4.1 No More Tears

The following timeline aims to demonstrate the compositional process invested in a global sound signature. Accordingly, I set out to present some of the challenges emerging in the process of recording, illustrating cultural music influences from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

I met traditional Khmer singer Ouch Savy for the first time in 2009 in Phnom Penh at a studio session in the Cambodian Living Arts Studio, recording our tune “Embraceable” (2009). At the time she did not speak English and my level of Khmer was basic, so the sound engineer translated. I brought a melody and she had prepared lyrics. The entire process took less than one hour, including a rehearsal and two takes, which is rare. She has an impressive musical intuition, razor-sharp intonation and beautiful ornamentations. This was the start of our 10-year ongoing collaboration.

Composing can be a a slow process, in which the ideas need time to mature. This tune “No More Tears” (Haaland, 2015a) has parts written over a timespan of several years. The idea for a refrain emerged in October 2011, as a 4-bar 4/4 time signature. It was a beginning, yet not an optimal one. What about the harmonies? Is the chord structure to simple? How much complexity is it possible to add? In December, I made a reharmonization that now changed to a 6/8 time signature. Seven months later I ended up with the more simplistic harmonies from the first idea. 

  • October 2011 : Refrain in 4/4 time signature; key of G minor.

  • December 2011: Refrain in 6/8 time signature reharmonized; key of Bb minor. 

  • July 2012: Refrain in 6/8 time signature, played freely; key of E minor.

The disharmonic cluster chord is based on a diminished harmony inspired from The cellist Yo Yo Ma´s version of Piazzolla’s “Libertango” (1997) and Chopin’s waltz no 3. in A-minor, Op. 34/2 (1838). The two diminished chords are a legacy from my mentor Egil Kapstad, and were originally inspired from the composer Scriabin. I internalize, adapt and alternate the harmonies and voicings so the inspiration may not be obvious to the listener. I hover towards a more minimal approach playing piano and am inspired by Keith Jarrett’s melodic line movements within the harmonic structure.

At this point the idea was for a slow ballad, though the tempo influenced the perception of a tune. How would it sound when played faster? Many of my tunes previously occurred on the piano at night. The quiet and calmness inspires me, and sets me in a reflective mood. This is one of the reasons many of my short audio clips of improvised melodies start off as a ballad. When I later enter the phase of composing and structuring, I may change the tempo to get more energy. 

I had two directions for the refrain but did not know which version to choose, so it went back into the archives. In Palestine in November 2012 – almost a year later – I found a piano in-between my meetings and started improvising. I only had two minutes, so I recorded it as I was playing. The timing is off since I am thinking about how to do the rhythmic parts, and there was no time to re-record. None of the field recordings with iTalk is aimed at perfection, but rather about capturing and documenting an idea before it is gone.

Back in Norway, I developed the idea into a verse and tried it out in a jam session with traditional musicians Bhandari on Tabla and singer Gandharba from Nepal, who was at UiA for a one-year teacher exchange. In this rehearsal, a bridge from an old electronic sketch made in 2007 suddenly appeared in my fingers. I now had three parts, so I could make a structure connecting the refrain to this verse and bridge. I then emailed the tune to Savy asking for Khmer lyrics. She has total freedom choosing the content of the lyrics, and she bases them on her perception [Savy: feeling] of the composition. Singing in her native language includes ornamentations from her traditional music training naturally embedded in her interpretations. I travelled down to Phnom Penh to meet Savy and rehearse and record a couple of weeks later.

  • March 2013: Trio rehearsal with Karl Oluf and Torbjørn, added higher tempo and more energy. 

  • March/April 2013 March/April: Re-recorded vocals in Phnom Penh. Savy responded intuitively to another tempo, and ornamentation changes slightly.

  • September 2013: Trio rehearsal in my office at UiA, Kristiansand with Savy on backing track from laptop with click sync to headset for Karl Oluf and Torbjørn.

