Tuning Voices

for vocal group and hardanger fiddle
Year of composition:
4 female singers, hardanger fiddle, [requires additional instruments for the singers, see notes]
23 min
Commissioned by:
Song Circus, Liv Runesdatter
Supported by:
Norsk kulturråd
2019-03-12, Sola Ruinkirke

Tuning Voices is composed as a part of Graatarslagjet, a project of the Stavanger-based vocal group Song Circus. [Further contributions composed by Therese Birkelund Ulvo, Tyler Futrell and Ruben Sverre Gjertsen]

The composers were asked to base their work on the folk tune Graatarslagjet, which bears this legend:

A wedding procession was on their way from church across the ice on a deep fjord in Western Norway (Ørdalsvatnet) when the ice burst, and the whole trail went down and drowned. Alone in the water surface floated the fiddle, and all was quiet except for the fiddle who was playing the mournful Graatarslagjet melody.

In Nils Henrik Asheim's piece Tuning Voices, the main source of inspiration is the sound of the Hardanger fiddle itself. With a short and characteristic movement of the bow, the fiddle introduces each of the 10 sections of the piece, named "String 1-10". The singers "tune" their voices to this sound, letting it at first emerge from the resonance of the fiddle. The music first flows from the energy of the fiddle bow, and later "sinks" and eventually submerges and transforms to a new form of life under the surface.

Between the variations, 4 improvised sections are placed. Here, the singers move on the floor and relate to pitches and sonorities from other singers and from the fiddle.


This piece is planned for a purely acoustic performance without any amplification. The question will have to be reconsidered for every performance, based on the space and its acoustics.

Extra instruments played by the singers: 1 shruti box (chromatic, or similar indian harmonium), and 8 very small organ pipes.