Arnfinn Killingtveit from Trondheim, Norway, is the name behind the enigmatic (or just plain silly) Swamps up Nostrils. And I like it!
The first few tracks of the new net release, Thirty Thirteen, on Fabulat take the same basic approach. A fairly ordinary drum machine, accompanied by abstract growly synths and gnarly sound-sources. I say it’s an ordinary drum-machine because it is, but I don’t mean it as a criticism, its simple, recognisable (606 or some such…but probably a plugin.. fruityloops maybe?) and provides a friendly point of departure for the gooey dollops of noise, computerish bleeps, voice samples, bassy rumbles and whining screechy things that Killingtveit spreads all over it with a large and sticky ladle. The whole thing is quite nicely recorded, which is partly why I think it’s done in a packaged sequencer like Fruityloops or Reason, but sometimes this has resulted in somewhat unsubtle choices of sounds. Of course Killingtveit likes his knobs to go to eleven, who doesn’t, but does every bass sound have to be flanged / phased or PW-modulated? Does every sound have to be in the front of the mix? Do the rhythms have to be quirky and stuttering all the time? It’s as if he is scared that one single second will be un-interesting or boring, when the real key to electronic music is restraint, repetition, suspense, and suss. When you have the possibility to do anything, you mustn’t. This could have been Scorn or Aphex Twin, and some of it reminds me of a slightly obscure (and underrated) Australian 80’s combo called Severed Heads, but I’m afraid it isn’t… nearly… but not quite.
BUT.. All is not lost.. In the last 4 tracks, Mr Killingveit unlocks his noise box and takes out the drone hat. And It fits… Perfectly!
On Futurbulence or Asteroid mine (reminds me of the great Speccy game “Elite”), Swamps up Nostrils (seriously Arnfinn, is that your project name? OK then… fine, just as long as you’re sure!)… Swamps up Nostrils gets weird and really quite wonderful.
These tracks are noise/soundscape pieces (without the drum-machine) and thankfully are coming from the camp who have stopped thinking that noise is a pretty neat idea, and just use it as an instrument. There is no show off, “how loud can I be?” here, no flat-line distortion on the whole mix, no short cuts to Merz-world. He is aware of the sources, the people that came before, has tired of it, and is taking the next step. The recordings are tasteful, full, and warm. Oh, sure, sometimes the sounds could still be subtler, the “tri-wave” stuff on Futurbulence for example could use some mixing, reverb, or masking generally, otherwise it can sound like a kid playing with wibbly wobbly noises on a borrowed synth. But Asteroid Mine is a beaut… a Sci Fi travel-logue through the Solar System. The kitchy English organ sound, the radio snippets, the electronic dials and switches flashing and bleeping, this is the 50’s sound of space, the sound of clean air-tight kitchenettes and labour saving devices in the new freedom of the Space Stations and Bases on Mars. And on Non Linear observation of cassini’s descent, this is, quite simply, the pre-millennium sound of hope.
Currently in Norway (where Swamps up Nostrils originate and I also live) it is possible to win a trip on the Space Shuttle (by purchasing chocolate, answering some questions, composing a silly rhyme no-doubt) If I win, I’ll want Arfinn on board the shuttle, for the in-flight music and sound effects.
If space wasn’t silent, it should sound like this.
Safe as Milk, as well as being the first album by genius Captain Beefheart, is an independent experimental Norwegian label (Noxagt, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Tore H Bøe, Lasse Marhaug among others) Their annual festival in picturesque Haugesund have in past years been cited as a noise fans dream. Furthernoise could not let this years event go unreported, and I was quickly dispatched to the scene.
Friday: Steffen Basho-Junghans, acoustic guitar improviser from the John Fahey School, was a nice and laid back start to this year’s festival. The bearded, mystical East German started by slowly winding up his strings into a drone and picking out harmonics that shimmered off the stage, a warm wash of sound that filled the room and brought an eager audience to total silence. “It is the sound of twilight!” he enigmatically announced and proceeded through pieces dedicated to sunlight, water and fire. A smoky blend of American Blues and North Indian Raga, his performance reeked of the 60’s, but somehow Steffen Basho-Junghans managed to avoid a retro performance, skilfully incorporating more contemporary noises from drone rock, improv, and even weaved in some rhythms that could be some kind of acoustic techno!
With Serena Maneesh, who had just finished recording an album in Steve Albinis studio, the 60’s theme continued, whipping up a whirl of wah wah noise reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine and (IMHO) the superior Rollerskate Skinny. With ponchos, headbands, and serious looking violin, they looked the part and the sound they produced whirled round the lofted beams, a white knuckle noise, or blinding blur of psychedelic ecstasy.
The noise continued into the dark brutal uncompromising hip hop of Dälek. Signed to Mike Pattons Ipecac label, and cited as being somewhere between Public Enemy and Slayer, the laptop and rapper duo pulled hip hop back from the mainstream teenage wetdream to the truth of the horror of the grit sick ghetto. Frankly, rap music usually bores me to death, but in Dälek I have found an exception to the gruel. Above the distorted scornful rhythms and deafening pulses of full on sound the rap voice of Dälek cut through the noise and held it all together.
The main act of the evening were the eagerly awaitedSupersilent, the audio virus of Helge Sten aka Deathprod. I have witnessed the greatness of this band many times before and tonight I’m afraid they were just a tad disappointing. However, it’s their own fault for being so monumentally fantastic on previous viewings, tonight, there was just something missing. That something may have been drummer, Jarle Vespestad, unavailable for this show. His place was bravely filled by Arve Henriksen, Supersilent’s trumpet player, who did quite an admirable juggling job, swapping between spiky trumpet, rattling drums and almost devotional singng . It was as if he knew that he needed to bring more to the show, his usually retrained vocal segments in abundance tonight, showing off his phenomenal range of styles from soaring symphonic histrionics to sub-vocal, guttural chattering, that thankfully never quite fell into the comedic ramblings of Ron Geesin, but certainly in a similar vein.