I was not satisfied by the energy in the song, and wanted to move away from the ballad. I asked my colleague Karl Oluf and former master student bass player Torbjørn Tveit to join me in a trio exploring the music further. Acoustic live musicians can add energy and new ideas; it was a blessing playing live again after a long time living inside a laptop, as it can be a lonely and exhausting process doing everything by yourself. In our first rehearsal, we played the tune as an instrumental with a higher tempo and more energy. Bass lines are very important for me since harmony and an arrangement are based on specific voicings with defined root notes. I had separate rehearsals with Torbjørn to present my written lines, and we then worked together to adapt and adjust them into his sound signature. I travelled back again to Cambodia to record the vocals in the new tempo, since interacting with Savy is an important part of the process. Her recording it in a studio without me present would leave things to chance, and others present there would influence the result. In the rehearsal before recordings we fine-tune some of the ornamentations and try out different ideas. She is an amazing vocalist, and we rarely do more than two takes in recording sessions.

Back in Norway, the trio could now rehearse to Savy’s vocal from the laptop with a click track to Karl Oluf for synchronization. It was the first time Torbjørn and Karl Oluf heard her vocal interpretation on the melody, and it apparently made a big impact on them. In music everything influences the way you play, and small adjustments can alter a feel of a song. I am used to Khmer and speak it at a conversational level, so I often forget how differently it is perceived by others hearing it for the first time.

  • October 2013 Acoustic duo concert at the German Cultural Centre in Phnom Penh with Savy testing out new material; grand Piano and vocals. 

  • October 2013: Recording bass and drums with portable laptop studio in Sal 2, UiA. 

    From left: Apogee Duet, hub, Apple laptop, Apogee Quartet, Karl Oluf, Kurzweil K2500 master MIDI board connected to Ivory Grand Piano software plug-in in Logic.

  • December: 2013 : After a long time of doubt, I decided to arrange and record string orchestra on four of the tunes on Asian Flow, including “No More Tears”. It involved key changes and re-recordings of vocals on the other tunes.

Now the song had lyrics-verse-refrain and a 6/8 time signature, with a higher tempo and better energy. But I had forgotten to add the bridge, so I wrote in decim intervals for bass as a signature riff in the bridge to highlight the bass with answers from strings and piano. Karl Oluf was still touring with A-ha and had limited time, so we made some of the rehearsals into recording sessions using my laptop as a portable studio. The setup was two sound cards linked together with five microphones on the drums and a mono bass line. I used the Ivory plug-in piano sound through a keyboard, and everything was run through Apple Logic. The focus was on finishing the drum tracks. The bass was rerecorded later at my office, and the acoustic grand piano was recorded in the living room at my house with two DPA pick-up microphones.

Writing for strings is an exact science: The musicians will only play what is written on the sheet notes. The preparation of the score is important because there is no time to change notes when in session, only the expression and feel of interpretation collaborating with the conductor. When writing for drums, bass, guitars and traditional musicians, the sheets are more open and contain more guidelines and chords with specific markings on important passages.

  • December 2013 : Re-recording vocals with Savy in Phnom Penh because of noise problems due to apartment not soundproof. I brought a portable noise screen with me.

  • April/May 2014: Writing string arrangements in Phnom Penh. Digital feedback in the scores by email from colleague and composer Geir Holmsen.   

  • May 2014: Four-hour recording session with a string section (6-6-3-3) from the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava, Slovakia. The recording studio is a soundproofed concert hall. The room is acoustically treated with wood shapes on the wall to optimize sound reflections and break certain frequencies:

    Control room with sound engineer and me. I am producing the session with a talk-back mic to the conductor:


4.1.1 Bratislava strings

I reached out to the Bratislava Strings Orchestra (BSO) in Eastern Europe, as they are a studio session orchestra and experienced in recording for several movies.  I booked a four-hour session with 18 strings from the BSO: six 1st violins, six 2nd violins, three violas and three celli. I had done smaller string arrangements before, but not as complex as this.

