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Interview with Bjerga/Iversen

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
JM: Hi! Feel the flu kicking in but doing ok, I guess. Back home in Stavanger.
SB: Stupidly overworked at my day job right now, so much to do…. Also been down with the flu lately, there’s been a change in the weather now, cold and windy here in Stavanger…

What’s on your schedule at the moment?
JM: Sindre and myself will each do a short solo-set for an installation this coming Saturday, as part of the No Spaghetti Edition Festival. Other than that, no big plans. Except for maybe bringing Staplerfahrer (Steffan de Turck) over for a recordingsession in a few weeks time.
SB: We’re also about to sort out a bunch of live recordings from the UK tour. We’ll probably have some of these recordings released on a few labels. We’ll also get working on an upcoming release of live collaborations with Madame P. I also just recorded some solo stuff which most likely will be released on the UK based Dirty demos label.

You’re just back from a UK-tour. How did things go?
JM: UK was good fun. Gigs went well, the turn-up was mostly good. Not sure if I enjoyed all the bus, train and plane travels, but…
SB: Yep, good fun indeed! The gigs went down quite well on a general note, some better than others. But I guess it’s a social thing as much as anything else, it was really great to hook up with people I’ve been emailing and trading records with for years. We met and played with Ashtray Navigations and people from Vibracathedral Orchestra in Leeds, Jazzfinger in Newcastle, Ben Reynolds in Glasgow, etc.. Really, really great. And we also go to go to the Instal festival in Glasgow, saw some good shows there + met up with some great people. Plus we drank our share of beers, I guess it’s fair to say…

How did you get together to make music for the first time?

JM: I’ll let Sindre go into details here but I guess the first thing we ever did was a simple sound-exchange, me re-working some of Sindres stuff, Sindre re-working some of my stuff. The result was released on a 2x3” disc on the greek 1000+1 Tilt label.
SB: Yeah, that’s right. I guess we first met in 2003 to trade some CDs. I never knew Jan before this, but after this we met from time to time for a drink at the pub and traded more stuff, we were both running record labels, and I guess we both have a good appetite for new music, so we traded a lot of stuff (you always get stuck with loads of stuff when you have a DIY label..) At some point I guess we thought – hey, we should do something together.  I liked his stuff, even if he dealt more in pure electronics.

Was there any kind of master plan or at least a rough direction which you wanted to pursue in those early days of the collaboration?
JM: Eh, .. I guess the very very first goal was to come up with some way of creating something improvised and “non-laptop” good enough for a gig Sindre had agreed on doing in Oslo., Sindre..?
SB: Yeah, I had this gig at the Blå club in Oslo, and I wasn’t at all comfortable with having half the stuff as playback. I’m the first to admit that I have little knowledge of working digitally with samples and patches, and truth be told, not too much interest in it either. So I thought it would be a good idea to ask if Jan would come along. I generally like to have a more “hands-on” approach to improvised noise / drone music…
Also, I was very keen on the idea of fusing electronic and organic sounds to the point that it takes on some sort of electro-organic sound. In a way that you wouldn’t know which is which, and also in a way that it wouldn’t matter which is which… I kinda like the way that some of our stuff sounds like there’s a “sound leak” … I like the “ghost sounds” that appear sometimes, the sounds you don’t know who created, the sounds that “doesn’t come from anywhere”…, if you get my point..

In which way, do you feel, does the other complement and add to your solo output?
JM: I do think that my solo-work has been influenced by Sindres way of thinking; when it comes to ways of recording, what goes/what goes not.. my recent solo-things might have turned a bit more “low-fi” in the actual quality of the recordings. I used to do a lot of computer-editing of sounds and sound-quality, recently I’ve done a lot more on-the-spot-recordings without much editing of details or sound-quality. But other than that I think I’m doing a lot of the same things alone as I do with Sindre. I might even at times sit at home and record myself, then go back and try to record some Sindre-like things to go with it…
But; I’m still doing a lot of cut/paste-stuff as well, which has never been a part of Bjerga/Iversen.
SB: I guess we’re both influenced by each others solo stuff, but I’ve never been one to work with cut’n ‘paste, really. Normally I would use only a few sound sources, mainly an analog synth and analog effects. Normally I do everything on my old 4-track, and often I also use really old, degraded cassette tapes to get that rusty, crackling sound. I’m a bit on and off with solo stuff, this year I haven’t done that much – haven’t had much time, basically, but I’d still do a short improv session every now and then. The stuff I do on my own, is basically just stuff I feel the need to do right there and then.

