Low Jive: Jon Øivind Ness’ symphonic postpunk

Tonight Norway's finest orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic, indulges in a rare and anticipated exercise of postpunk. The event in question is the premiere of Norwegian composer Jon Øivind Ness’ commissioned work Low Jive, a darkish denseness out to capture some of the immediate touching qualities of early eighties’ postpunk.

Jon Øyvind Ness

-I think postpunk is one of the great progressive movements in rock, relates Ness in a recent interview with the Norwegian daily Aftenposten. -It touches me in a way that I have yet to experience with contemporary classical music. In my view much of contemporary music is bedevilled by a trend of complexity, and this includes my own earlier works too.

For Ness the aim of Low Jive has been to challenge this trend and quite simply create beautiful and, in a way, definite, music. It is in this respect that the inspiration form postpunk comes into play: Low Jive seeks to conjure up some of those simple but large visions that bands like Joy Division and Siouxsie and The Banshees got hold of when they tamed punk and let the energy travel far and probe deep rather than exhaust itself in momentous clamour. Postpunk allowed all the crude rawness of punk be exposed to its musical counterparts and “enemies,” and the result was something brooding and big; it was a transition akin to pure behaviour maturing into elusive looming psychology.

These days post punk is on every zeitgeisty artists mind, and not just because Joy Division have been resurrected on the silver screen. It is a deeper sign of our times than that. Perhaps it is disillusion; that the new world order of the Universalists has failed to materialize, because it was too much of a shallow quick fix, like punk.

Anyway, Ness has been a forerunner with regard to this zeitgeist, for his fascination with this genre comes from within; from an undying relationship from the time of postpunk’s heyday, and an appreciation of its deep musical and emotional credentials.

Born in 1968, Ness started out as an open minded rock guitarist, but soon switched to composition, and “new music,” which he studied at the National Academy in Oslo. Major inspirations have been Beat Furrer and Salvatore Sciarrino, but also rock and, crucially, aforementioned names such as Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Magazine and Bauhaus.

Before the premiere Ness is nervous he tells Aftenposten. Not because of the prestigious setting –he has had pieces performed by The Oslo Philharmonic before, and manifold equal honours- but because the technical challenges of his piece. In order to achieve a form of aesthetical simplification, which he deems, is the key to the sought-after directness, he has written a score that demands that certain instruments are tuned down a quarter note. Despite the excellence of the musicians it is very challenging to relate on stage to a completely different intonation of the instruments.

-If there is a distinct atmosphere in Low Jive it is melancholy, says Ness. –An insistence on dark, slow chords. I hope that the audience will respond to the mood in a direct way, that is my goal, I have little interest in extra musical explanation.

Conducted by Peter Szilvay, the eleven minute work will be recorded for subsequent release by Simax. Tonight’s concert at Oslo concert hall also includes works by Geirr Tveitt and Finn Mortensen.

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