August 2006 Archives

To help Mum deal with her jetlag, I took her for a walk around the central part of Stavanger, she took a few photos with her brand new digicam (she bought one for herself and one for me while in Singapore)

Here are the photos mum took.

The Harbour - Vågen
Vågen

Me in front of our house
Our House

I am in Bergen now, we are staying with Astrid's younger brother and his partner. Last night I went to the final evening of the 4 day metal festival, Hole in the Sky. Was a great night, with quite a bit of history happening.

The venue for the gig was called USF, when I arrived I discovered that USF stood for United Sardine Factory, which meant that the space was a huge converted warehouse, with a large single main stage area and another large room that could could also be a stage (but was used for merchandise at this gig). There was also an art gallery space near the entrance. In addition there were more rooms particularly a whole upstairs area that I later discovered was used for artists in residence and during the gig as the backstage/VIP area.

Due to the fact it was a factory conversion and the use of the upstairs for VIP, we were forced to go through a confusing maze of passages to get from outside to the stage, the fastest path being blocked cause it offered too easy access to the stairs up. This got frustrating quickly for both sides, and within an hour the security staff were all holding sheets of paper with arrows showing the direction we were supposed to go!

Outside the building was located on the waterfront and they had taken good advantage of this with a bar and relaxing harbourside seating, as the weather was great, I spent most of my time outside when the bands were not playing.

Oddly for a festival, I was actually interested in almost every band playing that night, and even more oddly, the two bands I was most recently familiar with, having thrashed their albums a lot over the past few months were up first and second.

So it all kicked off with Keep of Kalessin at around 6PM, they played a really enjoyable set and the place was quite full. They played mostly material from their latest album Armada which has been for me one of the most enjoyable Norwegian metal releases of the year. Great sound, good songs and an enthusiastic crowd made it a fun gig, the band didn't put on much of a show though, keeping it simple which was good but I would have appreciated a bit more physicality from the singer.

Wandered outside to grab some air after their set finished and walked straight past Cato, the drummer from Enslaved, didn't try and chat with him as he seemed very busy.

Next up was Sahg, a good oddity for the Norwegian scene but it seems maybe an early indicator of a trend away from the black styles that norway is so famous for. Sahg play 70's sabbath inspired groove/stoner metal and they do it very well, really they belong more in the 80's English doom metal scene than in Norway, but they bring a strong grove and a fresh outlook to a style that mostly looks backwards 30 years. They were fantastic live, although the crowd was slightly thinner than for Keep of Kalessin. Sahg put on a much more enjoyable show, with more stage decoration and a more energetic and mobile singer. As I watched them perform, the irony occurred to me that this time around the requisite sabbath styled devil/satan references came across a a lot more authentic when filtered through these guys, some of whom had previously been members of devoutly true satanic black metal acts.

Up next was 1349, who represented the more contemporary and commercial face of Norwegian Black Metal, they are all great performers and very technically competant. Can't deny that they put one hell of a show, a very theatrical performance but bore me with their music which is not particularly innovative. I do like their name though, short and memorable and appropriate - 1349 was the year that the black death arrived in Norway.

As I later found out, the dayjob for the singer from 1349 is pyrotechnican, so there was no shortage of fireworks and flames for their gig, so much so that halfway through the plumes of smoke from all the pyrotechnics has triggered a smoke alarm somewhere in the building and this had automatically cut off all power to the stage. After a few minutes of puzzlement and teen girls behind me yelling trommer (drummer) solo, we were all told to go outside and wait for the fire brigade who check things out and turn the power back on.

I didn't bother going back in for the rest of 1349's set, I missed some fire breathing and a lot more generic black metal. They didn't even have their studio drummer (Frost who was busy touring with the equally commercial Satyricon) who despite being involved with very commerical bands is a fantastic drummer.

Instead I stayed outside and tried to chat to Cato from Enslaved, instead I ended up talking to Grutle (the singer/bassist from Enslaved). He wasn't very talkative and admitted he wasn't very sober. So I started talking to another couple, who had just come outside after the 1349 gig finished, the guy was from Seattle and the woman was from near Oslo, they were married but she had previously dated the singer from 1349 and had braved the pyrotechnics to take some good pictures from the photographer's pit.

