FRACTURED AIR

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Posts Tagged ‘Otto A Totland

Chosen One: Deaf Center

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“Low Distance can be seen more of an epitome of the years of playing live together, experimenting and finding our way to a meeting point.”

—Erik K. Skodvin

 Words: Mark Carry

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As warm feedback tones drift beneath a seabed of mesmerising analogue soundscapes on the divine electro acoustic exploration ‘Gathering’, one feels the significance and enchantment of this eagerly-awaited return. The cherished Norwegian duo of Erik K Skodvin and Otto A Totland (under their trusted Deaf Center guise) have been responsible for some of the most captivating and vital ambient-infused-drone creations of the past fifteen years and last month‘s release of their third studio album ‘Low Distance’ – after an eight year hiatus – holds a significant presence in the atmosphere akin to the air molecules we breathe.

I feel the piece ‘Gathering’ embodies the sacred space that this gifted duo seem to innately inhabit – through the art of sound. A few minutes in, emotive piano tones meld effortlessly with the gentle hiss and warmth of analogue sounds: gradual music that ebbs and flows into the ether of some unknown dimension. In the final section, Totland’s piano instrumentation comes to the fore as a silence descends all around us: it is as though the minute details and sonic artifacts are embedded deep within the music’s tapestry.

The hypnotic bass groove (reminiscent of Colleen’s viola da gamba) serves the vital pulse of ‘Red Glow’ wherein sustained piano chords form the ideal counterpoint. Neo-classical splendor is etched across these two or so minutes. ‘Movements/The Ascent’ reveals the special fusion of modern-classical and electro acoustic realms as otherworldly, far-reaching moments-within-moments are captured in one fleeting swoop.

It is important to remember the many solo – and collaborative – works that the pair have released during the eight years of the last Deaf Center record. For example, the breath-taking solo piano albums of Otto A Totland can be found in the rich tapestry of ‘Low Distance’ – particularly on part B with the deeply affecting piano compositions ‘Far Between’ and ‘Yet to Come’ which closes this incredible musical journey. Also, Skodvin’s rich experimentation with sound on his Svarte Greiner project, in addition to score-work (last year’s poignant collaborative score ‘A Score For Darling‘ with Spanish artist Rauelsson) and several solo works; these many documents all filter into the sonic palette of 2019’s Deaf Center’s oeuvre.

The epic tour-de-force ‘Entity Voice’ is another triumph in minimalism and restraint – and with a maximum yield of raw emotion and cinematic atmosphere. The jazz noir piano tapestries swirl in the midnight air (echoing the spirit of legendary film composer David Shire’s 70’s works) alongside the utterly transcendent abstract canvas sculpted by Skodvin. The music becomes one sprawling, cohesive whole. The great hallmark of this special band – reflected on ‘Entity Voice’ – is the revelatory quality of the intricately layered sound collages that captures a singular beauty and unknowing mystery all at once.

‘Low Distance’ is out now on Sonic Pieces.

https://deafcenter.bandcamp.com/

http://sonicpieces.com/

deaf center iii

Interview with Erik K. Skodvin & Otto Totland.

 

Congratulations on the utterly enchanting latest full length ‘Low Distance’, it’s a real pleasure to discuss this incredible new music with you both. The minimal and quite sparse nature to quite a portion of these recordings unfolds a quiet magic and mysterious beauty all at once. Firstly, please take me back to your recording sessions together – which must have been several years since the last Deaf Center recording session? Talk me through what music was released during these sessions and the nature of these tracks – for instance I presume some of these piano compositions were freshly composed (by Otto)? How much of these tracks were born simply from improvisation – music created during that moment when you were in the same room together?

