A Great Ear For Sound [2021-09-07]
One of the more creative and distinctive sound-art/ manipulated field records to appear in recent times was this year’s Works For Listening 1-10. Released by the always worthy Sofa Music, the album sits somewhere between atmospherically manipulated field recordings and electro-acoustic texturing- be it alien, ambient or slightly manic. And most surprising of all, it was the debut album of young Norwegian composer and sound artists Tine Surel Lange. I tracked down Tine for an email interview, discussing her wonderful debut, her love of sound, and much more
M[m]: What are some of your earliest music or sound memories, and do you think any of these triggered you to start making your own work?
Tine I have always been fond of the sound of birds - especially migratory birds, arriving with the sound of a new season to come. And the sound of water dripping on various materials is a favorite of mine. Growing up in the Vesterålen archipelago above the arctic circle in Northern Norway surrounded by immense nature, sharp mountains, deep oceans, with an ever-changing strong and present sound environment has definitely had a huge impact on how I perceive and associate sound.
My earliest “music” memory is “the hall of the mountain king” from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite - in the following order I learned to walk, ski, and to find and put on the LP with Edvard Grieg’s “In The Hall of the Mountain King”.
M[m]: When did you start creating your own Soundworks- and how do you feel your sound has developed and changed since you started?
Tine I’ve been fascinated with sound from a very early age. Both my parents are musicians, and as a 3-year-old I found two sticks in the garden and mimicked my violinist-mother, and the sticks were quickly replaced with a real violin. But first after some photo documentation of me with my sticks of course. I’ve been through many instruments and have always been more interested in making weird sounds than playing the instrument in the way it was supposed to be played. I’ve been writing down my own music ever since I learned music notation, but it wasn’t until I started working with electronic music as a 21-year-old and was exposed to Jacob Kirkegaard’s “Eldfjall”, that I finally did the (for me immensely important) crossing of the border from music to sound works. The road to finding my artistic impression has been both zig-zagged and in loops, but I feel I’m on the right track - especially since I relocated back to the Arctic of Northern Norway some years ago.
After years of deep-diving into all the possibilities and mediums and inspiring things going on, I’m currently making works very similar to my very first electronic sound works - it seems my initial, raw and unbiased experiments were the most me after all. But then again, I return (or loop back to) the starting point with much more experience and clarity, so it’s still something new and different.
M[m]: You mention Jacob Kirkegaard’s Eldfjall been a big stepping stone to wanting to work in sound art- what was it about this release that appealed so much to you? And were there any other sound/ field recording records that have had an impact on you?
Tine This was one of the first field-recording-based works I ever heard, so this opened up a whole world of sound for me. From here I quickly found my way to works by Jana Winderen, Cris Watson, Hildegard Westerkamp, Francisco López, as well as both field recording and sounding-object-based works by Hanna Hartmann, Kjell Samkopf (his Maradalen Walk was an ear-opener for me), and the technical strong electro-acoustic compositions by Natasha Barrett, and so on. I’m currently very inspired by artists like Helge Sten / Deathprod with his strong and minimalistic approach to chords and sound, Tori Wrånes’ magical world of trolls and other beings, Alvin Lucier’s way of blending of composition and sound art, Petecia Le Fawnhawks sculptural desert shapes, Lasse Marhaugs wonderful and noisy sound world, Julia Burulevas photos of humans and fabrics in nature, and of course Pauline Oliveros for opening our ears for listening.
I’ve always been fascinated by sound, but actually composing with field recordings was not something I had experienced much, coming from an instrumental background. Nature is the greatest composer there is, and it feels like an honour to be able to go out in the world, find some of the (in my ears) most beautiful and interesting sounds, emphasize natural frequencies/tones/structures/textures, and present it in the best way possible for an audience in the hope of creating more awareness of the magical sound world we have around us. I think in an increasingly noisy world, we learn how to block out sounds and impressions to survive, but at the same time, we lose some of our ability to really listen and connect with our surroundings through sounds.
M[m]: The first release you're connected to on Discogs is a pop-rock album Alle E Aleina. What do you do on the album, and how did you come to appear on it?
Tine I’ll include some backstory before coming to the point. I’ve been working with music from an early age, trying to be a musician before getting on track with being a composer - I knew I wanted to work with music (or, actually I always wanted to be a marine biologist working with great white sharks), but it took me some time to understand that you could work as a composer (despite being alive, female, and without a beard - or in other words, I lacked role models). So in my zig-zag journey, I have left several footprints behind as a young cellist arranging metal songs for string orchestra, a multi-instrumentalist and music arranger in several early music bands (yes, bands, not ensembles - imagine party music based on medieval melodies played by lots of drums, bagpipes, and hurdy-gurdies), and a young composer writing very melodic music performed by my own string trio touring the Nordic countries, Germany and Russia (there is a CD out there with this as well). Just to mention some musical endeavours of mine.
