Northern Winter Read is our little concept, where you can explore some of the artists playing at the festival. Mikkel Brandt is in charge of the original interviews, made for our festival.
Northern Winter Read is our little concept, where you can explore some of the artists playing at the festival. Mikkel Brandt is in charge of the original interviews, made for our festival.
Interview with Coby Sey.
by Mikkel Brandt
“I think part of my process when it comes to making music is listening a lot. It’s not just putting out stuff. It’s also reflecting and listening. And not even necessarily listening to the music that I’m working on.”
I’m interviewing Coby Sey prior to his performance at Northern Winter Beat 2023. In 2022, the London-based musician released his first solo LP, “Conduit”, and listening to that album – with its multifaceted production and Coby’s powerful, poetic lyrics – it doesn’t come as a surprise that Coby Sey is an artist who’s aware of the power of reflective listening.
Listen to “Conduit” on Bandcamp:
“When I’m in the studio, it changes all the time in terms of what I begin with. Sometimes it could be me just recording some drums or creating a beat on the computer or something. Or playing some riffs on the keys or on the bass. But I think it really begins when I start to listen back to what I’ve made and reflect on it,” he explains and continues:
“Then an idea could come instantly, or it could take however long it takes. Whether it’s three days, two weeks, or maybe even more. But for me, it’s so important to keep listening back because I think another idea could come to help elevate it or take it to another place.”
Coby Sey – Night Ride
Even though “Conduit” is Coby Sey’s first solo LP, he has been a diligent collaborator through the years, working with artists such as Tirzah, Mica Levi, and London Contemporary Orchestra.
For me, talking to him about those collaborations reveals a special branch of the English music scene that has a special kind of shared sensitivity and where there’s a highly creative exchange of ideas taking place – even though the genres of those artists vary a lot.
So I ask Coby how he would characterize that musical movement.
“There definitely is a community or a scene, and that’s been going for a while. In terms of what to call it, I don’t know. I’ve heard various names, but I like that it’s kind of difficult to define or to name because I think it provides room to foster up new ideas and not feel that we have to stick to something that has been placed beforehand,” he answers and continues:
“I like the fluidity of it, and I think in that way, it gives license to explore different sides of how we want to communicate and how we want to express ourselves through music. And maybe not even just through music, but through other mediums as well.”
There’re also several guest musicians on “Conduit”, but most of it is performed by Coby himself, and the album is mainly made shifting between a regular studio and a smaller one in his bedroom.
And a little production detail I find quite interesting is how Coby often carried a handheld Zoom Recorder with him during the process, recording stuff around him, and that some of those field recordings – in processed form – found their way into the album.
Coby explains how the creative process behind the album was kickstarted by the track “Response”:
”The track ’Response’ actually came from a live jam that myself, Ben Vince, CJ Calderwood, and Biu Rainey did in 2017. And once I listened back to ‘Response’, it occurred to me that we captured something really special, and I thought it would be good to see if this particular live song could be a catalyst for other songs. As a result of ‘Response’, the opening track, ‘Etym’, was made,” he says.
Coby Sey – Response
From there, the album just kept evolving.
“As hard as it was for everyone regarding COVID and lockdown, I definitely made sure to use that time to catch up on working on this album because it’s something that I’d wanted to complete for a while,” he says and continues:
“Initially, there were going to be much less tracks on there, but I felt I had more to say, so I made sure to complete more tracks, and also stuff that rose up as a result of COVID made sense to speak about in relation to the overall feel and topics that I wanted to cover.”
Coby describes how it’s important for him to have space for people to insert themselves as well as having space for himself to speak clearly from his own perspective. As he puts it:
“It was important for me to have a nice balance of speaking out about subjects that are clear cut as well as subjects, or actually non-subjects, which could be interpreted in various ways so that people can bring their own experiences in as well.”
He uses two tracks as examples:
“I think the songs that are probably the most clear cut in terms of topic on ‘Conduit’ are ‘Permeated Secrets’ and I guess to a lesser extent ‘Onus’.”
He mentions “Permeated Secrets” as a track where a topic is discussed without any sort of poetics. Especially in the second verse, where the word “pandemic” is mentioned:
“I think that’s very denotative. There’re no sort of metaphors. The first verse is poetic, and it’s not necessarily speaking about a certain subject that’s from a particular point in time, whereas the second verse specifically addresses that.”
Excerpt from the lyrics to “Permeated Secrets”: Now I’m getting reposts (I’ve gotta permeate) / And quotes from others and recommendations / To everything, like signs or symptoms / To even feelings of many distinctions / Yes, I’m aware of this pandemic, moment’s a given / Not just on anyone’s own yet, why / Should we submit to a faceless body whose lack of trust is ageless?
“It was my way of voicing my frustration. I don’t know if this is the case overseas, but within the UK, there’re loads of protests going on for various reasons. And as a result of the protests happening during the pandemic, the UK government have been ushering new laws to attempt to make protesting illegal, using the pandemic as an excuse for that. So that second verse on ‘Permeated Secrets’ was my way of voicing my frustration with that,” he says.
Coby Sey – Permeated Secrets
“With ’Onus’, I was thinking a lot about the mayoral elections in London, and I started to relate that to other things that have affected the UK in large as a result of government policy in the past 12 or 13 years. Even more, really. And for me, it was a meditation on the importance of people finding support and finding a way to support each other, regardless of the situation, and realizing that there can be common ground somewhere within these differences. Yeah, so I guess it’s almost like the day to the night on ‘Permeated Secrets’,” he explains.
Coby Sey – Onus
At Northern Winter Beat, Coby Sey will be joined on stage by Alpha Maid, MettaShiba, and Ben Vince, plus Charlie Hope on stage design. They will be playing music from “Conduit”, as well as music from previous releases and also unreleased material.
