One Small Step is a trio that I’ve been working in for a long time. It started with a collaboration with Roger Arntzen, the double bass player, when I still lived in the Netherlands. Separately from this I was interested in the combination of Hardingfele (a traditional Norwegian fiddle with a double set of strings) and tap dance, and had begun playing a little bit with Vegar Vårdal. On a special occasion, when the great tap dancers Heather Cornell and Thomas Wadelton were in Oslo for a concert I organized, we played all together, and have ever since. It’s the only track on the album that’s not performed by a duo.
We always improvise, and more or less anything is possible. When we practice, we often record ourselves and listen back together. This gives me a better overview over what actually happened, which choices I made and why, and it teaches me something about my habits and prejudices. For example, I’ll notice that it benefits the music if I do less, or if I keep going with something that I might think is not entertaining enough while I do it. Or it’ll make me listen even more closely to the sounds we are all actually making. When we perform, we always take in account the room, the floor, the audience and the situation. This inspires our performance. Last year we recorded an album, Gol Variations, in Gol Stave Church, where the wooden floor is very, very old and has great tonality and textures. It was tempting to go back there for this recording, but it is more in the spirit of this trio to search for new challenges. That’s why I loved the idea of recording at Emanuel Vigeland Museum, a stone mausoleum with a reverb of about 15 seconds.
It felt like painting with aquarelle and too much water as opposed to crayons. I felt like I could hear how the sound traveled away from us, and how it came back. At some point Vegar sang one note and then another, and they mixed. My own sound seemed to be different where I heard it as opposed to from where someone else heard it. When you do something, it’s going to ring out for a long time. You can’t hide anything, and it’s like it forces you to commit even more to your choices. Everything bleeds into each other, unless you wait for 15 seconds for the reverb to be done. This creates a whole new timing between us when we improvise. It magnifies the moment of the (re-)action, overlap, interaction, start and finish. We tended to take more turns, instead of playing all three. We stayed close to each other, and surprisingly enough it was possible to play in time / groove together. Whenever I moved further away it was so much harder to connect the timing.
Regular tap shoes with metal or wooden taps on a marble floor created a hard, high sound, which seemed to shoot out in space much faster than I was used to. Soft shoes sounded more like normal shoes in a museum or something. I tested a pair of shoes that had metal taps on the heels but none under the toes, thinking that that would give me both options at once. But that didn’t work.
We recorded several improvised tracks, and I’m sure some of the other recordings will come out in some format some day. The recording has not been edited at all. The one I chose for this album is the one where we played the most recklessly, including the chairs of the room in our music. When these wooden chairs are moved around on that marble floor they create something that sounds like a trumpet sound. Of course, the title Chair Variations is a pointer to our first album Gol Variations.
There was a distinct smell, from the mural paintings that cover the walls from top to bottom. There was a marble stone floor, with some dirt and sand. This produced an extremely harsh and unpredictable sound, which totally interrupted and distracted my dancing. I brought a swiffer and made sure there was no grain of sand left on the marble floor.
We were there for two days. Especially after the first day I felt so weird when I went home on my bike. It was almost like being carsick. It was so intense to play in that room, almost like we were in some kind of audible illusion.
Improvised by One Small Step: Roger Arntzen (double bass), Vegar Vårdal (fiddle, voice, chair) and Janne Eraker (tap dance with soft shoes, loose taps, chair, water container, metal) Recorded by Audun Strype at the Emanuel Vigeland Museum Mixed by Audun Strype Video by Morten Minothi Kristiansen Cover art by Daan Botlek
About One Small Step, the trio of Roger Arntzen, Vegar Vårdal and Janne Eraker This trio has been working with tap dance as percussion in music for several years, and released its first album Gol Variations on Clean Feed Records in 2022. With a wide-ranging background, One Small Step plays with minimal music, Norwegian folk music, jazz, and, of course, all kinds of rhythms. They challenge each other in their interaction, and launch into musical escapades that consist of textures, tonalities, imaginative ideas and exhaustive stretches. Roger Arntzen is a double bass player from In the Country, Trail of Souls, Ballrogg and Chrome Hill. Fiddler and folk dancer Vegar Vårdal has roots deep in the Gudbrandsdal, but travels around the world with his work and has even played with Camille Norment Trio at the Venice Biennale!