MIC Norway is now closed down but the history of the centre will always be there. We depict the story of three decades of music information services – as told by an insider that was there from the very start.
A true love-child of the 1974 Norwegian Artist Uprising, was the first pet name dealt to the newly-formed music information centre, but the foundation for the institution was laid as early as 1971 when the Norwegian Society for Composers asked for support from the Arts Council Norway to purchase and distribute Norwegian releases to international radio stations. The initiative led to a thorough report that in turn resulted in the founding of the Music Information Centre Norway in 1979.
The Xerox era
The centre’s main focus was to be to inform about and promote music of Norwegian composers at home and abroad. From the outset, the tasks were quite clearly defined as being score production, orchestra material preparation, distribution of scores and releases, info material preparation and catalogue as well as brochure production. The office was equipped with an enormous Xerox machine of architect standard, a Nashua photo copier with liquid ink, typewriters, grey analogue telephones with dials and a card catalogue. The Norwegian Society for Composers supplied their entire archive of production masters printed on transparent scores as well as a Cardex-catalogue dubbed Olsen. Olsen proved to be a historical colossus that we have never really dared to discard. The catalogue listed works, recordings as well as loans of scores. It became apparent that the vast amounts of data needed to migrate to a new medium, and the question that arose was when to join the computer revolution that was unfolding at the time.
The centre’s first director, Diane Hanisch was trained as a librarian and had work experience from the US on early computer systems. What luck. She resisted the temptation to go digital and chose to initiate traditional card registry instead. Thus, the centre avoided the pitfall that many other institutions fell into when they opted to go with computer systems that would prove not to be compatible with Bill Gates and Apple’s systems that would gain hegemony in the 80s. We purchased our first computer in 1984 and we would have to wait until 1989 before sheet music and recordings could be catalogued. The system we chose back then remains in use to this day.
The initiative to establish MIC came from the contemporary music composers. But even before operations could begin, the Arts Council Norway – which founded the centre in its first years – decided that the nation’s musicians would also benefit from the institution’s services. Lacking a thorough study of the needs of the musicians, it was up to the centre’s employees to define the way forward and we elected to focus on supplying general information on Norwegian musicians, ensembles and orchestras. In 2003, MIC was given the administrative authority for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ international travel support for professional musicians. From this point on, both we and the musicians came to see MIC as an increasingly relevant organisation.
A key service for the centre’s users was introduced in 1984: the Purchase Programme for New Norwegian Phonograms. This support and promotional programme would encompass all genres and necessitated a complex operation of compiling information on Norwegian record releases, Norwegian music institutions as well as identifying international recipients. It was a first step into to a field of true genre diversity. Luckily, we were blessed with a skilled colleague that saw the value of creating a system for the data that was now being retrieved, and the resulting database would later form the basis for MICs music industry directory – the nation’s most comprehensive map of its music scene.
Jostein Simble served as the centre’s director from 1980 to 2000. Simble was a true visionary man and came to the realisation that a small institution with insufficient funding would have to enter into alliance with other partners to be able to survive. The Purchase Programme for New Norwegian Phonograms was one such alliance. Another was to take on the administration of NOMUS’ general secretariat. Nordic cooperation would prove to be fruitful. The Nordic MIC offices have joined forces at international trade fairs such as Musikmesse Frankfurt, MIDEM and Music China and have made joint contributions to events like Scandinavia Today in New York and Tokyo in the 80s, Tender is the North in London (1992) up to Nordic Cool at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center in 2013.
Listen to Norway
From the outset, bi-lingual communication remained as a core principle. All information, be it sheet music or release-catalogues, newsletters, brochures or folders, were published in Norwegian and English language versions. The foundation of the English-language printed magazine Listen to Norway, which coincided with the 1993 Grieg Anniversary, was a key MIC milestone. With Mona Levin at the helm as the magazine’s editor, Listen to Norway saw three annual editions reaching more than 9000 recipients in 64 countries across the globe. The aim was to reach culturally savvy readers and decision-makers in various fields of the global music scene. Genre diversity was also a key principle for the magazine, and Listen to Norway would feature anything from opera and folk music to C&W and black metal. A number of journalists were challenged to write pieces on music and the feedback from the target groups were unanimously positive. However, the minuscule increases in public support for the magazine could not outweigh the rising costs facing the publication. In the end the shipping costs for the magazine proved too much to bear and Listen to Norway was put to rest in 2001.
