Being Made As We Float Along
Story online since: 07.09.2009 / 21:19:51
Another Norwegian jewel? Perhaps it is so; depends where you're coming from. Personally I've discovered Origami Galaktika, for the first time of my life, when he was on tour with the Pink Dots back in 2002. I had previously heard about Jester Records releasing a double album from this artist, so my expectations were blurred though slightly favourable. On this special night, he went on the stage right before my eyes, long haired and relaxed, smiled at us a couple of times, seemingly cheerful to be there, and started cooking up some highly psychedelic frequencies mixed through extra levels of subliminal rhythmic compounds, later e-bowing his bass guitar to amazing degrees of washed out hypnosis. I was speechless. My first live exposure to the beauty of musical abstraction. The whole set was a mix of ambient soundscapes, primal drone, tribal music with an obvious pinch of chaotic wisdom. Seven years later, I'm here to celebrate our love for experimental music and the likes. I hope you will enjoy this conversation I shared with Benny Braaten, also known as b9, the creative sound artist behind Origami Galaktika's underground history.
Hello Benny, nice to meet you man! I suppose you've been quite busy these last few months - but, first of all, how is life treating you nowadays? Are you feeling at peace with yourself?
Yeah man nice to meet you too and thanks for the interest. I have recently moved from The Yellow House in Oslo, where I have spent the last 11,5 years, to The White House by lake Tyrifjorden in Rinkerike. One hour by bus from Oslo. It's nice out here and I grew up on a farm so country side is what I used to be used to.
For the first time my studio is not my bedroom. I'm living with my girlfriend, her son and a dog, we live in one house and I rent the first floor of the annex (the house next to where we live) for the studio. Tried it out last week recording what will hopefully be my friend Ring's new album.
Sounds great so far and I get to do so much nice things, like backing vocals, percussion, fill guitars etc. whatever the song takes. Now I have to add all these little things and then mix it but so far what we have recorded sounds very good.
Live life creation worthy.
Before we start going further, I would like to know a bit more about your unknown past. I mean, for the most of us, Jester Records was where you began; but had you been composing and creating music for a long time already? What first attracted you to ambient and noise music?
I've been doing music since I was very young, most my life really, started playing violin when I was between 5 and 7 years or so. Then went on to play trombone for 6 years, started playing bass when I was 14 and from then... It's hard to say what attracted me to ambient music, I've been a big fan of space rock for many years and have always been quite open minded when it comes to music and it's not really far from Hawkwind to ambient. Not from Loop or Spacemen 3 either. When I first heard Hawkwind, it was a missing bit of the puzzle coming back.
I've never really been that much into noise, it sure is fun to make sometimes though. The only noise album I've released so far, was my solo debut 2x10" from 1997, b9's See You At The Go Go. I played in local bands Humid and Dunkelheit (both have releases on Suggestion Records, Germany) and I was introduced to Mr. Tore H. Boe, the founding father of the whole Origami Republika, by Rune Flaten (now Origami Arktika) cause we both released tapes with so called strange music in very limited editions, numbered with handmade artwork, fun stuff. We were to play a place called Månefisken (Moonfish) in Oslo the same night, with different projects and we ended up going on together, a good meeting. We recorded 5 albums as Origami Arktika and for 4 years we toured Europe quite a bit.
The first Origami Galaktika album, Stjernevandring, was recorded during Christmas of 1994 and was released by Speeding Across My Hemispheres (Germany) in 1996. The second album Eesti Lilled Silmad Süda was recorded during spring 1996 and released as a double lp by the same label in 1998. Starting in January 1998 Origami Galaktika has toured Europe many times and also Canada and the Usa. Then we made a deal with Jester to re-release the 2 first albums as a double cd. Both had been out of print for quite a while and never before available on cd so it was nice to get them available for a while again. The 3rd album Horisont is a sountrack for an exhibition that was in 2001 and was released as a part of the catalogue for the event. Jester re-released this in 2004.
I like the space that can be found in ambient music or soundscapes as I like to call it. It's hard to say when or where it all began, it just happened... I like it when things go naturally...
Personally, how would you distinguish ambient music/soundscapes in general from the so-called noise music out there? And what is a well-done soundscape to you? What does it need to achieve something?
This is a challenging question, I'm wondering about that myself from time to time too. I think it needs adventure and experience. I usually like artists that base their work on acoustic instruments, field recordings etc. more than keyboard based stuff. This does not mean I'm against keyboards but there are so many other things that make nice sounds too. I'm not sure that there is such a big difference apart from the sound. Maybe the pure noise is more about the physical experience than about the listening itself? I think there are different requirements to a record that you listen to at home and a concert too. With the music of Origami Galaktika I thrive to touch spots in people that trigger good things...
