interview by Matteo Meda
During these 30 years of career you've been developing such an unique sound style. How do you get to it?
I have always been searching to find my own unique voice. I have been through many stages in my career, collecting ideas from everywhere. But all the time, tried stay focused and true to my concept. As years passing by and you get older, you get more and more conscious about what you do, and why. I have studied different genres of music, but it all has to go through your own filter. Coming out as something special, like a personal signature.
Is there, in your discography, an album that represented a turning point in your music's development?
“Traces”, my third album from 1985, was a turning point for me. I had been into a lot of genres, from jazz, rock to classical. On “Traces”, I managed to free myself from all my previous influences, and I created something new. I quit all the bands I played in, and stopped touring and performing live. Only focused on that album. Setting up my own little studio in the small appartment in Oslo, hardly seeing anyone else but my wife. Completely isolated! That was the right thing to do. You have to do that sometimes. The ideas I found on “Traces”, are still in my music to this day. Music that is advanced, but with an easy surface that the listener can relate to.
And your meeting with Steve Roach, how much important has it been for you? I think it has also a link with your arrival to Projekt, from which your music started to have much more visibility, hasn't it?
I met Steve at one of his concerts in Sausalito, California. I think it was in 2005. It turned out that we had been listening to each others music for years! He discovered “Traces” on LP way back in 1985, and I had been a fan of his “Dreamtime Return” for several years. A strong artistic connection. So it was natural for us to work together. We created two awesome albums, “Stream of Thought” (2009), and “The Road Eternal” (2011). After that, I also started my relationship with the Projekt label, releasing my solo albums.
More in general, you've worked with a lot of musicians on collaborative works. Do you think your musical language fits well with other music forms?
Sometimes very different, as for example Kouame Sereba's one... I have been working with a lot of genres in music, as well as working together with other artforms. Like ballet, film, art exhibitions and theater. This has given me a broad understanding of art in general. And the understanding of that all music has a common ground, and that the surface is what makes the genres different from each other. I am also very much into ethnolgy and archeology. I have always been interested in global indigenous music. Studying music from India, Asia and Africa. Also had the opportunity to work with musicians from these countries here in Norway. My own musical concept will fit into any genre I think, and working with Kouame was a real pleasure, merging my electronics with his african roots.
30 years after your first stuff, you're still producing something like an album per year. Maybe you're not as prolific as Steve Roach, but it's the same an important amount! What does every new album represent for you?
Each album represent a step further, hopefully. That is what I am trying to, at least. But I am very focused on that same concept, so they often represent a variation on the same theme. Like a sculpture seen from different angles. It is important to create something new every day, to be in the flow. And after a while I collect the best pieces, to form an album. Also I like to release smaller format EP releases, like short stories or novels.
And regarding the concept and the sounds, what about your last “Timelines”? How is it linked with your previous recent works, from “Gateway” on?
“Gateway”, “Airborne” and “Timelines” are all very connected with each other. Based on the similar ideas. Organic electronic music with rhythm and melody, orchestrated and layered with deep atmospheres. Music that has that certain futuristic feel, a feeling that we all are heading towards the future together. This is something the reviewers often write about my music, but I think it is an interesting observation.
Your very last effort is an Ep, “Tundra”. In the past you've rarely chosen to publish music with that format. How did this one see the life?
I have released a few short format albums or EP’s, and these are very nice projects for me to work on. Sometimes I work on material that does not fit in on my full length albums. But the songs can fit into other smaller concepts, consisting of fewer tracks. Like a suite. It is like a novel or a short film. Sometimes, those formats can be very interesting, artistically. “Tundra” is a collection of tracks that I had worked on for many years ago. Combining ethnic elements, with modern technology.
You were one of the first musician to approach that kind of music today we usually call “ambient”. How did your interests in these soundscapes has born?
In the late seventies and early eighties, I started studying classical music. Like Debussy, Ravel, and Erik Satie. Music that was influenced by the major impressionistic painters of that time, around 1900. With a vision of an artform that was not so active, rather than capturing the moments in time and a sense of being somewhere. Progressive rock had achieved some of these elements. Like “Dark Side of the Moon”, and all the other Pink Floyd albums. With all the electronic elements. And I discovered Eno and his “On Land” recording, as well as the minimalist composers who were interested in the same historic artists. When John Cage visited Oslo in 1983, I actually met him on one of his lectures. Very inspiring! Coming from a background in prog rock and jazz, with strong focus on instrumental virtuosity, this made a major change in my musical concept and thinking.
Is there any kind of connection between your music and your homeland?
I am born in a district of Norway, with a strong ethnic folk culture. So, the norwegian heritage is in my blood and genes. Sometimes you can hear it in my compositions. Like “Huldra” or “Hildring”. And as a norwegian, you can not be unaffected by the music of Edvard Grieg, of course! I also have been involved in several projects together with norwegian folk music performers.
One of the most interesting aspects of your recent production is the mix between guitar and electronic. In works as “Airborne” or the same “Timelines” most of the soundscapes are driven by this mélange. How did you come to the idea of let these two instruments interact and how has this idea developed during the years?
