Norwegian landscapes… 
…Arctic climate conditions…
…an old barn…
…a piano…
…a handful of both ambient and electronic sounds…
…a brand new album titled Fragile.

All around and in the hands of a woman and pianist-composer called Susanne Darre. 

Guided by this very Nordic recipe, I shared an intriguing chat with her: let’s now savour her thoughts and feelings about her own work, personality and the new album.

Rob: Hi Susanne. First and most importantly, I’d love asking if you consider your barn as an ‘ingredient’ of its own within your artistic activity. In fact, I noticed you talked about it quite a lot while promoting your debut album Fragile prior to having it released by Fluttery Records. So, has it some kind of starring role in your musical universe? 

Susanne: Yes, right now, it’s an ingredient. And in the making of my album Fragile it definitely had a starring role. It was a spontaneous idea to place the old piano in the barn a year ago. I didn`t have a place for it inside the house. Once the piano was placed there, I realized it was just a brilliant idea. It was so beautiful and rustic, and the whole atmosphere in there was just wonderful. I also consider it as a calm and a kind of meditative place to play the piano. It’s a lovely acoustic in there and I can often hear the wind blowing through the old wood and the seagulls outside. 

At first, I was planning to record just one piece in the barn, but once I got started, I recorded another one, and another one, and I realised it was going to become a whole album. I became kind of addicted to go to my barn every night to record my pieces. A cold, but very cozy experience. As you probably understand, I’m a quite spontaneous person. The next album might be realized in another cool place, who knows.

The melodies just appear in this “creative emotional room”.

Susanne darre

R: As I listened to it, I must confess that the music featured in Fragile made me suspect that you were also talking about resilience while depicting fragility: from the cover images to some of the titles (Porcelain, Fading Memories, Dare to Dream, Loss…), it seems to me that your musical imagination is pretty much confident and intensely delicate at the same time… Do you feel comfortable with this impression I got from your new pieces? Is there something more to them you’d like to share with us?

S: The reasons behind Fragile are the vulnerability and fragility of life, as well as people’s. Still, I wanted to focus on the resilient part of humans. Fragile is quite a personal album. And my work as a children’s nurse through many years has also definitely inspired it. I was hit many times by how fragile life is. But I’m also surprised by how much strength can be found in people. I am very inspired by the human soul, emotions and relations. I feel deeply connected to my inner soul and get a rush of emotions when I improvise and play. I hope my listeners can feel that too and feel closer to their emotions when they’re listening to my pieces.

R: That is humanly relevant to me. I reckon it would be worth knowing something more about the choice to record two different pianos during the Fragile’s making of, as well as that of adding other sonic elements to the standard piano sound as it’s the case with Loss…     

S: I wanted to make some sonic variations in my album, some short breaks in its acoustic and rustic sound, you know, like in a seven-course dinner, you often get a few dishes that makes the flavours more intense and the whole experience more focused and richer.  I also love the piano combined with ambient sounds and couldn’t resist adding some ambient/electronic elements in this album.  And I also have to admit that it was quite comfortable to record a couple of pieces inside a warm house, and get a short break from the cold barn and stiff fingers in minus degrees.

R: Shall we talk about your writing process? Do you usually chase some kind of main idea forming in your mind and ears? Moreover, what is more important to you between rationally developing musical figures and improvising when composing a new piece?

S: My compositions usually start with improvisations. Sometimes I have a little melody in my head, but I usually don’t plan much or have a clear idea in mind. I trust the natural creative process and I’m driven by emotions. And the melodies just appear in this “creative emotional room”. I composed my first piece when I was 8-9 years old, and I called it Summer Night In The Greenhouse; I still remember that piece. I took some piano lessons as a child, but I wasn’t very interested in learning notes; I learned the pieces by ear. And I still do. When I improvise and a lovely chord or melody appears, I record it as a reminder for the next day and I keep on working on that part until a whole piece is made. 

I absolutely love that part of the process.  