Combined with the fact that their quieter moments had to compete with the drunken chat of an expensively lubricated crowd, their improvised creations never quite caught fire and too often fell into previously trod passages of spiky ring-modulated randomness. Still pretty brilliant though.
Late was the hour when they came off stage, and I veered the convenient ten meters back to the festival hotel, accompanied by the lonesome strains of the Serena Meneesh violinist, who had taken up position outside the venue, busking for a few extra kroners.
Saturday: I woke suddenly, unable to move, confused as to where was I was. I rolled over and discovered the mini-bar chocolate, opened quickly and foolishly the previous night, was under me, gluing me to the sheets. A shower, an embarrassing encounter with the housekeeper as she discovered the awful truth about drunken men, that we like nothing better than to wallow in our own chocolate. I escaped to the town for breakfast and fresh air.
Haugesund is situated on the west coast of Norway, right in the heart of a breathtaking archipelago of rivers, islands, inlets and fjords that Slartibartfast should be proud of. Grown up as a fishing port, exporting herring in years gone by. It now sports a typical ordinary main street, a row of pleasant cafes and drinking establishments on the wharf, and a perfectly un-shabby record shop called Shabby Records. Not a bad little place.
Colleen is Paris based musician Cecile Schott. Her debut album from 2002 “Everyone wants answers” (The leaf label) was hailed by critics and won her fans all over the world. Her new album “The Golden Morning Breaks” has just been released on the same label. A pleasant enough opening for the Saturday night, she builds up loops using cello, guitar and clarinet in a sweetly simple form that has a special feeling that is both sad and warm. Speaking as a musician who has been working with live looping techniques for more than 20 years, I found her use of the tools rather too naive and amateurish, but that’s probably just the old muso in me because she was very warmly received by an appreciative audience.
BANG! …Moha started and I spilled my pint…Despite looking like he is not old enough to be let in, Anders Hana (Ultralyd, Jaga Jazzist) is gaining cult status as an improv guitar god here in Norway. I have seen him play solo a number of times now, and never really got what all the fuss was about, until now. Crikey… tonight, combined with drummer Morten J. Olsen (also from Ultralyd), it all made sense. So, there I was, nursing my beer in an empty-ish room (smoking is banned from venues in Norway which means that between acts the crowd repairs to the street) and BANG!… the engine roar began. Hana’s guitar was hit and punched, bowed and scraped violently, the sound burned and scorched beyond Big muff Moogerfooging pitchshift recognition! Twisting and turning, having being sucked from the street, the crowd was beaten about head and neck by furious, combustible drumming from Olsen, using the most together and successful laptop processing of drums I have ever witnessed. The snare was a launchpad for crazed twangs, right hook blows and painful screeches, as he beat and scraped it to shreds. The sound was raw, loud and in my face. Hana and Olsen never for one moment relaxed into anything remotely resembling simplicity or anything vaguely rehearsed or tired. If I was in my home town now I would leave, go home and put all my guitar equipment on E-bay, us old fucks have got to know when we’re licked.
The Samuel Jackson 5 did a good job of their brand of Tortoise jazzy Mogwai rock. They suffered for me simply by taking the stage after Moha, and really couldn’t match the intensity, but who could? They did, however, slowly turn the crowd around from serious noisy intellectuals to party poppers, just in time for the inevitable final slot from Kim Hiorthøy.
One of Norways most prolific artists – not only is he an internationally renowned visual artist and designer (Rune Grammofon, Motorpsycho, Dave Grubbs) – he is also well known as an author, filmmaker and musician. Neither his childish and simple graphics nor his playful pling-plong electronica really does anything for me, however you have to close a successful festival on a happy and light note, and that’s what Hiorthøy is, and does well.
Taking off from the small Haugesund Airport on a rainy Sunday morning I contemplate scoring the festival. Friday night was for me a full and well rounded evening, but Saturday had the excitement and raw power of Moha. Just for a moment I wondered if in fact Messrs. Hana and Olsen were infact strapped to the underside of the aeroplane wings…
Sten Ove Toft has been of a mainstay of Norwegian Noise for sometime and his Roggbif label is turning out some of the most interesting and aggressive music from the genre.
The first time I met him however, it was a somewhat quiet affair.
I had received a txt msg from someone saying “You should like this” a time and an address. So, I went, a poster the size of a BandAid (infact it may even have BEEN a BandAid) adorned the door… I pushed and went in, up a windy, dirty staircase my footsteps reverberating in the stairwell – “Is this a concert” I said to the silence, “or what?”. At the top I was met by a very friendly face (This was the aforementioned Mr Toft), that confirmed that I was indeed in the right place and not breaking and entering as I was beginning to think. “Der koster tretti kroner” He whispered… yes, whispered, I handed over the thirty kroner as requested, and he lifted a curtain to let me enter “Hshhhh!!!” he hissed as I ducked thru… It took me a few moments for my eyes to become accustomed to the dim light, but i could hear some faint breathing sounds and some distant clicking. Then, through the smoke filled room, I finally made out one man stroking lovingly the body of an enormous double bass and another fellow seriously and carefully plucking an amplified cactus.
That was three years ago… tonight was a tad noisier. Ryfylke, the main vehicle for Mr Tofts onslaught of brutal noise, took the stage at midnight and were done by twenty past. A slow progression from tasteful, planned and remarkably hi fi clicks and scrapes that built and built to an unholy roar which seemed like it could go no further, but then did. Toft screaming into a microphone that bottomed out the PA system which actually created spaces in the wall of flatline distortion and brought dynamics to the sound.
