A forest at night is a strange, sometimes unsettling place. Visibility, already limited during the hours of daylight, is reduced to a bare minimum; trees turn to black featureless stone, only the vaguest of outlines apparent. The sound world shifts as the day’s cast of characters give way to the night’s: insects and night predators take the place of more familiar singers in the open air concert hall. Non-human fauna become bolder and more adventurous as the courage of humans fades. In the distance, you may hear a wolf’s howling dialogue with the moon.
When creating an impression of or response to such an environment, listening experience suggests that mimicking its constituent sounds is less important than providing a structure that changes in the same way as the forest at night changes. Such unfoldings are often unfamiliar or even imperceptible to humans. When I first started listening to Magnus Granberg’s “Nattens Skogar” (“Night Forests”), performed here by the composer along with Cyril Bondi, d’incise, and Anna Lindal, my initial impression was of an absence of structure, particularly compared with the returning narrative of Granberg’s “How Deep Is The Ocean, How Wide Is The Sky”. However, I slowly came to realise that the music is indeed carefully structured, but in a way that creates an open space rather than a linear path. The four musicians quietly go about their nightly routine, separately but keenly aware of each other. Meetings and coincidences occur, but the motivations for these are hidden from the sight of the human interloper stumbling through the undergrowth. How much the use of improvisation contributes to this impression is hard for the listener to discern.
Granberg’s music is sometimes described as melancholy. Putting aside recent discoveries regarding the social life of trees, the inner sensations of whom must surely remain inscrutable to humans, a forest at night is neither gloomy nor happy, threatening nor comforting — any emotions present are a result of our projection onto it, rather than emerging from the forest itself, even though it often seems very much otherwise. I tend to hear “Nattens Skogar” in the same way: its intention is not to stir any particular emotional response, but to simply be what it is, however that ends up making the listener feel. The restraint and control shown by the four musicians clearly contributes to this letting the music be itself, with no instances of overplaying or hamming it up. It’s rare that I get to experience the singular pleasures of a forest at night, but “Nattens Skogar”, in its own way, is very effective in facilitating a similar mode of experience.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/337367633″ params=”color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]