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On to some more, then

img  Tobias

How on earth have they done it? On my desk, right in front of me, lies the content of a package from Norway – five albums from and a small 3’’ Mini-CD, all carrying the names of Bjerga/Iversen. While this alone would constitute the output of some artists’ entire career, here it represents a mere snippet of what this duo has been putting to tape since 2004 – their archives must be filling a complete basement by now. I decide to work my way through this select discography and begin with “Bjerga and Iversen play The Oslo Groove Machine”, recorded in the middle of December two years ago. The sound of people talking fills my room, as a deep bass hum swings back and forth in silent anticipation. I can smell the cigarettes, taste the beer, feel the heat of the club and the bodies crammed together to catch a glimpse of what is happening on stage, where two pale men are using a wild set of instruments and tools to produce a finely grinding river of noise, flowing through various states of awareness, twisting and turning, twitching in pain and triumphally raising its head. And then I’m back in time, in Stavangar, Norway and I can suddenly see how it all began.

First, there are two musicians, who have heard of each other, but never actually met. Jan-M Iversen is unemployed at the time and he has just started a record company of his own by the name of TIBProd in true DIY fashion (the name harks back to a short episode in Jan-M’s youth, when he had a Metal band by the name of Tuesdays in Black): Most of the music is available freely via the internet, while the physical releases come in simple plastic CD bags with the covers printed on plain paper. There is not a grain of superimposed image about TIBProd, it is all about the music. Which immediately established a bond between him and one of his all-time favourite artists, Conni Schnitzler, who played in the first line-up of Tangerine Dream in the 70s and released a string of highly interesting and unusual solo albums over the years since then. Media-shy and weary of self-promotion Schnitzler has faded from the public eye, as his former group has risen to a kind of underground superstardom and American stadiumtours. His “Songs from the Ivory Tower” becomes TIBProd’s first release and a great starting point for Jan-M to bring some less well-known names to the fore.

At the very same time, Sindre Bjerga is also in town as part-time head of his Gold Soundz label, running it in a similar way as TIBProd. This naturally implies that they are unable to sell all of the outlandish and for some hard-to-digest material they put out and are always interested in finding people with whom to trade (in fact, trading is one of the main means of distribution in the industrial and experimental scene). So they sit down in a pub to have a drink together, exchange records and talk about music. With their backgrounds firmly in sync and their musical interests in a fine balance, they decide to meet more regularly. Making music was not even the first thing on their mind, even though they both knew of each others’ respective solo work and the differences between them: .”I liked his stuff, even if he dealt more in pure electronics.”, Sindre points out. So at one point, they decide to just give things a try. And that is how it starts.

“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.”, Jan-M says, “The result was released on a 2x3” disc on the greek 1000+1 Tilt label.” Described by the label as “4 tracks of harsh droning with dense and full textures”, this EP is a first taste of what it to come, but it only vaguely hints at the new direction the two are taking. For at the very beginning, there was neither a great scheme nor a true masterplan, as Iversen is quick to point out: “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.” Bjerga continues: “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…” So they decide to bring a real live element into their collaboration and start improvising on the spot, using different sources for their sounds: Again Bjerga: “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…” They take enough food and drinks for a week and leave for a cabin near Lindesnes Lighthouse, Norway’s southernmost point. In various sessions each day, they play and record, resulting in hours and hours of music. This will later be documented in “The Lighthouse Tapes”, a series of releases spanning six episodes.

Back in my little room in Münster, Germany, I listen to “White Lights from the Deep North”, the fourth volume of the saga, published by French outfit Naninani in a cute fold-out paper cover with a small, separate black and white picture of the lighthouse included. And as the music unfolds, I am, if only for a second, inclined to believe in all the cliches of Norwegian music. For the single track on the disc, a cloudy and collossal drone full of whispering mysteries and unspeakable riddles, truly conveys the very majestic coolness and infinite calmness of a Fjord. Set this to a video of snow-covered hills and icy landscapes and you could organise an MTV “Chill Out Zone” revival party. Somewhere from its raw beginnings, this seemingly random set of apparatus’ leads to something indescribable and beautiful. And this can to some extent be explained by the duo’s way of communicating on a musical level.