“The band consists of people who I’ve known for years and have worked with in some way or another before. It’s not just a replication or a remaking of the music that exists in studio or in recorded format. It’s us giving it new leases of life so that it can exist in different ways in response to the environment that we play in, and the town, and the area that we play in. It’s definitely my way and our way as a band of not only interparent ‘Conduit’ but also giving it different lives so that it can live in different ways,” he says.
During their live show, there’s a lot of improvisation taking place – sometimes even 50% of the time – but they also like to play versions of recorded songs in an improvised manner:
“This time around, I thought it would be good to try to sway the pendulum so that there’s still a sizeable amount of room for improvisation, but having songs to help anchor the improvisational bits. I’m definitely more in a mindset where I’d like to have songs that have a specific structure so that, when the improvisation comes in, it’s more impactful, if that makes sense.”
Coby Sey – Etym
“We want to be as mercurial as possible so that the music can take different forms, and we see where it goes from there, yeah. It could be completely different within the next month or so. Or maybe within the next year. It’s almost like we’re having conversations with ourselves. That’s at least what I’m attempting to do with this run of shows,” he says.
I ask him how he would describe the sensitivity he shares with the musicians in his live band.
“It’s partly intuition, and it’s also partly familiarity with the musicians that I’m performing with. I think knowing the songs well enough and knowing what they mean to me helps me to remind myself why I’m performing these songs and how they could exist in different ways. With the intuition thing, of course, there’re loads of rehearsals, but it’s also just from having conversations. Like it’s not just spending time rehearsing. Even though I love rehearsing a lot. It’s one of my favorite processes when it comes to playing live. It’s also us engaging in communication so that when we’re doing it in front of people, we’re continuing that communication. It’s just that we’re doing it on stage,” he answers and continues:
“And it’s always open to change. I’m really a believer in that. I think it’s important to keep ourselves on our toes and not always stick to a prescription or a rule book or an orthodox, so to speak.”
Experience Coby Sey at Northern Winter Beat 2023 January 28th at Studenterhuset.
Interview with Iztok Koren from Širom.
by Mikkel Brandt
“We call it ‘imaginary folk’, so it’s a kind of folk music, but it’s not traditional. It’s our own music, and it’s not similar to Slovenian folklore music. It’s more imaginary, in a way. Maybe somewhere, in some parallel universe, this could be considered as folk music. That’s the idea.”
This is how Iztok Koren describes Širom’s music. The Slovenian trio, which he’s one-third of, also consists of Samo Kutin and Ana Kravanja. All three are multi-instrumentalists, and some of the instruments Iztok plays in the band include banjo, percussion, steel drum, tubular bells, and balafon. The latter is a kind of wood xylophone with its origin in West Africa.
“Our style of music wasn’t decided rationally. When the three of us started playing together, we played acoustic drone music, without rhythm and melodies, and from there, we started to experiment and see what else we could do together, and then this style emerged. So there was this organic development of the music,” Iztok explains.
Širom: Grazes, Wrinkles, Drifts into Sleep
The members of the trio have quite different musical backgrounds – spanning from industrial, noise, and post-rock to folk and free, improvisational music.
“We were all part of this DIY scene, putting up shows and festivals. We come from different parts of Slovenia, so we were all active in our local scenes for many years. As organizers, bookers, and so on. So we have known each other for a long time from the music scene because we organized concerts for each other. But then, seven years ago, we went on a tour together. We were all in different bands, but then this idea of doing something together came up,” he says.
Iztok Koren – Evforija konca ◎ MENT Session
“It was clear to us that we didn’t want to play traditional music or some kind of fixed style of music. We were very open to experimentation, and the only rule was only to play acoustic instruments. And we still do that, even though we have had some collaborations with different artists, where we have included electronics, but in Širom, we only play acoustic instruments,” Iztok points out and continues:
”When we create music, we improvise a lot. So we have these long jam sessions which we record, and then we analyze them and try to put together parts that we like. And since all three of us have to be satisfied with the result, it’s a long process where we try out different combinations of instruments and try out the ideas in different contexts to find this common result that we all like. So it’s a product of all three of us. So maybe that’s also why the results can be so colorful.”
As mentioned earlier, Širom is a band that uses a variety of instruments to create their unique sound world. Here it’s not rare that the sound of homemade instruments gets mixed with traditional instruments, played in nontraditional ways.
“Samo Kutin, for example, when he plays the hurdy-gurdy… You can call it a medieval synthesizer,” Iztok laughs and continues:
“Then he experiments a lot. He plays it in non-ordinary ways. He uses spring reverb to change the sound and plays it in ways it’s not meant to be played. He also uses a lot of everyday objects. Like cooking pans and duct tape. A lot of things that make sounds. He also plays some percussion and string instruments. Tamburica, for example. A lot of stuff.”
Iztok also depicts some of the musical roles Ana Kravanja plays:
“She plays violin, viola, and ribab, which is a Moroccan string instrument. She also sings. There’re no lyrics in our music, but she uses the voice as an instrument. I think all together we play around 20, or 25, instruments.”
When Širom plays live, there’s a lot of room for improvisation, which affects their compositions over time.
“On our records, everything is played live, without overdubbing, without cutting. The compositions are captured in the moment, and then they go their own way,” Iztok says.
“When we finish a song, the structure is fixed in a way. We know which combination of instruments we will be playing, or some melodies are perhaps always the same. But then there’re a lot of parts where we know that we can be improvising and be more free. So every song evolves when we play it live,” he says and continues:
“This is the ‘folk part’ of the music. That it’s alive. Music should be alive and not something from a museum. The songs should always be evolving.”
Širom | A Take Away Show in Slovenia
Because of this free and sometimes hypnotic nature of Širom’s compositions, I ask Iztok if they experience trance on stage themselves.
“Yeah, it’s pretty trancy, and yeah, we fall in a trance a lot of the times, of course. Especially when we play this new material, which is more repetitive, and yeah, it’s really fun to play. Especially when we get this feeling of riding the wave. That we’re all together,” he answers.
Iztok also describes Širom’s concerts as a kind of choreography with a lot of instrument changes.
