Name: Tine Surel Lange
Occupation: Composer, sound artist
Current Release: Tine Surel Lange's Works For Listening 1-10 is out now on Sofa Music.
Recommendations: Easter: A Berlin-based duo with smashing hits like “Alien Babies”, “Physchobitch” and “Smar”. Their music is balancing between odd and cool, always managing to resonate with my inner vibe.
“Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea”: Documentary by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer telling the story of the rise and fall of the Salton Sea, an accidental man-made lake once an arena for the American dream, now an ecological disaster and one of the most health-hazardous places in the US. In the documentary you meet a few remaining lovable eccentrics, living among the ruins of this man-made mistake, struggling to keep a remodeled version of the original Salton Sea dream alive. The documentary was a big inspiration for my “Desert Creatures: The Salton Sea”.
If you enjoyed this interview with Tine Surel Lange, visit her excellent website for everything you ever wanted to know about her.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I’ve been fascinated by sound since I started existing - from disliking my mother practicing violin on the shrill E-string when I was inside her womb and my fascination of pressing down as many keys at once on an electric organ as a toddler, to my journey with instruments starting with two sticks quickly replaced by a real violin as a 4-year-old through countless instruments to the computer now being my main source of sounds. I was a very creative child being surrounded in my early childhood by immense nature in the arctic of Northern Norway, and this has definitely had a huge impact on why I became a composer/artist working with sound.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I’m split between the idea that every note/tone and combination of these have been done already and therefore there is nothing new happening only a further exploration within different frameworks - and the idea of me “just doing my thing” where the more time I spend with myself and my own thoughts the better and original my art becomes. These days I’m mostly leaning towards the latter.
I’m experiencing something quite weird these years where my current electro-acoustic works are suddenly a direct continuation of my very early electroacoustic works. As if all my experimentation and evolvement these past ten years have just been a detour, and now I’m back at the beginning. Back at the original ideas, before I knew much about the field and the works existing within it. Moving back to the Arctic and being based here combined with an international career was the best decision I could have made. I feel much more balanced, down-to-earth, and connected with myself and my surroundings. This definitely reflects in my creativity and artistic outcome. The more time I spend with my own thoughts when creating the weirder my works get - in the best way possible.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I have a very strong sense of identity in my creativity. I think the most important thing for me is to always do “me”, and to do “me” more, continuing to learn from and emulate myself. To present works and sounds where a strong presence of “me” overrides whether this or that has been done before or not. Focusing on how I would do something. If we all just did “our thing” there would not be much competition, because we are all individual beings with our own stories, experiences, and skillsets and this could (/should?) be reflected in our art and in the end make us all stand out for our own uniqueness.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The lack of role models that I could identify with was challenging - despite having experimented with sounds all my life and writing down my own compositions ever since I learned music notation as a 7-year-old, it did take me quite some time to realize that a composer doesn’t necessarily have to be a (dead) man with a beard. I was also quite biased from growing up in a classical music family with little experience with (and quite a dislike for) contemporary and electronic music. To this day I still have to stop and double-check if my mind is really open and unbiased when I’m encountering something new or something I do not (yet) understand.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My journey with instruments has been and still is ever-expanding - I’ll always find new sounds to be fascinated by or more instruments to add to my collection.
As to studio and recording equipment, my journey has been a bit different; before my composition studies, I studied sound design and sound art where I had two years of being exposed to all the equipment and software possible and was able to pick my favorites from early on. Ableton live, final cut, DPA 4060’s, contact microphones are favorites still going strong from those times.
I’m not very adventurous as to try out new tools. I’m (fortunately) very busy with my art, and whenever I do take the time to learn something new or expand my array of tools and equipment it’s mostly driven by a specific need for a work where my existing equipment or setup is limiting or not able to what I want to do, so the main new addition of favorites was when I started my journey with ambisonics in 2016. I have an eight-channel Genelec rig at my atelier here in Lofoten, but for my work with high order ambisonics I’m regularly doing work stays at facilities for spatial sound - Notam (NO), EMS (SE), MiSC (LT), and CCRMA (US) have been the most important places where my “Works for Listening” have been created during these past 4 years.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I would rather say that there have been sounds that have had life-altering effects on me. The day I was exposed to the works of Jana Winderen and Jacob Kirkegaard was mindblowing. Suddenly the whole world was sound, ready to be collected and put together in context, and all I had to do was to really listen.
Another important moment was the first time I put my sounds in a 3D ambisonics sphere and suddenly understood that this was my medium - a format where my sounds would finally get the space they needed to unfold - the symphony orchestra of the electro-acoustic composer!
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I mostly work alone, and I like to have control over all the aspects of my art - recording, composing, editing, filming, photographing, costume designing, modeling, fundraising, marketing, accounting, etc. My workday as a composer hasn't changed much since the start of the covid pandemic. I’m still mostly sitting alone in my atelier here in the Arctic Lofoten archipelago, spending time in solitude creating works for ensembles and musicians I interact briefly with through email or digital meetings, maybe attending a rehearsal or two (sometimes none), and hopefully, get to attend a premiere as well here and there.
