Interview by Bjørn Hammershaug
Translated and abridged by Christian Lysvåg
Tafjord has made her name known through a string of avant-garde constellations, such as Fe-mail, SPUNK, Agrare and Trinacria. Now the release of her solo debut “Kama” is imminent. Issued by fellow sound deconstructeur Lasse Marhaug’s new label Pica Disk, it is a 40-minute incessant colossus presenting us with an artist that transgresses the boundaries between noise, improvisation, electronica and defined composition.
The sound of Brass
At what point did you start approaching improvisation and noise music?
-I started improvising on the horn at the age of around fourteen I guess. At first I was playing blues and standard jazz. And when I enrolled at Tonheim musical college, where I met Maja Ratkje, we would sing and play standards together. But we also started disfiguring the material; toying with timbres and trying to find other, hidden qualities. The collaboration with Ratkje has become polymorph over the years, counting several different projects such as SPUNK, Fe-mail, Agrare and Trinacria. SPUNK has been a decisive musical hearth for me, says Tafjord. Other constellations are Slinger, Lemur and Unni Løvlid Ensemble.
You were the first ever student at the NMH’s (Norwegian academy of music) jazz program to take your exams on the horn. Why did you choose this instrument?
-The sound of brass was pretty much moulded into my system due to family and family traditions. The horn isn’t exactly over-exposed in my field of music, so it is a fair question. I think that there was something about the warmth of the sound that exercised a pull on me from the start. I’m of such a make-up that I need to be able to influence what I do to a large degree; communicate, mould and create. And in line with this, it was only to be expected that improvisation was to become my major focus by and by.
Present in the moment
You have played with Zeena Parkins, Fred Frith, Birchville Cat Motel, Wolf Eyes, Ikue Mori and Matmos –to mention a few. How do you re-level between all your different projects, and what are the challenges of relating to such an array of diverse constellations?
-I have found it important to pursue a balance between playing in fixed ensembles over longer periods of time and instantaneous, ephemeral meetings with other musicians and artists. The regular constellations give me the chance to probe deeply into musical forms of expression and communication, whilst performing with strangers means that one finds oneself in new contexts which entails that the language becomes alive in a different way. Gradually one gets a hang of working with subject matter that comes into being in the moment.
It is a finely tuned kind of apparatus, and it has to do with being present in the moment and handling the situation with delicacy and intuition. It requires a large degree of openness and firmness at the same time. No situation is alike of course, but one brings along a set of tools and experiences. It is like a language; the interlocutors decide the content and form of the conversation, it was not planned ahead.
The transition from playing live to studio recording can be difficult, especially for an improvisational musician who is so often immersed in the moment. How does one make this work on record?
-Most of the records I have contributed to have been based on live recordings from concerts of from the studio, which then sometimes are subjected to meticulous composition work. The recorded format is completely different from the live situation, in which the music is experienced in interplay with several other factors: the space, other people, light etc. And of course the interplay between performer and audience is decisive. Hence it is necessary to relate to recorded material as a completely different aural situation.
You’ve said once that you have a pretty anarchic relation to sound, can you elaborate on this?
-I think that any sound whatsoever can be used as a musical building bloc, as long as it has the character one is after. My horn is often processed and distorted beyond recognition, in order to unveil a new character.
Your hands have been completely untied with the work on your solo debut “Kama”. What are your thoughts around the making of this record?
-It was Lasse Marhaug who approached me when he had instigated his new label. On “Kama” I’ve focused on the part of my expression that concerns duration and continuation, and I’ve made one unbroken piece of music that last for 41 minutes. I’ve worked a lot with droning lately and I wanted to create long motions in multiple layers: active, contemplative and meditative.
Tafjord relates that she has been pondering the piece for a while, but that it was only now that she had the time and the wish to put it out.
-I started out in my living room by recording a layer of horns, which I extended to a total of 14 tracks superimposed on one another with or without live effects. On this foundation I composed the piece over a six-month-period. The foundation of “Kama” is very played, and largely based on the horn as sound source.
“Kama” is out now on Pica Disk
Spunk (Performing Bodies\Bands (rock/pop/jazz etc.); Performing Bodies\Ensembles)
Fe-mail (Performing Bodies\Bands (rock/pop/jazz etc.))
Hild Sofie Tafjord, Hornist