A lot of contemporary industrial and noise music comes into being on laptops. Was one of the reason of your joint work that you were looking something more organic, a natural flow, which only happens when two people interact in the same room? Is that also the way your music takes shape?

JM: That is how our music takes shape, yes. And; the more “organic” immediate way of doing music turned out to be the best way for us to work. It might not have been the basis-idea when we first got together but it became clear at once that it worked a whole lot better. Or even; that it was the only way of getting a “real” collaboration going. Had we gone with a laptop I’m sure it would end up with me sitting at home alone preparing samples, patches and ideas which then would be more or less just played off for Sindre for him to do whatever to go with it. Which would only give Sindre a chance to interact with a pre-recorded me, instead of us both interacting there and then.
SB: Yeah, that’s about right, it’s about getting some (inter)action into the sounds.

When you meet for a session (either live or in the studio), how much of the material is actually pre-prepaired and how much is improvised on the spot? Does the “live”-factor add to the fun of the affair or is it more an element of tension and stress?
JM: For recording-session we’ve prepared absolutely nothing. (Except maybe for finding a good recording-place, making sure there’s enough food and drink to go.., hehe.) When live we usually have a little pre-recorded drone-sound or something, just a little something to get us started. To me the only tension and stress with doing gigs is usually the travelling and rigging. The actual playing is great. The way we play (the result of the gig) is always coloured by the feel of the people present, the room in which we play in and such.
SB: Yeah, no stress, really. I’d also like to underline this about the interaction with the crowd and the room, it’s hugely important. We played at this party recently in someone house, and it came out all strange. My girlfriend’s friend wanted to have someone play at her summer party, and I said “sure, why not?” – fully aware that she maybe didn’t know the stuff too well. I guess she wanted it to be more like a happening, rather than caring too much the actual music, but I think it’s fair to say that we really played against the crowd – which sometimes is a rather interesting experience…   But of course, like everybody else, we do it for the good times. We normally attract the “contemporary art” type crowds…. In the UK I thought it was a little bit different, it seems to me that experimental music attracts more “outsider” type characters…

If I’m correct judging from the material I listened to, you seem to eschew samples. Not that I’m complaining, but is there any reason for that?
JM: Well, no, we don’t usually use samples, though I don’t think we would be afraid of doing so. We did it once when we did an improvised set to a film of still photos at an photo exhibition about the life of the late norwegian artist Joachim Nielsen. But usually I don’t use any equipment that could hold pre-recorded samples. So that’s why at least I don’t bring samples into our collaboration. Sindre sometimes brings some stuff with him on his minidisc-player, though.
SB: We have never really discussed using samples or not, but personally I’m not really a big fan of using samples. But at the same, I often use a dictaphone with pre-recorded sounds on the tapes. Lately I’ve also been doing tape stuff. Not tape-splicing and stuff, but a very old tape recorded with a varispeed function, which also has a very strange volume knob. But it’s not samples, it’s got more to do with applying strange and random sounds to the mix. And I’ve also wrapped tin foil around the tape player to alter the sounds and with heavy bass sounds, it really works. It sounds like there’s a thousand angry wasps inside it or something!

