that's important, it's the idea of openness and wide views - and truly this is reflected in the music.

The music's complexity of character brings to the mind's ear progressive themes drawn from whole cultural experiences brought together respectfully, without fear or prejudice, creating an ear-opening warm resonance illuminating the mysterious, the intuitive, and the passionate, sometimes integrating sampled and found sounds, with electronic music techniques, while showing a preferred mixture of electronic and acoustic instruments over pure electronics.

When asked, GIO describes their inspirational starting point as containing "a mixture of minimalism (Steve Reich, Philip Glass) and ambient (Brian Eno, Jon Hassell)... The palette has of course expanded over the years, with rhythms being equally important as the ambient aspect. The last records also have several nods to classic prog rock expressions."

Inspiration can come in many forms. Kristianstad (Norway) is a summer getaway that has family attractions and untouched nature on land and water. Punkt International Music Festival, or Punktfestivalen, is a music festival that has been arranged every year in Kristiansand since 2005.

"We have attended the Punkt Festival in Kristiansand for several years. This is a small, alternative festival dedicated to electronic/improvised music, and has been a great source of inspiration. It is always inspiring playing live for a dedicated audience that is open minded for such musical direction GIO represents."

One version of the GIO odyssey begins in Norway, with the label Origo Sound, an independent record label formed in 1990 by Harald Lervik. The first albums released that year were from Erik Wøllo, titled Images of Light, and Green Isac's Strings & Pottery, which were soon followed by more Norwegian artists including Geir Jenssen (aka Biosphere), Sverre Knut Johansen, Karsten Brustad, Langsomt Mot Nord, Eyeman Reel, and Neural Network. In 2007, Planet Origo came about, and in 2013 Origo was re-established. 

In Norway in the 1990s there was plenty of electronic music happening, with adventuresome collaborations and musicians moving between projects from time to time, as tends to happen in any exploding musical scene. There was a strong influence from a little settlement located way up above the arctic circle, in Tromsø, Norway. Mostly Oslo is the place to be. Some names to pay attention to are Bel Canto (Geir Jenssen: synthesizer, programming; Nils Johansen: synthesizer, violin, bass guitar, guitar; and vocalist Anneli Drecker), Erik Wøllo and Sverre Knut Johansen.

"We were directed to Origo from another company in this segment. Green Isac and Erik Wøllo were the first two releases on the label in 1990, followed by several releases of Biosphere. When Geir Jenssen quit the ‘arctic pop’-act Bel Canto to start Biosphere, he was replaced by (future) GIO´s drummer/percussionist Andreas Eriksen. Bel Canto toured extensively worldwide during the ‘90s." 

Let's go back further in order to set the stage for where we are now. In 1978, along came an album called Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich; in 1980 came Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics by Jon Hassell; and in February of 1981 an album was released that really changed the world, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno–David Byrne. All of this set the course that led to the birth of the various Green Isac projects.

Music for 18 Musicians is based on a cycle of eleven chords, employing in a new way pulsing modules of high-register acoustic sound from an ensemble comprised of violin, cello, clarinet, piano, marimbas, xylophone, metallophone, and women's voices. The augmentation of the harmonies and melodies, and the way that they develop in this piece, resulted in a growth of psycho-acoustic effects that merited further exploration that was eventually pursued extensively, including by GIO. The instrumentation, structure and harmony created a new sound sometimes called minimalism, or perhaps it helped to popularize serialism, but it is based on ancient repetitive progressive cyclic forms.

Jon Hassell is a Memphis-born trumpeter whose first interest was the sound of '50s jazz, he set about acquiring a PhD in musicology with a deep dive into Gregorian chants before he went off to Cologne (at the time located in a place called West Germany) to study electronic music with Stockhausen in 1965, then in 1972, he journeyed to northern India with La Monte Young and others to study the strange vocalisations and meters of those traditions. He learned to combine the sounds of Raga, African, Arabic music and more, folding it all into the richest of rhythms and textures, leading to his release of Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics and inspiring Brian Eno to take all this even further.

Brian Eno called his collaboration with David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a "vision of a psychedelic Africa." He had not actually read Amos Tutuola's 1954 novel, but he liked the name and used it for the album title, nor had he anticipated the problems with using a technique being developed by the Hip Hop culture of appropriating anything and everything, which lead to a great deal of friction, controversy, and legal hot water, while being gloriously pounded by massive beats and wicked strange sounds. This infuriated Jon Hassell for a time because of many issues, including Eno's casual disregard for cultural provenance, but this album blew off the doors to free up a popular fascination with world music forever. Not to worry, Jon and Brian settled their differences and went on to create much more music.

Meanwhile, back in Norway, Morten Lund and Frode Larsen were exploring their own brave new sound. "There are connections both in rhythms and in the dividing of the pitches of the notes. Green Isac (Orchestra) has always played with different meters and also different instruments playing in different meters in the same piece."

