The Height Of The Reeds by Arve Henriksen

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Arve Henriksen | The Height Of The Reeds
Rune Grammofon (LP/CD)

The northern English coastal town Hull was, in 2017, selected as UK City of Culture, resulting in a range of artistic events being bestowed upon the city. One was a commission involving Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen creating the audio for a soundwalk across the Humber Bridge. He was aided in the composition by fellow Norwegians Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang.

The success of this event surpassed expectations, running an extra two months in duration as it attracted so many visitors and participants. So successful in fact, that the Rune Grammofon label has released the recordings as an album. Coincidentally, this record comes out at the same as Henriksen’s other group Supersilent released their new LP on the same label, which invites contrasts and comparisons.

The Height Of The Reeds opens with a falsetto voice on Come April, a short, spectral piece that could easily soundtrack a film noir. This is followed by Reefs and Roots, where Henriksen’s trumpet sounds mournful and leaves long gaps between notes. In Supersilent, these spaces would be filled by the other group members’ electronics, percussion and other instruments. But on this piece, these liminal areas are tied together by the creaking sounds of the bridge, and other more abstract found sounds courtesy of Hull’s local field recording specialist Jez Riley French. French’s field recordings often veer towards lower case, floating the track on airy suspension.

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Height Of The Reeds In The Wetlands contains more percussive elements, albeit swirling cymbals as opposed to rhythm, complemented by bell-like sounds and ghostly voices. Water sounds are a common theme throughout the album, slipping under Henriksen’s trumpet and giving the collection a flow, both literally and figuratively. Track titles are all named after nature and the waterway that the Humber Bridge straddles, and this cohesion extends to the overall sound palette throughout. Occasionally, new sounds appear, like the marimba strums on Waders which give it a little more propulsion, but ever so gently. The final track is noticeably maximal compared with its preceding pieces. Lush strings, chorus voices and vibes fill Pink Cheery Trees with drama and gives the album a climactic finish.

Often when the audio components of art exhibitions are released as albums, the listener might feel something is missing, like they should have been there at the time to experience it all. But on this album, the audio stands very much on its own, fully formed. As a collection of avant-garde jazz, these pieces succeed more than enough. But the intricate interweaving of the field recordings pulls the listener into the same sonic space as those participants of the original soundwalks. Listening, with closed eyes, we are brought right there to Hull and the Humber Bridge.


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