Terje Rypdal Chases His Muse

In the world of guitar, it’s easy to discuss tangible things such as strings, picks, and amps.

IN THE WORLD OF GUITAR, IT’S EASY to discuss tangible things such as strings, picks, and amps. More ephemeral—yet integral to all creative musicians—is the question of where it all comes from. Norwegian electric guitar master Terje Rypdal— whose most recent album is 2013’s Melodic Warrior [ECM]—offers a few thoughts.

Is there anything you do away from the instrument that impacts your playing— even though you may not be conscious of it at the time?

Where I’m living now is on the west coast of Norway. There are a lot of mountains around here, and they’ve actually been an influence. I’ve been on top of many of them. I wouldn’t be able to make the same kind of music if I wasn’t living here—which was one of the reasons I moved to this place.

How would you say the mountains affect your composing and your playing?

They are inspiring. I would just be making up words if I were to attempt to describe it beyond that, so I’ll just say that it is important. The music on my album If Mountains Could Sing, however, was directly inspired by this place. There’s also some connection with the way I feel, and the poems in a book that a friend sent me. Many of those poems are connected with nature, and some are by Native Americans. All those things become connected in the music.

Is there a specific example of how nature directly affected your playing?

My music often goes from very melodic things to very wild things, and, in at least one case, the wild part was inspired by a thunderstorm. I worked with things like distortion and echo to get sounds out of my guitar that really captured the sound and energy of the thunder I was hearing at the time.

On your latest album, you transformed the electric guitar into an orchestral instrument.

I’ve been playing improvised guitar parts on top of my compositions for many years, and that is perhaps my favorite combination. In the case of the piece “Melodic Warrior,” the sound of the choral ensemble— the Hilliard Ensemble—was so exciting that it caused me to see things in a different way. It made the material really come alive, and that unexpected element inspired me to play in new ways. Influences such as the mountains, poems, and other musicians affect my compositions and guitar playing both directly and indirectly on many levels, but they all help me find my own voice. That process is never complete.