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A concert by Alvin Curran opens the exhibition “File Under Freedom” in Bergen.

From yesterday, Friday 4 February, until Sunday 27 March, the Bergen Kunsthall (the state art museum located in the Norwegian city of Bergen) is presenting File Under Freedom, an extensive thematic exhibition on improvisation in art and music. Consisting of newly produced works as well as historical pieces rarely shown to the public, plus documentation and archival material, the exhibition explores ideas about freedom as expressed by improvising musicians and contemporary artists. The exhibition is complemented by an extensive programme of live music, talks and screenings.

Improvised music is often considered a utopian space, a democratic place for collaboration and human interaction. If we consider free jazz as its starting point, it emerged in the United States in the 1960s, among a generation of pioneering musicians who not only revolutionised jazz, but also created a space of opposition and protest. Successive free improvisation movements have attempted to distance themselves from jazz traditions in the search for a broad philosophy of freedom.

File Under Freedom, curated by Steinar Sekkingstad, traces several historical lines, showing the work of some of the undisputed pioneers of its sonic expression: from the Americans Roscoe Mitchell, Douglas R. Ewart and Milford Graves, to European artists such as Peter Brötzmann or the American Alvin Curran, but resident in Rome since the mid-1960s. In addition, there is a younger generation of artists who use the legacy of free improvisation as a form of expression and political tool, including artists such as Lisa Alvarado, Eric Baudelaire, Matana Roberts, Cauleen Smith, Marshall Trammel and Emilija Škarnulyte.

In addition to exploring musical improvisation, the exhibition is also a visual experience that presents striking works of art in a variety of media, such as the relationship between American jazz musician Don Cherry and Swedish visual artist Monika Marianne Karlsson – who would become his wife and be known as Moki Cherry – who began a long collaboration in which multicultural artistic production, music and family life merged in a model of collective creativity that lasted until Don Cherry’s death in Malaga in 1995. The exhibition presents for the first time in Norway a selection of works by Moki Cherry, together with works by the Norwegian visual artist Sidsel Paaske and other examples of the exchanges between African-American jazz and the Nordic scene in the 1960s and 1970s.

Some of the works are directly related to musical performance, such as sheet music and notations, while others are made by visual artists who use improvisational methods in visual art works, or explore the close association between improvisation and abstraction in visual art. Free jazz as a project of liberation is also inherent in the way many musicians took control of their own distribution channels, and the exhibition presents a series of self-published poems and magazines, independent record labels and one-off Lps.

Live music

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive programme of live music, talks and screenings, featuring, among others, Alvin Curran, Mats Gustafsson, Roscoe Mitchell, Fumi Okiji and Elena Wolay. The concerts began yesterday with a performance by Naima Karlsson and Kenichi Iwasa who join forces for a performance entitled Exotic Sin, based on the joint shows of Karlsson’s grandparents, Don and Moki Cherry.

Today, the official opening day of the exhibition, there is a free performance by American Alvin Curran starting at 21:00, in which the musician will perform Endangered Species, a work for keyboards and computer and primitive acoustic instruments that, as Curran explains on the museum’s website, “I have been ‘composing’ for nearly 50 years… Essentially it is a collection of over 3000 sound files of humans, animals, machines, events, people, and musics from all over the planet – an immense sound library, a raw musical composition – which I use in part to create spontaneously-made performances, as if my fingers could ‘play-the-world'”.

On 25 February there will be a joint performance by Swedish experimental singer of Ethiopian origin Sofia Jernberg and Norwegian saxophonist Kjetil Møster.

As part of the File Under Freedom programme, the experimental music festival Borealis is offering its own five-day programme from 16 to 20 March, focusing on the figure of the American saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, who will give a concert, solo and in duo with John McCowen, as well as two of his works performed, in one case, by the Ensemble BIT20 and, in the other, by the Norwegian Naval Forces Band.

The Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson will close these two months of activities with a concert on Sunday 27 March.

© Photograph downloaded from the Bergen Kunsthall website showing Alvin Curran.