When asked for a definition of "music" the discussion turned to the German philosopher Arthur Schoppenhauer (1788 – 1860), "Music as a human form of expression is a unique phenomenon in the world, a phenomenon where one encounters something that cannot be replaced by anything else." Schoppenhauer deemed music a timeless, universal language comprehended everywhere, that can imbue global enthusiasm, if in possession of a significant melody. Many would argue that this applies to any artistic expression, but until abstract painting emerged in the early twentieth century, music was the only art that unfolded freely in its own purely artistic material that served no other purpose than music. He was among the first Western philosophers to contemplate Indian asceticism, denial of the self, and the notion of the world-as-appearance. Schopenhauer is famous for his influence on many artists and philosophers, providing for some a spiritual world and a new awareness of happiness.

Next I asked GIO for a definition of listening. 

"Listening is a very central aspect of music making and especially during improvisation. It is as important as the playing itself."

Improvisation is musical extemporization in the moment, traditionally without planning or preparation but in the Ambient world, there is often a vague plan, places where musical signatures will change, places where special textures are deployed. In a group setting this is particularly interesting because there is a wonderful tension between the plan and the spirit of surprise or discovery. In the Jazz tradition there are long established patterns, when to take a solo, when to return to the base theme or groove. It's all about the results, how it sounds for the listener, but sometimes it is about discovering new and unexpected things, for the musicians, and the scientists.

"You could say that all our music is improvised since we never write anything down. However, we use a lot of time on arrangements. The approach is a little bit different between Green Isac and Green Isac Orchestra. The duo material is mostly studiowork with a lot of overdubs, while the 5 piece GIO is rehearsed and arranged by the band and then recorded with all members playing in the studio. There are of course overdubs afterwards, but the core arrangements are recorded live in the studio."

"We have had a recording studio for many years, and most of the ideas are developed there. Our studio is downtown Oslo, the capital of Norway. The inspiration for us here is more the sounds and noises from the city life, rather than mountaintops and sunsets. Living in a small country in Europe, we are heavily influenced by Anglo-American culture."

Ethnic electronica (aka ethnotronica, ethno electronica or ethno techno) is where artists combine elements of electronic and world music. Folktronica is a genre of music utilizing elements of folk music and electronica, often featuring stringed, or any type of acoustic instruments. 

"We had some time ago a project called Etnotronica, a series of concerts where we invited guest musicians to perform with us. One of these performances has later been released as GIO-tracks («Thon» from Green Isac Orchestra). We definitely look forward to performing live on stage again."

Let us return to the notion of world music, where there is a blending between the ancient and the current, foreign and contemporary, and pottery with liquid soundscapes to create a new melodic richness. "Andreas and Frode have travelled several times to West-Africa to study traditional drumming and rhythms. We have all listened to folk music from all over the world for inspiration different from the typical western expressions. It is important for us to blend these influences with our own musical ideas without copying them directly."

The album cover for b a r is an image created by the Norwegian artist Nils Olav Bøe, who has had exhibitions of his work in many international gallery cities including Berlin, London, New York, Houston and Oslo. He is among others purchased by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo. His imagery is sometimes of constructed urban and industrial landscapes, atmospheric and dreamlike miniature tableaus, with warped dimensions and distances.

"We feel there is a relation between Nils Olav Bøe's artistic signature and our musical expression. The naked minimalism in his art suits us well." The cover of their previous album Green Isac Orchestra, is also by Nils Olav Bøe. 

On the first track, bowed strings and tapped cymbals with exotic electronic spices make way for a journey into a somewhat dark wilderness landscape with primal geologic eruptions, a plethora of twists and turns into many interesting dimensions. This is probably the album's most energetic track, "Volcanic" (7:47), a vast epic landscape that constantly morphs into a series of cycles, a glowing orange bubbling and simmering lava flow that suddenly bursts into a powerful crimson eruptions and then returns to the quiet lava flow. 

Quietly emerging from darkness, slowly building patterns and details, featuring layered instruments, mainly piano and cello, peppered with acoustic percussion and keeping a meditative mood that slides into a beat, "Le Grand Sportif" (7:05) contains atmospheric displays of group interplay moving fluidly between musical worlds. No showy heroics or athletic power stunts as the title might somehow infer, this is a complicated uniquely magical marriage of the traditional to modern organic electronica, with incorporated elements drawn from classical, jazz, and world music.

Some of the song titles on b a r are unusual, it is interesting to speculate about them, allowing for the imagination to run amuck and make assumptions, freely associating word forms with foreign expressions and wandering into new areas of possible interpretations for the sound and for the languages used. The best way to understand song titles, I have found, without getting into distracting assumptions, is simply to just ask the musicians. "Le Grand Sportif" was a puzzler. So sure enough, I asked. Here is what I learned: "One of the basic motifs in this track is inspired by an old jingle from a sports news show on Norwegian television. Add a touch of French and voila!"

