Name: Hans P. Kjorstad
Occupation: Composer, fiddle player
Current Release: Hans P. Kjorstad's Avkjølingshistorie, a work exploring forces of nature through what he calls “Sonic time images”, is out via Motvind.
If you enjoyed this interview with Hans P. Kjorstad, visit his official website for more information. He is also on Facebook, and Soundcloud.
You've spoken about recurring patterns in the earth's development. Based on these patterns – what's your outlook for the not too distant future?
First and foremost, I think that it’s really really creepy that we are not thinking more ahead.
Most people can relate to stuff happening 400 years ago, some 4000 years ago, and a few that have read about pre-historic times can differentiate on what happened 40 000 years ago, 40 million years ago, 400 million years ago and 4 billion years ago. But who are really thinking about what will be going on in 500 years? Or even 100 years? On the global timescale, this is very much the NEAR future!!!
Our label, Motvind Records, is a part of an umbrella organization that also includes a festival and a magazine, and we have been an outspoken member of the piece movement in Norway for the last years. Especially in the debates about the weapon industry. Today there is war in Europe again, and it seems that the anti-war movement has lost much of it’s momentum that has been developed since the 60s.
This is very sad, but we cannot give up. The only way to solve this shit is DIPLOMACY and basic knowledge of the history of this planet and the genesis of human thought.
Tell me about the concept of “sonic time images”, please.
Simply put, every part of the piece is linked to an event in the history of the planet, so these parts are sonic time images of these events. I have put info about those events in both the titles of the parts, in the artwork that I carved out from wood and printed, and in the liner notes that I wrote.
How would you describe the process of arriving at the sonic times images for the project?
It took a lot of reading and writing down thoughts about what I had been reading. Then I had to select a few events from 4,6 billion years of drastic events! (laughs) It was very interesting to learn more about geology, evolution and maybe especially, mass extinctions (since there have been so many of them), so I worked on them.
But of course, as a human being and from being interested in the genesis of symbolic thought and so on, I had to use a lot of that as well. So, the A-side is about geology and evolution, and the B-side is about the development of human interaction.
Avkjølingshistorie is a “historical-essayistic-philosophical-poetic look at subjects related to geology, biology, mysticism and consciousness on several levels”. Why did you choose music to explore these topics?
Well, I am a musician, so I tend to explore topics through music. I wrote my previous album, Vendingo utta’om råket in a quite traditional style in terms of notating tunes with specific pitches, rhythms and chords. After finishing that, I felt like breaking out of this system and trying to write music based on other ideas, with other ways of communicating my music to the performing musicians.
I simply wrote a mind map of all the things that I was interested in at that moment and bought a lot of books about those subjects. While reading and constantly taking notes of what I found most fascinating, the piece gradually evolved around both concrete historical facts and my own interpretations of history, hence this “historical-essayistic-philosophical-poetic” way of looking at it.
What interests you about forces of nature, would you say? In how far are you also interested in the sonic qualities of these forces?
Hm, big question ... For me, the forces of nature are exciting because they are so much stronger than us human beings. It really gave me a lot of perspective to dig into mass extinctions, for instance. And the time perspective is also important ...
All this is linked to my love for sound and it’s quite clear from listening back to this piece, that I find the sonic qualities of these forces appealing as well.
As you mention in the press release, sight is the key word for the concrete pieces on the album. What, from your point of view, changes in terms of potentials for expression if you use a medium like music which works with sight on a different level?
Music has the power of being totally abstract and quite concrete at the same time. When we read something, the words often have a clear meaning, and when we see pictures, they can easily tell a story. But with music, it can be very vague.
This piece has been an attempt to be as sonically precise as possible (from my own point of view) and
I have given a few hints about it all through the titles, the artwork and the liner notes. But hopefully not too much, because it must be up to each listener to visualise their own interpretations. Especially on the emotional side of listening, I hope this music is very open for individual feelings.
For many people, mentioning sound and sight instantly conjurs up the notion of synaesthesia. It is my assumption that synaesthesia is more common and diverse in its manifestation than many suppose – but it also merely the outer layer of a deeper phenomenon. How do you see the relationship between sound and sight yourself?
Yes, I believe that different types of synaesthesia are more common than one thinks. I do have a quite vivid imagination when it comes to listening to music, and I often link sounds to pictures, scenarios and such.
I think many have it in the same way, but often those inner pictures appear and disappear so fast that one either doesn’t recognise what is happening or doesn’t quite “believe” them. I think this is related to the subconsciousness and that is still a very unexplored field, at least among us non-academic.
You worked with carefully selected musicians to realise these compositions. In how far were they able to indeed sense what was happening in the music?
This is a 9-part piece and each part had one sheet of written instructions. Everybody had individual instructions for all the 9 different parts, but on each sheet there was also a drawn picture that was the same for all, like a common “inner vision”. And I also tried to describe the “scene” that we were playing before playing it.
All the musicians were selected because of their individual musicianship, special techniques and personalities, and as I knew the line-up while writing the piece, I wrote it much like a “screenplay” with “actors” playing different parts.
Music is often described as a language. With regards to the narrative qualities of your latest release, in how far do you see it that way yourself? What can be expressed through it compared to word-based concepts?
I do think of music as a language, among other things of course.
This is sometimes the way I describe the concept of collective improvisation in music – that it can be just like having a normal conversation, where nothing is planned, but we all have our own language and there is a set of social codes that we follow. However, when I composed this piece, I was more interested in the visual aspects of music, and asked myself: what do we hear when seeing images and what do we see when hearing music?
Working with these questions led to multiple forms of “telling stories” through sound.
It is my impression that, very often, music is a powerful, but not a very precise language. Reactions to performances and albums often tend to be wildly different – how do you explain that?
I think it can be related to our own background and experiences as listeners, as well as the situation and kind of state the listener finds herself in.
It is clear that a “deep listening” situation is different than hearing an album in the background while doing all sorts of other stuff. In total, all of these factors make music a very open form of art that can reach people in almost every possible way.