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
JM: Sounds exist, of course, even before composition. So in a way I would like to be able let the sound lead the way, let the sound do its own composing. Composing is something at least I don’t think to much about. There might be this basis-idea of how to do things or what elements to bring in but pre-composing is a bit restricting. It’s better to be open to go wherever the sounds lead you, do some “on the spot”-composing, if you will.
SB: I don’t really think much about this, but of course one could say that any willful act concerning the organising of sound and making choices about “this” instead of “that” IS composition…. But on the other hand, neither of us have any formal training in sound composition, so there you go. And I don’t really think about NOT being a composer.. I’ve never worked full time with music, and I’ve never wanted to. In my day job I work with youth with special needs, and I do teach music a few hours per week, but it’s mostly about having fun. And that’s also the case with my own / our own music. But of course that doesn’t exclude being serious about it. Sometimes it’s about blowing off some steam, sometimes it’s about trying out ideas, or, of course both at once, preferrably … I think that whatever it is, it should have some relevance to whatever is happening in my life… In a few days, at this No Spaghetti Editon festival, we’re doing some performances which is a part of this larger composed piece. And we are actually working with people who have extensive training in composition – in fact, most of the music in this piece is noted, but still, I don’t see this as any problem at all. It all just seemed like a good idea when we were asked to participate, and hopefully it’ll work out.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?

JM: Think everything I do is improvised. Though; if I have this idea of how to do something I guess you might call that composing? Maybe you could say I sometimes compose ways of doing my improvisation. But usually; I don’t think about it. So; definitely no strict separation.
SB: Yep, everything is improvised. But I guess that the process of editing the pieces are like composing in a way..

Your work displays an obsession for sound in its most pure form. What makes it so fascinating?

JM: It’s eternal, ever-changing, always new. Sounds are all around you, at all times. You’ve had sounds in your head since even before you were born. So, sounds are bound to give images or feel to everyone.
SB: Yeah, I kinda like to think of what we do as letting the sounds out. And it’s always fascinating to hear what it sounds like…It’s like it’s always the same song, but it’s always changing (hehe – some real hippie vibes here…)

You have mostly been described as “heavy noise” artists, but amidst the brutality, I always sense a bit of dreamyness and sometimes even romanticism. Do you feel the same or should I have my ears checked?
JM: I don’t think we’re brutal in any way. If we’re a noise-band then we’re probably the nicest and most pleasant noise-band in the world.
SB: Oh yeah, you’re right. It’s definitely not noise for the sake of noise, not interested in that. (well, not entirely true, I did this gig with some other guys a month ago, and the atmosphere got a bit weird and negative, and as the evening went along – and the intoxication level went up – we sort of decided to bring on an ugly racket… At least the organizer liked it, but not many other people, I guess..)
But not heavy noise, no. I kinda like to think of our stuff in a way of tapping into hidden frequencies, and sometimes the “transmissions” are dreamy and atmospheric, like you say, other times it’s the sound of a dying machine being killed by a swarm of insects and so on…
If asked, I kinda like the term “psychedelic drone” or something… I have an affinity for all things psychedelic – from the 13th floor elevator and to, say, Spacemen 3 or, say Volcano the Bear. This isn’t really what Jan would listen to, he’s more into Kraftwerk, Conrad Schnitzler, or, say, Maurizio Bianchi. Don’t know, it’s just names, isn’t it? Think we’d both be comfortable with “drone music”, at least…. 

Was it always planned to release this many CDs? How do you select the material you want to publish?
JM: The amount of releases sure was never planned. It just happened. We did one, then one more…
SB We just want to get our music out there. Some people would probably take it as a sign of low quality control, but I kinda think that since the music in loose, sketchy and slow-flowing, it should be released like this. I follows its own logic, in a way… I like what Bruce Russell of Dead C and the Corpus Hermeticum label said once, that he doesn’t believe in rehearsals or practicing. It’s always first takes and it’s always on. Judging by their enormous output, that would probably be the credo of Wolf Eyes too…

Which of your releases up to now are you most happy with?
JM: To me I think the best ones are “Illuminated By A Thousand Flashing Lights” (the recording of our gig at the Garage in den Haag, co-released by Tegel Rec. & Whistle Along),
“Most Things Are Made Of Water” (out on Utech Rec.) and “The Sea Is Nearby, You Can Taste The Salt In The Air” (out on Foxglove). But hard to say..
SB: The best ones are the ones that I’ve half forgotten about, and that sounds really good when you get the artist copies. A few times I got discs that I almost doesn’t remember anything from. Like “did we play this?”…

You’re regular live performers. How does the Bjerga/Iversen live experience differ from the studio experience?