The fire alarm had thrown everything off kilter and delayed all the remaining acts.

Next up was the highly anticapted "I", the new project by the former Immortal frontman Abbath. I had heard lots of rumours about this, and the rumours confused details. This was not a reformed Immortal, despite Abbath's presence and Demonaz as lyricist/writer. Instead it was again a nod backwards, to the days of Motorhead and the other 80's bands that inspired the Black Metal scene. Featuring the original Immortal drummer Armagedda, King Of Hell (previously on stage in Sahg) on bass and Enslaved's Arve Isdal on lead guitar the music rocked and the crowd loved it despite few of them having had a chance to hear it yet as the album hasn't been released.

Abbath was great up front, his confidence still strong from many years of touring with Immortal, however he's now quite chubby and out of shape and as he closed their set, he commented - "see you again soon, or at least when my arm stops aching" indicating he hasn't been playing a lot of guitar recently, but as a band they were tight and the songs were great, much less pyrotechnics than 1349 mostly focused around a song aptly entitled "Fire".

As they were not trying to be true black metal, they had no face paint or black metal clothes, and Arve was doing Manowar impressions, running around stage shirtless and musscular, ripping out excellent solos and leads whilst doing his best to cement himself as the poster boy for a new generation of teenage girls.

Up next was My Dying Bride, elevated to second billing probably only due to the previous bands all being Norwegian. I'd seen them previously at the Quartfestival in Kristiansand two years ago. If you told me 10 yars ago I was going to see My Dying Bride, I would have been very excited, but my tastes have changed. I still enjoy their performance, particularly the older songs. Aaron, their singer plays the crucified figure well, attracting a strong gothic crowd with his performance style. My big issue is the poor representation of the keyboard parts, played yet again but a pretty but not enthusiastic live keyboardist Sarah Stanton. It's not fair to compare her to Martin Powell, as he also played violin, an element which I feel added so much depth to the band's sound.

The crowd loved it though and the lighting, music was good, except for an occasional issue with feeback as Aaron roamed the stage.

After what felt like an eternity atching various technicians wander around the stage (including Ivar from Enslaved), the headlining act, Celtic Frost came on, it was absolutely amazing to see how enthusiastic the crowd was for a band that for the last 14 years had not put out any new material and had effectively disbanded. Of course, without the ideas outlined by Celtic Frost on their early albums, there quite literally would be no Norwegian Black Metal scene.

Celtic Frost were great, really a magic crowd to be in. Tom G Warrior said they felt like they had come home and I do believe he meant it.

It makes me laugh to hear that Sydney pubs are panicking so badly about the long overdue ban on smoking indoors. I've seen some horrid examples of big tobacco subtly working up a frenzy in the pub industry via 'faxes' that appear to have been started by other concerned publicans.

And it saddens me to hear that the government has caved in yet again to lobbying and allowed an outdoor area to be defined as outlined here: "hotels will be allowed to label an area 'outdoors' and open it to smoking if just 25 per cent of the room and 10 per cent of the ceiling and wall can be opened to the outdoors."

One of the nicest aspects of Norway has been the total ban on smoking indoors here, which has been in force for 2 years and was implemented without useless, costly, transitory steps which mostly offer the pub industry additional time to lobby for watering down of the laws justified by supposed lost patronage or the extra costs of making areas of the pub "smoke free".

It's obviously a learned association that big tobacco and the multi-national alcohol companies are fighting to keep, the association that a few cigarettes go well with a drink. I've watched countless people turn into social smokers after a few drinks, their inhibition and taste buds reduced by the alcohol. This is a dangerous health pattern that governments with balls (and that doesn't describe any that are in power in oz right now) should take note of and try and break.

In addition, smokers don't feel as happy with their habit when forced outdoors. This is obvious, but explains why big tobacco lobbies so hard to keep smoking a social, indoors activity, to associate it with having fun, a few drinks, nice food or a spin on the pokies. Rather than being stuck outside in the foul weather where you more quickly realise you have been conned about the fun lifestyle of smoking and your addiction is just feeding already fat pockets.

