Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Orchestral Khmer fusion, live in Norway




Orchestral Khmer fusion, live in Norway

Ingolv Haaland spent years working on the compositions before the live performance.  Photo supplied
Ingolv Haaland spent years working on the compositions before the live performance. Photo supplied

Orchestral Khmer fusion, live in Norway

Norwegian composer Ingolv Haaland spent four years meticulously composing the nine songs that appear on his new live album being released next month. A process – combining Arabic instrumentation, Western arrangements and Cambodian singing – that was all-consuming.

“It took insane amounts of work to do this,” the blond-haired musician – an assistant professor at the University of Agder in Norway – said last week over Skype.

“Of course, when you work 20 hours a day over months, it’s not really healthy. But you have to show people that you can do it.”

Haaland recorded the new album, Live in Concert, in late March with Cambodian singer Ouch Savy, a longtime collaborator, and the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra at the Kilden Performing Art Centre in Norway.

The music, a wall of sound, ranges from cheerful to dark and eerie, with the tracks driven by Haaland’s ethereal grand piano and the multinational orchestra’s atmospheric strings. It was the orchestra that proved the most difficult to arrange for Haaland.

“Combining strings with Arabic instruments – nobody does that, because they say it can’t be done,” said Haaland.

Written for his ongoing PhD, titled How to develop a signature sound?: A performers perspective, the songs were part of a “quest for [his] own musical identity” and a chance to “push [his] own artistic limits”.

Haaland said that he had assembled “only the best people” to perform them live, musicians like Palestinian lutist Tareq Abboushi, Lebanese percussionist Rony Barrak and Savy, who Haaland lauded as “maybe one of the most skilled singers I have ever worked with”.

The Norwegian met Savy in Cambodia in 2009. Having spent time in Lebanon and Palestine, he observed similar note-bending and haunting melodies in both Arabic and Khmer music.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Ouch Savy travelled to Norway to perform. VICTORIA MØRCK MADSEN

Looking for a way to combine the two, he consulted a friend who worked at Cambodian Living Arts, who introduced him to the 28-year-old.

Savy – a protege of blind chapei master Kong Nay – sang on both Haaland’s Journey and last year’s Asian Flow. Most of the songs from Live in Concert came from Asian Flow, though they are rawer and more powerful live, with freshly improvised solo sections.

While the live project was challenging for Savy, she said it was also rewarding to represent the Kingdom abroad.

“When I did the concert, all around me were foreigners. I felt very proud to be representing Cambodia,” said the softly spoken singer.

Though Savy originally planned to be in Norway for only a few days, she happily extended her trip to two weeks when asked to perform for a local Khmer association.

“They told me that they had not heard the chapei or traditional Khmer songs for many years. I was happy to play for them,” she remembered. “Some people were crying.”

Savy also went to a music academy in Sweden to host a workshop on traditional Khmer singing.

After the concert, which Haaland called a “once in a lifetime event”, the composer said he felt intense relief.

“I was so happy all was finished. I was exhausted,” he said with a laugh.

“It was sort of crazy to think really big and out of the box [for this concert] because nobody believed it was possible to do this,” he said.

“But for me, it’s really important that if I say something, I deliver.”

Live in Concert will be available for purchase on December 15 at Monument Books as well as on iTunes and Amazon.

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Phnom Penh underpass opens to ease traffic

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced a temporary opening of the 488m underpass at the Chaom Chao roundabout in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district, which was recently completed to connect traffic from National Road 4 to Russian Federation Blvd. The move is to reduce

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial