Reflections on recent Vemod performances
by Jonatan Olasson Håbu
This year's Inferno Festival had a handful of interesting bands on Friday's bill, of which Vemod was the most interesting. The readers of Wyrd's Flight should by now be well acquainted with this Norwegian band. Since the purpose of this text is to convey my recollections of Vemod's performance at the mausoleum of the Norwegian artist Emanuel Vigeland the day after their performance at Rockefeller Music Hall, I will briefly recount my impression of Vemod's performance that Friday evening.
The concert went well technically, and the sound projected through the PA system was the band's clearest yet, and made the concert their most accessible performance to date. This does not mean that the band was less uncompromising in the delivery of their music: the clear sound, the size of the stage and the professional lighting, the reputation and commerciality of the festival, and the band's presence on stage, all contributed to increase Vemod's appeal and hopefully reached the part of the audience not usually attending the less commercial festivals Vemod have played thus far; for the audience's sake, that is. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and though the band's slot of only 45 minutes meant that the song Bortenfor was not included in the set list this time around, the concert was still the highlight of the evening for me personally.
(All photographic sources for E. Vigeland Mausoleum: emanuelvigeland.no and tripadvisor.com)
Saturday dawned bright and warm, and I was eagerly awaiting Vemod's concert at the mausoleum of the artist Emanuel Vigeland. This concert had not been publicised at all and only 30 people were allowed to attend. Due to the fact that I had at previous shows assisted the band in matters of paramount importance to the success of their performance, I was invited by Mr. Blix to attend the concert a few days prior to the event. I was now humbly harvesting the fruits of my more than willingly given assistance. I had no idea what I would be experiencing other than a notion that the day would hold something greatly intriguing; after all, the music Vemod has released thus far shows great skill in creating atmospheres of a profound character.
The crowd outside the mausoleum was handed out leaflets containing an overview of the concert's schedule. The leaflets resembled the ones handed out at funerals, and I noticed that my feeling of solemnity increased due to this and that I started to pay more attention to what my senses were experiencing. Before entering the building an employee at the mausoleum gave a short introduction to the artist and the mausoleum itself. Upon entering the mausoleum we walked through a low-arched doorway only 152 centimetres tall, above where the ashes of the artist rested in an urn inside a niche in the wall. Thus we were already humbled by the presence of the remains of the deceased artist when our eyes, growing accustomed to the sparsely lit hall-like room, fell upon Vigeland's painting Vita, which covers the entire surface of the mausoleum's interior save the floor.
The painting depicts human life from conception until death, in dramatic and often explicitly erotic scenes. Candles in front of the ad hoc stage and sparse light from lamps set along the two sidewalls were the only sources of light in the room, and we walked cautiously up to the chairs set out for us and sat down to the reverberation of our footsteps: the fashioning of the interior not only catches the attention of one's eyes, but also one's ears due to a reverberation of almost 20 seconds.
Already assembled in the room were Vemod, dressed in black and radiating solemnity and steadfastness. In front of them were a table on which stood objects of a ritual character. Beside and behind the table stood the instruments to be used in the performance.
When the room had fallen silent, the concert began with a purification of the space occupied by band and audience. Through purifying the space wherein the concert would take place and establishing a sacral dimension within the bounds of said space, our minds and hearts were made ready to participate, however briefly, through the medium of music, in an experience of a truly spiritual nature. A spoken introduction then ensued, followed by the main part of the concert. At times the three performers functioned as a choir, and their voices, acting in unison, left none untouched. Other parts incorporated drum, guitar, flute and electric cello accompanying the singing, mainly performed by Mr. Åsli. The pieces were strung together seamlessly and one could say that the progression of the separate pieces in fact constituted the unfolding of a totality.
The concert ended with yet another purification. The conclusion of the unique event we had just witnessed signalled a return to the profane dimension of everyday life and its banalities. Once the applause had ended, the band silently exited the room, leaving us behind to digest the impressions left upon us by the performance, and to explore in more detail Vigeland's magnificent fresco. This was the perfect way to end the performance; we were left inside the room, our minds still occupied with the profoundness of the musical experience and our eyes catching ever more glimpses of the profound, and sacral, nature of the cycle of conception, birth, life and death as presented in the painting.
When I at last exited the mausoleum, I found the band engaged in conversation with members of the audience while Mr. Åsli was being interviewed by a journalist from a foreign music magazine. Speaking first with Mr. Kalstad I learnt that he now was a proper member of the band, and that Vemod did not consider this performance to be an exclusive one-time-only affair. Mr. Blix asked me whether the concert had been as I had expected. I do not remember the exact words of my reply, but it went along the lines of the fact that none could have envisioned such a grand happening taking place. Truly, the performance at times made me leave behind the constraints of the physical world and sent me on a journey both into deep, dark cavernous landscapes, and to peaks where a radiant light enveloped all.
Staying behind to help with the equipment, I told Mr. Åsli I felt as though having attended a funeral and he somehow agreed. Since than, the feeling has become clearer and easier to put into words, at least in my mind, after having pondered over its nature. Here is an attempt at explaining that feeling: With their performance at the mausoleum Vemod revealed a new dimension to their music, and consequently altered my prior conception of both the reach and the depth of the band's musical universe. Thus it played the part of both funeral and birth.
Vemod now stand before me in a different light than they did before the performance that Saturday in April.
The following quote by C. G. Jung aptly describes the result of the acts of introspection and contemplation:
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
The above picture, taken during a trip to a lake to the north of Oslo, makes Jung's statement somehow visible to the naked eye:
Like the moon, through beholding its own reflection in the surface of the lake, is turning its gaze inwardly experiencing more profoundly the moon within, so also should we turn our gaze inwardly and in doing so behold with clarity the inner being looking back at us.
The music of Vemod is a powerful means to this end.
Jonatan Olasson Håbu
Booklet and moon photographs by Jonatan Håbu.