"With Hat" (3:25) is a portrait of a subject keeping still and thinking about many things, the subtle facial expressions keep shifting while the subject appears to stay perfectly still. This is a delightfully understated picture of a person posing and allowing the music to illustrate moments of expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness and power, while the tempo is majestically slow and dignified. 

Dawn breaks, I hear the cello embraced by intricate guitar layers and haunted by a changing range of pleasing surprises. A groove is established and then tweaked ever so slightly every so many measures, so that gradual changes add up to dramatic ones. "Don Progini" (7:03) ends with a burst of energy mixing of layers with distinctly foreshadowed build-up and release. The cycling theme weaves interpretations of a single theme above a steady rhythm, with a free-floating feeling that tends to find a different meaning everywhere it lands. Again, I found this to be an unusual title, so this is where my next question to the band was applied, which revealed the following: "«Progini» is the original working title for this track, and is a contraction of «prog in nine» in Norwegian. This is referring to the influence from prog rock, and the actual time signature of the track. The addition of «Don» is a typical GIO-way of naming tracks."

Prog rock is also known as "progressive rock," perhaps it is an assimilation of classical music into rock, fused elements of cultivated music with the vernacular traditions of rock and roll, some harmonic language was imported from jazz and 19th-century classical music, creating a continuous aesthetic movement between formalism and eclecticism that is varied and is based on fusions of styles, approaches and genres, tapping into broader cultural resonances that connect to avant-garde art, classical music and folk music, performance and the moving image, with experimental timbres, rhythms, tonal structures, and poetic texts. Sometimes prog rock is called "art rock" or "classical rock" and can be recognized by electronic treatments, sound manipulation and minimal hypnotic motifs. Sound familiar? But can you dance to it? Some say that progressive rock is difficult to dance to, that it is music for listening, not dancing.

"We like people to dance, but it´s safe to say that we never intended to make dance music." 

So all that to say that GIO has a refreshing and unique sound that you should listen to, it is not a sound that is easy to classify. Nobody wants to simplify their life's work and reflected experience into a simple pigeonhole like "jazz" or "new age" or "prog rock" so please don't try to put them in a tidy genre box, which is also the best way to approach, like, all of the Spotted Peccary catalog, because it all defies genres. Just listen and get into the feeling, which does not require fancy words.

Oneiric is an adjective that describes things related to dreams and the fifth track has to me a nocturnal, spacey, dark and oneiric, perhaps an even more melancholic feeling. While showing respect for the old traditions, it is also willing to think along new lines. The title is "Aarwaaken" (6:10), which might translate from Dutch for "to watch." The instrumental floats free, like a planchette moving over a Ouija board guided by many fingers, where everyone watches the pointer float in various directions but no one is quite sure how it gets there or what is doing the pushing. Darker, with a beat, visited by turns and layers, yes, this one is my favorite in this collection of some unusually fantastic songs.

The closer for the album is a second portrait of a subject, but this one is not standing still, now we are walking at a brisk tempo, enjoying a new morning, luxuriating in a sound that doesn’t tell you what to feel. "Without Hat" (5:50) mixes layers with a distinctly foreshadowed build-up and release, innovative, eclectic elements, large-scale experimentation, and the use of non-standard and unconventional sounds, instruments, song structures, playing styles, repetitive circular rhythms, ornamentation, the use of acoustic stringed patterns, the sense of beatific endurance, electronic treatments, sound manipulation and minimal hypnotic motifs. And then it ends abruptly.

Ambient electronic means many things, much of the time the music is for listening, not dancing and there is no conventional melody or beat, or perhaps the cohesion is more about texture and exploration. Green Isac is known for fearlessly exploring rhythms and melodies from all around the globe, some dancing is allowed, some meditative trance music is included, on this new album there are feelings tapping into broader cultural resonances that connect to avant-garde art, classical music and folk music, performance and some harmonic language that was imported from jazz and 19th-century classical music. On b a r you will enjoy the rudimentary serialism and the instruments borrowed from world music and early music blended with new electronic musical instruments and technologies that transform the musicians' ideas of what was possible and the audiences' ideas of what is acceptable in music.


Spotted Peccary Music

Origio Sound

Steve Reich

Phillip Glass

Brian Eno

Jon Hassell

Punkt Festival

Erik Wøllo

Sverre Knut Johansen


Bel Canto

Music for 18 Musicians

Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics

Karlheinz Stockhausen

La Monte Young

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts


Arnold Schoppenhauer

Nils Olav Bøe

#AmbientElectronic #ElectronicMusic #Music #NorwegianMusic #GreenIsacOrchestra #SpottedPeccaryMusic #bar #InstrumentalMusic #Percussion #WorldMusic



Submitted: December 05, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Robin James. All rights reserved.

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