Noel Fudge and Martine denBok, collectively known as the duo Freya, have just released their much-anticipated debut CD. The album contains eight original songs performed on guitar, violin and viola, with an alternate version of one track. The cover art for the album was created by New Denver, BC encaustic artist Louise Ducharme. Anyone who has heard this accomplished duo perform can testify to the beautiful sonic textures they create together. Freya will launch the new album at the Silverton Memorial Hall on Saturday, June 24 at 7 pm and at the Vallican Whole on July 8 at 7 pm.
Noel is a versatile composer and guitarist, whose accomplishments include film scores, choral and orchestral works, and singer-songwriter material. His instrumental music has been commissioned as soundtracks for ICandy Films video productions. He holds a BFA in composition from Simon Fraser University. Noel wrote and performed with the band Crop Circle, a group that received extensive airplay and toured Western Canada, opening for ZZ Top and Bif Naked. A popular music teacher, he established Fudge Music Factory in Maple Ridge nearly 25 years ago prior to moving to New Denver in 2015. He teaches guitar, bass, composition and brass instruments. Last year he composed the soundtrack to the performance poetry suite Dead Crow: Prologue by Sean Arthur Joyce.
“Part of the story of the CD is the connection between us,” he says. “From the moment we first played Sue together we realized we had to keep going with this. It doesn’t really fit into a genre – there’s elements of folk, classical, jazz and contemporary music that pushes the boundaries.”
When I ask him the usual question about his musical influences, he rattles off a decidedly unconventional list that includes obscure guitarists Andy McKee and Tommy Immanuel. But for Noel it’s a moot point. “The music of Freya, to be honest, isn’t reflective of my musical influences. It’s a compositional approach. I consider myself a composer before a guitar player. I wanted to create something that was both technically challenging but also beautiful melodically.”
Martine denBok has a master’s degree in music performance from University of Victoria and bachelor of music in violin performance from University of Alberta. She is the current principal second violinist for the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra. Previously she performed with the Symphony of the Kootenays, Galiano Ensemble and Die Mahler String Quartet, both in Victoria. As with many musicians, performance has been a part of her life from an early age. Her training includes choral music, and she has performed with Kokopelli Choir, the sister choir to Corazon. While living in Edmonton, she performed with an all-girl band known as Combo Platter as well as the string quartet String Beans. Not afraid to range outside the classical canon, with these groups she performed everything from chamber music to songs by Coldplay, Queen and Metallica. She says you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the classic Jimi Hendrix song Purple Haze played on violin. Improvisation isn’t something that comes naturally to most classically trained musicians. But Martine found herself adapting easily to Freya’s mode of composition.
“I think my melodic mind is one that comes from a singing voice,” she says. “The ability for me to improvise has come from just being comfortable with the other artist I’m performing with, and that there are no wrong notes. The process for me when tunes were brought to the table was to just listen, over and over again. And then take up the instrument and see what fits.”
Freya’s compositional approach differs from the standard model of having one musician playing the melody while the other supplies the basic chord progression. Instead, the guitar and violin interweave throughout every song, adding unique and complementary textures and tones. “I think we always set Freya out to be a duo that has both technical and musical capabilities,” says Noel. “But we put the music first – the composition. If there’s something really technical to learn, we put in the time to do that, but not just to show off. It has to fit the theme. When I met Martine it was a really easy synthesis because she understood that as a symphony musician.”
Although the album is instrumental, each song is a journey. “Every single song has a story to tell—our personal story,” says Noel, “and I don’t think it would do justice to it to have a single word on it.” This becomes startlingly clear on songs like No Words, as eloquent a statement of love and longing as could be imagined in the absence of lyrics. Another example is the song Kyoto, whose sonic landscape reflects the city itself, with its uneasy juxtaposition of the ancient and modern. Pleiades references literary themes connected with the actual constellation, originating in ancient Greek myths but also appearing in First Nations stories of the Seven Sisters. The bonus version of Mistress has a special guest appearance by bass guitar legend Don Schiff, who has performed with Elvis Presley, Pat Benatar, Tina Turner and other greats.
“The music is so balanced,” says Martine. “You really hear how the instruments support each other, with the exception of No Words which is all guitar. One of the reasons it’s hard for people with instrumental music is to find a way into it. For example, once you know that Mozart wrote the opera Don Giovanni about his Dad, it opens up the whole piece. In Pleiades, it really is about the constellation; there are different themes introduced for the different characters. In the end it doesn’t matter what our story is. It’s the individual’s perception of it, their response to it, that brings meaning to the music for them.”
Fortunately for Freya’s fast-growing fan base, the duo already has enough material for a second album, which will take a more lyrical approach. Many of the new songs have already been performed live at their concerts. The duo is constantly on the lookout for instruments that can add new texture to their music. The day I interviewed them, Martine had just picked up an octave violin, something I’d never heard of. “It’s actually a viola that’s tuned to regular violin tuning but sounds somewhere between a viola and a cello,” she explains. The resulting tone is considerably lower than a violin, with a lovely, resonant bass. Last year Martine picked up a beautiful vintage accordion and quickly became proficient at it.
“Freya will always be a duo,” says Noel, “but we love playing with other people so we’re meeting with a drummer and a bass player for our larger shows, at least for certain songs. It’s always what’s best for the piece.”
To order the album visit fortheloveoffreya.ca.