I caught up with Sten Ove before the show:
>How and why did you start Roggbiff (it is YOUR label right???) Yeah, Roggbif is my label, as well as the sublabel NOISE2. Roggbif started in 2003, after I moved to Oslo. I started it more as a time-filler; I was making music of course, but generally I was bored with my studies at the university and my part time job at a primary-school. Having just moved to Oslo I didn’t know that many people either so Roggbif is a result of boredom than anything else – haha. But the real purpose behind the label was to archive my own releases which previously only had been no-label releases, CDR’s and tapes made on demand.
> First release was? The first release on Roggbif was Devold: Ola By Rise EP. It was – as it is for many labels – a cassette release. Devold was a project between me and Sindre Andersen (whom released the first Fe-Mail album on his label TV5). It was only made in 30 copies and was more given away to reluctant friends than traded or sold. The resources and knowledge I had back then was little. I had a hard time finding tapes which were short enough to cater for the 15min long record, I only found C-90 tapes, so the tape has the same 15min track, going 3 times on each side! I then went over to CDRs – faster and cheaper. I found it to be easier to make and sell. But in 2004 I released my first “real” CD which was the debut album by Ryfylke, “Boknafjord”. That was quite wierd, that album actually sold a total of 1000 copies, which one normally doesn’t do within noise, not even on a worldwide basis unless your Wolf Eyes or something like that. So now we’re in 2007, and I’m up to 17 titles, a couple are yet to come, but the “boknafjord” album gave Roggbif a name on the international scene, not a big one, but it’s at least out there.
> When did you start Ryfylke with Stian Skagen? Ryfylke started in 2003, when Stian and I both got into the art academy in Oslo. We were just talking, and had somewhat the same interests in music. We had some spare time one day and decided to do a small session in the schools sound-studio. We where both blown away afterwards, we thought this sound-combination was really fucking good. So there you go. 2 weeks after we played our first concert and now, almost 4 years after we’ve toured Europe twice, going to the US tomorrow and released 2 studio-albums and been on several compilations.
> So.. How did you get into noise in the first place…and whats so great about it? I started up with noise/experimental sounds in 1999 i think, heavily inspired by my hometown’s (Haugesund) alternative festival Safe As Milk. A year later I ended up enrolling in the collective and started working as a artist-contact for the festival, and I was in my element. In the beginning I was more into quiet musique concrete stuff, like Tore Honore Bøe, but like olives, the craving started and I got more and more extreme, listening to Japanese stuff and trash noise from the US. It was great to have this curiosity and explore. Hearing stuff you never thought was possible. Amazing. Now I’m really into the trash-sludge noise. Just the pure essence of noise, the energy.
I reminded Sten Ove of a performance I witnessed a few years ago, that took place in an old chocolate factory, where Toft and his cohort proceeded to fight each other viciously, in a somewhat school playground fashion it must be said, rolling around the floor, smashing their own equipment of CD players and TV and effect pedals to pieces, while dressed in branches and plastic bags… a genre that some friends of mine have dubbed “Happy Noise”!
That project was called “Brølelabb & Bråkifeijs” it has a direct link to the Holland/US scenes with Fucking Bastards and Cock ESP. We did some performances with that project in 2005/2006 and every time we ended up getting really bruised and damaged. That’s the only time drinking allot before the gig (I slugged a bottle of whiskey before that chocolate factory gig) actually helps the performance – it gets much more brutal because you don’t think of the consequences of what you’re actually doing. I even smashed a laptop at that chocolate factory gig, intentionally, but still. I don’t think there’s many people who can say that they’ve done the same.
Sten Ove Toft and Ryfylke are touring the US as this goes to press, and yet weirdly don’t print their dates on the site www.roggbif.com Maybe that will change.
So for the stout of heart, there follows a quick rundown of some tasty bif morsels from Roggbif Records:
H5N1 – various RR008
A three track split album of ambient noise pieces from Ryfylke collaborator Stian Skagen, Morton Norbye Halvorsen (or MHH as he prefers) and Sten Ove Toft. The title takes it name form the chemical composition of bird flu, the music however, although varied over the three tracks, has a coherence that suggests landscapes and weather and reminds me of Brian Eno fro some reason. Skagens chilly hisses, Halvorsens crackles that burst surprisingly and delightfully into a few minutes of digital disco and Tofts monumental grinding of tectonic plates, makes for a strong and powerfull trio of tracks for people with big Hi Fi speakers.
This hour long piece of asynchronous percussion loops is a powerful and by no means unlistenable onslaught to the senses. This is heavy stuff and quite an ordeal to listen to all in one go, especially when loud, but the slow and gradual change through out the piece is really quite mesmerizing and when the track ends and your room fills with silence again, its quite a cathartic relief, like you got your private space back after a gate crashed party. The press release says its pure power tribal noise to resonate the beasts, which it most certainly is. However it goes on to say that one should not listen to this while sitting down, I am not sure why exactly, as I was indeed mostly sat down, and I’m just fine.
Waffelpung – Storesle M RR016
Another Toft project is Waffelpung, which could be a kind of beginners guide to noise, spanning the many different sounds and possibilities that could come under the noise banner, from good ‘ole harsh noise, some droney stuff, some almost ethnic bell tones, field recordings, quite a large dollop of glitch and tape collage, and most tracks coming in under a cosy 4 minutes, which is really rather remarkable! I love this record, especially “Mannevold” which contains all of the above, some disorienting panning and a kind of laid back, unhurried quality that I haven’t heard since some of the 12 inches by 23Skidoo which this also slightly reminds me of. Although this mood is quickly dispelled by “Craic’s” ear splitting high pitched feedback tones. You know, really every album should let some mice eat a microphone as the final track, at least that’s what it sounds like. Wonderful !
