Lars Elling: “At the Gate of the Forest of Silence”

Lars Elling: “At the Gate of the Forest of Silence”




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«Elling's many meditations on madness and art are so good and compelling that this alone makes the book worth a six.»

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After listening to the work – and reading this book – it is easy to understand that the genius interpretation rests loosely on the shoulders of this popular elite with an all-round ear.

Carstensen was born in Eidsvoll to a family of dam guards who became musicians after Carstensen's grandfather had a serious accident. Grandpa started playing the accordion:

“This Jules Verne-like instrument contains within it thousands of sounds, one for every wordless emotion.”

The paternal grandfather taught Stian's father, who in turn taught Stian, who in turn taught his eldest son, Gabriel.


Carstensen himself is inspired by jazz and especially Bulgarian folk music and also plays guitar, banjo and flute. In one place, Elling uses the word “Tourette's Association” to refer to his friend's unique musical talent. The same can be said of At the Gate of the Forest of Silence, which is as much about Elling himself as it is about Carstensen and his work.

The book is riveting, relatable, insightful and anecdotal, consisting of memories of his childhood, his father's brutal death from cancer, his mother's mental illness, Elling's work as a visual and musical artist and his many reflections on madness and art.

The latter—about art—is so good and convincing that it alone makes the book worth a six.

He remained the same

He remained the same

Invulnerable and curious

The common denominator is Stjan Carstensen and the work “Musical Asylum”. Elling first met him in 2011 at Gamle Ormelet in Tjøme, where Carstensen played accordion: “With Stian, I experienced the musical equivalent of a mental disobedience: he was deep in Beethoven, and then suddenly, through a mysterious association, he fell into Beethoven’s trap.” “Fugledansen,” which through sudden syncopation became “Take On Me.” And it felt strict and logical. Not at all surprising. And I heard, through all the baroque whims, that the melodies and tones are a kind of shared historical and cultural property.” Elling tells the story of a Stian who is self-assured on their first meeting, invulnerable and curious about everything – an image that Elling tries to hold on to during his friend's many serious periods of illness, with a mind that is never at rest, but only goes round and round.

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A war cry

The “Musical Sanatorium” opens with a great fanfare. Or a war cry. Drums and bagpipes play, and you imagine Scots in kilts or Turks in breeches and fezzes, since there was always a little war going on to which you could send young boys—to strengthen them and make them men. It is the voice of Davol The zurna, i.e. the skalmi (a type of bagpipe) and the drum, can to this day make the Turks’ sworn enemies the Bulgarians pale.”

This is an example of the wonderful images that pepper the book.

A piece of art: In the book, Lars Elling manages to say something about true art through the most surprising turns, side paths and dead ends.  Photo: Christine Sforte

A piece of art: In the book, Lars Elling manages to say something about true art through the most surprising turns, side paths and dead ends. Photo: Christine Sforte
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The work itself becomes a kind of hub, with the chapters bearing the titles of the different pieces of music in the work.

For example, “The Cerebellar Tarantella”, where we get the history of the dance, lexical information about the cerebellum or cerebellum, we take a quick trip to Henrik Ibsen, before Elling describes the stringed instrument cimbalom, which contains the solo part of the piece, and then links it to his father's legacy .

“To write, it was about finding the intersection between pain, anesthesia and clear thought,” Eling writes somewhere about the writing process behind Fairstein af Vintegern (2023), where, as he puts it, he sent the plot in all directions. The same can be said about this book, which many believe is overloaded with linguistic images and wild associations. Personally, I think it's wonderful, especially since Elling manages to say something about good art – real art – through the strangest and most surprising turns, side paths and dead ends.

But first and foremost, it is an authentic and insightful declaration of love for the world-class genius Stjan Carstensen.

Sick of the look

Sick of the look

Ashura Okorie

Ashura Okorie

"Infuriatingly humble web fan. Writer. Alcohol geek. Passionate explorer. Evil problem solver. Incurable zombie expert."

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