Rolf Wallin and Josse de Pauw:
a work for actor, orchestra or ensemble, surround sound and video screen.
Strange News represents a large work for the concert hall that deals with matters in the world around us. It is not a piece of ‘political art’ in the traditional sense, in which one often propagates against a clearly defined ‘enemy’ and proposes a solution for the problem, but rather as an artistic parallel to a TV or radio documentary: a small, but informative window onto a particular matter, where the empathy with those involved is more important than dry information, and where no conclusions are made.
The subject matter of Strange News is the children used so utterly cynically as soldiers in wars around the world, the so-called child soldiers. Many of those who have escaped have in recent years been taken into aid programmes, where they are helped to live normally in society again. One of the main challenges is that the social ties to their own community were often brutally cut when they were forced to commit atrocities to their own tribe, even their own family. In the therapy, local traditional rituals can be used, focusing on the individual as a part of the collective, with song and dance as important ingredients. The wonderful thing is that the therapy actually works; a glimpse of hope in one of the darkest chapters of African contemporary history.
The Norwegian charity Christian Relief Network (CRN) has long experience from work with child soldiers. Josse de Paauw and I, together with a reporter and a cameraman from NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation), visited the CRN projects in Uganda and The Congo in November 2006. We met former child soldiers, talked to them, and recorded their words, which Josse wove into the piece’s libretto. Furthermore, we recorded some sound and video material for use in the performance. And finally, we held auditions to find an actor to participate in the performance, ending up with a wonderful young Ugandan actor called Arthur Kisenyi.
Strange News is cast in five sections. The first section, News, is introduced by a newscaster with the words: “Good evening. Here is the news”, and features real video footage of children fighting in African conflicts, accompanied by a manic distorted version of the intense, pounding music that accompanies television news broadcasts. This music gradually dies away, and leads into the second section, Strange, in which the narrator tells his own terrible story – of how as a young boy he was pressed into the service of the army that attacked his village. The horrors become ever more real to the audience, as real sounds of war invade the concert hall via the surround sound system, until in the third section Life Like Water, these sounds dissolve into an electroacoustic landscape. The narrator, now separated from the army and in fact deserted by the musicians who have fled the stage, talks of how he lost he feels – he can feel his life running through his fingers like water. At last, in the fourth section Singing and Dancing, the narrator is rescued, and, through participating in community music-making – which we can see on the video screen, accompanied by the musicians on stage – he is re-integrated into society. In the final section, entitled Home, the narrator can reflect on his life and look to the future. After the music has stopped, he can confront the audience: “I want a life more or less like yours. Would that be possible?”
The orchestral version of Strange News was co-commissioned by the Casa da Musica, Porto and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, who gave the world premiere performance in May 2007. The ensemble version of the piece was commissioned by the Integra consortium of new music ensembles, for premiere by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in June 2008.
© Rolf Wallin 2008
More information on Strange News can be found at the dedicated website: Strange News
Goodness is central to Wallin and De Pauw's multimedia work. ...a blizzard of horrific documentary footage from Uganda and the Congo. Helicopters thunder overhead, with the crack of gunfire and the tight, blistered, glaring report of hard-bitten strings. What surprises, almost guiltily, is the beauty of some of Wallin's music: the sweetness of oboe, flute and muted trumpet, the dissolving delicacy of the electroacoustic landscape, the affectless balm of the African rain.
Anna Picard, The Independent, 10/10/2010
This 35-minute piece of performance art for instruments, film and actor shifted uneasily between shocking and sentimental, moving and melodramatic. .. Wallin's score, a virtuoso collage of reimagined sound effects.
Hilary Finch, The Times, 05/10/2010
[The concert] culminated in Rolf Wallin's extraordinary work Strange News, which manages to tackle the horrific plight of child soldiers in Africa without resorting to polemic.
...Wallin's music, which judders and screams the sound of war whilst also carrying the calmer sections with washes of sound studded with tiny ravishing details.
Andrew Morris, www.classicalsource.com, 03/10/2010
...a creative use of means and effects. The work's opening...explicit videos of violence and atrocity and masculine posture in war torn areas of Africa with thumping minimalist musical backing, creatively smears the real and the virtual. [Later] a musically twisting evocation of the therapeutic projects former child soldiers undergo upon repatriation to traditional tribal society. [T]he narrator turns to the crowd and pleads, simply, for a 'life like yours'....the delivery made for a moving valediction.
Stephen Graham, Musicalcriticism.com, 03/10/2010
The awe-inspiring work which ended Integra 2008 on Saturday night was a compassionate and totally involving creation based on footage of child soldiers in DR Congo.
Rolf Wallin's Strange News, Josse De Pauw directing the visual and textual elements, could so easily have wallowed in voyeuristic sensationalism, but it avoided that trap.
Instead its graphic, gripping musical commentary created a War Requiem for the modern day, one which held the audience stunned - until the standing ovation at the end.
The commitment of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group players under Pierre-Andre Valade's clear, decisive conducting was an obvious factor in the success of this Integra 2008 premiere, and George Alagiah generously gave his services as the appalled newscaster.
But even more memorable was the performance of the young Ugandan actor Arthur Kisenyi, delivering a monologue of astonishing power and immediacy in this 35-minute work, and all from memory.
Plaudits too to Birmingham Conservatoire graduate Jonathan Green, masterminding the important electronics contribution.
Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post, 09/06/2008