“It’s really fun to play, and we feel relaxed. Of course, there can be mistakes when it’s live music. But we incorporate those in the musical story in the moment. I like these ‘mistakes’, which are not mistakes. It’s just what happens in that moment. For me, playing live is not about perfection. It’s about this common feeling that we’re in this together,” he says and tells me how people’s reactions to their live shows vary quite a lot:
“The audience has very different experiences. Some have very emotional responses, and some get memories from the past. Or visions. A lot of people talk about the stories they experience. Like travelling. Like a saga or something. And these different feelings also reflect the three of us in a way.”
Širom – A Bluish Flickering (live @leguesswhofestival 2022
“The three of us all have different things we search for in our music, and we have different inspirations. For Samo and Ana, nature is a big inspiration, as well as the whole experimentation with instruments and how to play them in different ways. And they’re more visual thinking in a way, whereas I find myself searching for the more emotional aspects. These everyday emotions. Fear, anger, shame, guilt, or even childhood memories. Feelings and experiences from the past that you relive through the music,” Iztok says and continues:
“We also like to use the music as a kind of medium. As a language for body sensations that are hard to describe otherwise. Or feelings that words can’t describe. Music might give access to these feelings. We try to go with the feelings. You can talk about it to a certain degree, and then you can’t explain anymore.”
Experience Širom at Northern Winter Beat 2023 January 28th at Huset in Hasserisgade.
Interview with singer and songwriter Ninna Lundberg.
by Mikkel Brandt
In September 2022, Ninna Lundberg released “Two Two of You” – the first full-length release in her own name. An album where Ninna’s voice and a variety of acoustic instruments dance beautifully with sonic experiments, found recordings, and electronic atmospheres – all taking place in a poetic, melodic landscape.
”I’m actually very fascinated by folk songs (Danish: ‘viser’). It’s something I’ve been into quite a lot. My grandfather also wrote folk songs and poems. So I brought this with me, and we’ve always been singing a lot in my family. Songs from ’Højskolesangbogen’ and ’De Små Synger’,” Ninna recalls.
“And they’re still some of the songs that touch me the most. ‘Solen er så rød, mor’ and ’Det var en lørdag aften’. They’re such strong songs! So I’m really fond of songs that function just with melody and lyrics and which can be sung without instruments and still touch you. I strive for that in my own writing too.”
Since 2018 Ninna has been part of the Danish art pop outfit Ganger, but in contrast to Ganger’s collective energy and occasionally grand productions, the sound of “Two Two of You” is more organic, minimal, and raw.
Ninna Lundberg – Something in the Soil – Live session
“During the three years I spent writing these songs, I went through a quite big personal transition. I had just started at the rhythmic music conservatory, where I suddenly had a lot of time to work on my music but also to work on myself. I had also just joined Ganger, which drove off at 1000 kilometers an hour, and I went from rarely having played live to suddenly playing on TV and things like that. A lot of things happened, and looking back now, I see that the album is also about old patterns and ideas that are slowly being broken down, creating space for new things. So ‘Two Two of You’ is also about showing care for the old and new sides of myself. There’s a lot of wonder, thoughtfulness and hindsight on the album.”
Ganger – Styrke
”I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I ended up doing a solo project with a sound that minimalistic, dense, and fragile. I think it’s a reaction to being a member of Ganger, where so many things are happening. We’re a lot of people, there’re a lot of voices, and there’s so much of everything in a fantastic way. There’s so much energy, so it came natural to me that I wanted to explore other sides of myself,” Ninna explains.
”And I see both sides as parts of me. I think it’s about going all the way, which I think Ganger does, and I try to do in my solo work as well. I see something very powerful in that. It can be expressed as a song with only vocals and piano, or it can be giant choirs and wild hip-hop beats and arpeggiators all over. I think it’s part of the same thing in a way.”
Ninna describes how the songs on “Two Two of You” often started as memos on her iPhone. Often just with vocals and piano. Afterwards, she did a lot of the production herself and brought in different musicians to give their take on the songs, which gave new energy to the whole studio process.
Ninna explains, with the song “24 frames” in mind:
“I think that this was the first time during the process that I had musicians improvise over my productions. I invited the Icelandic double bassist Borgar Magnason, who I really like, and had him go crazy and just improvise. There’s also a thick layer of strings and some field recordings in there, which I made on a walk with my conservatory class. So it’s also about using elements that are out of my control to evoke something in me, which can take the composition even further and develop it.”
Ninna Lundberg – 24 frames
Later in the process, Simon Mariegaard (Kogekunst, Heathe) was brought in. Initially for mixing, but the two quickly found out that they wanted to revisit the arrangements and work even more on the songs.
”Simon is just so great, especially when it comes to organic elements. He has a very experimenting approach to music production and recording and a fantastic, creative brain. And he came up with a lot of great ideas. So we went right into the songs again and reworked them. It was just great and added energy. When you have had the songs around for four years, you have heard them a lot of times! So it gave the exactly right renewed energy,” Ninna explains.
”At the concert, Simon is actually going to play with us, down from the mixing board,” Ninna says and explains how Simon will add effects, synth, and sound recordings during their performances.
“We have some parts in the set which are relatively improvised, and where there’s room for us to create in the moment and influence each other on stage. Simon can also help with that from the mixing board. It’s really fun!”
Alongside Ninna and Simon, the live setup consists of Viktor Thomsen (saxophone), Thorbjørn Kaas (double bass and violin), and Mille Mejer Djernæs Christensen (piano and choir).
Ninna Lundberg – Tilting
”When I perform live, I like to experiment with the fixed form, the fixed composition. Break it down and bring it back. To fly a little once in a while and then come back again. We have parts that are quite controlled, and then there’re parts where we have a common agreement that we can play together, feeling each other. I really like that kind of energy.”
Experience Ninna Lundberg at Northern Winter Beat 2023 January 28th at Utzon Center.