Erik K Skodvin & Otto A Totland: Thank you, Mark. It´s indeed been a while since our last encounter. We released the EP ”Recount” in 2014, though this was 2 older live recorded pieces without any studio or planning involved. Other than that, our last meeting in a recording studio was back in 2010. This time we met in Berlin in the summer of 2017 as we got the chance to use Nils Frahm’s Funkhaus studio for 3 days while he was going away. Looking back at it, it feels strange to say that since the new studio is now so hyped and seen all over the place. A lot have changed in just those 2 years. We´re still glad to have recorded there though, as it is a beautiful, great sounding place.

A major part of the finished record was made there and then, in intimate in-the-moment improvised sessions. Gathering f.ex is one of those magic moments where we synced up really well and something special was created. A minimum of editing has been done to the final piece you hear on the record. This also goes for several of the other tracks.

The lengthy pieces such as ‘Entity Voice’ and ‘Gathering’ serve the vital pulse to the record’s first half. The warm, vivid textures of piano, strings, drone, ambient noise that are masterfully interwoven on ‘Gathering’ unfolds akin to a faded dream and a piece that epitomizes the sheer beauty and wonder that fills this record. Can you talk me through these particular experiments and indeed this deeply innate ‘call and response’ inner dialogue you have as a musical pairing?

ES & OT: Both as individuals and our approach to making music; we are very different. So much so that it’s strange that our cooperation works, and works so well. When we play together and inspire each other – when we enter that “zone” – we both feel that special fusion that can only arise when we play together. Then it happens so effortlessly and spontaneous. It surprises us too. Luckily we have managed to capture many of these moments – the track “Gathering” is an example of this. The album version sounds almost exactly the same as recorded, with only minor alterations and edits. The track ‘Entity Voice’ is a collection/fusion from many different parts of our recording session that started with the piano & feedback tones you can hear in the first 2 minutes. The remaining sounds and development is all layered in detailed fine-editing.

When we started getting requests for live performances after Neon City & Pale Ravine was released, we transitioned more and more towards analogue equipment and instruments over the years. Less and less digital electronics and samples. Now we have a fully analogue sound with a similar expression. We feel a relief from removing ourselves from everything digital, especially when performing live. Low Distance can be seen more of an epitome of the years of playing live together, experimenting and finding our way to a meeting point.

Please describe your studio in Norway and the precise set-up please? I get the impression that the formidable solo works of yours (the many vital records you released as solo artists in the interim between the last Deaf Center record) must have tapped into the musical tapestry of Deaf Center? How do you see this duo evolving, so to speak?

ES & OT: I live in Berlin and to be honest, my studio situation is not what most might expect. I never really had a proper ”studio”. I have a room with a lot of stuff in it, which is in my apartment. I used to have outside spaces to work, but not since 5 years now. I have no clue about gear really. I have a bunch of instruments of rather sketchy quality. My main ”gear” is my effect-pedals that is use for my live setup as well as some sound making devices. The bunch of pedals i have i use in my own way, but i couldn’t tell you much about them. Having said that, my most important instrument the last 4 years is this custom built analogue electronic device built by a friend of mine called Derek Holzer. It was a commissioned job and he constructed a benjolin as a guitar effects pedal for me. I’ve been fighting with that thing live the last years, and i´m still surprised what i can do with it. It´s of constant revelation, both good and bad. You can hear this all over the record.

Otto lives in Norway and has no studio. It’s hard to say anything about our evolution from here on. The ongoing development of Otto as a pianist and improviser as well as my own urge to explore sounds and instruments is for sure the tapestry of Deaf Center at this moment. Especially since when we meet we tend to both think a little differently than when we go solo. Since our beginning it´s been no plan to do more records or continue DC. So far the ones who kept us alive is the people who book us to play live, as that´s mainly where new Deaf Center material has come out through the last 10 years. We also have to give credit to Nils Frahm for our continued presence, as we recorded both Owl Splinters and Low Distance in his spaces. Both of Otto´s solo piano albums was also recorded with him. So wherever you are these days Nils, thanks for that.

