Name: Kajsa Magnarsson, Marta Forsberg
Occupation: Sound artists, composers
Current release: Kajsa Magnarsson & Marta Forsberg's Kompisitioner, a both visually and sonically stunning 2x7" set is available via Lamour.
If these thoughts by Kajsa Magnarsson and Marta Forsberg piqued your interest, visit their respective websites: Kajsa Magnarsson, Marta Forsberg.
We also highly recommend our previous fifteen questions interview with Marta Forsberg, in which she expands on a wider range of topics. Also, check out some of the conversations we had with artists inside her creative periphery:
[Read our Ellen Arkbro interview]
[Read our Maria W Horn interview]
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it?
Kajsa: My parents are musicians so sound and music has always been a big part of my life. Singing came as natural to me as breathing. Then I went on to study piano but I was not a good student and didn’t like it very much. Singing solo and singing in choirs was what I did most as a child. I know all the Swedish Christmas songs by heart because I was always in the Lucia parade.
Marta: I did not grow up in an artist family, but for whatever reason I decided I wanted to play the violin when I was really small. So my parents signed me up for the music school and from that point on I started my music journey. As part of the music school I played in the kids orchestra and then the youth orchestra (strong and beautiful memories of playing the sound track from “The Lord of the Rings”) and then different ensembles and bands.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances using sound in an unusual or remarkable way captured your imagination in the beginning?
Marta: The first music that I remember really loving was pop music played on the radio. Rix FM was the name of the station, and I would record my favorite songs on cassette so I could listen back to them whenever I wanted. I was mainly into the solo stuff from former Spice Girls members, especially Mel C.
But at one point my best friend introduced me to a Swedish indie pop band called Kent, and that was the beginning of a very intense love relationship to their music. Until today I'm a sucker for these kinds of melancholic guitar riffs and romantic text writing. I was writing A LOT of poetry myself at this time, very heartfelt and dramatic.
Kajsa: Happy hardcore was really something to come across as a kid in the early 90s. Was it made for kids? It has that kind of suger-rush energy. I always liked synthetic voices and sounds. Maybe that is because my parents are very like ”down to earth” musicians that sing and play guitar and accordion. Evolving pads and things like that really made me fantasies
about space and fantasy landscapes.
In my teens I was very interested in listening and finding new music. I worked extra so I could buy records. It was always a gamble. You might buy a record and then not like it, haha! But then you listened to it five times and you found a song or two that you liked. I wore out maybe two headphones a year.
My favourite music from back then was Lauren Hill, Björk, The Velvet Underground, The Smiths, Le Tigre, Portishead and a bunch of Swedish indie bands. Björk was really crucial for me in my decision to compose.
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?
Kajsa: Nostalgia is powerful. I have made some pieces that focus on the sounds that were around me when I grew up. One is a tape-piece called ”Arvet” (The Heritage) another one is a sound sculpture made of coffee cups that has the same name as my grandmother, ”Anna-Kristina”.
Right now I am working with New Age sound aesthetics since my mother is a real hippy. It's kind of a love-cringe sort of relationship that I have to new age sounds and music. Sounds that I have a previous relationship to and that means something personal for me is more interesting to work with.
My mother had this cassette tape with a man that sounded his way through the intestines. He would say the name of the part of the intestine like ”the duodenum” and then he went on making a sound with his voice. It was mostly like guttural noises. My mother listened to that in the evening before she went to sleep for maybe a year or so. It’s a very clear sonic memory for me. I asked for that cassette a while back and she said she threw it out because it didn’t work. Maybe that was off track. I honestly don’t know how that influenced me but it made some kind of mark.
Marta: I think early experiences of music plants a sort of tone very close to your core. It's hard to put a finger on it, since it's just a part of who you are, what Kajsa said - that one doesn’t know how these things influenced you, but it certainly left a mark.
I was raised in a catholic family and was going to church during my whole childhood - I'm not anymore practicing any religion but when I sometimes go to church with my mother, I will cry my heart out singing the psalms I know from that time. It is what it is.
Working predominantly with field recordings and sound can be an incisive step / transition. Aside from musical considerations, there can also be personal motivations for looking for alternatives. Was this the case for you, and if so, in which way?
Marta: It is kind of recent that I started working with field recordings. This duo together with Kajsa really triggered this interest as well. I had to find material for our songs, and it had to go fast - so I started listening to recordings I've done on my phone through the years.