JM: It’s more or less the same thing, though in a studio-session we would probably play for 3 hours more or less without stopping.
SB: Plus we have to decide on which equipment to bring and stick to the restrictions those choices dictate…

Was there ever a moment on stage that both of you thought that everything felt 100% “right”?

JM: I think we felt that way during the gig at the Garage in Den Haag. But speaking for myself, it usually feels “right” as long as the things I do come out like I want it, the equipment works and such. But that gig in Den Haag, and maybe also the one at Paradox, Tilburg, felt really special to me.
SB: I really think it was “right” when we did that set to that film of still photos at that exhibition about the late Joachim Nielsen. It was totally improvised, and we didn’t even see the film when we played (never actually saw it), because we were placed to the side of the screen, but a lot of people liked it, and it wasn’t even a crowd that’s normally exposed to this kind of music.. I think the one recently in Glasgow went really well also, it was in this rock club, and we got some really nice comments from people who listen with fresh ears. That’s always nice. 

Do you have the feeling that your interaction has changed over the time of your collaboration? If so, in which way?
JM: We know each other better so of course it has changed. I know more what to expect from Sindre, and when..

What’s up next for Bjerga/Iversen?
JM: Hopefully a trip to a cabin somewhere for a weekend of recording together with Staplerfahrer, some new releases, including a collaboration with Madame P. we did a live collaboration on each of the 4 nights we were on the same bill during the UK-tour and also the “Lighthousebox” 7CD set on polish label Simlog compiling all 6 volumes of The Lighthousetapes (plus an extra cd of leftovers from the lighthouse-sessions).
SB: I think there’s also 5-6 other discs on the way. There’s a vague plan to do a Scandinavian tour in February, but nothing’s been put down yet..
We will also start working on a pro-pressed CD to be released next year, which probably will contain choice cuts / new edits of already released material and some new pieces.

With over 30 albums out over only 2.5 years – would you recognise all of your records, if I played them to you?
JM: I would at least recognise them if you showed them to me, hehe… But yes, if not all then, at least most of them.
SB: It’s actually 30 albums in less than 2 years.

Live at Sound Of Mu, Oslo, Norway, 10th June 2006 (Dirtydemos)
Illuminated By A Thousand Flashing Lights (Tegel Records & Whistle Along)
You, The Night And The Music (Dim Records)
In Broken Dreams The World Still Keeps Turning (Dead Sea Liner)
There's A Ghost In The Dream Machine (Time-Lag Records)
Burning Liquid Rubber Metal (Abgurd)
Cosmic Constipation (Ytstebrød Plater)
Most Things Are Made Of Water (Utech Rec)
Compromised Songs (Retinascan)
Invisible Empire (Nervouse Nurse)
The Trumpets Of Silence (Ruralfaune)
White Lights From The Deep North(lighthouse tapes vol 4) (Nani Nani)
Adding Fuel To The Fire (Beniffer Editions)
Aggreko Generator (Ytstebrød Plater)
Draggin Words Out Of A Stone (TIBProd/Gold Soundz)
Smoke Filled Mirrors (Musicyourmindwillloveyou)
Earth Pit (Barl Fire)
Streams Of Frozen Light, the lighthousetapes vol. 6 (Simlog)
We Did Provide, Live In Stavanger (TIBrod/Gold Soundz)
Kanal Local (Localmotives)
Burning The Light At Both Ends (Carbon Records)
Play The Oslo Groove Machine (Utan Tittel/Absurd)
There's Always A Little Light That Shines', the lighthousetapes vol. 2 (First Person)
Norwegian Moonshine', the lighthousetapes vol. 5 (Kabukikore)
The Sea Is Nearby, You Can Taste The Salt In The Air', the lighthousetapes, vol. 1 (Foxglove)
Matinee Preparation (Organic Pipeline)

Bjerga/Iversen at TIBProd

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