As far as your experience/adventure goes, do you think drugs of any kinds can either enhance the listening experience or somehow help a musician to explore more possibilities with sound?
This I guess is highly individual, but to say it simple, altering your state of being is altering your state of being...
Between your Jester albums and your new one, many limited cd-r editions were launched unto the public, but as far as I know, your activities were mainly kept secret or low-profile so to speak. Is it because you want to stay away from the international market?
Also the live album Live In Central Europe was released by Vendlus and Monolake, a live album by i:wound (from Germany), Inderst Elia (from Norway) and Origami Galaktika, recorded at Mir here in Oslo, was released by Purple Soil (CZ). The 7" The Power Of Compassion was released on Duplicate Records (Norway). Galaktika has also been on a couple of comps like the We're Down With Species of Any Kind by Beyond Dawn (remix dbl lp on Duplicate Records, Norway) and the Larsen HMKE (cd ep on Important Records, Usa). In 2007 I was on a brief tour in Canada again.
We are a group of people who do a lot of different stuff, we have a band called Skvalthr (with both Gustav and Gunnar + others) that has been playing Viking Markeds since 2002/3. Gunnar and I also play in a hard rock band called Spiker [speaker] (nail in Norwegian) so being out of the public eye is more a question of not being good enough at doing the promo bit, I could really use a helping hand on that. Another thing we're looking for is a label that would like to go with us for a while releasing albums on a bit more rapid rate.
I'm now working on a Galaktika trio album based on recordings we did last summer in a cave in Iceland and some stuff from Italy. The working title for the album is simply the name of the cave "Songhellir" [Songhetlir]. We have also been in a studio here in town to record a studio album. Currently working on mixing that too. There is also unreleased material for a good album by Galaktika too. So releasing the 3 albums this year would be great. Skvalthr are working on producing our debut album and a dvd (from Iceland, last summer). Spiker are also putting the finishing touch on our debut album. We're also looking for a label to release an album with Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo (of Larsen, Blind Cave Salamander, (R), etc.) and myself. I think it has become a wonderful album so I really look forward to seeing that released.
What kind of music did you end up doing with Mr. Palumbo?
Well the music is very deep I think, good nice drony scapes. It's great to work with Fabrizio, he is a very nice and gentle person. We have been in touch for quite a few years by now and I have been listening to Larsen since the release of their first album No arms, No legs, Identification problems in 1997 (or was it 96?). I must say I like them more from the 2nd album on though.
The first time we were on the same release was the compilation Related Prozzzect A (CD - ZZZ Production) in 1999. As I said I also did a remix of Larsen on their cd ep HMKE (Important records, 2005). At the time of this interview we are looking for a good label to release it, therefore I think I'll keep the title to myself for now but I think we have found a good one.... The track Of Things To Come featured on the "Don't Get Annoyed, Get Inspired!” compilation cd on www.ambolthue.com is from the same material so there you can get a good idea of what it's about.
Your latest album, Laos Vegas, had been announced a long time ago, but only got released this year on Roggbif Records. So I was wondering what happened with it and why has it taken so many years before its actual pressing. Are you satisfied with the outcome? How would you compare it to your previous records?
Well that's a long story but I'll try to give you a short version. I met a lot of nice people touring the USA with The Legendary Pink Dots in 2002 and spoke to a couple of labels about releasing a record just after the tour. I went home from the tour and recorded the album, with Kjell Braaten my younger brother, in his studio (as the previous 3 studio albums). Agreements ended up being made with a small Canadian label that was supposed to release the album on vinyl. After a while we sent it off to Canada and the long wait started.
First it was delayed a couple of times due to the usual money problem (that faces so many small labels). Then it was supposed to be released on vinyl and cd (we had different covers for the two different editions ready), then only cd and in the end it turned out not to be happening at all. Then after finally deciding to go for somebody else an agreement was made with Roggbif Records and from then it all happened quite fast. It's nice to be released by Roggbif, I've always liked the attitude and Sten Ove Toft is a very nice gentleman.
Working with Trine and Kim (designers for Live In Central Europe and Laos Vegas covers) is also very nice. They are a lovely couple and really good designers. They've listened to my ideas and I've handed them some stuff for inspiration, pictures, books, whatever and they've come up with a lovely package... twice so far, hope they want to come along further... When the album was recorded it felt like the best work till then, I'm still very happy with it.
It must be weird to always have to wait before your albums get released. Does that get frustrating after a while? It's like every time the public hear a new album from yourself, it's already old by your standards.
Well that is also the nature of the game when you are a relatively unknown artist. You have to wait for the label to have the money to release it. Usually it's ok though cause you know that it's gonna take a while, when it gets frustrating is when you start getting the extra delays, which was the case with Laos Vegas. So for that album it was getting to me. I would love to get in touch with a label that would like to stick with us for a while, keeping things available and releasing things when they are fresh.