For me, I'd just like to be able to enjoy a live gig (usually hosted in pubs) without someone trying to light up in the faceless mass of the crowd. Was very happy last April to see bouncers forcing those cowards hiding in the crowd to put out their cigarettes at the Opeth gig in Luna Park's big top. However I've yet to see any pub staff/bouncers behave the same way, despite the fact that I am sure they would face large fines and penalties if their leniency were reported and taken seriously.

The one thing I'm happy about is that the smoking changes, as late and watered down as they are appear to have been primarily championed by Frank Sartor, who is from Griffith and went to school with my folks. His motivation for this is personal, but the changes and his successful efforts to lobby Victoria and Queensland (both of whom have shot past NSW in their implementation of these changes) are appreciated.

Trouble in big smoke: pubs pay up - National - smh.com.au SYDNEY pubs have come up with a novel but expensive way to stop the neighbours complaining about noisy smokers in the beer garden: buy their house.

As pubs and clubs rush to build outdoor areas for smokers before next year's indoor ban, some are forking out millions for neighbouring houses that would create a buffer between smokers and concerned residents.

(Via Sydney Morning Herald.)

Controversial billing considered - Aftenposten.no: "

Norway's left-center majority government alliance is considering letting careful electricity consumers pay less than power-wasters.

Although this hasn't gone through yet, and looks to be highly controversial, I'd suspect this kind of bill wouldn't even be attempted in the US (or Australia) - aside maybe from California.

Electricity is by far the item that is so ridiculously expensive here in Norway compared to Australia! Forget overpriced weak, bland beer, it was the first electricity bill here that gave me a real wake up call!

(Via Aftenposten.no.)

Last weekend I took Astrid along to a chamber music performance as part of Stavanger's International Chamber Music Festival.

The performance was at the Utstein Kloster which is Norway's best preserved medieval monastery which was built (i think) in 1263. Making it around 800 years old.

The performances were:

ANTONIO VIVALDI
Sonata in G-major
Michala Petri (recorder)
Lars Hannibal (guitar) - was not a modern guitar, was a replica of a 17th century bass? lute

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Partita C minor, BWV 1013
Michala Petri (recorder)

EDOUARD LALO
Fantaisie Norwègienne
Michala Petri (recorder)
Lars Hannibal (guitar)

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
String Quartet No.3 in C major, op.59”Rasumowsky”
Ysaÿe String Quartet

In addition, there was an additional piece (a bit of a fun display of virtuosity) by the record/guitarist.

The highlights for me were the Bach, which was very beautiful and the the in general amazing performance by Michala on four or five different types of recorder. It makes me wonder why this instrument fell out of favour.

The string quartet were also fantastic, a very moving performance.

After this, we took a bus and then a ferry to a place called Flor og Fjære which is on the island Sør-Hidle located in the fjord that Stavanger straddles.

Flor og Fjære is a play on the Norwegian expression Flo og Fjære - which literally means high tide and low tide, but really more refers to the flow and ebb, cyclic nature of the tide.

This place is a play on that expression, where by replacing the Flo with Flor, which is one Norsk way of writing Flora - ie plants it suggests now the cyclic nature of plant life.

Basically Flor og Fjære is a mad gardener's attempt to utilise substantial windbreaks, the gulf stream, and the specific orientation of this island to create a garden that for this part of the world should be simply impossible.

The end result of some clever garden planning is that at the extreme of winter, they record temperatures 5 degrees C higher than in Stavanger itself, this allows them to have - amongst other things (not potted but planted) palm trees growing outdoors even through winter.

Palms In Norway

Tree Fern by pond at Flor og Fjære

Grape_Vines_On_Rocks.jpg

Pretty_RedFlowers.jpg

The end result is a lovely maintained garden that is open to the public for about five months a year. They even have the healthiest and eucalypt I have seen in Norway so far!

