Reinventing themselves is what Ulver do, cryptically, with each release expressing a desire to transcend beyond the now. While the band’s latest LP, Childhood’s End, surprised by the very nature of its composition, few could’ve guessed their next move: A unique live show in the remote Tromsø. Commissioned by the local culture house, a brand new oeuvre was on offer, written specifically for the occasion and performed alongside the 21 members of the city’s chamber music orchestra.



For the small yet dynamic city of Tromsø, situated at 69 degrees north on the Norwegian coast, the coming of Ulver made locals [including this reporter] feel both pride and privilege. Whilst renowned for its music-scene (especially the electronic arm) Tromsø lies isolated in the far North. In many ways, Ulver’s concert felt more like a mandatory draft than a regular gig.


As the 21st of September 2012 finally arrived the culture house beckoned a motley crew of metal-heads, goths, intellectuals, students and other such mortals. While not fully packed, the main hall (normally used for operas) was decently occupied, yet filled with a silent tension.


Finally they came, the four of Ulver and the 21 of the Tromsø Chamber Music Orchestra. Positioned on the very back of the stage, the band, akin judges in a courtroom, left the bulk of the space for the classical musicians who, led by first violinist and conductor Brynjar L. Schulerud, kickstarted the concert with a firm plucking of their strings.


What ensued was a short yet mesmerizing experience in the realms of never-heard-before music. For the 45 minutes, Ulver left the center stage to the orchestra, concentrating in droning and atmospheric work instead. These soundscapes rarely came in full interaction with the orchestra, except for the magnificent drumming of Tomas Pettersen. Vocalist/founder Garm also kept it discreet, taking to the microphone on just two occasions. On his side, the ever present Tore Ylwizaker and Ole A. Halstengårg (of hip-hop duo The Paperboys) took care of the evening’s electronics.


Rather than a fledged Ulver gig, the night felt more like a showcasing of Ulver’s music performed by the an orchestra; with the band as mere accompanists (or even watch-dogs). In this respect, Garm, who as previously mentioned intervened very little otherwise, looked more focused than his band- mates, waving his hand in the air as if actually directing the whole thing.


Something genuinely new was heard that night. An imperfect yet tantalizing blending of electronic and classical music that bar the band’s most orchestral works, finding no equivalent in today’s’ music. The birth of another incarnation of this spellbinding entity? An album based on the Tromsø performance has been hinted at – Let us behold.


Words and photos} Lyonel Perabo


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