I like to collaborate though, mostly in situations where you are present with other artists over time in a setting where different expressions or skill sets are able to meet and interact. I’ve been working a lot with dancers, choreographers, and body painters, mostly during collaborative residency/work stays. I also have some inspiring people close to me that I can share ideas with or get an external view from.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Due to my art being so abstract and intuitive I need a lot of routines to pin it all down into something concrete, and I’m quite protective of my sleeping, eating, and getting fresh air habits.
I like to spend hours in the morning eating breakfast while reading (my current project is reading all of Tolkien’s legendarium), and I try to do daily yoga in the evening. The time in between is mostly filled with intense work or outdoor adventures. A routine that works well for me is spending several days working almost day and night at my atelier, and then going home for some days and trying my best not to do anything related to my “composer-work”.
There’s a 45 min drive between where I live and where I work - driving through the most amazing nature sceneries - and it becomes a journey for my mind as well where I get ready either entering my work- or my free-time-bubble.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I would say that most of my works are special to me and are important road marks on my ever-continuing journey of evolving and exploring, but I want to share a specific story as well. In the Nordic countries, we have the yearly UNM (young Nordic music) festival presenting works by young composers (7 composers from each Nordic country chosen through an open call). This festival was an important stepping stone for me as well as giving me a strong network among my nordic colleagues. I’ve represented Norway four times at the festival, the first time - starting my journey as a young composer - with my “6 Bekker fra Vestlandet'', an 8 min electro-acoustic work featuring six mountain streams from Western Norway, a work revealing the natural musical world of these streams, only slightly enhancing natural frequencies in the material, and my last time - starting my journey as an adult composer - with “Wires”, a 10 min electroacoustic work featuring eight metal wires from a radio tower in Northern Norway, a work revealing the natural musical world of these wires, only slightly enhancing the natural frequencies in the material. I don’t know of a better example of a circle being complete than this.
My works have changed quite since my last UNM participation, but I would not be surprised if other circles will be completed again along the road.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
With creativity and work being so closely intertwined for me I would like to put it like this: There is too much focus on working in the meaning of sitting at a desk or in front of a computer doing something very concrete and work-like. For me, reflection, researching, and exposing yourself for impressions and inspirations is just an important part of my work progress. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to do while trying to expose myself for impressions that could be relevant for the direction I want to go - I might even say that I curate my surroundings while working or being creative. I also spend a lot of time in nature, either hiking, walking around, or just observing. This process of thinking lasts from a week to a year, depending on the timeline.
When I’m ready I usually go into this state of non-thinking, basically pushing away my cravings, needs, and thoughts - closing of the surroundings while intensely zooming in on a small bubble of the work at hand. I’m not entirely sure what happens, I almost feel I seize existing as a living being and instead become a creating being, and I often look back at my works thinking how did I come up with that?
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
My very early works were quite emotional, and at every concert, there was always someone in the audience crying - hopefully with some feeling of release as well. I would not describe my current works as emotional at all, but even when I try to make works that are neutral and listening based without any emotions, like my “Works for Listening”, there seems to be an emotional response in the audience. So yes, I do believe that sounds can both heal and hurt. I also believe that we somehow have forgotten how to listen, as a protective shield towards an intense world where we are exposed to explosions of impressions and where visual images of all the sorrows of our world are the backdrop of everyday life - I think it’s deeply disturbing that people are able to eat their dinners while looking at the news. I understand the need to disconnect to survive, but we also need to connect, to take in the world, to be entirely present, to see, listen, taste, feel, and touch. Art, music, and sounds have an important ability to make us connect with our surroundings, and my works often try to re-teach my audience how to listen.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Living in Northern Norway / Sapmi this is something I’ve had to be conscious about, especially in these past years. We need to be aware of the history of colonization (and its influence on art), the suppression and also exotification of the arctic, indigenous cultures, and art forms, and of the current process of de-colonizing the art field. I’m still learning how to be aware of how deep and layered colonization runs and how this affects my way of being and creating, and I think being aware, open for change, and trying to educate yourself is an important step.
I do work a lot with symbolism, mythologies, and legends in my work, and try my best to stay critical of my material as well as appreciating it. I mostly work with material I have a personal connection to, and with thematics that are part of my own story and identity. Whenever you try to tell or create someone else's story it can easily become messy and problematic. And personally, I find telling or creating your own story and reality is much more interesting.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Connotations and how they shape how we experience something is important in my art and was initially what brought me to work so broadly with how to present my work - often taking control of the setting, working highly audiovisual or in the field of concert installations, working with visual art, and now wanting to create multi-sensory experiences in the future including smell and taste. Experiencing my audiovisual works with strong visual images from the arctic, like my “Midnight Sun Ritual”, will probably feel even stronger if combined with snacking on some traditionally dried fish (with a quite potent smell).
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I think all art is political - even when it’s not (not being political becomes a statement in itself), and as an artist, you can either work with or against this. For myself, it feels natural to work with it, and my art has become my voice to comment on everything from endangered seagulls, climate change, and the coming fall of humankind, to social structures, #metoo, and sex pressure.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Anything and nothing. This is all entirely subjective - we all have different experiences and readings of music, sounds, and art depending on our background, stories, moods, or even what we ate that day. For me, music and sounds make me feel alive, and I can use sound to enhance feelings, moods, or experiences. So for me, music and sounds basically are life as well as expressing it.