INTERVIEW: PJUSK: TOKAFI (2010)
There's something wonderful about clichés: Some of them are actually true. The sound of Pjusk, for example, offers exactly the kind of cool and sensitive qualities one would expect from an Ambient-Electronica-duo from Norway and conjurs up images of silent fjords, snow-covered mountains and an open fire burning brightly in a log house. In another charming coincidence, Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik and Rune Andre Sagevik actually did record the basic tracks for both their Sart-debut as well as the new, eagerly anticipated follow-up Sval, in an old cabin far away from civilisation. It may well be the combination of a deep interest in a wide array of electronic sounds and the complete isolation from all external influences that has made the album feel both entirely up-to-date and timeless: Floating Synth-pads are pierced by dark, organic Bass-burps and driven forward by hypnotically repeating technoid melodies resting on grainy, filtered traces of splintered percussion, as the music explores one of the classic themes of Ambient: The contrast between precise robotics and primeval human yearnings. Over the course of an hour, Gjelsvik and Sagevik never fully release the tension, choosing instead to weave a tight and suspenseful carpet of glitchy grooves, erotic Vinyl crackle and moments of breathtaking zero-gravity-weightlessness. And if, somewhere in this field of frosty resonance and subdued emotions, there should also be a sample of noisy youths on a bus trip rather than refined samples of pastoral quietude - well, that only serves to prove the cliché that there is always an exception to each rule.
You mentioned on your blog that Sval
has turned out more focused and consistent than your debut. Why do you think that is and what was it that you were focusing on for the new album?
I can't remember focusing on anything in particular. I think it has more to do with evolving/growing/maturing as a "band". With Sart
, we were to some extent in the "trial and error" phase, trying out ideas and directions for our music. Trying more or less to create the "Pjusk sound", or at least a sound that we both were comfortable with. With Sval
, we feel that we have taken the best parts of the previous album one step further, and that we're more consistent because we now (mostly) know in what direction we should, can and will take the music to achieve a musical expression that we are satisfied with.
Most of the music was created at your famous old cabin. What's that place like?
The cabin is a quiet place up in the mountains of the Norwegian west coast. Silent and isolated, while still close to civilisation. The main advantage for me is the focus and attention to music: We are very focused on achieving musical results when we're up there. Another benefit would be that we get to be close to nature in a relaxing environment. On the other hand, it takes 6 hours to get there by bus, and then another hour by car.
Regarding equipment, we just bring the bare essentials for creating music. Quite often we focus on creating ideas instead of finishing tracks - and for that we don´t need that much gear anyway.
What do things „sound like“ up there?
: There's a flowing river nearby, the occasional airplane, crackling wood in the fireplace and silence...
That silence makes a powerful impression. We're so used to all kinds of noise encapsulating us at all times - silence can be challenging.
So is collaborating as Pjusk perhaps a way of creatively reconnecting with nature?
No, probably not... The fact that we're recording away from the big towns is more or less a coincidence. When we started out as Pjusk we were both living in two of the major cities of Norway. I think this is more a result of us getting older and finding other, more important values in our life than those that can be found in the big cities. The nice cosy villages we live in at the moment just provide us with a better quality of life, a better place to raise our kids and things like that. I do, however, think that these important things also affect the music we make in a positive way.
: I would just like to point out the fact that major cities in Norway probably qualify as small towns in other countries. Bergen, where I am born, has a population of 250.000 people and is surrounded by mountains – and it's the second largest city in Norway! What I am trying to convey, is simply the fact that the whole of Norway is really quite rural and although it´s a cliche; Norwegians are closely connected to nature in general.
With silence such a precious commodity, do you still talk concepts in the cabin?
After being very satisfied with Sart
, we did not feel the need to discuss any directions for Sval
other than maybe trying to achieve an even more consistent musical experience with our next release. Our discussions about sound and directions take place more or less the whole time. We try out sounds and ideas back and forth. Afterwards, we'll take stuff that works on some level or another and which also fits the sound we're after with us and the rest gets thrown away or archived in a folder somewhere - even mediocre ideas can trigger something good every once in a while.
Did you, as on Sart, again use some notable found sounds?
We actually ended up using less field recordings than on Sart
. To be honest, one of the main reasons is the fact that I got my portable recorder while on a trip to New York and I recorded many hours of sound while staying there. I was particularly fascinated with the sound of hotel fans - especially those that didn't work properly, noisy ones with hints of musical tones. Anyway, a lot of that material ended up on Sart together with the more obvious vinyl sounds, which we also recorded a lot. For the latter, we borrowed expensive vinyls from a friend of mine - old records from the sixties.
starts with a recording from just outside the cabin in Valldalen (hence the name of the track) - but as an exception - we did more "regular" recordings this time. We recorded an old piano that was barely holding together and it had this distinct sound of wear and use – besides, it was really out of tune as well. So there's less focus on noise and hiss, but always on creating emotional atmospheres. In addition, we received excellent sample material from our friends Erik Manshaus and Elisabeth Lahr, who contributed flute sounds and vocal samples. All of this really helps in creating an organic feel.
Ahh - now I also remember, last summer, recording on the night bus back home - a bus packed with more or less wasted youth - and talking/babbling extremely loud - a cacophony of sounds that would be really hard to reconstruct. It was a total chaos of words and human emotions - everything and everyone souped up with major amounts of alcohol. I think that sample ended up quite processed in Sval
And then, of course, there's Strië ...
: We got in touch with her via MySpace. I can´t remember why and how I stumbled upon her profile, but I really connected with her music instantly. So then we started out working together. We ended up creating 4-5 tracks and 2 of them ended up on the album. Strië offered something quite different musically - she is an experienced musician playing various instruments and she was not at all afraid to experiment. The way we worked was to send her some of our initial ideas - very often ideas we felt were stalling and needed a certain something we couldn´t come up with ourselves. Strië usually managed to lift our material as well as blending in her own interpretations. We are really pleased with the end result.
Another contributor was long-time friend Tor Anders Voldsund, who you've already worked with in the past. Does it by now feel as though he's something of an inofficial third band member?
Tor Anders is a guitarist especially fond of jazz and improv - and he was actually part of Pjusk in the beginning when we were aiming at creating a live project from the very start. We were, however, a bit too far from each other musically, so we decided to keep Pjusk as a duo. We see Tor Anders as a brilliant contributor - a much needed part in creating the Pjusk sound - and we´re really hoping that we will get the chance of playing together live quite soon.
After you returned from the cabin-sessions, how did you finish the album?
After having constructed the foundation of the album at the cabin, we finished the tracks individually. Then we went to Andreas Nordenstam for the mastering process - which is a process we´re really happy to let Andreas do for us. We now consider it a necessity to let him listen to the tracks - let him decide the playing order but also giving him artistic freedom to omit tracks that he feels are too weak or not suitable for the album concept. Very often he picks up tiny details and nuances we may have ignored - or sees combinations of tracks that really bring something extra to the album. We can't praise his work enough.
Now the album's officially out, performing on stage now seems a priority. A lot of electronic musicians are trying to avoid playing live, you're on the contrary actively looking for opportunities. Why is it so important to you?
Playing live is a terrific opportunity to get instant feedback on your material - and combined with visuals it's a new experience altogether. Meeting people that share the same passion for music like we do - seeing new places and basically enjoying the company of new-found friends. We hope to get out playing a bit more than we have done so far. Hopefully someone will book us.
By Tobias Fischer