Penumbra Booming – Eriksen Toft Utarm RR017
Another three splitter, starting with “Bolts Unfolding” a hellish swirl of crunchy digital noise and tone mangling from Jon Eriksen, moving on with a Toft piece that almost imperceptibly builds from silence to total chaos, to the orchestral drone from Utarm a majestic and rather pompous guitar is joined by piano, strings and crashing percussion all of which is enveloped in a warm duvet of reverberation and echo. The compilation is ended by an almost identical track as the first from Jon Eriksen. I liked it the first time, this time was a tad too Merzbow… even for me. Roggbif… for those that were wondering stands for the initials of the colours of the rainbow, in Norwegian. (Rød, oransj, gull, grønn, blå, indigo, fiolett) which I suppose makes sense, and I could make some lame arty farty reference to all the colours of the spectrum and how when mixed make white – white light – white heat – white noise but that’s not really going anywhere and anyway now I can’t get that horrible Pink Floyd Album cover out of my mind now… damn!
Sometime around 1989 I was sat, minding my own business listening to John Peel (as you did) and in session was a band I hadn’t heard of, Band of Susans. I immediatly grabbed the volume control and turned it up, way up.
Named after the fact that the original line-up had three “Susans” in the band, Robert Poss was one of the others, that weren’t called Susan. After numerous line-up changes the bands core members revolved around Poss and Susan Stenger. Band of Susans split up in 1995 however, but not before leaving a noisy droney feedbacky legacy that has influenced many lesser bands and shamefully never really gave them the praise that they deserved.
The new album from Robert Poss, Distortion is Truth is a bit of a hotch potch really, there are songs, soundscapes, improvised guitar noodlings and frankly one or two things that sound like the tape machine was left in record while he tried a few things out. It all works however, because what holds it together is Poss’s distinctive and innovative guitar playing. Distortion IS the main tool here, and using this he brings out harmonics and resonances that become tunes in themselves.
He is not interested in riffs or songs, but tone and yes… drone. There are layers of meaning in what he does, I was listening to one track thinking “This is just one chord over and over” then I listened harder, and there above the root note of the chord were ever shifting harmonics that shimmered and shone like bells or gongs and shows the subtlty that Poss is interested in. The drones and the minimilism are there not as an artistic statement but as a simplistic backdrop for new ways of playing the guitar to come to the fore. However, this IS a rock album (well… its not Loaded or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Nevermind) and you shouldn’t get the idea that is all a load of po-faced experimental guitar… man. On You were relentless he rocks with a deep grooving bass chug, hypnotic crashing drums and a weally wonderful wall of wah. And Managment Confidential is a bit of cool metronomic electronics with squelchy modular synths and analog sequences with a bit of an eighties feel.
I am interested in the guitar tone experiments but I find they get in the way of the really great tracks here. But in a way that is the point. You hear guitars, played alone and simple, a man trying things with tone, harmonics and feedback; then you hear guitars, in situ, placed in tracks with other instruments, and the whole thing just confirms what you already knew but maybe had forgotton while listening to “Clicking noises from Japan Volume IV”…
An intriguing free download comes from Lee Noyes and Phil Hargreaves entitled A present from the pickpocket. The duo apparently made this piece via mail sending tapes back and forth between Liverpool UK and Dunedin, New Zealand, over the course of four years. Their stated reason for its lengthy creation is a 2 year break in the middle where they both appeared to have forgotten the project due to differing medical afflictions, namely carpel tunnel and mental breakdown!
Starting as a rather typical free improv thing, with nods to the Paal Nilssen-Love school of rattley skin scraping drumming, and some scrapy cello, and distorted sax, but like the collage of bits and bobs that this purports to be it changes pretty quickly. There’s flute, wibbley sax squibbles, upright bass, electronic whines, chinesy koto sounds, scary backwards voices, crazy guitar and some very over blown and melodramatic singing, that puts me in mind of Peter Hammill in his Van der Graff Generator days, WAIT A MOMENT… Aha it is a Peter Hammill song… well this bit is anyway. A cover of “Mental Health” so their website admits.
Now there’s some Tuvan throat singing … and its getting really quite marvellous!
Messrs Noyes and Hargreves have, somewhat accidentally I think, driven you into a 47 minute Safari Park of a track here, taking you into areas of mixed experimentation, delicate soundscape and worrying neurosis, that although fun and entertaining, make you think you should be taking more seriously, they ARE endangered you know? You can see the gates of the next part of the park opening in front of you, and you anticipate some dangerous and exiting creature to leap out and jump on the roof, banging wildly, then in another section a singing baboon wearing a dirty pink jumper shits on the bonnet and everyone laughs, secretly wishing that you had gone to a castle or ancient ruin instead.
There is a long section of those Hammill-ish vocal histrionics towards the end, and I seriously begin to wonder whether someone should re-visit the therapist, but, you know, it works. A present from the pickpocket is a great… um, thing, really, full of ambience and feeling, magic, and some menace. It comes in waves, each section overlapping the last, and builds beautifully towards the end, when a song emerges, comprising a quirky synth (set on a voice patch that I swear would be too cheesy in any other setting) bass, drums and some tastefully harmonised singing by… the odd guy.
“What kind, we have many types?” asks the waiter, “Something good?” says the King, “Normal good or strange good” comes the reply… “A little strange is good” says the King.
Since the early nineties Lasse Marhaug has been releasing, on a multitude of labels, some of the most extreme noise music to come out of Norway. His dedication and sheer hard work has had him collaborating with a dazzling array of people in many different constellations and groups (Del and Jazzkammer to name but two) and has seen him performing almost non stop in a variety of countries. His music is harsh and uncompromising, and yet thoughtful and intelligent, working with basic audio tools like oscillators, tape manipulation and the ubiquitous laptop a Marhaug show can be anything from undertated simplicity of the man at a screen to a junkyard of metal objects, cables and obscure devices. As a joint organiser of Oslo’s All Ears festival (with Maja S.K. Ratkje and Paal Nilssen-Love) he has brought together fascinating line-ups from many spheres of experimental music.