How do you usually work it out to give shape to an album? Do you always have unused tracks around that you compile together or is it more like a much longer work where you try to fit the tracks with a specific concept or something?
It varies a bit I guess but usually the tracks that end up on the albums are made at more or less the same time, or in the same process if you like. Right now I have some unreleased stuff lying around and I think some of it will hopefully end up being released. This feels more like making a compilation in a way but I try to remember that it's just me who's had this stuff around for some time, to most other people it's new.
When I make an album there is usually some kind of a concept growing during the process, titles, imagery, sound approach etc. On the first 3 studio albums there was a close process with the cover artists too, all of them have the same number of pictures as there are tracks on them etc. It can be anything, a word, a sound, a picture, whatever that triggers an idea or a feeling and then the thing is to try to follow it... See where it leads us.
I remember seeing a picture of you sitting on the floor with many LP copies of Ved Buens Ende's Written in Water right in front of you. Moreover, you have taken part in the new Virus album, where you produced a few ambient parts which were featured here and there. How were you approached by the band and how would you describe what you did there?
That photo was shot in Joseph's (Vendlus Records) apartment in Florida when we where recording the Skysail Palace cd-r so it's/was his albums and to be honest I don't know if I've ever really heard them, I do think I know one or two of the members in the band though. It was on the 2002 tour of Canada and The United States with The Legendary Pink Dots. I was running out of cd's and had been talking to Edvard of the Pink Dots about recording a cd-r being a good idea, so Josef suggested we'd go to his place after the St. Petersburg gig and record a set, copy it and then he`d drive me to Orlando the next day. So it was... almost... it turned out being something wrong with the cd's which we found out in the car, so Josef fixed 50 new ones and got them sent to a friend in Milwakee (I believe) that came to the show with them and the Skysail Palace ended up being the first release on Vendlus Records and was sold out during the tour.
As for the Virus album I have two small pieces there, one comes as the ending of a track and one is as a single track somewhere in the middle of the album yes. I've known Einar for many years, through bands and also his label Duplicate Records, and Calle too (wasn't he in Ved Buens Ende?). Einar and I spoke about it and I started working on some stuff, he came and listened and so on till we finally ended with what's on the album. They came with the nice boat signal horn. It's a cool album!
If you ask me, there's always been a very "back-to-nature", naked kind of spirit in your work, which is hard to describe with words anyway. Is this something you're aiming at? Would you say natural field recordings are important to the Origami Galaktika sound picture?
I appreciate you asking this cause yes it is important, I like the fact that most of the sounds used on the Galaktika records are "real" sounds, instruments played, recorded and re-used electronically. Sounds "found" around the world. Or as with the trio we produce a lot of the sounds live. I want to make music that flow well with the body and energies around us, I want people to feel good when they experience Origami Galaktika Trio. I think some of the biggest complements we get for the Galaktika music (and the other stuff we do too really) is when people come and talk about having strong experiences that really seem to matter and make some kind of a difference in their life.
But Galaktika has also always been about adapting to the unexpected. When you work with sound this way there is a lot of stuff happening, you start layering and arranging music that can't be found before that stage of the process. When the sounds and rhythms start working together, the outcome might be quite different from the parts you put in...
There is a vision for the quest but the road is being made as we float along.
As we float along... it's a nice way to put it I think, because your music is very much about floating into space. What would you say to the people out there who believe ambient music is only background music?
Well people are entitled to have their own opinions so I'm not sure if I would bother discussing it with people of that opinion really. Since you ask I will try to see if I can come up with something though. I think ambient music for me is about a lot of the same stuff as space rock and some psychedelic music. If you don't listen to ambient music but keep it as background ambience it may seem like there's not much going on but if you pay attention I think there is quite a bit going on. There are not many artists, in this music, I have found that I really like and I have been searching for 14 years or more.
Maybe I'm more into the soundscape part of ambient soundscapes? To me it doesn't do it if one just slows down the dance beat. But to get back to the question about what I would say... maybe what I told the drunk German punk who came on stage once while I was playing in Neu Brandenburg in Germany: Well if you don't like it why don't you go to the bar while I'm playing? Which he happily found to be a good idea.
I really like Deathprod from Norway, all his records are great (Treetop Drive, the first Deathprod album was my favourite for several years). I also like Huun Huur Tu + some other throat singing stuff from Tuva and I: wound from Germany. Some albums I have been listening to a lot at different periods are: I will not be sad in this world by Djivan Gasparyan, Cold summer by Lull, All Our Ancestors by Tuu, Tibetan Meditation by Phil Thornton, Dreamweapon by Spacemen 3. Of rock albums that I think have a lot of good soundscaping qualities are A Guilded Eternity and Fade Out by Loop and Hall Of The Mountain Grill and Electric Tepee by Hawkwind.
