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Interview with Fjordne

img  Tobias Fischer

There's a video by one of your personal favourites Bobo Stenson, Live from the Forest, in which the musicians can be seen playing in some kind of mysterious, mist-filled woods.
I love that performance. I can really see them interacting not only with themselves but with the atmosphere. The music they're playing is genuinely “jazz”. It might not be the sound that many people are used to within this particular context. But to me, it’s beautiful music that I'd personally definitely define as jazz.

It's a „virtual performance“, in a way and I brought it up, because you don't seem to be interested in the „live aspect“ of jazz all that much.
I do listen to it on CD and records more than live performances. That is probably also why I enjoy subtle, quiet music. The reason I like jazz so much is because of the improvisation contained in it. When I started writing programs for software, I wrote them so that I could interact with them afterwards. Of course, improvisation with software is still very far from jazz performances. It's still hard to think of the computer as another player, it's mainly just an effector. This is an area many people are working on and I am looking forward to progress in the future. Having said that, the great part about jazz is not only the interaction between musicians, but the interaction between the instrument, the atmosphere and your state of mind. To do that, the music needs to be expressed spontaneously. This is something that I aim for. I would love to be able to express my music by soloing, too. But for now, I think the best way to express it is with the balance I have.

Was there perhaps a live performance, nonetheless, which left an important mark on you?
I have been to great concerts. But actually the ones that influenced me the most were the ones I found on the Internet. Thanks to youtube, I am able to see clips from the artists of the past. To name a few, I love watching the performances of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. The solo performances of Thelonious Monk have been particularly important, because you can really discern his use of space and harmony in them. They've influenced me a lot.

The pianists you admire – Monk, Stenson, Marc Copland and Paul Bley, among others - all arrived at strikingly different results, too.
You can add another favorite of mine to that list, Andrew Hill. The reason why I like them so much is because they have their own sound and their music is unique even though they use the same palette, which is jazz. One of the things I love about Marc Copland is that he actually moved from being a saxophonist into a pianist. He came to the conclusion that he couldn’t express the music that is ringing in his head with the saxophone and switched to the piano. It’s not something you could do easily. I think it helps to make him so original and unique. That is my final goal in music and I admire musicians who have reached it.
It’s actually still presumptuous to call the piano my main instrument. But it is my favorite instrument and a sound that always rings in my head and a starting point when I make music. The piano is an important instrument to me but really I want to think of my music as a combination of sounds.

How do you define freedom for yourself?
I love music that extends the barrier as in genre, harmony, and rhythm. I think many people have the same way of thinking more or less. That’s probably why the free jazz movement happened in the first place. I am one of those  who like to push themselves to higher grounds. I feel freedom is something that you need to gain yourself. For me, I needed the skill to play the piano, and it took me a long time to get there. I still need to work on many skills to express the music I have in my head. It's something I intend to work on throughout my life.

In which way were you influenced by some of these free jazz experiments?

As the name suggests, the free jazz movement broadened the borders of jazz in terms of harmony and rhythm. I was influenced most from the point that free jazz broadened the listeners’ ear of what is jazz and what isn’t. It taught me how „free“ you can deal with music. This is still relevant today. I believe – or at least I'd like to believe - that there is still potential for progress in most areas – one particular realm being computers. There are still many people doing interesting and beautiful things with computers and software. I would like to see how people can interact naturally with computers, not just information going in one direction - musician to computer - but in both.

This also fits in, I believe, with the importance of ECM for you – the idea that „freedom“ can extend into many different realms.
There are many aspects to this question. Of course, I love the icy sounds and beautiful artwork. But the part I indeed love most is how the label broke the barrier of jazz. I think ECM built a jazz of its own by blending the native music of places in Europe with the jazz of America. And there's this trademark of ECM records, that they were and still are usually recorded within a very condensed space of time. Each of the tracks I made for Charles Rendition was made in a short time - a few days - too. I don’t like spending too much time on making a track.

You did take some time off after finishing The Setting Sun to think about how and what kind of music to make.
Yes, I knew that if I started making new music, I would end up doing something that I did in the past. I know that going deeper into one direction is important. But after making the previous album, I felt that it was time to move into a new one. The albums that I have made before The Setting Sun are very close to each other in the way I approached music. I was focusing a lot more on the texture of sound than the structure of the composition. I let the music itself go in the direction it wanted to and programmed the software to do so. When I made The Setting Sun, I wanted to focus more on the structure of composition, and balance the weight put on the programs I write. After finishing the album, I felt that I have made the album that I was planning, so I didn’t want to make another one like it. So to me, The Setting Sun was like the final episode of that direction in music for me.

So what were conceptual considerations for the new material?
Before I started working on Charles Rendition, I made it a rule not to use the programs I used in the past - or at least not to depend on them too much. I wanted to start making music that had a basic harmonic structure and be controlled by my performance of instruments. Just like how in jazz you have a „leadsheet“ as the basic structure for improvisation. It's perhaps interesting to note in this regard that the text included in the artwork of Charles Rendition was actually written before I started making the music. I had in mind making music with an „antique“ sound. I wrote the text as a guideline for the album and Charles Rendition is effectively the soundtrack to the text. It doesn’t correspond to the way I think towards music, but rather represents a guideline to the color or atmosphere of sound that I wanted to express.

I knew I needed to improve my performance skills to express the music in Charles Rendition so I started practicing the piano. I had never been taught how to play the instrument in a classical way. The longest experience with instruments I have is the guitar which I haven't played in quite a while. I quit playing the guitar about two years ago to start playing the piano. Getting things to sound „organic“ and „natural“ was very important for this album. I wanted the music controlled and played by humans.

How did you look back on your previous efforts? Are they „incomplete“ to you in a way or rather necessary steps towards achieving your highest goals?
I love moving into new directions but I don’t regret the music that I have made in the past. And although I’m still far away from the music that I want to express, I think I was able to go into the right direction. Electronica was one of the influences that I had in the beginning. I love how the electro-acoustic sounds deepened the possibility of the texture of sounds. By making this kind of music myself, I was able to study how to mangle with sound. This skill was then passed on to the music production of Charles Rendition though I haven’t used the same programs.

All music is incomplete in a sense. I think that’s why we can relate to it in such a deep way. Especially jazz has a very beautiful „incompleteness“. I think that why I am so attracted to it. I believe that my previous releases are just snapshots of the time they were made. When I look back on them, I have many parts that I want to fix. But they are what I could have achieved at that point.

By Tobias Fischer

Fjordne Discography:
Unmoving (U-Cover) 2007   
Stories Apart From The World (Ryoondo-Tea) 2008   
The Last 3 Days Of Time (Dynamophone) 2008   
The Setting Sun (Kitchen) 2009
Charles Rendition (Kitchen) 2011


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