For four or five months every year, the majority of Norway is in darkness. Depression and suicide is high. Snow and ice makes travel hard and gruelling. Traditionally the small close-knit communities that scatter the mountain sides and Fjords have survived by a fervent and somewhat crazed Christianity on one side and on the other, the consumption of low grade home brewed illegal alcohol (“Hjemme Brent” or Home Burnt), the only connection between the two being Norsk produced Country and Western dance band music. However, for over 20 years now the young Norwegian youth have survived this enforced captivity and darkness by producing, recording and ultimately bringing to the wider world some of the most brutal and angst ridden noise, Black Metal.
Everyone here likes metal, they grow up on it. Not in the capital particularly, which like any other cosmopolitan metropolis is more influenced by the rise of incomes, re-furbishing of industrial areas into trendy workshops and studios, restaurants, smooth jazz bars, house music and theatre. Although it was in the old town area of Oslo where the infamous violence and murders surrounding seminal Black Metal groups Mayhemand Burzum occurred, it is predominately in the countryside where Metal flourished, developed mainly by the eager, serious and almost neurotic swapping of tapes and fanzines by eager, serious and almost neurotic young boys.
Lasse Marhaug was one of these boys.
Marhaug: “I lived far far up north, snow and ice, dark for months, I developed a big craving for some kind of culture. There was no theatre there, no venues, no clubs, nothing. So I just started digging, pulling whatever threads I could find. Of course one was film and I watched as many videos as I could get my hands on, and the other was music and coming from the countryside in Norway, that would be metal. Metal is big. I went from Iron Maiden and AC/DC, to Metallica and Slayer and further on to death metal Morbid Angel and Carcass, Napalm Death, and if you keep going there, you sort of end up with noise and experimental Industrial. So, I would mail-order records from wherever I could find around the world, got to know people and was trading tapes, making fanzines, and started putting out my own tapes, and doing my own stuff. Now of course there’s CDR’s and MP3’s. It’s beautiful!!!
The first noise I heard was Napalm Death, Godflesh and that led onto Swans, and in industrial music, Coil and Throbbing Gristle. They were a fantastic discovery, when I was 16 or something… so my musical upbringing was very fragmented, it wasn’t a very natural thing. I would just grab what ever I could hold on to. I was listening to Grindcore bands, that had been recorded very badly, and then dubbed on home cassette decks, I still think that they all sound best like that, before they all got into these big studios. I still love that raw ugly sound. But I never saw any of these bands live. There were no shows in Norway, especially up North, and I just thought that’s how they should sound.”
There is a well established Noise and Improv scene in Oslo. Although operating on a “who you know” txt messaging basis (“GIG TONIGHT 20:30 30 kroner entry, pass it on!”) it is busy and friendly. Never a weekend goes by when you can’t go to see some experimental performance often in someone’s apartment, a gallery, or a disused Chocolate Factory.
Marhaug: “There is an acceptance for noise and weird music here in Oslo, it’s a healthy scene, I mean even the King is letting the biggest noise composer live on his property!!!”
It is true that one Norwegian artist is given the lifetimes right to live in a house called “The Grotto” that sits in the grounds of the Kings Palace. This honour is currently resting with Norwegian Electro Acoustic composer Arne Nordheim.
Marhaug: “But I think the main reason Norway has had more attention than other places, is that people are more mixed here, there are so few people, that everyone mixes from different scenes, so people doing Noise will interact with people doing Jazz or Metal or anything really. Whereas in England or the US, people are more segregated and stay in their little groups, the scenes will not mix that much. But I do think that there is a bit of a Norway hype, that I’m kind of suspicious about and I think that it would be bad if somehow Norway was in itself a stamp of quality, in the same way that Norwegian Black Metal became a thing, it means that a lot of good stuff would be overlooked elsewhere. I mean I treat it as a joke, and being called the Norwegian King of Noise it’s a bloody joke, its horrible!”
Indeed, there are infact three main camps within the experimental scene in Oslo. Those like Marhaug who arrived through metal and extreme rock, then there is a healthy Jazz scene based around the club Blå, (and practitioners such as Pål Neilsen Love and Swedish Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson). Then there is the academic input of players from the Oslo Conservatory (Maja Ratkje for example), that have through study, arrived at Noise via Stockhausen, Xenakis and Cage.
Coming firmly from the Metal camp, I asked Marhaug about the Free Jazz and the academic approaches, and what he thinks of it.
Marhaug: “Of course, everything’s Jazz, it has become the word for anything that is not just totally commercial. I like Jazz, but I grew up on Rock and Metal, and Jazz came later. I don’t have much of a Jazz collection, I prefer it in a live context, and (the venue) Blå is important. It is originally a Jazz venue, but like in many places the Jazz scene has accepted more experimental music, but here in Oslo, one reason why Jazz is often mixed with, not just Noise, but Hip Hop Club Scene and even Rock is that Jazz gets funding in Norway. As far as the more theoretical approach that some people have after coming from music school, like Maja (Ratkje) for example, shes great, a good friend of mine and we have made a few albums together, but mostly, I find that they talk too much and play too little! After years of doing experimenting on tape recorders and putting out my own stuff. I sat down to read Silence (John Cage’s seminal book), and I enjoyed reading it, but after 6 years of experimenting I just thought, “I know all this, its kind of obvious”. My music is not so much about the concepts and ideas, because the really important ideas are quite obvious, and if you start digging and experimenting, you just get them immediately but I do like Xenekis, and Morton Feldman is a great composer, but I think some people become a bit damaged by coming into music from that more academic approach, I think you should just DO music and then read about it afterward. I once gave a presentation at the Music school here in Oslo, and the students asked all these highly intellectual conceptual questions, which had really simple answers… I really think that they think too much and play too little. I think it’s the same in art, often people are weighed down with this art history, and obsession with doing something new, instead of just doing it, it should be a personal thing. It’s something that you should feel you have to do, over and over again, because it feels right.”