My criteria for liking something or not is usually quite simple: If I believe you, I like it and I don't usually care what it is. If I don't, I usually don't care either.
In present time, what are some of your favourite natural sounds? Where do you usually go in order to gather new sounds?
I sometimes wonder too... If I go somewhere I usually bring the recorder, I don't always use it but it's usually there. Sometimes I look for sounds but mostly it's about recording what is around and picking out those that kind of ask to be brought back home... Right now I'm searching for the sound of ravens, a friend of mine who's living close to some are gonna try to help me out and I've just discovered that there is a raven couple living very close to here too so we'll see how that one goes.
You're nowadays working as a trio and from what I've heard on your MySpace page, the new compositions are indeed really interesting. Tell me more about your methods of working and how you think gathering as a trio is different from what you've previously done.
I've always had a dream and a vision of a Origami Galaktika band but it takes a special crew to do this stuff and it took a while for things to get right and for the band to happen. On the albums there are more people playing, on the 2nd, Eesti Lilled Silmad Süda we are 7 people playing. There has also been a couple of band gigs through the years but only a few and with different line-ups.
Gustav and Gunnar are good friends of mine and they have been for more than ten years now, I love them both from the bottom of my heart and I absolutely love working with them. I'm proud to be working with them both on stage and off stage. Gunnar plays saw on the Horisont album and was also performing live a couple of times 10 years ago. He also took part in See You At The Go-Go back in '97. Working as a trio is not really that different from the other way, it's just a different fun to play live. One does not hinder the other though I'll still do performances as Origami Galaktika and there will probably be duo shows as well. A bit of whatever is possible and whoever is available attitude. There are many aspects to take into consideration regarding tours and stuff you know...
Yeah I'm sure there are. It sounds to me like you're going back to a more folk approach to sound recording in that band context. Maybe folk is the wrong term to use here, but you know what I mean. Live percussions, primitive chants, string instruments... Let's say it's more acoustic-naked than electronic-furnished or something.
Well I don't think it really is a new direction, these elements have always been there, I guess it can be right to say that we are concentrating more on those parts of the sound field. There are samples and stuff live with the Trio as well, every once in a while the other guys get to practise not doing anything in front of people, which is also interesting.
The Brusaschetto & Braaten (Db9) collaboration cd-r is now out on Afe Records. What could you tell us about this one? Have you known Daniele for a long time already?
We have been in touch since 1996 or so and the first time we met and jammed was in February 1998 in Turin, Italy. The collaboration was recorded at Daniele's place in 2004 and he did the editing of it. Most of it is "my sounds” through his set up. It's cool that we finally have a release out (even though it's a very limited edition thing).
Now, can you tell me more about your rock'n'roll band Spiker, where we rather see you handle the bass and headbang intensely?
I like to say Spiker is a hard rock'n'roll band, cause I think that is what it is. The band has been going since 2001 or 2002, I joined in 2005 (I believe) and the line-up has been steady since then. Our debut album is now in the mastering process so all we have to do now is find somebody to release it. Spiker is a great band to be in, we all get along well and there is a lot of positivity to the whole band. We have a lot of singalong choruses and there is a lot of energy. I have been playing bass for a long time and I think it's a fantastic instrument. Nothing like a fat, loud, distorted bass! You can check us at www.myspace.com/spikerrock. Get into the groove... Gunnar, the guitarist and I have known each other for 13-14 years or so and as you might know, we're also together in the Galaktika Trio and Skvalthr.
In Norway there seems to have been a strong Pagan/Modern religion fighting over the years... Would you say you are a religious/spiritual person, and that music is your means of exploring that "dimension" further and further?
These are matters that are always present in me. I do think that this has direct results in the music too. Both subjects are about understanding, are they not? And accepting that we don`t always understand. I think that if we read the holy books, (not just seeing the order of the letters), this is what they are about. When religion becomes force it has already failed, has it not? To answer the second half of your question, I say Yes and Yes! There are a lot of people around the world that spend their time doing yes, instead of shouting NO!
After so much brainstorming, I hope you're still doing well, Benny. It was such a pleasure to know a bit more about the secrets behind Origami Galaktika and your other projects. What will you keep yourself busy with in the next coming days and months?
Thanks man, doing good... The first few things to land is finishing the Ring album, the Galaktika Trio albums, a Galaktika album and the Spiker album. Hopefully things will start happening with the Skvalthr album and dvd too... In the summer it's marked season again so we'll travel to a few of those. We're (Skvalthr) booked at some and hopefully there will be a couple of more coming. Also talking to a nice guy in Russia about a tour there, hopefully this autumn and I think it's time for a European tour again soon too. Some more Trio shows and of course Spiker...