One of the footprints along the road is Jan Ingvar Toft’s solo album “Alle E Aleina” (everyone is alone), where I did some music arranging of cello and choir. Jan Ingvar Toft was a member of the very popular Norwegian folk-rock band Vamp, and he’s a very creative, inspiring, and special artistic being that (in my words) does not fit perfectly into the mold of society. He was the soloist on a music school project where I was arranging the music, and I felt I met a fellow “alien” in this world. I asked him, “Is there any room for artists in this world?”, to which he replied: “I think it’s best when there is a little mold on the cheese”. For me this made sense, and I shortly after applied for composition studies at the Norwegian Academy of Music (to which I was accepted).
M[m]: Please discuss your time at the Norwegian Academy of Music studying composition- and how do you think this changed/ altered the way you work?
Tine I mostly remember my time at the Norwegian Academy of Music as a time where I went home after classes to learn the things, I felt I needed to learn. I have never been the perfect student, I learn best one-to-one, with subjects I find interesting, in quiet surroundings. The best moments were one-to-one tutoring with Maja Ratkje during my master’s degree studies. She’s such an amazing and inspiring composer and human being. She basically told me “to do more me”. Which really corresponded with how I think as well. We all have to do our own thing and do it even more.
M[m]: Your official debut album under your own name was this year's Works For Listening 1-10, it saw you offering up a selection of detailed & at points busy soundscapes, which sit somewhere between atmospherically manipulated field recordings and electro-acoustic texturing. Please tell us a little bit about how/ why this release came about, and when do the elements used on it date back from?
Tine This release is the result of my ongoing work with the ambisonics / 3Dsound format. Going all the way from 5th order ambisonics to stereo could in some ways be seen as a severe reduction of the works, but I believe that it’s more than the number of speakers that make these works interesting to listen to, and I also wanted to give more people access to experience my sound world.
But these works barely would have happened at all for my own stubbornness, as I was not at all interested in ambisonics/3D music. All the ambisonics works I’d heard was mostly about making sounds “fly manically around in circles”, and I always liked (and still like) my sounds as fixed sound sources placed in space - whether the sound sources are instrumental performers, loudspeakers, or surroundings trees and mountain streams and such. But five years ago, I was invited to take part in a high order ambisonics workshop in Lithuania, working in the 24-speaker sphere at the Lithuanian Academy for Music and Theatre, and I really wanted to go to Lithuania, so I almost unwillingly adjusted some of my existing multichannel works to the ambisonics format. I had a revelation and realized that I’ve basically been making electro-acoustic compositions for ambisonics all along. I finally found a space where my sounds and my way of composing got the space it all needed. A listening situation where I could do real in-depth listening and really get to know the possibilities. The symphony orchestra for the electro-acoustic composer. I decided to stay in Lithuania for a semester to dive into this new world and quickly started experimenting with verticality, layering, and building sound worlds from scratch with new materials (field recordings from my surroundings in Northern Norway) and thus started the Works for Listening series.
So, my mantra now is to never let my own stubbornness and biases get in the way of discovering potentially new favourite things. Not always easy though.
M[m]: Works For Listening 1-10 features a wonderful blend of well-selected sound elements, clever composition, and a great sense of varied atmospherics. Please talk us through your composition process?
Tine “Works for Listening” has from the beginning been my personal experiment with high-order ambisonics and 3D speaker arrays. Except for no. 8 (an adaption of an older work and the very first work I adjusted to the ambisonics format), the “Works for Listening” works are all made chronologically. They are coloured by a process of wanting to test out something new and different from what I experimented with on the previous one. In “Works for Listening no. 1, I wanted to work with verticality and longer layers of the same material with tonal qualities in space, in the second one I wanted to work with short and percussive sounds, in the third one with long and non-tonal layers, etc. They are all experiments, but they are also art. At some point, I decide to let go and even lose sight of my starting point and let myself drift towards unknown destinations - often directed by numbers, systems, or shapes. Letting the material evolve in the space, and as I get to know this sonic being taking form, shape it up and make clear what it’s (now) all about. What started as experiments are now compositions, and it’s been important for me to create works that in the end work well (in a sense of having a personality of their own) presented in anything from one to an unlimited amount of speakers.
M[m]: Could you talk about your present set-up, and what do you use to collect your wonderfully clear and crisp field recording elements?
Tine I believe in great sounds, not great equipment. In the same way, I believe a composition needs to be more than a display of intricate techniques or technical equipment to become art.
Most sound sources on my Works for Listening have been recorded either with the microphones on my zoom H6 or using cheap contact microphones - except no. 8 which was recorded using a very fancy and expensive hydrophone I borrowed from a colleague.
I either edit my recordings a lot or almost not at all, always with the goal to emphasize the material, characteristics, or musical qualities that’s already there.
Also, I do not make ambisonic recordings, instead, I work by placing multiple mono or stereo sounds in a 3D sound space and creating immersive sound worlds from scratch.
M[m]: Works For Listening 1-10 appears on the great Sofa label, who really are at the forefront of original and distinctive sound art/ modern composition. How did you come out to sign up with them?