For the pre-production, I uploaded the scores and audio backing tracks with vocals and timecodes to their online server. Arriving in Bratislava, I met the conductor and sound engineer one hour before the session to discuss the scores and technical setup. There were a couple of issues with the time signatures and file lengths due to different versions of Pro Tools or bouncing error, though we got it sorted out. It is essential to have the files lined up in a grid in any DAW programme since it makes the editing for cutting, pasting and merging of files much easier when working with multiple takes. The microphones were set up in a common Decca Tree recording, with one set of mics far from the instruments to get the ambience of the room, one set above the orchestra and a set of mics close to each instrument group. This meant that all instruments leaked into each other’s microphones, and that individual mistakes would be difficult to fix later on.

I was positioned in the control room on the 2nd floor with a headset and the score, with a talk-back to the conductor so we could communicate. I was now a combined musical director and producer. The sound engineer sat face-to-face with me, and received directions from the conductor and occasionally from me.

All musicians had headphones for the backing tracks, and the conductor was the leader. There was no room for errors in the scores, with only 3.5 hours of effective recording time. The classical musicians got fixed breaks of 15 minutes for each two hours of recording. I could not afford to pay for them to rehearse in advance, and no one except the conductor had looked at the sheets before the session. The conductor suggested that we started with No More Tears.

I had this idea of not repeating the same themes in the same order in the refrains, which meant that it was not possible to cut and paste parts. It turned out to be an exhausting experience, with approximately eight minutes of complex arrangements. We recorded step by step, part by part. The clock was ticking fast, and I was not satisfied and wanted retakes. At one point the director came into the recording room a bit agitated, and we discussed why the celli had problems playing the polyrhythmic parts. The conductor claimed my music was too complex, but at the same time complimented the scores. So there was nothing wrong with the arrangements; it was just my combination of different styles that made it a challenge. In addition, I got lost in details and forgot my role as the producer, which as to focus on progress and compromise. We were almost two hours into the session, and still had three more songs to record. In the end, the conductor overruled me and said we had to move on, and I was grateful that he did since we recorded the other songs into the last possible minute of the session.

Back in my studio in Norway, I listened to the string recordings and discovered some detuning. It turned out that one viola was slightly out of pitch in certain places. Auto tune could not be used, as it would cause phase errors because of the Decca setup. My colleague and experienced sound engineer Jon Marius Aareskjold advised me to buy Vienna Strings plug-in samples and dub up recorded acoustic strings with sampled ones.  As a result, I spent the following summer identifying errors and dubbing it up with Vienna Samples. I had 64 string tracks, and then the sample tracks. The film composer Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean) introduced the film industry to a new way of making the strings sound big by having three layers of recorded strings dubbed up from different takes, in which the last layer was sample strings. I tried that, but it made the strings too compressed and sterile. Furthermore, it removed all the acoustic feel of the strings that I like, the bow movements and individual timbre that eventually create the orchestral string sound. Consequently, the solution I chose was to double up with two different strings takes, and then just add in-tune solo parts from individual sample strings where necessary, to help phase out the detuning. This was an interesting learning process in itself, but quite time consuming.

  • June/July 2014: Editing, dubbing and programming sample software plug-ins strings in Logic to even out one of the detuned strings and Decca recording. Sound engineer Alf Henrik Spilde Vaksdal helped out with editing files in ProTools at my office.

    Here are how the strings sounded after edits pre-mix. 

  • November 2014: Sound Engineer Jon Marius Aareskjold is mixing the full album Asian Flow feat. Ouch Savy remotely in his studio in Tromsø, Norway. We have a mutual Dropbox folder with all the audio files and ProTools sessions, and communicate through Skype messages, email, SMS and phone calls.

  • November 2014: Master engineer Björn Engelmann mastering the album at Cutting Room Studios, Stockholm, Sweden. 


  • December 2014: Release Asian Flow feat. Ouch Savy.  

  • January 2015: Composed new Arabic parts on NMT for the forthcoming live concert in March.

  • March 2015: Live recording at the main hall, Kilden Performing Arts Centre, Kristiansand, Norway.


