Cikada: The Oslo Sound

Zoologists will know that the cicada is a transparent-winged shrill-sounding insect and the male has a drum-like sound-producing organ on each side of its abdomen. Song cicadas are a separate family comprising up to 4000 different species in warmer climes.


Among Norway's limited fauna there is only one type of song cicada, and its song is so weak that you can't hear it unless it's amplified. Cikada with a k and a capital C, on the other hand, has attacked the eardrums of many a listener with its powerful energy. Now this pool of nine permanent musicians, which frequently splits into smaller bands, is celebrating its fifth anniversary.

Cikada, which has released several CDs, is associated with Ny Musikk, the Norwegian section of ISCM. The group has received plenty of praise from people like Tristan Murail, James Dillon and George Crumb, and today an increasing number of Cikada's assignments come from abroad. They have played at the Huddersfield Festival, the ISCM World Music Days in Mexico and the Warsaw Autumn. In 1995, they have, among other things, been asked to play at the Gaudeamus Music Week in Amsterdam.

At home, their year begins with Feldman's Crippled Symmetry before they start on a school concert project. Later they are due to go on tour with a group of rock musicians. One of their first performances in 1995 is a string quartet by Jon Balke. The ensemble has also commissioned works by Peter Tomquist, Jon Øivind Ness, Henrik Strindberg and others.

“Brand new music is always more difficult to play because there is no tradition for solving the problems. Beethoven's Hammerklavier and Liszt's B minor sonata caused insurmountable problems in their time,” points out Kenneth Karlsson, the pianist who is also Cikada's artistic director.

“It's important to play modem classics, but we must also be in touch with what is happening in the world right now. A work composed in 1995 expresses something about it at a sub-conscious level, and this is important. If we play The Beatles today, we lose the cultural effect they created. And the opposite is true of an early piece by Berio or Boulez that was hardly played at the time: think what it could have done to us if we had heard it then!”

Cikada comprises a fanatical opera-lover, a tango enthusiast, rockers and orchestral musicians in white tie and tails. The ensemble receives NOK 400 000 a year in government funding. “The Oslo Sound” is the label given to their music by enthusiastic foreign critics. Kenneth Karlsson believes this sound arose at the Norwegian State Academy of Music, which was established in 1973, and today we see similar growth among young composers.

“We in Cikada want to avoid seeming score-bound and clinically correct. We don't want to have two rehearsals and then play music we don't yet relate to. We must choose music we can put our whole soul into. I don't enjoy listening to ensembles that function like a CD player - you shove the notes in, and out comes the music, and the listener doesn't have time to become involved,” says Kenneth Karlsson. But what exactly is “The Oslo Sound”?

“It has to do with a lack of respect, but also with expressing something that is natural to us. As a nation, we are more direct than the French and the English, different from the Swedes and the Finns. We try to be ourselves - people from a country where the Prime Minister is an ordinary person like you or me. I remember when our women's handball team won the silver medal in Korea: the Prime Minister came to see them and the players joked with her in the changing room while they were naked from the waist up. The Korean press was horrified over the way they treated their country's leader, but the leader was having a great time. To us, this is not impoliteness. It's just a different style.”

Translation: Virginia Siger ©
Printed in the music magazine Listen to Norway, Vol.3 - 1995 No. 1
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