As a research unit [RHP] CDRs conducts a huge quantity of work which for whatever reason doesn’t result in any kind of resolved, public facing project; this includes being in constant dialogue with practitioners, academics, collectives and institutions from around the world. Throughout 2014 fragments from these discussions will be appearing online and in print as a part of [RHP] Transcripts.
The second of these is taken from discussions with the Norwegian musician Sindre Bjerga.
Sindre, your about to embark on a UK tour, could you tell us a little more about it?
I’ll be over for a week, or 9 days, and by now I think there’s 7 shows lined up and I’m hoping to squeeze in maybe 1 or 2 more. Mostly I’ll be playing as a part of my duo STAR TURBINE, but there’s also a couple of solo stints, and I’ll also do some live collaborations sets with Tom White and Luke Poot. Should be good fun I reckon. I have been over in the UK for a week of touring like this every single year since 2006, believe it or not. But this year, it’s an anomaly, as this is like the wrong time of the year haha. I’ve always been there the second week of October, due to having fixed holiday weeks at my work. But this time it’s February. However, I was over in November too and played at Colour Out of Space, but then I was only over for that weekend. But anyway, should be a fun week, starting off with 2 London shows. It proved to be a bit hard to have shows booked this time, as the Japanoise 2-day fest will be on at Cafe Oto. I guess that event like like a black hole, and it would be harder to attract people to shows on those 2 days. Then we’ll move on to Milton Keynes actually, never been there before, and then on to Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and then ending up in Edinburgh on March 1st. And then I’ll get the train to Aberdeen on the next day and fly home from there.
So given that you’ve spent so much time here, how would you compare the UK scene to the Norwegian one?
Depends on how you look at it I guess. I would say the scene here in Norway is small but very vibrant. But the cities are small compared to the UK, and mostly it’s only possible to do experimental shows in a couple of cities. Both in Oslo and here in Stavanger, in the southwest, where I live, there’s access to some really nice artist-run DIY spaces. And I would say that to have spaces like these, are vital for keeping the fringe music scenes alive and well. In the UK however, spaces like these seems to be missing. The only options left for many promoters, are the function rooms in off-the-high-streets-pubs. Not all bad I guess. Sometimes people would stumble in kind of randomly, so there’s a possibility of attracting people that wouldn’t normally go to a more close-circuit DIY space. But definitely bad in the sense of promoters having to drag a lot of amps and gear around, maybe renting equipment and whatnot. Also bad in the sense of losing a community feel you get from having your own space to perform in. There’s quite some good stuff coming out of the Norwegian experimental music scene, but I would say that most of it are connected to a couple of groups of people in a couple of cities. There’s a certain “mobility” between the different strands of fringe music – you’d sometimes have “free jazz/free improv” people going to experimental/noise shows and the other way around, but for the most part, the barriers will be there. In other words, a lot of the same people turn up every time at the shows. Obviously in the UK, in some cities the scene would consist certain groups of people, and you would have more or less the same people turning up to shows. But there are more people, so in that way it would be more dynamic some places at least. But somehow the barriers are higher between the different genres in fringe music. In the UK there would never be free jazz and noise on the same bill. But then again I have to say that I’m a big fan of a lot of UK DIY experimental/noise/collage stuff, have been for years, and I have also put out a lot of releases from top notch UK people on my label Gold Soundz.
These artist-led spaces you mentioned that you feel are missing from the UK; could you describe how they function? Do they specifically focus on experimental music? And how have you personally worked with these kinds of space?
Well, they would be places that are kind of off the grid, so not official spaces for music. I rent a rehearsal space together with some other people in an old office/industrial building. There’s quite a few people renting rooms there to have a workspace for all kinds of activities (screen printing, film editing and some arts and crafts type stuff) but there’s also a big common room, which are ideal for putting on gigs for example. But we have to be a bit careful to announce it openly, but it works fine to announce it via social media platforms. Likewise in other cities, you can find living spaces/work spaces which doubles as some kind of unofficial space for gigs etc. And yeah, there would be some that would specialise in experimental music for sure, as the people who run it are interested in that.
Ah, we do have these kinds of spaces in the UK but they are very much focused on contemporary visual art as opposed to music. I find that a lot of experimental music works fantastically in these kinds of space though and try to make [RHP] CDRs projects in them as often as I can. I imagine that works of yours like “Radiant Flux” could work brilliantly in an ex-industrial unit! When making works is the location they will be presented in something you consider?
Well I guess it’s fair to that the the works are created in a certain location, in the way that it is improvised, and then presented as releases – or “contextualized” if you will – after the fact. That sounds really pompous haha. But yeah, obviously it is improvised to a certain extent – I have my tape recorders, dictaphones, contact mics, rewired toys and all that, so basically I am playing tapes in the way of filtering, stacking, manipulating and messing about with the decks and machines and working a lot with microphone placements - basically live collaging really.