4.1.2 Arabic parts

For the live concert in 2015, I had an idea to apply Arabic lyrics on one verse and a refrain. In my mind, this called for Arabic music parts. As it turned out, the melody was apparently not a good match for Arabic words, so I now had no reason for the Arabic parts but still decided to keep them. The new parts were D and E:

Intro – Verse (A) – Refrain (B) –Verse (A) – Refrain (B) – Bridge (C) – Maqam improvisation (D) – Bridge II Arabic unison themes (E) – Verse (A) – Refrain (B) –Guitar solo (B) – Coda.

When writing Bridge II, the strings had one unison melody line together with the Arabic oriental section, who had additional melodic variations. An ornamentation is not the same every time, and is applied in the moment from an emotion. So they interpreted their lines with freedom around the more static strings.

The maqam improvisation part with Buzuq has an E-Phrygian-centred harmony that left options for applying several maqams. Dynamically, we went down to piano pianissimo, and went with a gut feel when I improvised the background voicings and for the build-up, where Tareq would signal the conductor when he was close to the end of his improvisation. It is not an exact science to decide when to stay in the moment and when to move on. Hence, I wanted it to be Tareq’s decision since it was his solo.

I wanted the tune to end in an unexpected way other than ending on the last chord with a possible ritardando and high intensity, which would be the obvious choice.  Instead, I dropped the dynamics down to pianissimo after the guitar solo with the bass line from the intro and then the strings suddenly (subito forte) playing an A minor major 9, the signature chord made famous in the James Bond movie theme.

  • June 2015: Recorded the Thai version of Asian Flow with freely translated lyrics in the Thai language performed by the upcoming pop singer Synth.

    Here is me sitting behind the mixer in the control room, producing the vocal recording in Dynamic Studio in Bangkok, Thailand.


  • September 2015: Sound engineer Eirik Mordal, who was Front of House (the main sound engineer) at the concert, mixes the album.

  • November 2015 : Björn Engelmann mastering the album at the Cutting Room, Stockholm, Sweden.

  • November 2015: Pre-release of video and mastered audio from the concert. Three camera video production, edit and cut by me in Final Cut Pro. 


  • December 2015: Release Live in Concert – Ingolv Haaland & Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra with friends.


  • December 2015: Release Asian Flow – Ingolv Haaland feat. Synth.


4.1.3 The Arrangement

The song is a mix of structure and provides some freedom to the musicians. Because there are more than 70 tracks in this song, it may be challenging to separate the details. I want to highlight a couple of them, and listen to the two separate stereo tracks from the guitarist Knut Ingolf Brenna on the refrain: 

As a standalone track, it has a quality of its own with a clear tempo delay and picking underneath. When adding the string part, it is obvious that he has worked on fitting the guitar part to the strings, as well as the excellent solos in both the studio and live versions. 

Even with providing a good arrangement, it is the musicians performing it who ultimately make or break it. At the live concert of the song, every musician seems to have a good day, and the improvised guitar solo of Knut Ingolf is a once in a lifetime take that will be hard to reproduce. In a conversation with him about whether the solo was planned or not, the only thing he decides is the first starting note. All the rest is improvised. Listen to the way he fits his melodic lines with the strings, and how Karl Oluf at one point screams in response to the solo and gets an immediate response from Torbjørn. Everyone is adding to the energy projected from Knut Ingolf.

Finding a Thai traditional vocalist to match Savy’s voice and incredible musicality proved to be difficult, as I tried out several Thai vocalists and auditioned others. So instead, I went in another direction with the upcoming Thai rock and pop singer Synth, who I had been previously collaborating with. Thai is a five tonal language, which meant that my melody had to be adjusted slightly, since one word can have multiple meanings pending the tone. Khmer is not a multi-tonal language; therefore, another challenge was the limitation of words that worked with the melody. The musicians Tontrakul Kaewyong and Naris Sakpunjachot wrote the lyrics and here is the refrain in Thai:

And then the refrain with Khmer vocals:

In November 2016, I was a guest composer at the 7th Malaysian Composer Concert Series at The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac), Malaysia. For this performance, I asked that lyrics in Malay were written and then performed for the tune “No More Tears”. 

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