Interview: Ingar Zach

French-Norwegian quartet Dans les arbres create robust, improvised labyrinths of acoustic sound that emphasize texture, space, and dream-like contemplation.  With titles such as “La Somnolence,” “L’Indifférence,” and “Le Détachement,” the group’s ECM debut - released in Europe in 2009 and this month in the US – explores the liminal spaces between sleep and consciousness, alienation and engagement, subject and object, stillness and movement.  ANW caught up with percussionist Ingar Zach - who along with multi-instrumentalist Ivar Grydeland runs the SOFA imprint - to ask a few questions in preparation for Dans les arbres’ Philadelphia debut, which is one of only three US dates on their first ever stateside tour.  

How long have you been working with Xavier, Christian and Ivar, and what was the motivation behind forming Dans les arbres?

As Dans les arbres we've been working since 2006, but all four of us had been working together before this in various settings. DLA actually stems from the work that Ivar and I have been doing as a duo. At a certain point Ivar and I had an idea of inviting Christian to play, and see what this combination could lead to. We were recording material and playing a couple of concerts before Xavier was in the picture, but as soon as we invited Xavier, already at the first rehearsal we felt that it would be great to develop the music as a quartet. The motivation is very simple: I think we all experienced a great potential to create something special together as a group, with a totally flat structure and equal responsibilities was an evident attraction to us.

What’s the significance of the name Dans les arbres (In the trees)? Does it relate to the group’s approach to improvisation and the subsequent soundworld?

The fact that it's French and basically only one person in the group can pronounce it, is kind of a strange thing you might say. But, during the process of our first recording, we were trying to find a name for the ensemble and titles for the cd. We also played the music for friends and colleagues to get some input from outside. A good friend of ours, actually the guitar player of The Ex, Andy Moor, said that listening to our music he got an association of a cottage in the woods. So from then on, we were stuck with the woods and the trees, which led to Xaviers’ suggestion: Dans les arbres.

Even though I don't think the name Dans les arbres is in any way directly linked to the music we play, I guess you could argue that we are musicians with a need to create music in our own way, and this activity could be compared to being up "in the trees.”  I don't know, perhaps subconsciously we are attached to the significance of the name of the ensemble. I'll leave this to the listener to decide.

Listening to the ECM debut, sounds seem to be happening across a plurality of locations.  Can you tell us about the recording process?

The recording was done in two days in a museum outside Oslo in Norway. We played live in the same room with the brilliant sound engineer Thomas Hukkelberg recording it all. There is no studio experimentation of any kind, just a bit of editing starts and stops of the pieces.

Dans les arbres’ influences are incredibly diverse, which is evident on the album.  Can you talk specifically about your interest in Norwegian folk musics and how you think this relates to some of the other reference points heard on the record?

In the early 1990s I played a lot of Norwegian and Swedish folk music in different settings, and I know that Christian also has been in contact with these traditions, especially playing with Nils Økland and Gjermund Larsen in his ensembles. But to pinpoint concrete references to Scandinavian folk music in DLA's music is very difficult for me. I guess they are there somehow, but so are thousands of other references. I think listing up all our references would be rather confusing if you wanted to know what the music of DLA sounds like.  

What are some of the tools and devices that make up your percussion kit?

My setup with DLA is built around the Gran Cassa (horizontal orchestral bass drum), with tam-tams (gongs) and additional metal percussion such as singing bowls, china cymbals, and ceramic bells made for me by Birte Kittilsen.

What does Dans les arbres’ have planned for the future?  Are there any big concerts, tours, collaborations, directions or new albums coming up?

Yes, we are almost finished mastering the forthcoming CD for the ECM label. It will be out in 2011, hopefully in springtime, but no date is set yet. We are touring a bit in the spring, and doing a couple of festivals in Norway, Austria and Lebanon. There are also plans to go to Japan and also continuing touring in Europe. We have a long term project coming up making music for film, which is something we all are eager to start with.

Dans les arbres will be performing on Wednesday, December 8 at Philadelphia Art Alliance (251 S. 18th Street).

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