WHAT IS IT ABOUT an artist that makes the surrounding world feel that it is essential to explore his universe? In those instances where works are of lasting consequence, there are always openings to something more beyond the physical manifestation. A wise person once said that what is interesting about creative minds are the fields of energy that surround their work: Charles Ives was a transcendentalist, Miles Davis a trendsetter, Giacinto Scelsi a medium for the occult, Olivier Messiaen one who combined art with deeply held religious beliefs, Duke Ellington was a spokesman for the individual, John Cage the music philosopher of the twentieth century, Karlheinz Stockhausen the mentor and guest from planet Sirius, and Louis Armstrong the God-given natural talent. Examples of personalities with a special aura surrounding their work can be found in all art forms. Everyone is made aware of its presence through the aesthetic and ideological space each artist creates around himself. The genius inherent in the work of such artists is what we call conviction.
Palle Mikkelborg has just such a conviction to life and art. His conviction is before music, in music, after music. One has only to open one's ears to hear it in Mikkelborg's case. I personally have a number of stellar memories of that moment when music opens itself to that ;. beyond mere notes and sounds. On one occasion Mikkelborg recorded with a young trumpet player for Danish Radio. The musicians worked with the possibilities of certain thematic material. At one point the young colleague melted out a theme in a very virile, ‘show-off' version. Mikkelborg responded with the same theme, but in a new, welcoming garb, where we listeners were given a new insight marked by a feeling of reconciliation. At such a ' moment, it is irrelevant to talk of theory or . knowledge gained from books, or influences or dislikes. At such a moment, the experiences of life melt together and the musical expression is much, much more than mere notes; the whole impression becomes a synthesis of everything ; Mikkelborg has absorbed - transformed through music into an expression of something , experienced. Long tones, vibrant soundscapes, echo effects - these are not just a result of interest in sound for the sake of sound. There is much more at stake.
Mikkelborg's music opens up for unrestrained digressions; free-wheeling musical thought, . rhapsodic interludes around a golden middle way - but never reckless or totally un- . controlled. The superior ideal of beauty would never allow that. Palle Mikkelborg is an aesthete. His trademark white silk scarf is an outward sign of a sense of the refined, of the beautiful, and yet also of that which no self-respecting artist ever forgets - affectation.
TO BE A COMPOSER in the traditional sense of the word has something to do with control. Control over the material and control over the performance is inherent in the way the music is written. Yet even though Palle Mikkelborg creates definite frames and points his music in certain decided directions, he sees it as a necessity that the music also lives its own independent life. Here one can say he is more of a designer than a composer. This streams out of everything Mikkelborg does. Listen to CD Aura (1989), written for Miles Davis when. he received the Sonning Music Prize in 1984. In the movement Orange the music is designed in certain patterns and also contains apocryphal messages and references to previous prize-winners (both living and dead).
It is this - and much more - that makes Mikkelborg's music so alluring. It is secretive and never fully reveals its secrets. There are always unanswered questions in Mikkelborg's art. (And strangely enough, Mikkelborg himself mentions Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question as a stellar moment for him!). But his music also opens up to the listener's own interpretations - of colours, of feelings, of forms and figures, of spirituality. Palle Mikkelborg designs possible frames for existence.
Mikkelborg's relationship with the classical tradition is underestimated because his music is always interpreted as coming from other sources of inspiration. In Denmark we don't have such obvious folk music traditions as in the other Scandinavian countries - and yet I would describe Palle Mikkelborg as both a Danish and a Nordic composer. There are composers who say that they are inspired by Danish lyricism and the folk-like quality of the songs of Carl Nielsen, and there are composers who show this inspiration in their music. When Palle Mikkelborg received the prestigious Carl Nielsen prize in 1999, he gave thanks for the honour with a performance that showed just how much he stands in debt to the Danish tradition that has its roots in the classicism of Carl Nielsen. Similarly, one can cite Norwegian Jan Garbarek's debt to the nature romanticism of Edward Grieg. Palle Mikkelborg is both Danish and Nordic in his relationship with time. Time and timing play definitive roles in his music. Mikkelborg waits, listens, becomes a part of, finds the essential notes and phrases that open up to new worlds.
Palle Mikkelborg is not a jazz musician in the traditional sense, despite his use of freedom and improvisation; he does not have the 'sound' of the Baptist church or Fifth Avenue as a social or musical background, but rather Carl Nielsen, H.C. Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard in his mental suitcase. He has taken great pleasure in being a ‘guest' in different milieus along the way. At a point ; in time, the standard repertoire became a little too restricted for him and new challenges were calling: conductor of the Danish Radio Big Band and Danish Radio Jazz Group, arranger, composer (listen to ' Mysterious Corona (1967)) the Danish Radio Jazz Group supplemented with wind quintet and string quartet. Inspiration and experience gained from different aesthetic collaborations resound further in Mikkelborg's universe. (Be convinced by listening to More Than You Know (1975) with Dexter Gordon and orchestra, Entrance (1977), Live As Well (1978), and Palle Mikkelborg: Journey To... (1984).
There is never anything one-sided or, for that matter, obvious in Mikkelborg's music. Listen, for example, to his most recent CDs - Hommage (1990) Anything But Grey (1993) and Song... Tread Lightly (2000).They have it all - broad expanses of sound that radiate eternity, insistent funk, driving rock-pop-or-whatever-you-like-to-call-it, big-band sound, up-to-date technology. There are no limits, but as Mikkelborg says of his relationship with the new technology: 'I want to be in charge'.
JUST LIKE ANY OTHER reflective person, Mikkelborg must have asked himself the questions 'Who am I?', 'Where do I come from?', 'What are my reference points both as a musician and as a human being?'. He is self-taught and like many prominent artists, he draws inspiration from both musical and other sources – ‘trials' that have given insights into people and the culture that surrounds them. The experience of life infects their art. As an artist Mikkelborg is like a piece of blotting paper, absorbing influences from near and far.
With some artists one has the feeling that they have played their instrument in an earlier life. Mikkelborg is just such a phenomenon. He must have played the trumpet before arriving on this planet. With his ability to unconsciously pre-empt the future, the spirit of the times is suddenly seized by new possibilities and an area is radically changed. It is this ability to give a new direction to certain areas that puts some artists in a class of their own. 'Mikkelborg is no exception - he has set new ideas in motion.
Mikkelborg's art crosses a bridge between humanity and nature. He has allowed himself to be captured by his instrument's ability to imitate the human voice and the sounds of nature. The airy, atmospheric tone and that special closeness created by the use of the mute are the unmistakable sounds of Mikkelborg's universe. This interest and pleasure in the human voice can v e heard on the CD A Noone of Night (1999), with texts by Ben Jonson, William Blake, Rilke and Francis of Assisi. One also hears the harp in this musical tapestry of voices - an instrument which come to play an important role in Mikkelborg's instrumentation and in his performance groups.
I was convinced very early on that Mikkelborg is always searching for beauty, an I give the final word to him, as he paints an impression of someone on a never-ending journey.
'My personal sound and my ideas for concerts are naturally inspired by my deep interest in spiritual matters. I have never had a musical ambition in my life, only a spiritual one. My life-long journey in music and it's magic has only ever had one aim: to find peace in mind.'