Off the Score with Hilde Marie Holsen

Hilde Marie Holsen, since her debut album “Ask” hit the shelves with critical acclaim, has carved out something very particular and niche in music. Processing her trumpet in the electronic realm, she blends the mournful tone of the brass instrument with the explorative field of electronic music to make music that lists somewhere between Jazz, the contemporary and drone music. Releasing her debut album under the direction of Maja Ratkje, while she was a still a master student, her music unpicked the frayed boundaries of traditions, calling in a new generation of artists that abandoned stale and repetitive conventions in favour of establishing something unique, in the realms of contemporary music.

Since the release of her album she’s gone on to perform on a number of world stages, both as a solo artist and in collaboration with other musicians, while also continuing her work in the recorded field. Although she “hadn’t expected to play more concerts” since Ask, her album definitely paved the way for her to be more “established me in the contemporary, in the Jazz and the improvised, free stuff”. It was a notch on her belt that was necessary for her to progress from being a student to working in the professional field. “My study years were just about solo work and now I’ve started collaborations with people I work together with more or less regularly and also these small projects.”

One of these smaller project is her upcoming performance with Stian Balducci, where they will be unravelling the idea of ambient music in the contemporary, through elements of Jazz, electronics and free improvisation. After playing Punkt, she met Stian who had reached out to her and was eager to work with Hilde.  A gig on a friday at Jæger was the last thing on her mind, and she remembers saying something like: “Are you kidding me, I’m not going to do that.” But her continuous efforts to explore new territory for this music left her curious nonetheless and with little further persuasion she eventually agreed.

I hadn’t spoken to Hilde much since the release of her debut LP on Hubro and was eager to catch up with her and ask her about her evolution since, so we met up over a beer, and we pick up the conversation as we discuss her upcoming performance with Stian Balducci and playing with other people.


When you play with somebody like that, somebody you’ve never played with or hardly know, what sort of thoughts go through your head?

More or less the same as when I play with people I’ve played with before or when I play alone. I think I’m responsive and focussed, because that’s the general idea behind improvised music.

Even if you play with a musician you’ve played with before, you might know which direction you’ll head into, but then you tend to explore the other directions. You’re always asking; Can we go somewhere we didn’t go last time? But when it’s the first meeting, I guess it’s more about feeling each other out.

I believe you will be having a rehearsal before the show. If the concert will be live and improvised, what is the purpose of the rehearsal?

I guess it is about talking things through and getting to know a little more of each other’s ideas. We’re also going to play on Saturday with a drummer, so I’m not really sure what’s expected of me playing at Jæger on a Friday night. (laughs) For me it’s also about security and knowing what we are going to do, what we’ll both find comfortable.

And how does it differ when you’re playing solo?

This of course varies between musicians. Some musicians like to have clear thoughts or ideas, I don’t. I like to be as free as possible. I just want to let the music evolve by itself. That’s my preferred way of working, while some musicians like to have a sketch.

Are you ever really completely free? When I saw you play a few times since Ask, I imagined I hear little extracts from the album.

I think that’s more elements of who I am as a musician and the soundscapes I create. There is never any clear plan towards playing some elements from the album.

Aren’t also bit restricted by a musical education that brings with it its own muscle memories and traditions?

For that, I’m exploring new ways of playing the trumpet, more unconventional ways, like turning the mouthpiece around or learning to control what I call the beginners tone. It’s almost like multiphonics – maybe as close to multiphonics as you can get on the trumpet without singing?

Does something like that come to you in the moment or is it something you develop over time and practise sessions?

A bit of both. I teach students and sometimes they play that way, that’s why I call it the beginners tone. So I figured, we’re trying to take this away from the kids, but it’s still kind of interesting. It’s supposed to be wrong, but to know what they are actually doing, might actually be interesting. So now I’m trying to play small melodies in an effort to learn to control it.

So you’ve started doing it in live performances?

Yes, but I’m not completely confident in it yet. It’s still an unexplored field.

Do you feel a bit freer in the electronic realm as a result?

I think I feel free in both the electronics and the trumpet, but at different times. I can be really inspired by electronics and then the next month I feel like i just want to play the trumpet.

You’re a trained/educated musician on the trumpet, while the electronic component is something you taught yourself. Is there perhaps something innocent to that component which helps you in achieving something different in the improvised field.

Maybe, but for me improvisation was also quite innocent in the beginning. Then it became a lot of theory and then I had to go into the free and contemporary aspects just to get away from it all. It’s maybe easier technically to play music on the computer, the trumpet demands hours of basic rehearsing for me to produce the sound quality and tone register that I want.

Do you ever feel like you’re perhaps limited by both “systems” and that you might want to start working inside a piano for instance to get back that feeling of unbridled freedom?

I do, but I think that’s a limitation you might feel occasionally regardless of which system or instrument you’re playing. I’m not gonna start bringing a piano on stage… not yet anyway. (Laughs) I think it’s nice to keep my set-up, the trumpet is there as the main source, while the electronics allows me do everything the trumpet (or I on the trumpet) can’t do. For me electronics and trumpet are very connected, both as an improviser and a performer.

*Re-blogged from The Formant