But yeah, I would definitely say the location matters in a lot, in terms of setting a mood for me too for the playing. I have been working a bit with performance elements too lately when I’m doing shows, and I always try what would work in a certain room. That could be everything from swirling some cymbals around in the middle of the room to constructing some kind of spontaneous trash sculpture out of some empty beer cans and a broken chair. I was touring in Japan last year, and there you have very very attentive crowds, people are really paying attention, so I have the chance to try to create some of these situations. It was quite interesting and nice. Mind you, it’s not like shock tactics or anything, I’m not interested in that. It’s more about trying to introduce new situations that requires maybe a different kind of attention, and maybe somehow also draw some new attention to the whole performer-audience setting. I “taped” some people at some shows in Japan – by tying them up gently with cassette tape from the actual tapes I had been playing in my set. Some people found it very puzzling, but somehow it seemed like thing to do.
It sounds like these performative and sculptural interventions are as routed in collage and improvisation as your sound work is; do you think this is something your going to continue to develop? Or will it just depend on the situations your playing in?
Yeah, I guess I probably will, but like you say, it all depends on the situation and the room and the general feel to it. I also find myself needing to develop my set in order to keep myself engaged. Not a bad thing at all, as it is always important to be engaged in whatever you are doing. But I could never say that I want to develop it in any particular direction. I don’t have any need to articulate that I want it to be more “free sounding” or more “cohesive” or more or less whatever.. Maybe I could say, in a modest way perhaps, that I have - over time, over the course of 200 shows or so and about as many releases – developed my own sound universe in a way. Sounds pretty cheeky I know. And I think it’s an interesting challenge to myself to sometimes also work with non-musical elements as a part of my set. But I don’t want to plan it, I rather want to allow it to happen, somehow, as a response to the situation or the room or the audience. Did you ever see any performances by Japanese artist Taku Unami? I was completely blown away by some performances he did here in Norway a couple of years back. He didn’t even play music at all. He creates very puzzling and funny, yet touching situations with the simplest of means. He rearranged the furniture in the room in a way that questioned peoples awareness as to why they were there in the first place. Hard to describe why it had such an impact really, as it is some kind of introspect quite impact, but he did so much with so little. I’ve always been interested in that. Lately I have also been very interested in what some people refer to as sound poetry. Not necessarily the fluxus type stuff (but also that) but more like “vocal improvisation” but not the jazz type. Just a shitty microphone and grunting, slurping, coughing and general babbling-in-tongues type stuff. It’s a thin line, it can easily become very tedious, but again, in the right situations it can work well, it can be funny, it can be sonically interesting and so on. Again, you can do a lot with very little. I have seen so many noise shows where people have so many effects, so many pedals, so much gear. Nothing wrong with that, but too much of it sounds too much the same. Sorry, I’m ranting here….
No need to apologize at all. I think its actually a very interesting point that you raised; a lot of work in this area can become very similar to other pieces and of cause, I think its perfectly natural that an artist (or even a group of artists) will develop a repertoire of material to use especially over long periods of time. But to continue to make interesting works I think this repertoire needs to be challenged, or at least fully explored.
I wonder about when your making new work and I’m thinking specifically of works for releases as opposed to performance; how do you go about selecting, compiling and composing the materials that you are going to use?
To be honest, lately almost all the releases are actual live recordings. I try to have as many shows as possible recorded, and if it sounds good when I listen back, I’d release it. In most cases, it would be edited a bit and a bit of compression and mastered. Mostly I rely on the possibility of recording it via the mixing desk, but there’s also a lot of room recordings, done with a zoom recorder or something. I quite like how the recording quality varies, in the sense that as a release, the way it was recorded is also somehow an extension of the improvised nature of the performance. In another sense, the releases function as a document of the live event – kinda free jazz style. I quite like it to sound raw and immediate, and have never really been interested polishing it and post-production work on smaller details.
I do also have a few steady duos, one is a long standing collaboration, the “excitedly” named Bjerga/Iversen duo. We record a lot of stuff in our rehearsal space, all one take. Then we spend quite a bit of time listening back, editing and trashing quite a bit of the material, and choose some pieces we work on some more, with EQing, compression etc. With this duo, it’s more like a dynamic recording studio process, but with all the basic recordings are straight up jams really.
Could you talk about Star Turbine, the duo your about to head over to the UK as a part of?