R: You know, being a fellow composer I’ve gone through some very difficult times in getting my music noticed in my homeland: I’ve often had the feeling that many Italian classical musicians tend to be kind of stuck in the pursuit of new languages, musical vocabulary and non-ordinary instrumental techniques. It’s hard to get your work heard if you’re not also a performer and if no one’s going to play your stuff… I mean, the audience is simply unaware of your existence.

So you’re from Norway, aren’t you? How do you feel about your music and its reception when it comes to the Norwegian classical or new classical music scene? 

S: Well, I probably don’t have enough experience to answer this yet… But I think it’s an important question and I believe many composers and artists can relate to this. I believe it can be difficult for an emerging or unknown composer/artist to get noticed. It might seem to me that you must have “access” to an already established musical network/group to get noticed or maybe even accepted at all… 

Since I don’t compose in a traditional way and I don’t have a formal education in music, it’s been a difficult process for me to accept and identify myself as a composer, as a pianist or as an artist at all. That’s been a personal issue for many years and is probably the main reason why it took so long before I was confident enough to share my music. Do I have the right to call myself a composer? Am I a real pianist? What will other composers think of my untraditional way of composing?  So, before I started sharing my music I only played for my family. Music has been an important part of my life since I was a child, but I’ve been playing just by myself, and for my own pleasure, for quite a long time. To be honest, playing for others has also been a bit out of my comfort zone, but I decided to step out of it two years ago and don’t regret that. It has strengthened my identity and I have found an important piece of my puzzle. I am a very emerging artist, not many have heard about me or know me in Norway, so yes, most people are unaware of my existence so far.  And maybe it will continue to be that way. It remains to be seen. I haven’t made much of an effort to market my music in my home country yet and my current label, Fluttery Records, is based in San Francisco. But those who have listened to my work so far have been very supportive and positive. And the lovely feedback and support from my listeners makes me really humbled, emotional and happy, and gives me the confidence to keep sharing my music.

R: Wow, that’s a very layered response, isn’t it? You know, it’s easy for me to empathise with the very feelings you’ve just expressed when it comes to thoughts like these… By asking yourself such questions I reckon you proved yourself a humble and well-centred person; but I think that such doubts could also be the seed of a toxic mindset sowed by some people wanting us to reflect their opinions strictly in order to achieve their acknowledgement… In my experience people like that usually hold positions of power within an establishment. Needless to say that all this has nothing to do with Art and being creative, I think it’s just politics at its worst. In the end, I’m classically trained and my work’s output is a written score, but in light of all that I see no difference between what we do.

Shall we discuss a couple more things? I must confess I’m very much in love with your piece Come Closer: would you mind sharing something about it with us? 

S: I am really humbled and happy to hear that you like Come Closer! I personally love that melody too; that piece always makes me emotional and calm, and I hope it has that effect also on other people. I composed and recorded this piece during a weekend, although the melody had appeared from an improvisation I did and had been floating around in my head for a little while. When I work with a piece I often go all in and get intensely and deeply engaged in the whole process, until I’m done with recording, just like I did with this piece. While working on Come Closer, I reflected a lot on the tension one can feel sometimes in some relationships, an undefined distance. Maybe something unsaid? Something unrepaired? How can they get closer to each other again, feel free and relaxed together? And that’s how the piece got its title.

R: Right. In the end, do you feel like you can genuinely be the same ‘Susanne’ in every moment, no matter whether sitting at the piano or not?

S: Absolutely, yes. I think I am genuinely the same Susanne in every moment. I think my friends and family will describe me as a creative, steady, calm and emotional person, which I hope is reflected through my musical and creative expression and melodies too. When I started sharing my music two years ago, I experienced that some people didn’t know the musical side of my personality, nor that I played the piano at all. «Oh! I didn’t know you were making music, Susanne!» It feels really nice to share that important part of me. But I do think my closest friends and family members who have known me since my childhood will say that I’m blooming as Susanne right now, and that I’m finally following my musical dream.

R: Well, I definitely think that your attitude is as gentle as your music. Takk Susanne for leading us into your own musical landscape. We wish you (and Fragile) the best of luck in all your future endeavours!  

S: Bare hyggelig! Takk det samme.