Benedicte Maurseth and Åsne Valland Nordli come from Hardanger, in the West of Norway, where the regional folk music which is a central focus of their work continues to inspire them. They began to play the Hardanger fiddle and to sing traditional kveding while still very young, studying with the foremost masters in the area.
Maurseth and Valland Nordli first began working together in 2008 in the vocal project Fodne ho svara stilt with Berit Opheim and Sigbjørn Apeland, but collaboration in duo dates from 2011. While working together in an Oslo theatre project the two musicians discovered that they shared aesthetic affinities at many levels. In May 2011, the new duo went into Audun Strype’s studio in Oslo and played traditional folk music and newly-composed folk music, as well as free improvised music. The results are issued now as the album “Over Tones.”
For Maurseth and Valland Nordli, older traditional music provides important musical, spiritual and artistic replenishment, and imparts a sense of being link to a historical chain. This strong connection to old music also facilitates the channelling forth of new expressions. Separately and together Maurseth and Valland Nordli create new folk music, with strong inspiration from the form, colours and sound palette of traditional Hardanger fiddle and vocal music, and infuse this intuitively with other sources – for example, free improvised music, jazz, baroque and contemporary composition.
As Maurseth notes, musical freedom has always natural and integral to folk music performance, and improvisation is a natural element for the duo. As performers they search for – and advocate – a direct and reflective musical expression.
Benedicte Maurset began playing Hardanger fiddle at the age of eight with master fiddler Knut Hamre as teacher. Since then she has primarily studied folk music from Hardanger, in addition to material from Telemark and Setesdal. From 2004-2006 she was a student at the Ole Bull Academy in Voss. In addition to the Hardanger fiddle, she also plays the baroque viola d'amore, and works with traditional singing, learned mostly from Berit Opheim from Voss.
Together with Knut Hamre, Nils Økland, Sigbjørn Apeland and Håkon Stene, in 2006 Maurseth participated in the CD and DVD production Rosa i botnen with traditional music from Hardanger performed on historical fiddles from the 17th and 18th centuries. Since this time, Maurseth has worked with old playing techniques, gut strings, baroque bows, and has collaborated with a number of baroque musicians.
In 2009 she composed music for a staging of Jon Fosse's novel Andvake for The Norwegian Theater in Oslo. She currently works as a freelance musician based in Bergen, and tours internationally. Maurseth is also active as a writer. She has a weekly column, Conversations about art in Norwegian newspaper Dag og Tid. In April 2014 publisher Samlaget issues her book of talks with mentor Knut Hamre.
Åsne Valland has been singing Norwegian folk songs and working with improvisation since her early days. At the age of 14 she started tutoring at the Ole Bull Academy in Voss and has since held courses in traditional Norwegian vocal style and religious folk songs. At 16 she began touring with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, performing folk songs written by Geirr Tveitt, also from Nordheimsund. Valland Nordli has given concerts at folk, jazz and classical festivals in Norway. At Hardingtonar in 1998, together with the Ter Jungs Sextet, she gave the premier performance of “Wandering Heaven” by contemporary composer Magnar Åm.
The Hardanger fiddle is an instrument that dates back to the 17th century, although much of the music played on it may conceivably be even older. Written sources suggest the use of medieval fiddle and rebekk in Bergen and the surrounding areas in the early 1500s. The Hardanger fiddle’s most distinctive characteristic may be its sympathetic strings. These have numbered from one to six over the course of history, though the most common variety today is five sympathetic strings. In Hardanger there has been an unbroken line of fiddlers from the late 1600s to the present day, with musical knowledge passed on from master to student.
Hardanger fiddle music has usually been performed by a solo instrumentalist throughout history, but over the last century Norwegian folk music tradition has embraced combinations of instruments as well as encounters with diverse musical idioms.
Music played on the Hardanger fiddle from Norway differs greatly from the folk music of neighbouring Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Hardanger fiddle music is often metrically free, its modulating time-signatures straying beyond bar-lines. Its unique tonality is based not on chords but upon micro-motives and phrases, and the frequent bowing of two strings gives a music rich in drones.
The singing of traditional Norwegian folk music is a general known as kveding. The words kvede or kvædi were used in the Norse era, to imply "the intoning of verse in a rhythmic and solemn manner." Today the word kveding says as much about a certain repertoire, as a singing style. Vocal folk music repertoire includes lullabies, cattle-calls, religious folk songs, and more. It is also common for a kvedar to tralle a tune – that is, to sing an instrumental melody normally played on the fiddle. Characteristics include the frequent use of ornamentation and melodic embellishments.
Religious songs comprise the most abundant genre of folk songs in Norway. Between four and five thousand religious folk songs are registered in archives spanning a time period from the Middle Ages to the present. Some authorities claim that the influence of the old church modes is felt most strongly in the folk music of Western Norway.