Once again, Budolfi Cathedral will provide the setting for a very special performance at Northern Winter Beat. This time Maria W Horn will bring Mats Erlandsson, and together they will present an array of pieces for four-handed organ and electronics.
by Mikkel Brandt
Take a listen to Maria W Horn’s latest record, and read our e-mail interview with her below.
(Maria W Horn – Epistasis: https://mariawhorn.bandcamp.com/album/epistasis)
How will you describe your musical universe and artistry?
“My compositions use minimalist structures to explore the inherent spectral properties of sound. As my background is in electroacoustic composition I often utilize analog synthetic sound or acoustic instruments paired with digital synthesis and processing techniques to achieve the results I’m looking for.”
When did you start making music?
“I started playing electric bass in punk and folk bands in my hometown. The feeling of playing in a band as a teen, that direct sincerity is something that I am probably trying to recreate in all of my projects, the dead-serious and naive ‘us against the world’s mentality, which was probably further enhanced by growing up in such a small town where even a small deviation from the norm would get you labeled as an outcast.
I signed up for an evening class in electroacoustic music composition at a local education center in my hometown Härnösand, I think I was 16 at the time, and electroacoustic music completely changed my musical thinking and opened up new realms for me in terms of how music could be made and how it could sound.
This path eventually led me to Stockholm to continue my studies at the Royal College of Music. During my time there I gravitated towards exploring harmonic and timbral aspects of slowly evolving music.“
Which compositional tools do you use?
“One of my main tools is the musical programming language SuperCollider, a compositional environment that provides precise control of timbre, tuning and texture. I am interested in designing my own systems for synthesis and processing from scratch, as it makes the feedback mechanism between myself and the resulting sound more intimate.
This is an ongoing practice that will never be finished, but I am trying to increase my understanding of how sound is generated in the digital domain, which in the long run makes it easier for me to create more personal sound worlds.“
How do you use algorithms in your work?
“In my work I often aim for the music to evoke a certain state of mind or to behave in a specific way. I write the code instructions with a certain idea in mind, execute the code and listen to the resulting sound, then adjust the code gradually to shape the resulting sound in accordance to my original idea.
So, this means there is a pendulum movement between listening to the sound output and changing the instructions of the algorithms that generate the sound. Since I use a lot of indeterminacy in my work the output from the code will never be exactly the same, and this in turn gives each piece the potential of endless variation.
Since I started using algorithmic processes my focus on the inherent spectral properties of sounds increased, along with a less linear conception of musical time.”
Which pieces will be presented at your concert at NWB?
“In this performance me and Mats Erlandsson will present an array of pieces using amplified and electronically treated organ in combination with fixed synthetically generated sound. In this way we aim to create a kind of hybrid instrument where the timbre of the organ and the acoustic properties of the room is spectrally enhanced and transformed, yet still anchored in the harmonic language associated with the body of music traditionally performed on the organ.“
Maria W Horn – Konvektion
The performance includes a live presentation of the piece “Konvektion”. What were the main influences for that piece?
“The name Konvektion refers to molecules in movement or streams of air in a room. As the organ is a wind instrument this means that the massive streams of air vibrated by the pipes move through the room. By analogy this is matched by the duration of each chord in the piece being decided by the breathing tempo of each of the two organists required to play the piece. By counting their breathing as a way to determine the length of each chord, I wanted to connect the idea of external airstreams in a room with the internal airstreams moving through the lungs of the performers.
The harmonic structure of the piece is inspired by Arvo Pärt’s Tintinnabuli technique, where step-by-step diatonic movement interplay with triads to form a complex harmonic function still rooted in tonality. Simultaneously an electronic part composed of interference tones creates high and low register beating patterns and pulsations working as a sort of acoustic vertical frame to the organ sound itself.”
Arvo Pärt – Da Pacem
Can you describe the instrumentation and setup for the concert at NWB?
“In this setup I am processing the sounds of the organ using a feedback instrument built within the SuperCollider framework. In this way I can control several layers of sound, their pitch and amount of amplification and feedback. I think it is interesting to use controlled feedback in this way as it works as a kind of double exposure – harmonic resonances being superimposed on the space that formed them, resulting in an enhancement of the acoustic properties of the room.”
Can you tell us a bit about your collaboration with Mats Erlandsson? When did you start working together?
“We have been a couple since several years back and started collaborating on music in 2016 when we traveled to the Terres de L’Ebre region of Catalonia for a two-week residency where we decided to make a musical work based entirely on field recorded material from the region.
This was followed by a trip to Vardø, a municipality in Finnmark county in the extreme northeastern part of Norway, close to the Russian border. At the moment we are working with the recordings that we did in Vardø as a part of a commissioned work for the GRM that will be premiering in April 2022.
Our collaboration is shaped by the idea to work with what we have in our immediate surroundings, something that comes naturally at a residency or when working with specific places, landscapes, rooms. There’s a beauty in working with what you got at hand, rather than trying to construct the perfect setting, as these natural constraints can bring fourth interesting approaches and new ways of working – something that is especially useful in collaborations.”
(Maria W Horn & Mats Erlandsson – Stigsjö Kyrka: https://mariawhorn.bandcamp.com/album/stigsj-kyrka-organ-rehearsal-tape)
How will you describe him as a musician?
“As a musician Mats is very precise and knowledgeable, with a great sensibility for details.
In his own music he knows what he wants and rarely sees any reason for compromise. At home he plays the guitar non stop, his virtuosity on that instrument is a bit of a hidden skill that I think influences his approach to synthesized sound a lot.
Thus far the repertoire of the organ shows have consisted of my compositions, but he always comes with great input in terms of arrangement and registration. I consider it a very intimate act to perform these four-handed pieces, it would not work with just anyone, so I am very glad to have him by my side.”
(Mats Erlandsson – Minnesmärke: https://matserlandsson.bandcamp.com/album/minnesm-rke)
What are your individual roles during the concert?
“I am running all of the electronics and processing as well as playing the high register parts of the score and Mats plays the low register and most of the pedals.