Star Turbine is a duo I have with Claus Poulsen from Copenhagen. We have been working for a little more than 2 years now I guess. We both had records released by now defunct UK label Striate Cortex, and I think it was me who got in touch with Claus, giving him him a big up for some of his releases, which I had sent to me from Striate Cortex. We then started sending some files back and forth – or more accurately I sent him bucket loads of recordings and he added on more layers to the tracks, then we did a bit of remote-editing, and not before long, we had something like 4 or 5 albums more or less ready. Somehow it all seemed to go super fast. The first record - a pretty lavish looking double 3-inch disc, nicely housed in a box – was of course released by the label that made us get in touch in the first place – Striate Cortex. At this point, I was also a bit in touch with Justin Wright, of Expo 70, and I sent some of our recordings over to him, which eventually resulted in 2 tapes on his Sonic Meditation label. And then there’s been a few more since then, and more are on the way, hopefully also an LP in not too long. Gig wise, we have been doing 3 tours since April 2012, and this upcoming UK stint, is the second time we are touring here. The first tour got rolling when I suggested to Claus to come down to Copenhagen to meet up and do some real recordings together, as opposed to exchanging files over the internet. It evolved into a couple of days of intensive recordings in his flat in Copenhagen – which also doubles as a studio, and then we played 5 shows in Denmark and Germany. We were both quite happy with how these turned out and decided do more touring. In October 2012 we did a UK tour and in March 2013 we played 8 shows or something like that in Norway, Finland, Estonia and Latvia.
Sometimes it takes a little while to get really into the zone when we work together. We both improvise, Claus usually plays with manipulated, skipping records and live electronics, while I manipulate and mess around with tape recorders and microphones, and a bit of acoustic ramblings. We’ve done a couple of shows where it all turns a bit messy, but for the most part we’ve managed to dish out some nice but sometimes intense jams. At times gritty and textural, sharp-edged noise, but also spaced-out, drifting ambient walls. The quest continues…
Something we’re really interested in at [RHP] CDRs is the way people work collaboratively; what do you feel the benefits and pit falls of both working remotely via the internet and more intimately in person are?
Well for sure, It’s two entirely different ways of working together. When you work on something by sending files back and forth, you have the time element at hand and can – if you want to – carefully consider what you would like to do in a more well planned manner. While collaborating in person, there’s the instant response to the other person(s) move. Whenever I work with other people, we may map out some basic guidelines, like how long we’re playing, or maybe something about dynamics, but usually it’s all jams. And then there’s the second part, which is the editing. In a way, I do prefer the live setting, the here and now situation, it’s more interesting the way the dynamics and played out in a setting like that. In any case, when I do collaborate over the internet – like with Claus, as we have done with Star Turbine – I tend to do all the basic recordings, and would rather have him – or in other cases somebody else – to add on something, and do the final touches, or the final brushes if you will. To be honest, I’ve never been the one to sit and hover meticulously over recordings and tweak away. I most often record stuff very quickly, first takes, and if there’s the right feel to it, it’s good to go. Like the gigs basically. It’d all one long song haha
So, just to finish up can you give us the dates of your upcoming UK tour and are there any upcoming releases you want to tell us about?
The dates on this tour are:
- Feb 21st : Ryans Bar, London. Sindre Bjerga + Tom White duo and Claus Poulsen solo
- Feb 22nd : Electric Knife Records, London. Matinee show, Starts 2 PM. Playing as Star Turbine
- Feb 22nd: MK Gallery, Milton Keynes. Playing as Star Turbine
- Feb 24th: Olive, London. Two duos – Sindre Bjerga + BBBlood and Claus Poulsen + Duncan Harrison
- Feb 25th: Portland Works, Sheffield. Playing as Star Turbine and also Sindre Bjerga + Lovely Honkey duo
- Feb 26th: Wharf Chambers, Leeds. Playing as Star Turbine
- Feb 27th: Fuse Art Space, Bradford. Playing as Star Turbine
- Feb 28th: Mining Institute, Newcastle. Playing as Star Turbine and also Sindre Bjerga solo.
- March 1st: Nundungeon (The Cave), Edinburgh. Playing as Star Turbine
Full tour information can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/257703967730361/
We quite recently had a couple of new Star Turbine tapes released, one on US label Black Horizons and one on Italian label Dokuro, we’ll bring copies of these with us. There’s a plan to do a Star Turbine LP in the near future, it’ll probably be released on our own labels, Gold Soundz and Skrat Records. Solo wise, there’s always a bunch of stuff in the pipeline, I’ll have with me lots of tapes to sell on the tour. I’m also bring two new CDR releases, made specifically for this tour, one is a 4-way split with Star Turbine, Fordell Research Unit, Inseminoid and Xazzaz and the other a split with me solo and Posset.