Depite what he says, Marhaugs’ music feels quite composed, in a classical sense, and has a feel of being taken very seriously by its author. Far from being a ‘noise head’ who just wants eveything louder and more extreme, Marhaug can work at very quiet and sensitive levels as easily as he works at earsplitting volume. His recent ‘alternative soundtrack’ to the Stan Brakage film (the classic “The Art of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes”) is a slow and relatively quiet piece that complements the autopsy footage that Brakage’s 1971 film depicts, in both mood and percieved sound. The original film is silent which makes viewing uneasy and gives you a feeling of voyeurism, the sounds in the room are imagined, ringing metal surfaces, cutting instruments, the bone saw, the low murmur of voices at work, maybe even the slow last exhale of putrid breath. The sounds that one hears are not literally what make up the Marhaug composition, but it’s as if he has chosen substitutes, given us a new layer of sound, that somehow masks the relative horror of your own imagination and softens the grit of the documentary camerawork, so that the film can be viewed for what it is, a piece of Art, now no longer accompanied by the unease of misunderstanding. Is this disgusting?
Is this fair on the dead guy?
Did they ask him?
I can handle this, but whats coming next?
Finally, with the Marhaug soundtrack, the concerns and fears are gone, and the film takes on a new sadness, as the film marks the passing of one mans life.
Marhaug: “The original is very sensitively filmed and the camerawork sympathetic, and not at all unpleasant, I wanted to keep this feeling with my soundtrack, and maybe to extend this feeling, to make it even easier to watch.”
(Well… maybe Lasse, I wouldn’t say it’s exactly easy though!)
In his recorded work he has a quite conventional pace to his music, the changes in sound texture, the ‘movements’ if you like, come where you would expect them, there is even some counting to 4, 8, 16 in terms of rhythm (I think) the pallete of sound is strange, yes, grating and nasty even, but there is a well thought out, considered feel.
Marhaug: “I’m not really even into noise, I do a lot of quiet stuff, a lot of minimalistic quiet things, but I guess when I yell the loudest is the part that people remember. And Norway, being associated with Noise and extreme music, it’s what they notice but I do a lot of different things. I don’t think in terms of is this loud or is this noise or is this extreme or hard. It’s whatever feels right for that piece or setting. I will do it. I’m more interested in sounds in general, I want to explore the whole palette of this sound world, I don’t want to concentrate on this extreme high pitched electronic sounds, I want to do a bit of everything.”
Where some noise music can give you the feeling, that it’s too easy, 45 minutes of white noise, PAH! I could do this, give us a break, he’s taking the piss, with Marhaug you can hear the work that he has put in. He try’s hard to fit in with the noise kids (“I can’t play any instruments you know, not a note ha ha giggle giggle.. ” Um Actually Mr Marhaug, you can… and infact you are a virtuoso) you can hear the late nights spend hunched over the laptop.
Marhaug: “I am a complete workaholic, I have this drive that I want to do stuff and I just get up in the morning and think it’s a new day, and I’m at a place in my life where I can, I mean I want to have kids and am completely aware that I won’t be able to carry on at this tempo as I have been, but I have all these ideas that I want to set up in life, so I try to work really focussed on how to do that most efficiently. I’ve always had a hard time sitting still. I don’t go out, I don’t drink, and I don’t party, I just keep working, working, working, and I don’t know, I would like to sit down and read a book, sometime, when there’s time!”
In a genre that embraces noise and distortion and error, we discussed the importance of conceptual and recording quality, the fact that good mastering is so important with experimental music, but the budgets will never be there to give the genre the quality it needs. But maybe this music needs a different approach, different ways of capturing the sound.
Marhaug: “I would love to be able to go into a big studio for a few months, like a big commercial act, to produce a big piece but it’s just not how I work. I have many projects and recordings all going at once. For example I have one track that was in the pipeline for seven years, it was so involved, but then sometimes I sit down and do something in two days, because that’s what it demanded. They work because they are raw ideas, and if I was to polish them too much, they would lose they’re essence. But some things will have to go on for years, like the album “Voice” I did with Maja (Radke) that was two years in the making, and we did hours and hours of stuff, but it was definitely worth it, and it was what that piece needed. But then again, Maja and me sat down and did an album in 2 hours, and I think both of them have equal value. I prefer it if I have 5 to 10 things going on at the same time, its easier to make two albums than one album for me.. it is! You can juggle ideas between projects, and something will happen that will work for something I am doing”.
My audience with the King of Norwegian Noise was coming to an end, but there was one last question I wanted to put to him. If Lasse Marhaug is the King of Norwegian noise, then Masami Akita alias Merzbow, is the King of the World… having recorded hundreds of releases since 1985, for many years turning out the most extreme noise, which at high volumes is the most intense sound of white noise, feedback, screech and howl all enveloped in multi layers of distortion and compression, and at low volumes sounds like one of those new age baby soothing CD’s (ok ok, extremly LOW volumes, but try it… I promise you it works like a charm), you know… “sounds from the womb, volume 4, now with added pan-pipes!)
In 2002 they met and performed together at the Moss Jazz festival, Crikey, what a racket that must have been?