Depending on the physical layout of the organ we either handle our register changes individually or help each other out to make each change in time. Neither of us has any formal training as organists although we both have a basic familiarity with keyboard based instruments from studying composition and a bit of piano. One of the premises for me to approach the organ was to base the work on my experience of working with sound synthesis and sound spatialization.”
How are you preparing for the concert?
“Preceding the performance we will have to tune the electronics to be in tune with the organ. This can be a tricky procedure depending on the room, as the pitch of the organ changes with the temperature. When we first get access to the performance space we mainly focus on two tasks – finding appropriate microphone placement to achieve an intimate amplification of the natural organ sound from an audience perspective at the correct volume without feedback, and figuring out the registration i.e. which combination of the pipe organ stops to use for each part of the performance. Due to the size and acoustic properties of the instruments themselves these tasks tend to affect each other to a large extent, which means the whole process requires a bit of time and patience to get right.”
Will there be any improvisation, and what is your approach to that?
“In most of the pieces the notation is kind of strict and does not involve improvisation in terms of what note is played and when, although there is one passage in the performance which contains room for improvisation within certain constraints. Since the performance already has so many variables that need to align in order for this setup to work, I did not feel like adding more. However, when it comes to the registration of each piece there is room to make some decisions on the fly.”
The concert will take place at Budolfi Cathedral. Do you have any specific sonic considerations about that, and how do you think the church room will influence the music?
“I am interested in using the sonic characteristics of a specific room as a starting point in composing music. I have used this approach for several pieces in the past, including an empty machine hall and a closed cell prison, and it’s always a bit of an archaeological excavation or acoustic sociological study. In this sense a space always carries with it an imprint of its history and if you just listen carefully you will hear it.
The pieces that we will perform at Budolfi Cathedral have been assembled in order to enhance the listening and bring forth the acoustic specificities of the organs and the acoustic environments they inhabit, while still being adaptable enough to function well in rooms with different acoustic properties.”
What is your relationship to church rooms? Both personal and as a musical space.
“Due to things that happened in my early upbringing Christian motifs and spaces are charged with a lot of emotion and ambivalence. As a child I spent a lot of time in Stigsjö Kyrka, the church located in the area where I grew up, and I have always been in awe about the glory that these rooms inhabit, the acoustics that imbue everything with a soft-spoken splendour.
Experience Maria W Horn at Northern Winter Beat 2023 January at Budolfi Cathedral.
Meet Sturle and Sjur Dagsland. Starting out as a solo project, the music of Sturle Dagsland has evolved into a collaborative journey on which Sturle and his brother Sjur both bring their creative forces into play. On January 29, they’ll bring their mind-bending musical outfit to Northern Winter Beat 2022.
by Mikkel Brandt
“We’re sort of both an artist, and a band, and a duo. So it’s a little bit of everything, I think,” Sturle Dagsland explains.
The two brothers, who are living in the city of Stavanger (Norway), are with me on a Zoom connection from their studio for a chat about their musical universe prior to their gig at NWB 2022.
“It’s not something we think about, but I think it just started with me making the music, so we just started to use my name. But then, after a while, it got more and more intertwined, so it became sort of a collaborative project altogether.”
Warp Magazine has categorized Sturle Dagsland as “one of the most interesting artists in the experimental music industry. A dream explorer who balance between avant-garde pop, psychedelia and electronic landscapes.”
Earlier this year, they released their self-titled debut album, and except for the fact that Sturle is doing all the singing (we’ll return to that later) and Sjur is doing the final mix, both of them are taking on very flexible creative roles in the making of their music.
“The process of what we do, and how we do it, can be quite fluid. And it’s different for each song, I think,” Sturle says and continues: “Sometimes there can be an overarching idea, of what you want to do, and how you want to do it, but at the same time, we’re always open to see where the idea goes, and if it goes in a different direction, then you have to follow that, and you have to see, where it takes you.”
Link to music.
The brothers describe how they see their creative process as a kind of adventure, where they’re constantly exploring different sounds and instruments:
“We’re always on the hunt for new sounds, both electric sounds and beats, but also acoustic instruments, that we find on flea markets and eBay. We’re constantly looking for new ways to explore to keep it fresh for ourselves and for the music,” Sturle tells me.
They show me a few examples from their instrument bank – including cow and goat horns (used as wind instruments), as well as different kinds of flutes, and a kora (a string instrument, which has its origin in West Africa). And for every listen, there should also be a good chance for your ears to catch something new, as their productions are often jam-packed with all sorts of sonic layers and textures, all frankensteined into soundscapes, which to me are both haunting, fascinating, and extremely beautiful.
“We try to have a lot of different feelings and emotions in the music. So it can go from a really emotional, sad affair into something funny, and then on to something else, maybe aggressive or frustrating. Just like life, you know. Or at least how I experience it,” Sturle says and describes how they put all sorts of different sounds into the mix:
“We listen to the song and ask, ‘ok, what’s good here?’ Maybe we need a lion, or maybe we need the sound of a whip, or a gun, or something. So, you know, whatever we find.”
Sjur: “Yeah, I think the lion was from the Berlin Zoo…”
When it comes to Sturle’s vocals, it’s, just like the rest of their musical language, not just a one-sided affair:
“I’m mostly just self-taught. So it’s mainly about always exploring the voice and its different capabilities and always trying to go forward and learn new things.”
Sturle exemplifies how he uses numerous different vocal techniques:
“I use throat singing. It’s not my main thing, but I use it in the sound. I also go into metal and hardcore territory, as well as singing a lot of high-pitched vocals and melodies that are more traditionally beautiful in a way. I also use some stuff that sounds like rapping. I just try to explore the voice, and find what’s real to me and explore that in new ways.”
He demonstrates the different sounds and tells me how he also uses joiking, which originates from the Sámi tradition, and even techniques from opera:
“Every time I went home from school, I used to sing opera, and everybody would close their windows.”
