NILS HENRIK ASHEIM (b.1960): Degrees of White for Narrator and Orchestra.
Catalogue Number: 02W073
Label: LAWO Classics
Description: This is a powerful, harrowing experience; essentially an hour-long, large-scale monodrama centered on the experience of freezing to death. The text, by Johan Harstad, relates the inner monologue of a woman, who fantasized about dying, almost ritualistically, of cold, as a child. As the narrative continues, we discover that she has long been "frozen" within her marriage; that she is now on a skiing trip with her husband, whom she has condemned to death by abandoning him to die in the snow (which she narrates in her imagination with chilling (pun intended) detachment and precision); and that she is herself in the process of being overcome by the numbing ice in her veins. This disturbing drama is crafted into a performance piece of unerring trajectory and cumulative intensity. Asheim's orchestral score begins with fragmentary shards that sound like chords and gestures plucked from imposing Nordic nature music of post-Siberian type, hinting that even at its most sonoristic the orchestral component will retain the harmonic structures of a Romantic soundscape. The orchestra is enhanced by various noisemakers in the percussion department, which emulate the sounds of wind, ice, the dry rattle of frozen pebbles, and bridge the timbral spectrum into the electronic score by "noise musician" and composer Lasse Marhaug, which introduces the work with a terrifying blast of rushing noise like being thrust into the midst of a blinding, deafening, white-out blizzard. The acted monologue (as distinct from mere narration) begins matter-of-factly, the character recounting her early obsession with freezing, and intoning bare facts about ice and the effects of cold, and impersonally describing her current state; as the story progresses and the intensity rises as we understand what she has done and is doing before our fascinated but impotent gaze, not only does her demeanor change but she is increasingly shadowed and overtaken by a hollow electronically altered version of her voice. Meanwhile, the chill expanses of the inescapable orchestral landscape move increasingly into the foreground, overwhelming the human character as she succumbs to her gelid self-immolation. The 2-disc set consists of the same recording, performed in English or Norwegian. Texts included. Petronella Barker (narrator), Norwegian Radio Orchestra; Christian Eggen.