When I made these recordings it was mainly because I wanted to record the sound of a certain situation that I wanted to remember. I saw it more as a sound diary. But this somehow switched some years ago and now I often go back to listen to these “sound memories” and pick some of them to work with.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and working with sound? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
Kajsa: Yes, I see myself as a part of the big artist collective where everybody brings their part to make art and music evolve. Like a big machinery where I am a cog right now and like Britney Spears is one cog and Beethoven is another cog. They might be bigger and more influential cogs but we all do our part. (laughs)
I don’t really think I work in the tradition of a special movement or under the influence of a certain person. It's more of a mix of everything. I do think the fluxus take on music and art is very inspiring though.
What are the sounds that you find yourself most drawn to? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
Kajsa: My favourite sound is the human voice. Everything with choirs is beautiful. To sing in a choir is also such a powerful experience. I’ve heard somewhere that your hearts sync together with the people you sing with.
Marta: I must agree with Kajsa, I also really love the human voice. And I wish I could sing in a choir again, it's one of the best things ever.
Recently I also started thinking about the voices of other creatures or the voice of the Earth, and stuff like that. I guess what I'm interested in is not only the sound of the human voice, but also communication. And then it comes quite naturally to think about the voices and communication between individuals of other species as well.
And when we talk about communication then we also automatically must consider listening as an active practice. And that relationship between communication and listening. It's very exciting!
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, from instruments via software tools and recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you personally starting from your first studio/first instruments and equipment? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Kajsa: I got my first computer when I was 22 and studied at a singer songwriter-program. At the same time I got my computer I bought the whole kit with my first sound card, software and such. Learning to record and work with music in a digital environment changed my life.
Most of the hardware and software that I work with has fallen into my lap. The synth and sampler that I use, both from Elektron, were at a place where I had a residency and I learned to use them while on that residency and made a record using them called ”Häxdisko”. I am not particularly interested in synths and samplers. Right now I need to get a new synth cause the one I have is too big and fragile to travel with.
It’s fun to learn a new instrument, like a new synth or a new software, but it takes a lot of time. I am not interested in technique, I am interested in composing so when I get something new I compose new stuff as I learn my new tool. If something works, it works. If it doesn't then I’ll need to find something that does but I wouldn’t just get gear for the sake of getting new gear.
Marta: I am as pragmatic as Kajsa when it comes to tools, I don't actively search for new instruments, but rather use what I have or get a new tool when it's really necessary. I think I have some sort of trauma from touring with effect pedals, violin and DMX boxes for my LED lights some years ago. Today I don't want to carry anything more than my laptop! (laughs) Maybe I'm scared of getting dependent on too much gear?
Kajsa: There is always a risk with touring with your gear. It’s nerve wrecking!
Where do you find the sounds you're working with? How do you collect and organise them?
Kajsa: Mostly YouTube or FreeSound to be honest. Soundflower is one of my favourite tools. I have a zoom that I use when I find an unusual of special sound that I want to record myself, like somebody’s laugh.
On Kompisitioner we worked with each other's sounds, sending them back and forth and processing them. It’s really liberating to work in that way because the sounds become more musical when you don’t know their backstory in the same way.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
Kajsa: It is all connected. Every sound has a history of some sort, even synthetic sounds. The way you put them together, the process of composing, has meaning. The space where it is played can also be important, or the way you choose to publish your work. I think it’s most common to not focus on everything but pick out what's important to you right now and with this piece. Martas and my record is very much about the process of communicating and putting friendship in the centre of our artistic work.
I like concepts and to think about all the different parts in a piece, not only the sounding material. Sometimes the sounding material is the least important, even in sound art. I feel like when I did the Rape Alarm Organ, the sound it made was second to the object and the concept of an instrument being made from power-starved attack alarms.
Marta: Something about what Kajsa just written made me think about all these pieces I've worked with that had a strong connection to a topic or concept of some sort. And then I had to think about the fact that I often feel like I don't choose the sounds I'm working with, but rather they are given to me or come to me. And then it's my job to take care of them, and that's composing to me.
Kajsa: That’s beautiful, you are the adoptive mother of lost and found sounds!
From the concept of Nada Brahma to "In the Beginning was the Word", many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you're taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?
Kajsa: Sound makes you concentrate. Listening to a concert, or playing together with other people has ritualistic elements. You give and receive together.
Divineness and space are very big and serious topics for me. I have a lot of respect for it. Maybe when I am old and wise I can say something smart about it. I try to be here now and focus on things I can reach my head around.
Marta: What Kajsa said.