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Arne Nordheim - Dodeka

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Artist: Arne Nordheim

Album: Dodeka

Label: Rune Grammofon

Review date: Aug. 21, 2003

Lullabies for the Electronic Age

With a catalog of works spanning nearly 50 years, and recognition as Norway’s most famous modern composer “outside its borders”, Arne Nordheim has created a vast musical universe over his lifetime where both acoustic and electronic sounds dwell. Norwegian label Rune Grammofone celebrates their 30th release (and Nordheim’s 70th birthday) with this wonderful never-released set of electro-acoustic works. In 1998, Rune issued what was originally called Nordheim’s ‘complete electronic works’ on an equally fascinating disc called Electric. It is a joy to find out that in this case, ‘complete’ was a misnomer.

The pieces enclosed on Dodeka (Greek for “Twelve”, and yes, that’s how many pieces are on the disc) were created during Nordheim’s time in Warsaw, Poland from 1967-72. The timbre lexicon is limited to about a dozen sounds, which seems to have been done for compositional reasons, not from a lack of resources (although being that it was assembled in Poland in the late ’60s/ early ’70s, that may also be the case). The basic vocabulary of sounds Nordheim crafts are deceptively simple as they are tweaked and permuted through drifting variations and flowing structures. The feel of the works is expansive and timeless, but extremely focused, like a late Feldman piece compressed into three minutes – and somehow managing to do so while still leaving you with the impression that time is irrelevant. The titles have programmatic implications (ie. “Searching”, “Hovering”, “Calm”, etc.) which are so well chosen that even people who despise programmatic titling would have to admit that “Searching” could be called nothing but.

Dodeka’s twelve parts are most certainly conceived as a single work, with elements collaged from one piece to another, creating a transparent sense of ‘development’ (in the 19th century sense, even!) which doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve been beat over the head with a ‘climax’ and a ‘conclusion’. “Summa’ (Latin for “sum total”) is such a conclusion, embedding itself with elements from the entire work inconspicuously, as if you’re waking from a dream that you knew was good, but that you can’t remember.

By Andrew Raffo Dewar

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