The music ticket package included a tour of the gardens and dinner/late lunch (which equates to Norwegian's main meal, usually about 4-5 PM) at the restaurant in the gardens. Despite no advance notice (i did ask when originally booking the ticket, but they were not any help), they managed to whip up a very nice vegetarian meal for me, and the overall quality of the food was probably the best I have found in Norway so far. That's not saying a lot as I really don't rate Norwegian cooking that highly - but i was still very happy with the meal and ambience.

Astrid notes that the fish soup (a very traditional dish on the west coast of Norway) served as starter was one of the best she has ever tasted, balancing tradition with an Asian influence with excellent quality ingredients.

The chef had an odd sense of humour but noted that due to their isolation, they have to make everything on the island, sourcing only the raw ingredients. I really respect this approach and can attest that results were excellent.

After the food, we had another performance, a Bach piece performed on a solo Cello, this too was fantastic but the proficiency of the performer was not so great as Astrid picked up that he had a misstep in the final movement (he'd obviously not memorised this movement yet as he needed sheet music for it). I don't recall what Bach piece this was but even the staff at the restaurant stopped to enjoy the performance.

After a bit more of a walk through the gardens, the ferry arrived to take us back to town, it made a short stop just near the Concert House on the way to allow people who were going to the evening Gala concert to make it in time.

All in all, Astrid and I both really enjoyed the day, and although it seemed expensive when we bought the tickets, the experience was more than worth it.

The following evening I went solo to the Stavanger Domkirke - which is nearly 900 years old, and attended the closing concert of the festival.


JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Suite no. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
SSO Classical
Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch (leader)

SERGEI PROKOFIEFF
Sonata No. 8 in B flat major
Alexander Korsantya (piano)

JOHANNES BRAHMS
Lieder
Ragnhild Heiland Sørensen (soprano)
Artur Pizarro (piano)

Seeing Bach with a full classical orchestra was fantastic, such an amazing experience made even more special by the setting in a beautiful 11th century stone church.

I held little interest in the rest of the concert when I bought my ticket, but hung around out of interest and ended up thoroughly enjoying the Prokoffieff which I wasn't familiar with but was fantastically performed and had some dark and disturbing moments.

An intermission followed and by the time it was over I'd decided I wasn't in the mood for a Soprano (something I still struggle to enjoy generally) so I opted to end on a high and went home instead.

Next year, time and money permitting I hope to attend more of this festival (it ran for a week).

Went along to the enrolment for a Norwegian language course today. Was a slightly frustrating experience.

They offered two choices, a day and night course, the day course got it over and done with quicker but would prevent me from looking for or getting a job.

However after asking all my details (for the rego) they informed me that the night course might not happen due to difficulty finding a teacher - something about the salaries having dropped by 30% since last year.

Language stuff has changed drastically here in the past year. Now you have to do 250 hours of language as a requirement for getting a permanent residency. Also you have to pay for it at $10 an hour. Last year, you could often get the lessons for free (paid for by the government). Now I have to pay for three months lessons in advance. That's $625!!

My visa is not permanent so there is no political pressure for me to learn Norwegian and Stavanger is the most English friendly part of Norway due to the Oil industry and it's proximity to England.

However I want to fit in here and probably will end up staying more than one year if I can make things work here, so my drivers in learning Norwegian are primarily personal.

You can bypass the 250 hours requirement if you take a formal test to evaluate your Norwegian skills, so I could potentially learn Norwegian through my own personal study combined with coaching from Astrid.

Also, there seems to be a lot more resources for language education in the #1-3 cities, Stavanger is #4, and it seems the English friendly attitude here works against the push to provide Norwegian language courses.

It seems the focus on the 250 hours is to address the issue that many countries have with immigrants never learning the native language. This is taken to extremes in the following extreme and outspoken political opinion:

"Progress Party politician Ulf Erik Knudsen wants immigrants whose children do not learn Norwegian to have their child support withdrawn, or face fines"

These kind of things really upset me and seem to defy all logic when it comes to conservation.

China to promote animal hunt: "The Chinese government is to auction off licences to hunt wild animals to foreigners, local media say."

