Lili Marleen-effekten

Imagine the sound of the 1940-ies. Snapshots of songs from that time in Norway, Germany and USA. The song Lili Marleen became famous for being unstoppable in crossing borders between countries and languages in a time where crossing borders was not accepted. 

I am using particles of songs like Lili Marleen in addition to small language sounds, and fragments of words from Norwegian, English and German, to form a vocal ensemble piece. The piece is based on historic events about a war child who forgot her background and language. In the piece I try to combine the perspectives of the small child who is in between cultures and the same person as the grownup who tries to remember her own story.

With newly obtained support from Komponistenes Vederlagsfond and TONO, the score will be in progress in 2024. A pre-project, the short piece “My Mother Said” (score video below), was premiered by Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart in Grieghallen, Bergen 2019. In 2022, the organisation Voxlab in Oslo invited me to workshop the material with them, in the preproject “Erinnere/Remember”. In the pre-projects I found a lot of material, and are now working towards a larger scale work in four parts.

The background for the piece is this: My late mother-in-law Ann Brit Houeland was born in Bergen, Norway 1943, as the unwanted war child of a Norwegian mother and a German soldier father. After being given up for adoption and being sent as a parcel back and forth between homes, families and countries for several years, she was as a 4 year-old adopted for good by a Norwegian-American family in Brooklyn. She then forgot everything, including that she ever spoke German, and did not hear about these events again until she reached adulthood.

It must have still been there in the subconscious, but erased from the conscious mind. In spite of her sunny personality she was carrying this story – maybe her sunny personality was somehow deeply rooted in the forgotten events. 

In line with the background story, it would make sense to make an international project for three vocal ensembles from the three countries, with focus on younger performers and also an exchange aspect. 

In addition to particles of 1940-ies songs that my mother-in-law might have heard during her childhood, I am building the piece with sounds from the three languages, Norwegian, German and English, based on snippets of text from her official case documents and other places. Deconstructing words into syllables and syllables into sounds, notating with phonetic notation. I am focusing on sound and consciousness, and how we remember and forget. Also on music’s unique role in remembering and forgetting. Composed together these fragments can portray the inherent trauma and contradictions in the war child, with repressed memories and words that disappear and reappear from consciousness. 

The things that connects us, even during war and conflict, like “Lili Marleen”, are powerful. Especially music  is unique in how it can connect different parts of the brain or layers of the human consciousness. Music, song and language all hold special positions when it comes to the human consciousness and the grey areas in-between the black or white side-taking in conflicts. For instance the common roots of the Norwegian, English and German languages becomes very clear when the words are deconstructed. 

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