As a guitarist, I have been struggling with this a lot; to incorporate my main instrument in a natural way, together with the electronic landscapes created with synthesizers. So, I have been working with programming my guitar synths with sounds that can adapt and fit into the flow. Also the use of acoustic guitars is an important part of it. I did it on “Solstice”. And I managed to do it in a very nice way on “Timelines”. Playing a lot of repeated arpeggios, that makes the foundation on some of the tracks. But a lot of the sounds you hear on my recordings, are actually made out of the guitar. One thing I sometimes do, is to sample various guitar parts, and then tweak them. But still have the guitar vibe and feeling, which make some very interesting and organic sounds. The term organic is very important to me, I guess it comes from my background. I have also done two albums mainly with acoustic guitars; “Guitar Nova” and “Blue Sky, Red Guitars”. I am planning to do another one, with just acoustic guitars.
Do you see guitar as the “leading voice” of most of your last works?
My guitars often make the melodic “eye” or “soul” of the compositions. Something that everything else is built around. Sometimes very hidden, sometimes right upfront. Played with that human touch. I hear a lot of electronic music without this kind of element. Composers just relying on the keys, and it makes me feel that something is missing. But I do not have any strict rules about this of course, sometimes the track will not need any guitars at all.
By the same time, you've produced also some albums of purely electronic music, as the third “Silent Current”. What does it electronic represents for you? Do you see German's Berlin School as one of your root's place?
“Silent Currents” is a project that I have developed ever since I played on Star’s End nigthly radioshow in Philadelphia back in 2002. Very slow and ambient, using loops and real time playing and processing. Right now I have been setting up a new guitar pedalboard for this project. It is all very improvised, and I rehearse on it every day. Actually, my German Berlin School roots are not that important, just one of many influences. But, I really was impressed and excited, when I heard Klaus Schulze live in Oslo in 1984. His golden age era!
Are you still using only keyboards and physical synthesizers? What do you think of digital synthesis' growth?
I try to use the best of the two worlds. Tend to use phsycial synthesizers for the basic elements, and using the soft synths for layering sounds and effect sounds. I started very early to use the soft synths, I loved the idea of have everything inside the “box”! I almost started to sell away some of my old gear... But the tactile element is very important, so I am using phsycial synths more and more. Soundwise, there is always more presence. Although I have some techniques, making softsynths sounding great by sending them out of the box, and into analog gear. I have created and designed VST synths (for PC format) myself, which have become very popular. A lot of composers around the world, keep sending me links to tracks they have created by using my instruments. Very inspiring.
Something I've always loved in your album are the feelings and the emotions they are able to transmit. Do you consider emotional luggage as an important element in your music?
Again, it probably comes from my background as a guitarist. And I am not interested in music that does not send you to a certain place or into a certain state of mind. So that is very crucial to me. To make a soundworld, that has elements that the listener can relate to. There is a myth and misconseption among many people that the synthesizer and electronic music sound is cold and sterile. The fact is, that with the modern electronic instruments you can create something very warm, organic and emotional. Music that relates even more to the human body, than the traditional instruments. If you put a microphone on a pregnant woman, you will hear electronic music. The heartbeats, the bubbling sounds and so on. How can you create that with traditional instruments, without getting banal? And closer to nature sounds as well. How can you create a howling wind with a violin, without seeing the actual performer in your inner eye? But, sometimes you want to be cold and sterile. And that is possible too, the palette and possibilities are endless.
In “The Polar Drones” you've worked on a concept based on freeze, but the music was again incredibly warm. Would you ever see yourself doing somethink like a “cold”, abstract ambient music?
I have done music to a lot of documentary films during the years. Most of the music on “The Polar Drones” were made to a TV documenary about an expedition to the South Pole. So I had all these snowy and cold landscapes on the screen in front of me when I made the music. A few of my albums were born this way. “Solstice” is music made for a TV-serie about Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in Norway. I guess, the music is not that cold, but it depends on the listener of course. And the title can also lead into a special direction. What is a cold sound? Probably something that has some very high frequencies in it, like a in a wind for example. Dark and eerie, is low frequency and so on. Just the way the nature is. But being a Norwegian, born and living in Norway does have an impact on the art you make. I think I would make very different music, if I were born and raised on Hawai!
What music do you usually listen to nowadays?
I listen to music that is very different to what I am working on myself. Right now I am studying “String quartet in F major” by Maurice Ravel. I tend to listen to impressionistic classical music. Often in the string quartet format. And on the opposite, I listen to very hard and aggressive rock, like Tool. Music that is advanced and has many layers. And sometimes, I will go back in time. Listening to some of my earlier influences. Lots of rare live performances on Youtube!
What do you think of live dimension? Do you think your music suites better during a live show or in a studio/stereo-close-listening dimension?
My main project is still to make music for speakers, for release on whatever format is available. Preferably, on CD. This is the way I work it out, and this is the way I hear it. I am an audiophile, and so are many of my listeners. To be able to sit down calmly and concentrate on the music and all its details. But the live situation can also be very nice. My live performances always have special versions of the music, re-arranged to fit the live situation. Sometimes I even write special parts for that special concert. Live electronic music concerts are often very boring visually. I try to avoid that. To give the audience something to look at, and also give them these special versions.
Have you ever played in Italy?
No, I should like to do that! I have noticed that I have many listeners in Italy.
What projects are you currently working on?
Working on a new album these days, that will be released next year. Similar to my last previous albums. Large variety of strong rhythmical tracks, as well as more free floating material.