Saturday 18 December 2021

Something more raw, that goes back to the origins of the stories: I chat to composer Glen Gabriel about his new album, Norse Mythology

Glen Gabriel
Glen Gabriel

The Swedish composer Glen Gabriel is best known for his film and commercial work, with more than 20 feature films including James Cameron's The Game Changers as well as some 700 episodes for television shows. He also works as a music producer and recent work includes pianist Jennifer Thomas' The Fire Within (for which Glen was nominated for the Hollywood Media Awards). He wrote Passing By for Zurich Ballet in 2014, and his music has been used for the World Figure Skating Championships 2021, and by Russian and South Korean gymnasts at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. 

Glen Gabriel: Norse Mythology - Audio Network
But he has also produced a series of albums, including Silent Decisions and Scandinavian Folklore, on Audio Network, the latest of which, Norse Mythology, also released through Audio Network, features Glen's musical re-working of Norse myth with an orchestra recorded at Abbey Road Studios. The album features eight tracks, each exploring themes from the myths from The First Gods, to the Death of Ymir and Creating the Earth. I recently spoke to Glen to find out more.

Whilst there are countless different interpretations of the Norse myths, Glen thinks that many of the good ones tend to sway into something rather different to the original myths, and part of his reasons for writing the music was that he wanted to create a version that was more raw which went back to the origins of the stories; he has choses to explore in music go back to the early myths rather than the popular tales.

Whilst Glen makes no attempt to re-create Viking music (whatever that might have sounded like; some instruments have survived but we don't know what was played on them), he incorporates traditional Scandinavian melodies and rhythms into the music, mashing these with more Western classical influences. He wanted to create something an epic quality, with different flavours to the music, though one sound-world he has tried to stay away from is the generic Celtic. Rather than evoking a particular time, he feels the music is an homage to the stories, and he tries to keep a sense of that universe.

Glen describes the music for Norse Mythology as being more 'in your face' than his film music; the music on the album doesn't need a film to tell the story. He refers to the music for Norse Mythology as inserting ideas into the listeners head so that they can explore them, whereas with film, the music needs to enhance what the audience is looking at and must never take over what the film is trying to say.

The album was recorded with live musicians playing from written music, and it would be perfectly possible to perform the album live, in fact when I mention this Glen comments that it would be fantastic to have a concert.

There are no images to tell the story and very little text. Glen loves the mystery of the stories and feels that the cosmology described is mystical enough so visual or text explanation would take some of this away. There is a choir in the first number, The First Gods, but they sing Old Norse words and of course few if any listeners are liable to understand the text and Glen included it as an additional flavour.

With Glen writing music for film, for television, for commercial work and for his albums, I wondered which was the real Glen Gabriel? He sees the 'real me' in the exhilarating joy of creating something that's different; as an artist, that is what he loves doing.

Norse Mythology is the fourth of Glen's albums. He sees the music in them as being more immediate than his other work, but he also gets his sanity back by writing what he feels. He was inspired by the Norse myths because he grew up with the stories, but Glens' wife writes stories (often related to Scandinavian folklore) and he composes to those. The stories spark composition, he admires something and wants to write music about it.

Glen Gabriel at Abbey Road Studios
Glen Gabriel at Abbey Road Studios

Glen grew up in a artistic household has is father owned a large artist management company. The young Glen wanted to be an actor, as this enabled him to depict his feelings, but he enjoyed classical and orchestral music. He loved the musical scores and realised that this was where he wanted to put his expression and his feelings.

When I ask about musical heroes, he immediately names the major film composers who were around when he was growing up and sparked his interest in the 1980s, including Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Ennio Morricone (1928-2020), Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer, whose early works inspired the young Glen. He realised later that the composers in this list were in their turn inspired by fantastic older composers (for instance Jerry Goldsmith studied with Miklos Rosza and Maria Castelnuovo-Tedesco) , and he started to listen to those too.

Looking ahead, there is another new album which has its release planned for February 2022. This was also recorded at Abbey Road, but is completely different to Norse Mythology. Written for piano, strings and electronic atmospherics, Glen describes the sound-world as very light with no heavy instrumental writing. Titled Where are you?, it is a journey from love to sorrow to death, and Glen calls it very minimalistic.

Glen Gabriel's Norse Mythology on Spotify, and Audio Network 

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