The online era
One of Josten Simble’s last initiatives would be the founding of MIC’s Norwegian-language news and debate site Ballade.no. Initially founded as an ‘electronic wall newspaper’ with Arvid Skancke-Knutsen serving as its editor on half-time basis, the traffic soon soared to such heights that two full time journalist positions had to be in place to meet the demand from the public. Ballade’s unique position on the Norwegian music scene came to light in late autumn 2012 when it was announced that the site would be closed down due to the imminent merger of MIC and Music Export Norway. The ensuing public outcry against the closure serves as a symbol of the site’s unique standing. Ballade.no is now set to live on with new owners and a new editor.
Jostein Simble’s death in 2000 led to major changes for the centre. Following a turbulent year, Morten Walderhaug was appointed as the centre’s new director in October 2001. Walderhaug initiated a new set of guidelines for the centre, a new profile and a new name – from now on MIC would be solidified as the centre’s title. The process of merging all of MICs extensive databases and various sources of information into a new portal had progressed from 1994 and came into fruition with the October 2002 launch of a new visual profile and a set of re-designed websites.
Times of change
For MICs employees, a new era was manifested through the shorter tenures of the centre’s directors. Morten Walderhaug was recruited by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra in 2004. His successor; Svein Bjørkås remained as MIC director until 2009 when he moved on to lead the University of Oslo’s Institute of Musicology. Bjørkås was succeeded by Martin Revheim who was headhunted by the DNB Savings Bank Foundation after just two years at the helm of MIC. The last 16 months of MICs existence saw Kristin Danielsen serving as the centre’s director who was dealt the heavy burden of negotiating the terms of the merger between MIC and Music Export Norway which would lead to the new unified organisation Music Norway.
The MIC history spans 34 years and is as eventful as it can be. Much can be highlighted from those three decades; some successes such as the launch of Ballade, our sheet music operations and our close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs bring back good memories. Other initiatives, such as the establishment of some joint stock companies are better forgotten. Our daily activity has centred on a series of individual projects, information activities, exhibitions, seminars etc. The full story of our international activities and our involvement with IAMIC is too comprehensive to be told here and warrants a chapter of its own.
Our loyal Chairs of the Board needs mentioning, they have all led us safely through turbulent times as well as periods of progress and stability: Olav Anton Thommessen, Rolf Inge Godøy, Åse Hedstrøm, Arne Nordheim, John Persen, Elef Nesheim and Svein Skarheim.
From all of us to all of you
For MICs employees, the centre has been a good home with an exciting atmosphere in which each individual has been given room to be creative, show initiative, take responsibility and develop professionally. As 2012 and the MIC history draws to a close, one can conclude that it has been a workspace that has brought meaning to our professional lives. Some of us have here for what nearly seems as improper lengths of time: Lisbeth Risnes and Hilde Holbæk-Hanssen were employed in spring 1979, Torkild Hansen and Aslak Oppebøen in 1980, Camilla Oppegaard in 1986, Karen Rygh in in 1994, Karoline Røed Tønnesen in 2001, Tomas Lauvland Pettersen in 2002 and Margrethe Bue in 2004. Many other have been through the doors of MIC in those three decades – none of them will be forgotten. Ballade.no has had a greater staff turnover during more than a decade of operations. The site’s last editor, Carl Kristian Johansen, a MIC employee since 2005, joined six of us in our new organisational home: Music Norway. Three dear colleagues were transferred to the National Library of Norway.
It is our hope that our efforts have been as meaningful for MICs users as it has been for us. Bon voyage!
Music Information Centre Norway 2013