Marhaug: “We’re in the same kind of field of course, we’re aware of what we both do, we’re great friends, and have been sending each other records for years. We just sat down and fooled around for a hour or two, had very simple discussion, of what worked and what didn’t, actually what we talked most about was the pacing of what we would do, not to play too fast, and how long things should go on before it should change. I think one of his great strengths is patience, he lets sounds unfold, he doesn’t rush anything. And I see that in a lot of Japanese stuff, letting things breath and evolve naturally, but still keeping that intensity and focus in the music”.
My time was up… Dragged by unseen aides from his chambers, I shouted one last question, fingernails gripping the door-frame…
Marhaug: “I can’t play an instrument, not guitar, not drums, the first thing I did was experimenting with tape recorders, so that’s what I know. For me I think its an advantage, I just cant play a note, so if I picked up a guitar I wouldn’t get into one of those 3 chord blues basics, they’re not there.”
Yeah.. well, nah.. I’m not sure about that… I think he can probably scrape a sound out of an oscillator in precisely the way he wants, and being ABLE to play, um.. “Hey Joe”, for example… well, it doesnt mean you HAVE to play it! No, whatever your tools are (a specially made SuperCollidor patch, and a specially built box of electronics by Bristol based BugBrand are his tools for those geeks interested – I’m a geek too !
You work with them until you are a virtuoso, in much the same way as a classical or heavy metal musician. No, the music comes from somewhere else. Why Noise? I don’t think that it is noise at all, especially in the case of Lasse Marhaug, this music is the cleanest, simplest and purest form of music that there is, taking sound that (in normal everyday circumstances) we call noise, an annoyance, an irritation, and building with it, sculpting it, controlling it. The human race has made a lot of bad sound in this world, from TV, transport, construction, pain, despair and there is nothing more annoying than unwanted music from cars or next door neigbours! Noise is not new, to open your ears and say this is music, this is new, well not new perhaps, maybe 90 years old – Futurists? Art of noises anyone? Dada.. John Cage… See, its not that new!!! Well whatever…
Lasse Marhaug is in fact a well respected and highly skilled manipulator of sound, dealing with tone, form, timing, dynamics, emotion, colour, space, tension and ok, a tiny little bit of noise.
Does anyone here remember Ron Gysin? Or that really obscure and somewhat silly stuff on Umma Gumma?
Stots begins just like that, lots of ghoulish voices, groaning, growling, grumbling and having lots of fun bee booing into an echo machine. There is a bit of Hugo Ball Dadaism here… which would be cool… or maybe Simonis is influenced by fellow Dutch man, Jaap Blonk’s ranted gurgling? The field recordings, glitch and multi levels of odd noises are neither composed, organised or improvised, just a hotch potch of overlapping tracks and it all seems a bit of a mess. However, by track 3 Dalver, things do start to come together as lo fi drones are layered with radio sounds, abused guitars, drills and bubbles.
There are some great atmospheres here, Begoulesj for example starts with clickety clicking in a large warehouse as boulders are dropped. Lorries are braking nearby and amid fluttery backwards sounds, a thumb piano provides melodic elements. On Baljisrool, space station guitar, almost Arabic in its tones, is accompanied by the sounds of watery footsteps.
and… well its all like this… mixtures of bits and pieces, all jumbled, cut up, chewed up, spat out, burned, printed and sold. Some of it’s pretty good even if I was put off a bit by the zaniness of the first tracks but after repeated listening Lukas Simonis has grabbed my attention. By my third listen for example, I realise how much of this is actually “prepared guitar”. quite a lot of the effects and sounds that I put down to being noise or field recording are actually quite subtley played and mis-played from an electric guitar, recorded pretty open across a room, which gives it a really live and sharp edge. I also discover, more by accident than design, that playing the tracks in reverse order is much more appealing to my ears. Which, when you think about it makes perfect sense because Stots backwards is… well?… stotS
With one of those slightly irritating goth-esque names that you can never quite remember, Lacunae consist of Kasten Searles, Arson Bright and one A. Peluso, and, intriguingly, they have never actually met!
Since 1995 Kasten and Arson have been collaborating on various unspecified artistic endeavours via mail, joined by the one who simply appears to call themselves A. Six years later, they named their musical work Lacunae “As a tribute to the distance between them”, it says here, but I’m not sure why… Please hold while I Google.
la•cu•na (l-kyn) n. pl. la•cu•nae (-n) or la•cu•nas 1. An empty space or a missing part; a gap: 2. Anatomy A cavity, space, or depression, especially in a bone, containing cartilage or bone cells.
Ahh… all becomes clear… Well actually it does, a bit. There are empty spaces that must be filled, and there is a gap between them!
You see the process they have chosen to adopt in they’re music making, that of sending tapes (or more likely files these days, I guess), to each other, will and does have an effect on the final result, that is both special and beautiful but also detrimental. But back to this later.
Their Collapse CD (current resident music crm003) is an atmospheric blend of glitchy electro and the breathy ethereal voice of Ms Searles. The beats are cold, cut short and tight with nods towards Matmos, Coil circa Loves Secret Domain, or even Kraftwerkat their most bleepy. There is something of Portishead’s or Tricky’s heady grooviness, but thankfully, less of the hashish. For example, it really sounds great in my car (where it has been looping for nigh on a month now).
It lacks emotion in places, and despite the rhythmic nature of most of it, it never really gets funky or cool, but lets face it, funky and cool can be a bit crap can’t it?
I like the blend of heavily gated spiky beats, buzzy basses and cold digital pads and bells that sound like a circuit bent Casio or some such mutation, and the voice which can be both breathy, sexy and enigmatic, but often its chopped into tiny rhythmic slices that flitter and chirp, like grasshoppers in the often chaotic but never busy beat.