Sturle Dagsland – Live concert, 2021
When talking about performing, Sturle describes it as “the place I feel the freest.” And even from a young age, he has entered the stage in a quite spectacular manner:
“One of the first performances I ever did, was when I was 9 years old. It was in a talent competition, where I was dancing and singing to Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ while simulating sex with a hand doll I had made. I was supposed to perform with a friend playing Ken, but he cancelled the day before,” Sturle recalls.
“I was wearing a mini skirt and my mom’s bra filled with candy, and at the end of the performance, I threw all my candy out to the audience and told them that I was my silicone. But yeah, I won the competition and was booked to do the same thing in a church.”
In fact, Aqua’s “Aquarium” was the first album, Sturle ever got.
Sjur: “I think it’s the album you have listened to the most.”
Sturle: “Yeah, and I remember at one point you tore the album in two because you were so tired of it.”
Sjur: “Yeah… I was more into René’s solos stuff,” he laughs.
When one has listened to the music of Sturle Dagsland, it’s not surprising to hear that Sturle and Sjur draw on a wide range of influences and inspirations, which they channel into their music.
Sturle: “Inspiration for me is so fluid. It can come from anywhere, I think. It’s not just music. We also love different kinds of music from all over the world, and I think our music reflects that as well. That we like a lot of different things from a lot of different cultures, both modern, more like pop music, but also folk music, rap, experimental music, sprechgesang. Whatever crosses our paths.”
For him, inspiration can come from anywhere – from music, films, experiences, nature, or places – or just meeting a cat on the street and following it around, which actually was the inspirational starting point for the song “Hulter Smulter”.
Since they started touring together about eight years ago, they have used their travels as an opportunity to record in all kinds of different places: They have found sounds on an old Soviet oceanographic ship, made field recordings of birds, and they have used the reverb from an old water reservoir in Berlin, as well as singing with dogs in Greenland:
“In Greenland, we recorded with a pack of husky-dogs. So Sjur set up a lot of different microphones in the middle of this sledge dog village, and I was singing with the dogs, and after a while, they started to respond to me. So, when I stopped singing, suddenly they stopped singing. The complete silence of 150 husky dogs. And I started again, doing more like throat singing, and more like really high-pitched vocals, and then they started to respond to that, and I sort of became the alpha in the pack, in a way.”
A snippet from that session can be found on their track “Noaidi”, but they say that it might also end up playing a more dominant role on one of the songs on the next album, which they hope to finish next year and release in 2023.
Sjur: “My own dog responded well to the song.”
When touring, they have received a very wide range of reactions to their live performances.
“People can have really strong reactions to the music. In both positive and negative ways, you know. Some can get really provoked and angry from our performances. I’ve been spit in the face after a show as well… But yeah, he had a swastika on his forehead, so I guess he had lots of problems in general. But usually, we get positive reactions of people getting really emotional during the show,” Sturle says and describes how there are elements in the music that seems to resonate deeply with audiences from different cultures:
“In Greenland, they also have traditions with throat singing, so we have got some strong reactions there, and also when we are in China and Japan, people who are in touch with older folk music there seem to feel the music a bit more primal in their bodies in a way,” Sturle says and continues:
“We have Sámi ancestry in our family as well, and I use joiking in the music, which comes from that tradition. When we perform for Sámi people, they sometimes come up to me afterwards, and even though I don’t have the same connection with the culture, as they do, some say, ‘I know you are a Sámi,’ because they can feel it in the music.”
Sturle remembers another episode in which an older shamanic woman came up to him after a show in Russia and started making sounds like a bird because she was so much into the music and perceived him as a kind of shaman as well:
“So I started to communicate with her in my own way, and we had like a good conversation and sort of connection there.”
But the spiritual effects can come in many ways.
“We played at a festival in Latvia, and there was this guy who had driven from Germany to see us. And he came to us, and said, that when we played Fusion Festival in Germany, we had completely changed his life,” Sturle recalls and describes how the guy was wearing his trousers on his head, like a turban:
“But besides that, he was completely naked, and he said, ‘and look at me now! You did this! This is your doing! I’m free… At last.”
Sturle’s reply: “Oh. Good.”
Experience Sturle Dagsland at Northern Winter Beat 2022 January 29 at 1000Fryd.
Her musical journey is for sure an adventurous one, and on the way, she has created a musical universe with plenty of space for Estonian folk melodies, epic electronic soundscapes and mythical storytelling. Meet Maarja Nuut in the third issue of NWR.
by Mikkel Brandt
”I started to play the violin when I was seven years old. A few years before, I had already composed my first piece on the piano… For my rabbit.”
Maarja Nuut’s music doesn’t let itself define easily.
Drawing on inspiration from Estonian folk music she’s not afraid to bring its melodies and playing style into contexts which it has never been put in before. Both as a solo artist and during her continuous collaboration with the experimental electronic musician Ruum.
“What I do musically, is constantly changing and evolving. I do a lot of very different things at the same time.”
At this year’s Northern Winter Beat she will perform a solo set, in which her beautiful and transcendental compositions are brought to life by voice and violin together with various electronics.
“With traditional music, we tend to think of it as something very holy, you know. That we need to keep it in a certain way. But I was more interested in finding out how this language works and how to reach an intuitive way of using it.”
Maarja Nuut has a background as a classical violinist, and even though she grew up in Estonia, it was not until her early 20s she started to give her own take on her home country’s traditional music.
She describes how she after a period of studying Indian music in New Delhi came back with fresh ears. And when she was introduced to archival recordings of Estonian folk musicians, playing traditional village music, she was instantly hooked.
“The sound world, that I discovered there, was really psychedelic and mysterious. In some ways, it can be compared to Indian music. It’s a musical language filled with rules, grammar, semantics, and so on. And maybe because I had been to India, my ears were so open to microtonality and all the small details. So I think, I had a different view.”
