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Hilde Marie Holsen on 12 Points 2016 Jam Sessions: ‘Make Scratchy Sounds’

Every year at 12 Points we host a Jam Session where 12 Points artists can jam with eachother and local musicians. The Jam Session is different each year due to changing locations, musicians and sheer sponteneity so we asked solo trumpeter Hilde Marie Holsen, to give her views on the European Jam session this year. Hilde got super involved with all aspects of the festival this year from her amazing performance to her input at the Jazz Futures discussions to making 'scratchy sounds' at the jam. We were delighted to hear about her experience.

«Let’s play scratchy sounds»

12 points is a different type of festival than most others, where the artists are asked to stay for as long as possible throughout the festival, encouraged to, in addition to their own concerts, take part as audience at the other band’s concerts, and share their thoughts and ideas at the discussion forum Jazz Futures. I feel very lucky to say that I had the opportunity to stay the entire festival in San Sebastian. I got to listen to most of the bands, participate at the jam sessions with both local musicians and artists from 12 points, and also took part in one of the panels at Jazz Futures, discussing the evolving role of music and technology.

There are a lot of things that could be written about the experience of being an artist at 12 points, but in this post, I want to write about some of my thoughts around the jam sessions. I think the jam sessions are supposed to be the least formal part of 12 points, where we all meet up for a drink, chat and play. The first night of the jam sessions, was the second concert day. We had already gotten to hear six different bands representing different areas of jazz. I was talking with some of the other musicians about whether or not we were going to play at the jam session. It seemed like we all agreed upon it being a bit scary, and not something we necessarily were comfortable with doing, although we probably should be.

For me, the thought of joining in on a standard tune, made me remember hours and hours of impossible chord changes and waiting politely on turn between the different soloists. Neither I, nor the ones I talked with seemed very happy about interrupting a jam session where the house band already had set the tone with well-played, although perhaps a bit boring, standard tunes. But at the same time, the informal feeling that’s part of a jam, and the knowledge that we were around musicians that know how to listen and react on what they hear, free style-ish, became too tempting. Eventually, we came up with a solution, deciding to do a jam where we would only play «scratchy sounds», whatever that would mean. And suddenly, we were quite a few musicians from 12 points at the stage, improvising together with no other framework than our ears and the will to communicate and respond to each other’s ideas (and the idea of making «scratchy sounds», which I think we left and returned to on occasions). This seemed to break the barrier, and throughout the evening, several of the 12 points musicians also came together to play.

Although I play the trumpet, the electronic manipulation of it has grown a huge part of me as an instrumentalist and the way I think when I improvise. During the jam sessions, I missed being able to control more of the sounds, especially when we went into the more experimental improvisations. The participation of electronic devices at jam sessions still seems to be a bit behind, especially when it takes some time to rig up the gear. When you want to play at a jam session, there simply isn’t time to spend ten minutes to put up your cables and stuff. Eventually it will break some of the spontaneity that a jam invites to. I’m not sure how I would solve this practically, keeping the spontane and adding the electronic devices, but it would definitely be fun to have the opportunity to play with the other musicians with my whole instrument.

It was a pleasure to meet, listen to and play with so many great, aspiring musicians from different parts of Europe. I think the festival did a great job in choosing bands and artists that shows some of the diversity that we find in the jazz scene today. The curiosity and will to explore both the possibilities that lies within the instruments and the different musical expressions is something I think is a common thread between the artists that took part at the festival. It seems to me that the lines between genres are slowly being erased or mixed together, where the musicians are swifting easily between styles and techniques, merging them into their own voice and expression, leading the way into what will be heard at European jazz and improvised music festivals in the future, but probably also at other festivals representing other genres, such as rock festivals or the avant-garde scene.

At last, I want to take the opportunity to thank all involved, musicians, management and delegates, for some wonderful days at 12 points in San Sebastian, containing lots of great music and interesting conversations.

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