Kristin Asbjornsen (Composer - 'Factotum')
'The Musical Assistant'
One of the leading jazz artists in the Scandinavian scene, composer Kristin Asbjornsen provides the eclectic score to the upcoming feature film 'Factotum,' based on the life of American cult favorite writer Charles Bukowski and his quasi-autobiographical novel of the same name.
With a history of combining Victorian and contemporary poetry with music, Asbjornsen makes an unprecedented and successful attempt to create original melody within Charles Bukowski's acclaimed poetry with her ethereal, moody vocals. Performing with her band Dadafon, the composer's sound draws from the mix of her formal jazz education, and West-African griot singers whom she calls one of her greatest sources of inspiration. The result is a gripping and original jazz-pop hybrid using Asbjornsen's own breath-taking vocals.
Written and directed by Brent Hamer, 'Factotum' stars Matt Dillon, Marisa Tomei and Lili Taylor. Dillon plays Bukowski's fictional alter-ego, Henry Chinaski, a Los Angeles writer easily distracted by women, drinking and gambling. To insure that the film gives an accurate representation of Bukowski and his unique style, Hamer enlisted the help of Charles' widow, Linda Bukowski. She gave input and approved both the film's soundtrack and the film itself.
Chatting recently with Kristin, and noting that she had a history of combining Victorian and contemporary poetry with music, I wondered just where that combination had first been born within her? "The main thing for me is that I have to be personally touched by a poem. And I have to find it musical. It can be the sounds in the lyrics, a rhythmical phrase etc. There are many poems that I can’t work with, even though they go straight to my heart. I started up using contemporary Norwegian poets, and after some years I discovered Christina Rossetti and Elisabeth Barrett Browning and their longing, melancholic poems. Their simple structures greatly appealed to me and gave me several ideas as a composer. The same happened with some of Walt Whitman’s poetry. Using old poems is only important if they become contemporary to me. I like to combine poems from different eras only as long as there is a meeting point, a link in what the poetry expresses."
What were the biggest musical obstacles in trying to create original melody within Charles Bukowski's acclaimed poetry? "I was moved by many of the Bukowski poems but only some of them inspired me musically. Bukowski’s poems are so overwhelming, with an intense energy and with their down-to-earth language. I think most of Bukowski’s poems are best as just poems, not songs. It can easily be too much. But some sentences – like “it’s just a slow day moving into a slow night” and “pain is a flower” inspired melodies in me. I guess it was the melancholy loneliness that touched me, combined with Bukowski’s obstinacy."
You have stated that your band Dadafon is one of your greatest sources of inspiration. Please explain this more "Well, I guess I meant to say that I have a very, very good band. And all of the Dadafon guys are wonderful musicians that inspire me all the time with their own creativity."
"And in general it is very good to have your own band. I have always chosen to work in established ensembles. For me it gives possibility to check out new ideas, time to work out a special sound. It’s a kind of forum for trial and error, and experiments."
Did "Factotum" writer and director Brent Hamer give you any pointers as to what he would like to hear along the way, perhaps? "Brent wanted me to make songs based on Bukowski’s poetry, so that became my way into the Factotum score. He also had thoughts about what kind of instruments he liked and moods he wanted. We discussed it a lot. But explaining music verbally is close to impossible. We both needed to listen, and to watch. Along the way there were many pieces Bent enjoyed and some expressions he just didn’t like."
Also, please tell us if Charles' widow, Linda Bukowski had any say or perhaps even musical input on the film's soundtrack? "Linda got my two first Bukowski songs at the beginning of the process. It was inspiring to hear that she liked my interpretations of Bukowski’s work. She was actually very positive during the whole process. That was wonderful."
Did you know what the word 'Factotum' actually meant before undertaking the soundtrack? "Not at all… nor did I know anything about Charles Bukowski."
What other upcoming projects are you also involved with? "I have just finished my first solo album based on African-American spirituals. The album will be released this autumn in Norway, followed by extensive touring. Then the album is planned released in Europe in the spring 2007 and hopefully someone will pick up the album in the US as well."
What '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop song would you love to re-compose today if asked ... and why?! "I will say Salif Keita’s Sina from the Soro album for 1987. Maybe not an American pop-hit but every time I go to Mali I can hear this song in the taxis. Among other wonderful Salif Keita songs. I would be very proud if I had made melodies, moods and rhythms like that. And the beautiful Malinke language is great to just disappear into. I don’t understand a word. A lot of the African music from the ‘80s is of course a bit too heavily orchestrated, too much brass, keyboards, and drum machines – but I am very good in listening beyond the arrangements when it comes to West African Music."
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "Actually, I am not very interested in animals at all. But, I still haven’t seen the 'March of the Penguins'."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of the 'Factotum' CD from Kristin, just answer this easy question: In which country and in which city therein was Charles Bukowski born?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new AUTOGRAPHED 'Factotum' CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before November 1st with your answer and the subject title 'CONTEST: KRISTIN ASBJORNSEN SIGNED CDs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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