This music had a huge impact on her. And even though the old recordings are nowhere near hi-fi and often are quite short (because the sound collectors didn’t want to waste too much recording wax), she was very fascinated by what she heard.
“I was interested in why it was sounding so captivating and so interesting, because this old music is rather minimal, and there’s a lot of repetition. But then at the same time, it’s constantly changing in details. It’s constantly evolving. So it’s, in a way, a kind of transcendental music.”
“It’s so full of details, I would say. Different players have their own style, their own character. You can really hear, especially with string instruments or with vocal, how much they play with their own voice. That they want to tell something.”
This musical discovery was followed by an intense period of studying the recordings closely.
“I knew, I could mime the recordings. And just always play exactly the same. But then it’s not living music. It’s sort of dead. It’s just copying someone’s moment from 100 years ago. But if you learn all the basic things, and if you’re lucky, you might one day be able to talk in your own way.”
“It took some time to get to the moment, where I got the satisfaction, that okay, I can now play all those little ornaments and thrills, the way I hear them, and then I asked yourself where to go next. Because I couldn’t just stay here playing exactly those twenty seconds the same way.”
Since then Maarja Nuut has taken the style to new places in her own compositions, and she has – among many other things – brought modular synth sounds, field recordings, and hypnotic vocal looping into the mix.
At the end of the interview, Maarja Nuut presented two of the songs, we can experience as part of her performance at Northern Winter Beat.
The first one is called “Haned kadunud” (meaning “Lost geese”). A rather macabre story originally passed on as a folk song.
“There are different versions of this story, and it’s very mysterious, in some ways. It’s about this young woman, who’s keeping some birds. Geese. But then a big wind comes and takes the birds away. So she goes home and asks her mother to bake some bread and make her hair nice, so she can go and look for the birds. But then, while she’s on her way, she meets all sorts of different creatures and people, hidden behind ordinary names. And in the end, she’s led to an old country house, and there’s a big party. There are food and drinks, and she’s asked to sit behind the table. And when she sits there, she realises that everything around her, the furniture, the drinks, the food, are all made from her own birds and that she’s actually ended up in the underworld.”
“Haned kadunud” / “Lost geese” (lyric excerpt):
“A seat of goose bones is brought to me
I am given goose meat to eat
I am given goose blood to drink”
“There are different interpretations, and if you read the story, it sounds like an average story. So what’s so interesting about those songs and stories is that you really need to know some context, and there are so many layers. Because those songs have been passed on for hundreds, hundreds, hundreds of years. So you read a simple story, but there’s actually something a very deep layer underneath it. And we don’t really know, what’s the moral of the story. Everyone can think of their own. Sometimes there’s no moral. Sometimes things just go bad and that’s it.”
Maarja Nuut & Ruum – Haned kadunud
Another song, Maarja presents, is “Kurb laulik” (meaning “Sad singer”).
“Kurb laulik” / “Sad singer”:
”He who hears me sing
Will think all is well
He will believe that my days are filled with joy
I sing through my sorrows
I sing through my mourning heart
Tears stream from my eyes to my chest
From my chest to my heart
From my heart to my knees
From my knees to my feet
From my feet to my toes
From my toes, they flow to the ground
Then the village herd will get to drink
The parish foals will get to drink
The manor horses will get to drink”
Maarja Nuut & Ruum – Kurb laulik- live session
Maarja Nuut is playing at Northern Winter Beat 2020 January 31st at Huset in Hasserisgade.
With trance as a keystone, Jozef van Wissem is on an ongoing mission to prevent the lute from certain death. At Northern Winter Beat he will open the festival with a special concert in Budolfi Cathedral. We talked with him prior to his performance.
by Mikkel Brandt
“I wanted to take the lute out of the museum and bring it to the people.”
When Jozef van Wissem first picked up the lute, it didn’t seem like the average choice for a young punk musician. But Mr. van Wissem isn’t quite an average musician either.
”I got interested in lute music when I was about 14 years old because my guitar teacher gave me lute music to play on classical guitar.”
Now, four decades later, he surely has taken the lute to places it had never been before, and on the way he has made its tones flow into computer game music, dance shows and soundtracks – including Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” from 2013.
All this wasn’t in the cards when he gave up the electric guitar in favour of studying this ancient string instrument.
“Back then lute was not hip or whatever, and in a broad opinion, it sort of had this ridiculous Robin Hood image made by Hollywood. Back then, you were the village fool.”
From the beginning, Jozef knew that he didn’t just want to maintain some preconceived legacy. So instead of sticking to the classical repertoire, he wanted to give it his own take.
“I wasn’t interested in interpreting the pieces in a purely historical way. So what I did was this very dada thing, where I wrote renaissance pieces out backwards. So that became my first compositions. They were called ‘Retrograde’, and they were basically just backwards versions of renaissance pieces. Everybody thought that was nuts.”
He explains that he still uses this mirror image technique. For example by reversing small baroque melodies and incorporate them into his compositions.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Jozef ran a music bar in the Netherlands but says that he got sick of that life and moved to New York to start afresh.
“I lived like a monk after that because I needed to be alone and sort of reinventing myself,” as he puts it.
Through an ad in the alternative New York paper “The Village Voice”, he got in touch with lute player – and also ex-guitarist – Patrick O’Brien, who’d been a former student of blues musician Blind Gary Davis.
“He was such a personality. And one of the first things he told me was that if I wanted to make a living out of playing the lute, I had to write my own pieces. That opened it up for me.”
This advice stood in sharp contrast to the strict approach he had met from his former teachers, where experimentation and improvisation were not well regarded.
“In the early 90’s I was very influenced by transcendental and experimental music. I was, for example, listening to Coil a lot. That influenced me more than anything.”
Soon Jozef van Wissem will be back with a new album named ”Ex Mortis”.
Those two words (meaning “from death”) are inscribed on the neck of his lute and refer to the renaissance of the Baroque Lute during the 1920s – led by the German Wandervogel movement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wandervogel). A back-to-nature youth community who protested against industrialization by embracing activities such as countryside hiking and communing with nature in general.