I love the contrast between the deeply layered explorations and the sparse, minimal works – one of the great hallmarks of ‘Low Distance’. Can you discuss the mixing process and the art of layering these soundscapes together? Is it a case of revisiting musical ideas that were captured in the studio and continually navigating inside these and further sculpting the layers together? I wonder what are the fears and challenges you faced during this period of time?

ES & OT: Mixing is something we probably see quite differently from most producers. I personally have my own way of taking a standpoint in the source material and making pieces from them. Although Low Distance has several minimal tracks that has little to almost no post-editing, there are several that are heavily “mixed”. I´d call it editing or collaging rather than mixing though. It´s all about working in details & layers. A lot of pitch-shifting, copying, stretching, reverbs, delay. Otto and me both have a similar idea about certain way of mixing when it comes to Deaf Center. It´s more of an unspoken rule which intertwine our sound. Owl Splinters has a bit more of a Nils Frahm touch, as he was a big part of the production. This time it´s more back to our original sound, but with source material recorded in a professional studio instead of the lo-fi sample based sound of Pale Ravine.

As we both live different places, and this can be a time taking job, i was mixing it myself over a longer period while keeping a dialogue with Otto through we-transfer and email. An invitation for a week´s residency at Stockholms EMS studio was also a key part of how the record came to be. The first major part of the mixing was done there, where i could also record some warm Buchla Synthesizer sounds and noises that ended up as a core interwoven part of the record. From there it was then to sew it together into a world of it´s own. With a beginning, middle and end. To create somewhere we´d like to be that both comfort and challenge us. Something that grows on repeated listens and makes you forget your surroundings and make up new ones.

Of course it´s a challenging task since we already have quite some to live up too. And with a 8 year gap between albums it can be scary. Will people still care what we have to put out in the world? Will they remember us? A lot have changed since the last album came out. Both in the world and for us.

The cinematic quality and otherworldly dimension of the piano-based compositions is a joy to savor. ‘Faded Earth’ feels just that: something lost beneath our very foundations. The penultimate track ‘Far Between’ is such a gorgeous neon lit lament. It must continue to surprise you to see and discover what music you are able to create together? The warm textures beneath ‘Far Between’ makes for such a heavenly sound.

ES & OT: Thank you. We are both very conscious about the dynamic of a composition. To let each other “swell” then pull back and give each other room. We both enjoy the unpredictable. Like a build-up ending in a silent relief rather than a climax. Adding subtly small details that can only be noticed with focused listening. Keeping random coincidences like background noises, crackling and clicks, welcoming them as part of the piece. As long as every sound feels good to the ear. We prefer to avoid uncomfortable frequencies.

Over how many years do you feel the music captured on ‘Low Distance’ stems from? I get the feeling there is always some happy accidents, so to speak that find their way into the sonic tapestry. Can you shed some light on these particular moments?

ES & OT: The record is a culmination of musical development and changes in our own lives through the last years. It wasn’t composed or thought through beforehand. Experiences both good and bad gets soaked into the music, impulsively. Also during our studio meeting, a lot of “mistakes”, sounds and objects found it´s way into the sound. After listening back to it we really found these accidents and sonic “mistakes” to be complimenting the music in a good way. Something to grow on, to find new details that you might not like the first time around. One really great mistake, if you can call it that, Is when we played “Gathering” and when Otto came in on the piano after about 2 minutes we both got really surprised. We had not tuned the guitar and piano, and what came out was this surreal half-detuned lamenting sound. We both kept playing on even if we could hear something was off. When we finished and listened back to it a few times, we felt it was something special and unique. So we left it like it was.

Lastly, please discuss your own musical upbringing and how soon did you realize music would become your destined path?

ES & OT: Neither of us have had any musically education or upbringing. We both have a natural pull to explore, play and create music since childhood. It’s the creative process itself and what arises that we both share a fascination of. We never feel in control. Erik is much more comfortable with that than Otto.

‘Low Distance’ is out now on Sonic Pieces.

https://deafcenter.bandcamp.com/

http://sonicpieces.com/

 

 

Written by admin

May 9, 2019 at 3:18 pm