More than razzle-dazzle
From the November, 2013 issue
Norway's Jarle Bernhoft, who lately has used only his last name, takes the stage with a looping machine at his feet, a guitar or a small keyboard hanging from his neck, and a microphone. He's a twenty-first century version of the one-man band, providing vocals in a retro soul music style, instrumental accompaniment, and percussion, which he lays down at the beginning of each song and then loops. Part of the appeal of his music is the complexity of the rhythm tracks he spins on the spot; although they are electronic loops, they have multiple layers that he adds one at a time. He may strike the guitar strings to create a rhythm, turn the guitar over and rap on its back, beat-box with his mouth, or play a programmed loop. As a song proceeds, he may manipulate the rhythm further, stopping and starting tracks with his feet.
It's a razzle-dazzle act, and it's pretty good neo-soul, but Bernhoft is more than either of these. Ever since the emergence, after World War II, of the modern producer who substantially alters the sound of live musicians through electronic manipulation, musicians have been faced with the problem of reintegrating the live performance with the recorded artifact. The problem has grown only more acute with the introduction of digital music devices such as the sampler, which, you might say, have no analog analogues. Something seems to have been lost if music can't be reproduced live--it's almost not music anymore if people can't make it in person.
Musicians nowadays bridge the divide by manipulating samplers and loopers in live performance. These attempts have in the main been a bit awkward, with lots of stopping and button-pushing that seems out of place in all but purely electronic genres--and in hip-hop, where the divide between the human and the electronic element is sort of the point of the music. Bernhoft, by contrast, brings voice and electronics together. He's actually better in person than on recordings--he's been all over the place lately, including on The Ellen DeGeneres Show--and the digital aspect of his presentation may be more organically integrated into natural human music making than that of any of his predecessors.
Bernhoft comes to the Ark on November 18, with a New York band called Miracles of Modern Science opening.
[Originally published in November, 2013.]
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