Before that, the lute had almost disappeared for 200 years.
“I have a theory that it disappeared because it became too complicated. The makers were building bigger lutes with more strings and experimented with tunings. And I think it disappeared because it was just too difficult to study and play it. And I guess the piano took over. Also besides that, they are fragile instruments, so there aren’t many ancient copies left. They are all destroyed. But then it came back at the beginning of the 1900s in Germany during the Wandervogel movement. It was the beginning of the comeback.”
”Ex Mortis” is out February 7th and is thematically inspired by “The Booke of Gostlye Grace” by the German nun Mechthild of Hackeborn and her sisters.
The book was written in the 1290s and contains Mechthild’s visions and dialogue between herself and God – which Jozef describes as “an intensely religious, but also erotic relation.”
“It’s really beautiful, intense writing, often written in a trancelike form.”
This material lays the lyrical foundation of the album, which also features Thor Harris and Jarboe (both with a background in Michael Gira’s band Swans). And Nikolaj Komiagin of Shortparis, who played at last year’s Northern Winter Beat, sings on the first single from the album, “Cold Corpse”.
“Trance” is a central word in Jozef’s musical universe, and he explains that he likes to use repetition as a musical gateway to a trance state for both himself and the listeners. This can, for example, take form as small melodies or themes that are repeated over and over to gain a transcendental effect, where the sense of time is lost.
“The sound can be quite diverse, and I love to play the same pieces again and again, and hear how they sound different in different rooms. Sometimes I play on stages infuriated with a lot of smoke. It sort of becomes this metal thing. And there can be low-end feedback from the bass. Then it’s almost like a Sunn O))) show.
Backed by that quote, we’re not afraid to say that transcendental lute music never has sounded so interesting, as it does when Jozef van Wissem plucks the strings.
Experience Jozef van Wissem at Northern Winter Beat 2020, January 30th in Budolfi Cathedral.
On their 5th studio album, “Altid Sammen”, Efterklang mixes new sonic discoveries with an unexpected lyrical turnaround. And after almost two decades of musical exploration, they seem more adventurous than ever. NWR had a chat with the band’s singer, Casper Clausen.
by Mikkel Brandt
When Efterklang kicks off their upcoming European tour at Northern Winter Beat 2020, the ever-curious trio is once again on to something unique. Not only does their new material include some of the barest arrangements the band has ever done, but it also introduces Danish lyrics for the first time in their career.
Singer Casper Clausen:
“For Efterklang, one of the most important ingredients has always been moving forward. That there’s always some kind of new challenge in what we do. There must be some excitement. Something we haven’t tried before.”
The band consists of Casper himself and his two childhood friends Mads Brauer and Rasmus Stolberg. And apart from a ton of musical collaborations – including scoring an opera with composer Karsten Fundal – they have recently joined forces with percussionist Tatu Rönkkö and mutated into the band Liima.
Now they are back as Efterklang with their first studio album since 2013, “Altid Sammen”.
“When we came back to make music as Efterklang, we were turned on by the idea of scaling things down. We hadn’t tried that much before in the band. To scale the songs down to just a few instruments.”
The first sketches for the album were made in Casper’s studio in Lisbon, where he and Mads experimented with Baroque-inspired chord progressions, which eventually made their way into the album’s last track, “Hold mine hænder”.
Casper mentions intuition as a central part of their creative process, and that he prefers to think as little as possible when he writes songs.
But how did Danish words begin to sneak into the lyrics?
“It’s not something that comes out of the blue. It’s something that has articulated over the years. I’ve been thinking that it might be interesting to sing in Danish at some point, and wondering what it might be like.”
In this process, he says that living in both Berlin and Lisbon has influenced him.
“I have spent most of my time during the last ten years living outside Denmark. So it has got a little ‘foreign’ somehow. But on the other hand, I can also feel at home there in a very special way. I think I needed to be in that place to look at the Danish language with new eyes. It felt like a whole new language to sing in.”
In relation to lyric writing, he mentions inspirations like C.V. Jørgensen and Michael Strunge.
He also tells that writing in his native language gave a sort of comfort, which allowed him to be “wrong in the right way.”
“In English, I can feel hampered by the fact that the language must be correct. So I have been very pleased with a sense of indifference, and that I can say things that I want because I feel completely confident that this isn’t what it’s about in this context. This has been a pleasure.”
Casper explains that both this approach to lyric writing as well as the idea of downscaling the songs have enabled new ways of working with the songs in the studio.
“There are still 40-50 musicians involved on the record. The difference is just that by scaling the songs down to something very simple, we could communicate more freely with the musicians.”
He explains that this open starting point – that these simpler songs represented – allowed the guest musicians (an extensive troop including the Icelandic choir Kliður and the Antwerp-based baroque band B.O.X) to contribute in a great extent, contrary to bigger pre-written arrangements with more defined roles for each instrument.
“It was possible for the musicians we invited to act more freely, and we could communicate in a more free way. It felt very new for us and ultimately created a barer musical universe.”
At Northern Winter Beat the band will present both old and new material and will be flanked on stage by Norwegian drummer and singer Øyunn and Christian Balvig on piano and synth.
“I think we’re in a pretty good place right now. And I think the new material has a different tranquillity than the earlier. So for us at the moment it’s also about cultivating that condition.”
By the end of the interview I asked Casper to give his (from the top of his head) recommendations from this year’s festival lineup:
“I’m a huge fan of Kali Malone. I recently saw her live in the Netherlands, and I listen to her music a lot when I travel actually.”
“I also think that Iceage are fantastic. There’s a kind of danger in their universe. It doesn’t stand still. Things are vibrating. And Elias is just a wild frontman, and they just play tremendously well together.”
“I’m a huge fan of Michael Gira’s band Swans and have seen them live many times. But I’ve never seen him solo. I would love to experience that.”
Efterklang will be playing at Northern Winter Beat 2020 January 31st.