Abstract/Concrete #2 — Cecilie Bjørgås Jordheim

by derek beaulieu

Sailing off of Cape Horn

I first encountered Cecilie Bjørgås Jordheim in Oslo in 2010 after brief discussions online. She had been in the audience for a series of talks by Kenneth Goldsmith the year before and their correspondence lead to Cecilie and I deciding that her work would be featured as part of the Visual Poetry section at UBU. Born in Bergen, Norway, Jordheim is a recent graduate of the Oslo National Academy of the Arts. Working primarily in the media of visual scores, her work has a significant amount of cross-over into visual poetry. While Christian Marclay also works with found and manipulated musical scores as an artistic media crafting graphic representations of the language of musical notation, Jordheim’s work is more closely aligned with an eco-poetic mindset. Marclay’s scores develop from found consumer goods, strategically broken records and vandalized posters (for example 2008’s “Prêt-à-porter” and 2010’s “Zoom zoom”) while Jordheim creates musical scores from ecological lines and fragments.


Jordheim’s partitur (produced in an edition of 57 signed copies by Glemmeboka, 2010) is a 147-page score for violin which uses the mountain range around Vesterålen, Norway to suggest a performance. With partitur Jordheim sees the horizon line as a readable poetic line, one which can only be read, it can also be performed Jordheim’s proposed reading practises generate musical scores, compositions for violin, cello and vocal performance which create eerie ’pataphysical evocations of place and landscape. Jordheim also treats the literary landscape as she does the natural. Reading is an act of looking and scoring. In the “Conceptualisms Dossier” in the latest issue of Matrix, she evokes architectural drawings of a cityscape by mapping the lyrics to Starship’s insipid 1980’s pop song “We built this city on rock and roll.” The schmaltz of the contemporary musical landscape is transformed into an anonymous cityscape, as devoid of character as the original song. 2008’s “Barcode” —Jordheim’s student work—is a 16mm film (transferred to video and now to YouTube) which consists entirely of manipulated barcodes.


Using compositional strategies similar to those of Norman McLaren, Jordheim glued each barcode on to the film’s image and sound tracks, the film then make[s] sound as it passes the photoelectric cell in the film projector and shows a direct connection between the sound and the image. What you see is what you hear. By having glued on a barcode in different sizes, it plays in a range of two octaves, approx. from low to high C. The density of the lines decides the pitch—the more lines per frame, the higher pitch. Jordheim’s translation of ecologies (both natural and artificial) into musical score suggests the readability and performability of any line much as the late Bob Cobbing famously would see coffee cup rings, mud puddles and bark as scores for potential sound poetry performance. Her 10-point manifesto “How does it sound?” summarizes her artistic / poetic concerns and forwards a series of talking points which interrogate the intersection between conceptualism, musical score and writing the landscape:

How does it sound?

  1. Why would one produce the sound of a mountain?
  2. What is it that tells me that this horizon should be documented? Will it not be there forever?
  3. Is it an attempt to describe something eternal and solid that has been there for ages, long before man managed to put its knowledge of the mountain into systems like language, drawings, maps, geological and geographical methods?
  4. Isn’t art the desire to shape and describe something that cannot be grasped, and doesn’t this apply to all academic disciplines?
  5. Where is the relationship between art and science at this point, and how do human factors and inaccurancies come to question when the premises are added and selected by ourselves? Is it choice or chance?
  6. Has modern man lost its ability to combine factual knowledge in, i.e. mathematics, with an intuitive sensitivity to the basic correlations?
  7. What challenges and constraints does the notational system provide us?
  8. Where lies the need to systematize and represent nature? Is music always a mime of nature or is it an abstract autonomous form?
  9. Is there an isomorphic relation (a similitude) between nature and language; the shape of the mountains and the sound of it?
  10. And how does it sound?