A phenomenally gorgeous vocoder section in Rise is reminiscent of something I can’t place right now, and from then on I realise that this forgotten reference is quite prevalent in the sound of Lacunae, probably good I can’t remember!
Oh, there’s some repeating of ideas here, the whispering wears thin, and the once cool snippety snip speech, probably done with Splonki or Flitchsplifter (or one of the other fantastic VST plug-ins from ioplong at smartelectronix) is overused, and everything is distorted and screwed around with the WHOLE TIME… but goddammit… Everything U2 do sounds the same, doesn’t it? Everything Oasis does sound the same. Electronica has to be oh so fucking diverse all the time, and that sucks… Lacunae have found a sound, and they are sticking to it, and that’s alright by me!
The thing is, that the distance recording methodology, introduces two elements to their sound. Firstly it encourages the individuals to really explore their individual interests without the boundaries of the usual band compromise, bicker, and power trips, BUT… also encourages heavy and ruthless editting and mutation of the source material. This produces some really fascinating and edgy combinations of sounds and textures, which can however sometimes seem overworked and almost too produced, and allowing no room for performer interaction, improvisation or… well… life!
It might bother me more but behind the glitch and the distortion their songs are so fantastically musical and damned catchy, I’m hooked!
A regular in the improv drone noise scene in Oslo, guitarist Frederik Ness Sevendal has appeared in many constellations of musicians, Slowburn, Del and (at the risk of being accused of nepotism) my own occasional combo We Snakes. His blend of folkish, finger picked tones and string bowing techniques, combined with more noisy uses of distortion and ring modulation, makes him an intriguing addition to any improvisational group, and someone I enjoy watching play! Despite having played with him live on a number of occasions, I quite literally ran home after he pushed his debut album No Foly Bow into my sweaty trembling hands.
I was pleasantly not so surprised… The first thing you notice is the cover, a gorgeous Victorian theatre stage, or puppet theatre, with some absurd performance going on, immediately puts you in mind of music hall and magic, but also freak shows, the circus, dadaism even. It puts you in the mood for the twisted, and bizarre, but somehow safe and naive.
The music is mainly drone based, (a form, which I have to say up front I am completely bored of these days) however, here the drones seem more, um… real.. like they have formed naturally somehow.
Imagine this if you will… You have a real old timer banjo player, an Irish fiddle player and … oh I don’t know, a bagpipe player perhaps? Well there they all are, sitting together in a sauna naked (this IS Norway after all) and casually strumming, stroking and (oh god, why did I start this) blowing their instruments. As they play, due to the heat and humidity, the music and sounds from their instruments sink to the floor and collect, as a hot, dense stew, and as this stew leaks out of the drain, there is Frederik scooping it up with those little shovels they have in the Pic-N-Mix, and layering it onto his record.
I don’t know enough about Norwegian folk music to say if there is a connection there, but the drone is certainly in the area. The Norwegian Hardanger Fiddle is famous for its special feature of an extra set of drone strings that lie under the normal strings, and give the instrument its resonant tone. Also there is a drone to the “Joik”, the monotonous chanting from the indigenous Sami people (or Laplanders, as they don’t like to be called).
He makes this dense hot pickle of a sound that is both up front and yet quiet. Guitars intertwine with guitars in a delicate web in near random time signatures, there is melody and tune, but nothing is stated loudly or brashly, but at the same time there is menace and mystery in the background, like how your skin prickles in hot environments and sweat stings your eyes.
Despite being basically a relaxed and non-confrontational album, it has also been mastered and compressed really very loud, and you really have to get up out of the sofa and walk across the room to the volume control, if you want a relaxing moment. Alternatively you can grip the edges of a cushion and lean forward into the drone and as your face distorts with the g-force and big fat grin that is contorting your face, you better pray that the wind doesn’t change direction.
I enjoyed listening to Formatt although at times I felt some of it to be a bit academic and austere. There is not much new in the choice of sounds, clicks, skips, ambient pads and low bit crunch that is served with a fairly large dollop of granular fairy dust. Formatt, AKA Peter Smeekens is based in Belgium and is “Focussing on the digital enforcement of audio, the main goal is to investigate and modulate blends of warm, fuzzy analogs and clean, colder digital signals and patterns”. However, all nicely encapsulated in a wrapping of warm, comfortable reverb. There are also occasional looped radio voices, which I’m a sucker for, disjointed yet subtle typewriter rhythms and muted drones. In one or two places the mp3 file is recorded a tad loud, so that it clips (no excuse for this IMHO) and generally needs some expensive mastering to bring out the warmth to put it up there with ohh, let me see, Fennesz for example? There are in fact some similarities with the aforementioned Italian, in the way that a basically ambient and lush atmosphere is created by the reduction of quality and processing / masking of the source material. The source material being. Well, the usual Musique Concrete / field recording bumps and knocks. Maybe it’s this that gives it an academic feel, but then again, the synthesized drones and pseudo voice sounds are really coming from a more Eno-ish or blimey, even Tangerine dream genre. And it is this blend that I like, that Smeekens has got right, not quite academic electro-acoustic rigidity, and not quite spliffy chill-out.
I see from the bio that he has performed his music in all manner of spaces, installations, collaborations with architects, writers and poets, as well as venues ranging from art-spaces to squatted industrial sites. This makes perfect sense as I can see both the industrial and the atmospheric in Formatt. The harsh is presented with the smooth, the hard surfaces with open spaces and the ambience feels like the soft murmuring of voices experienced in a large foyer, warehouse, or cathedral.
If I’m a bit harsh in my criticism of his choice of sounds I don’t mean to be. I listen to this kind of music all the time and I am very used to the genre and sound palette of glitch and this fits right in. It is high quality and I actually like it a lot. Oh, and strike the Tangerine Dream reference, I don’t know what I was thinking.