Described by producer Shu-Fang Wang as "an imaginary soundtrack originally composed for a film story set in Taipei," Before the Light gives the music of ECM recording artist Ketil Bjørnstad a cinematic twist. For this album, the pianist has written a handful of romantic melodies and atmospheric moods. The former are presented in different arrangements scattered throughout the album; the latter often include guitar soundscapes and programmed rhythm tracks. Bjørnstad is accompanied by guitarist Eivind Aarset, viola player Nora Taksdal, and keyboardist Kjetil Bjerkestrand. Each one of these short pieces (none over six minutes) makes a melodic statement that could be qualified as being quintessential ECM. .
Ketil Bjørnstad’s passion for the English metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631) is a lifelong affair. His settings of Donne’s verse have led to recordings including The Shadow, Grace and the ECM album The Light. “After working with the texts of John Donne for more than twenty years, I still find new approaches to understanding what he wrote and I find music throughout. It is in the language, in the rhythm, in the silence between the sentences - a passionate quest for meaning and reconciliation. Donne's dramatic life is reflected in the texts and everywhere in them you will find the passion, melodies and sounds”.
Ketil Bjørnstad previously explored the life of Edvard Munch in his acclaimed 1993 novel Historien om Edvard Munch. When invited to compose music for choir in 2011 his thoughts turned once again to Munch and to the writings, still not widely known, of the proto-Expressionist Norwegian painter. With these as his guide, Bjørnstad shaped Soloppgang (“Sunrise”) subtitled “A cantata on texts by Edvard Munch”. In his liner notes, Bjørnstad observes that “the texts written by Munch can be compared to his paintings in their power and intensity.
Subtitled “Songs of Love and Fear”, “The Light” brings together Ketil Bjornstad’s “Four Nordic Songs”, compositions for female voice and accompaniment written over a 30 year period, with a song cycle based on poetry of John Donne (1572-1631). Bjornstad: “The intellectual energy in Donne’s poetry, which was always receptive to the metaphysical, is also nurtured by emotional excitement, and it is this unique combination that has held such powerful appeal to me as a composer.”