“The more “organic” immediate way of doing music turned out to be the best way for us to work.”, Jan-M says, “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.” Improvisation had always been important to the two, but now it takes on a new meaning: “For recording-session we’ve prepared absolutely nothing.”, according to Iversen, “When live we usually have a little pre-recorded drone-sound or something, just a little something to get us started.” If there is a traditional compositional element in their music at all, then it must be the process of organising what has has been recorded afterwards. Bjerga: “I guess that the process of editing the pieces are like composing in a way. (...) 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.”

And Bjerga/Iversen is quickly becoming extremely relevant to their lives – and this less because of their ever-growing catalogue, but because of their live concerts. On several tours, through the Netherlands and, more recently, the UK, they are both spreading the word and collecting new material for future CDs. It is also about meeting people they have, up to now, only talked to by mail and about soaking up every drop of sweat and excitment of the evening. While they usually draw a typical scene-crowd, they also receive favourable comments after performing at a rock club in Glasgow and during the screening of stills from a movie about the life of the late Joachim Nielsen. Both stress the importance of the interaction with the listeners and the ambiance of the location as highly important for the outcome of their artistic walk on a tightrope. Mostly, it is about tapping into the audience’s mind, even though on two occasions, they are clearly in a confrontational setting. One is when Sindre’s girldfriend’s friend wants someone to play at her house, without anyone having the faintest clue as to the sounds they’ll be producing. And then there’s a second story, told by Bjerga: “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..)”

As I’m progressing through “Burning Liquid Rubber Metal” (on Abgurd records) and “There’s a Ghost in the Dream Machine” (Time-Lag Records), both shorter sets of under half an hour, I am now able to pinpoint more clearly what makes their interaction so special. Even though sudden noise erruptions can shake up things considerably, they are never there for shock tactics alone. Their music is not ironic yet at time humorous, it is intense without being aggressive, atmospheric but never carelessly dreamy. There is a “realness” to it, which places it firmly in the here and now of this world, while its spaceousness and weightlessness lifts it from everyday’s humdrum. “Psychedelic” is a discription both artists can live with, a label they could agree to. While clearly relying on electronic sound manipulations, its flow is impeccibly organic and in their most memorable moments, the pieces seem to move on their own accord – an impression shared by the musicians themselves: “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.. “, Sindre says. We sure do after this extended listening session and if you’re interested, a good starting point may be “Most Things are made of Water”, out on Utech Records, which is their most consise and focussed effort and sees them touch magic in the two-part title track.

But then again, you have plenty of choice when considering where to start your journey into Bjerga/Iversen. From their beginnings in 2003, when they were just having a beer and a laugh in their favourite Stavangar pubs until today, when they have become a household name in the scene and are already thinking about a Scandinavian tour, a seven CD-set capturing their entire “Lighthouse” sessions plus bonus material, as well as a professionaly pressed album, the duo has learned a lot from each other and given new stimuli to a scene which still relies mostly on samples and laptop fiddling. Their album-bonanza was never planned in any way, they now admit. Still, with such relative success, I allow myself the pleasure of asking them whether they would actually recognise all of their more than thirty albums from the last 2,5 years, if I played those to them  Jan-M laughs: “I would at least recognise them if you showed them to me”. Sindre, meanwhile, has a more appropriate answer to offer: “It’s actually exactly 30 albums in less than 2 years.” On to some more, then.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: TIBProd
Homepage: Jan-M Iversen Interview at Earlabs
Homepage: Utech Records
Homepage: Time-Lag Records
Homepage: Abgurd Records
Homepage: Naninai Records

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