No Sound Left Alone
An Interview with Bjørn Svin
Profet´s Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström interviews Danish sound artist Bjørn Svin about living in Berlin, and freeing ambitions through reinventing one's limitations. Lindström finds himself trapped under dangerous feelings, trying to escape throughout the entirety of the article.
»But of course I like the city as well, to live in as an artist« Bjørn Svin says about Berlin, after he has told me that he resides there due to practical reasons. The Danish sound artist is only one of very many creative souls who have moved to the German capital, a phenomenon which I have devoted several Profet interviews to over the years. Through all these interviews, I’ve developed a raging thirst for Berlin in all its artistic heavenliness, and I have perhaps manufactured a mental version of the city that I can call my own. Surprisingly enough, this thirst was quite quenched when I visited Berlin for the first time in my adult life last year, on a leg of Profet MGMT act LULA’s tiny German tour. Where my expectations too grand? Difficult to say, although expectations are always hazardous in my experience. However, I wouldn’t stretch as far as saying I was disappointed with my stay in Berlin, but I did see other sides, that hadn’t existed in my imaginary version of it. Whether this is positive or negative is not up to me to decide.
»Would you say that Berlin has changed your artistry in any way?« I ask Bjørn Svin over the phone, since this is something I want to ask every artist living in Berlin. I do as such, because I still fantasize about how my writing would be affected from my hypothetic move there.
»Yes, you could say so« Bjørn says. »If we take the album ‘2 Point 5 Step Pets’, for me it’s a lot about changing gear actually. I was working only with hardware, and in 2012 I started using software, which gave me opportunity to design things in a deeper way.«
Bjørn’s latest record, »2 Point 5 Step Pets«, is an intricate release in the sense that the tracks are epically long and ever changing. In the beginning of this article, I used the term »sound artist« instead of »producer« in order to describe Bjørn Svin, and I think his new album fully explains why. Sure, the material can serve as fairly danceable electronic songs, but in my opinion its strength is to be found in the atmospheric landscape Bjørn invites us to with his sounds. Where I normally search for a gripping melody or a poetic lyric in music, my focus is different when hearing »2 Point 5 Step Pets«. My mind wanders to unexplored territories with each individual sound as a guide to show me the way. Ultimately, the sounds give me the same satisfaction as an infectious melody would, only they take longer to install themselves in the part of my brain that is designated for appreciation of art.
I do know how to appreciate art, but what I don’t know is what Bjørn means with »hardware« and »software«. I realise I have no idea what so ever what these things are, and how the hardness or softness of ware can make music sound differently. Instead of acting like I’m aware of what he’s talking about, I swallow my pride and ask Bjørn about the matter.
»As I see it, hardware in many cases is software« he replies, thus confusing me even further. »They are digital machines with small computers, like synthesizers and drum machines. I’ve been using these for a long time, and how they normally work is that the company who makes them design everything to work in a certain way. In many cases it’s not super flexible, but the sound is very nice. Digital hardware still sounds much better than the software I have, but if I want to develop my own ideas then I’m more free to do so with the software. It is designed to be more flexible. In some sense, you can build your own instrument with the software.«
»And this has impacted your sound?« I ask, assuming that Bjørn’s newfound love for software might have something to do with his past years, living in Berlin.
»I stopped making music« he laughs. »You try to develop a sound, but then you realise that you can go a thousand other ways as well. Being able to do whatever I can started a whole new way of thinking. Before, I thought the machine came to me and said ‘This is what I can do’. The software comes to me and says ‘I can do anything, what do you want to do?’. This started to free my mind totally.«
I hang onto the notion that Bjørn sees the introduction of software as a complete alteration of his venture. Saying »I stopped making music« states that the freeing of the mind redesigned the outcome from its core. If I understand Bjørn correctly, he doesn’t view his work in the same way as he did before, all thanks to him opening himself up to new methods. I am intrigued with the thought, and I think about how I can apply such a thing to my writing. I imagine finding a new path, one that completely takes me out of my habits, one that can make me say »I stopped writing«. What this path would be, I don’t know (because then I would already be on it) but I am almost jealous of how Bjørn describes his imagination as being refuelled. Jealousy is of course as dangerous as expectations, and often feeds or creates a sensitive ego, but hearing about Bjørn’s personal innovations I desire what he has found. Although, when I think these feelings over, the jealousy I experience is nothing but strange. I picture myself as a captive of my own limited imagination, clutching the bars to my mental cell window, hungrily looking over at the green grass of Bjørn Svin’s flowering meadows of inspiration. I see myself slowly fading away from starvation caused by the poor prison food that my mind feeds itself with, while Bjørn’s well-fed imagination taunts me from afar. But why really? My limitations are not real, just like Bjørn’s weren’t even before he discovered the wonders of software. Ironically enough, I have imagined my imagination as being limited. If I can imagine locking myself up, I might as well imagine unlocking the cell door to enter corners of my thoughts I haven’t seen before.
»Yes, you can hear in this music that I live in Berlin« Bjørn finally answers my question about his new hometown, after the excursion through his freed mind. »The creative environment that I feel I am a part of is dark, dystopian, industrial. Berlin is a nice, dark city.«
»I very much agree« I say.
»It comes both consciously and sub-consciously« Bjørn continues. »Some people might find my earlier stuff as being free. I don’t know if I find my own music more free now, but I see it as more my own, that’s for sure.«
As stated, I first reacted to the tracks on »2 Point 5 Step Pets« being very lengthy, but also very experimental. Traditionally, electronic music features some kind of theme heard throughout a song, something the listener can fall back on and feel safe with. This, dear reader, is certainly a generalization of drastic proportions, and generalizations are generally as dangerous as both jealousy and expectations. But, I’ll stick with it anyway. The difference between »2 Point 5 Step Pets« and traditional electronic music is the way Björn’s sounds can be utterly modified and in the end turned into something not remotely resembling their outset. From my perspective, they are thoroughly thought through and experimented on until they reach their peak performance, whatever that may be.
»No sound is left alone« Bjørn tells me. »If one changes, all the sounds will be changed. It’s very organic, every sound is totally alive, but it makes it very hard to mix.«
Prior to our interview, I’d assumed that the length of the »2 Point 5 Step Pets« tracks were related to the experimentation. The making of the tracks being experimental, I also just assumed. Assumption is a distant cousin to expectation, and you know what expectation might be, dear reader? That’s right, dangerous. To not fall from assumption to expectation (and maybe back into jealousy while I’m at it) I decide to ask rather than to assume. As an answer to my question about why his new songs are so long, Bjørn Svin lets me know that he enjoys listening to podcasts made up of DJ sets. There, you can hear one thing transcend into another in an almost never-ending flow of impressions. In Bjørn’s next quote, you learn what appeals to him in these ongoing pieces and what mark it has made on his own work:
»I’m more interested in making long journeys, than single tracks. You can combine elements that weren’t intended to be combined with each other, and this creates different layers in the music. It initiates a multi-level experience.«
A multi-level experience is an excellent thing to strive for as an artist, in my modest opinion. I would very much like to affect my readers in an emotional way, whilst breeding new thoughts in their pretty little heads. When I read, I want to be swept away to where the words pierce through my body and mind all at once. I want to be cocooned inside the words and not worry about any outer disturbances, and I want the words to become a part of me as much as I become a part of them. A written piece that can manage to grab a hold of me in that way is in my eyes a multi-level experience, and if I ever can achieve such greatness with my words, I am content. In some way, I believe Bjørn Svin attempts to do the same.