(Via BBC News | Science/Nature | World Edition.)

and

Trading trees: now developers bank bushland - National - smh.com.au

Trees for trade ... new 'biobank' scheme to promote conservation.

PROPERTY developers will be able to build on environmentally sensitive land under State Government laws that will allow them to offset the damage by protecting plants and animals elsewhere.

At least one developer, Hardie Holdings, a regular donor to the Labor Party, is already moving to capitalise on the scheme by buying 7000 high-conservation hectares that could be traded for precious land that it and other developers want to build on.

(Via the Sydney Morning Herald )

Norge Go Slow

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Things have been pretty quiet for me here, Summer feels like it's already over, but the summer holidays officially end later this week. I'm hoping September may show a return to summer weather, Astrid says that often happens.

Until the summer holidays are over, there's little I can do with regards to progressing things here, Language courses don't start till the holidays end, my national ID number has still not arrived. Without that, no mobile, bank account and probably lots more. Everything goes very slowly for 4 weeks it seems.

In the interim, I am enjoying quality time with Astrid, cooking, tinkering with projects at home and raiding the Stavanger Library.

This week, the significant event is the Chamber Music festival, which started on Monday, but so far the concerts I plan to go see are on the weekend. I'm also going along to a registration day at a language course tomorrow, but from what I've found out so far another company's course starting in September seems better suited for my needs.

Hopefully next week things will start to move again.

This is the first interview I've seen since Carl-Michael had his near fatal accident a year and a half ago. It's amazing to hear he's alive, mostly well and creating music again.

Guts Of Darkness interview Carl-Michael Eide from the legendary Norwegian experimental metal band Ved Buens Ende: Ved Buens Ende - interview with Carl-Michael Eide (guitars / vocals)

(Via DJ Martian's Page.)

Well i've got this summer flu now as well, last night we took two of Astrid's nephew's to see Asterix and the Vikings, which being a kids film was dubbed in Norwegian. I had no trouble understanding it as the plot was pretty simple and i think seeing stuff without the hand rail of subtitles is good for me, the sink or swim approach to learning to speak the language.

It was a fun film, not great, but I have a deep love for the characters, they made me laugh so much as a kid and it was good to see them continuing to entertain a new generation.

After the film we walked home with the two boys who were surprisingly well behaved, they played opposite the house in a kids play area while I cooked dinner.

Their parents Unni and Torbjorn turned up just as I had dinner ready, which was good timing.

By the end of the evening though, I could tell I was coming down with whatever Astrid has had for the past few days. This morning it was quite bad, and after having experienced a lot of difficulty buying chamber music tickets remotely, we decided to walk to the Stavanger Concert House, about a 20-25 minute walk from home

However with legs like lead from the flu, it was a difficult trudge for Astrid and I. We had success though and I got a few tickets to the Chamber Music festival.

Things are going slowly here, people have just started to return from their summer holidays. I screwed up with a form, which I didn't see the point in - notification of move to Norway from overseas. Then I finally found out, it will give me the magical national ID number that everything I try to sign up for requires (mobile, bank account etc). So this morning I went and applied.

Had a weird moment when I put P for partnership on the form, and was then told, no you shouldn't do that, you are single! I said, hey i've been in a de-facto relationship with Astrid for more than two years. To which the official replied, yes but that option "partnership" is only for same sex relationships. There was no option for de-facto, just as there doesn't appear to be a de-facto visa option like there is in Oz. One step forward (acknowleding same sex relationships) and one back (pushing marriage over de-facto), oh well.

Astrid has a summer cold and has been under the weather the past few days, we were going to go back to Aksnes - but the weather is crap and Astrid is unwell, and it's no fun being in a rustic cabin with no running water when it's cold and wet.

I'm having a struggle working out what to go and see at the International Chamber Music Festival. There are some fantastic options, but the one thing I really wanted to go to is $200 this does include a concert in an old and haunted monastery on one of the most historically important islands in Norway, a boat trip, guided garden tour and buffet dinner though makes it worth the trip I think.

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