The Night Train to Oslo

This article by Geir Johnson was originally published in the catalogue for the 2002 Ultima festival.

You will be able see and hear the installation via the internet anywhere in Norway, and if you take the night train to Oslo Central Station at the beginning of October you will encounter an unusual sight and sound.

It was the author Agnar Mykle who first described the experience of taking the night train to Oslo. In his novel Lasso rundt fru Luna the main character Ask Burlefot is on his way to the city to attend the first performance of a work (also called Lasso rundt fru Luna) for orchestra. This train journey, which embraces one of the most colourful novels of post-war Norway, is the story of the education of a young man in his attempt to become a composer in a culturally impoverished (and in Mykle’s eyes culturally hostile) country where pleasure in art has almost become a secret vice, certainly given the way he describes it on unexpectedly seeing his father playing the horn in a forest clearing. This gives him an unforgettable insight into his father’s dreams.

One wonders what the composer Ask Burlefot might have thought on arriving in Oslo one early October morning in 2002 to find the installation ’Norge – et lydrike’ at the Central Station? There is a vast gap between the Norway of today and Mykle’s version. For instead of a young man travelling to Oslo to face the ten-headed music critic monster, not to mention the hundred-headed Philharmonic Society, we have an installation which draws sounds from all over the country into the Oslo Central Station, a place where so many journeys in Norway begin and end. The ambiguity of the title (’Norway – one nation of sounds’) is intentional; the traditional relationship between centre and periphery is turned around – the periphery, in the form of sound material, comes to the centre and is sent out again, reworked as a form of artistic expression.

You can be anywhere in the country and listen to the installation via a website which has been specially set up to relay the composition as it is played at the Oslo Central Station. Is it the sound of a boat on the fjord and the cry of seagulls competing with the roar of the crowd at a football match, or the gentle hush of the Finnmark plateau against the noise of a busy crossroads in Oslo you can hear? None of us knows, for the sounds have been chosen and recorded by the regional offices of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), and each part of the country is thereby represented by sounds which are peculiar to it.

In the main hall of the Central Station a roofed enclosure will allow the public to experience Norway as one nation of sounds. This is a major project for NRK, not only because it takes place outside the broadcasting house, but also because this is the first time all the regional offices have collaborated on a common artistic project. The sound material recorded in the regions has been sent on to Notam, the Norwegian Network for Technology, Acoustics and Music, where it has been combined to create a musical composition which will play every day of the festival.