Tine When looking through the artists and releases on Sofa label, I instantly feel I’ve found the other “aliens”. I’ve always felt this was going to be a good home for my sounds - if I was to release something on a Norwegian label. I’m glad they felt the same. They are doing great work and I think this is a label with a clear profile where you can “trust” that they’ll present something interesting, whether you know it from before or not.
M[m]: Talking about the CD release of Works For Listening 1-10, I really enjoyed your track descriptions. Was this your idea or the label? Also, on the subject of the album- what’s the origin of the picture on the front/ back covers of the CD?
Tine I’ve been working on “Works for Listening” for several years but writing the track descriptions was by far the hardest part. The album was all done and ready for print when Sofa music suggested that I used some of the booklet space for something more, like track descriptions. I had total writers' block that delayed everything for six months, but with some inputs from Lasse Marhaug (who also beautifully mastered the album), the words started flowing. Making the decision to reveal the sound sources and my presence in the work as a composer (and human) was not easy, it was definitely the right choice. In the end, I want people to listen to the sounds in an accessible way, without any barriers or spending the whole time thinking about what are the sound sources and what’s going.
M[m]: Have you started working on a follow-up to your debut yet, and if so what can we expect?
Tine I have a thing for trilogies, and for making trilogies of trilogies.
These works are continuous progress, and I’ve been working on Works for Listening no. 11 and onwards ever since I was finished with no. 10 some years ago. I’m working chronologically, starting and finishing each work one by one, so it’s difficult for me to predict where I’ll end up. But for now, I can say that everything seems to be going towards a darker, longer, noisier, and more introverted sound world. But then again, I tend to always go the opposite direction whenever I feel comfortable in a sound or an expression, so there might be something very contrasting happening soon.
What I do know is that I need a long work stay in a 3D speaker rig to continue, because it’s in this format I’m able to really hear and understand my material in-depth. Until then I’m collecting material and testing out ideas in my 8-channel rig here in the north.
M[m]: Please talk about your general listening habits- and what type of things do you listen to?
Tine I don’t listen to music from or read books related to my field as much as I would like. I always have music on in the background, not necessarily while doing any active listening. During my 45 min drive to my studio, driving through the most dramatic natural sceneries, somehow the views from my car becomes some sort of music video, and whatever I listen to definitely colours my experience, making the drive feeling very different from day to day. I like how music and sounds can color how we perceive our surroundings.
I often have periods of deep-diving into something specific - currently, I’m mostly listening to Danish rap, some weeks ago I had a period with black metal, and what I most often return to is electropop. I often fixate on one song that has a vibe that corresponds with me, listening to it whenever I can for days, weeks, or even months - and I use music to colour what mode I want my brain to go in.
I also spend a lot of time in nature, just listening. Nature is never silent - except really large landscapes, they can have this very specific almost a non-sound going on, or sound vacuum. Nature is the greatest musician and composer there is.
M[m]: you mention your studio is forty-five minutes from your home- is it out in the countryside, and could you discuss your studio and it's set up a bit more?
Tine Everything up here in the Lofoten archipelago is out in the countryside and the drive between my home and my studio with one perfect postcard view after another. I always listen to music while driving and with the sceneries outside my car, it feels like driving through the most epic music video.
My studio is at an artist collective “Kunstkvarteret” where four local artists have permanent studios and guest artists can come and work for periods of up to three months. My colleagues here are visual artists working with various media, so I’m definitely the odd one out, but I really appreciate being part of a community with other artists, when living so remote as I do.
I have quite a lot of space - in a newly renovated atelier, where I’m still settling in. I have a small room only for sound/creative work, where I’ll eventually do some acoustic treatment of the room, but for now, I just placed some speakers in there, as well as the room serving as a storage space. I have a bigger room that is flexible for most things - I have a light-blocking curtain to split the room in two / having a dark space for working with video projections and such / a stage curtain. This room currently serves as a space for office work, a packing station for my debut album going out in the world, space for testing out various materials to project video on, recording some instrumental sounds for upcoming work, and so on. In the future, I’ll also have small concert/listening events here as well.
I have four Genelec 8040’s (great for anything), four Genelec 8020’s (flexible for installation work), two video projectors, lots of microphones (I’m mostly shopping for DPA 4060’s and various contact microphones these times), a lot of light equipment (my favourite is this H2O led water effect light from American DJ), various fabrics and materials for costumes, video and installation works, and various work tools for whatever. I’m fairly organized, because I’m often working on several and very varied projects at the same time, so I need to know where all my stuff is.
The other day, I was experimenting with geotextile in the morning, recording double bass in the afternoon, and filming a dancer in the ocean in the evening. A perfect creative day up here in the arctic.
M[m]: Lastly what has personally made an impact on you over the last year- be it film, books, music, or art?
Tine I need impressions to create expressions, but due to the past year being what it has been, it’s mostly been introvert impressions that have had an impact on me - like deep diving into my life-long fascination of Norse mythology, rune magic, local legends of trolls, and my surrounding nature creating an immense work for sinfonietta, 8 channel live electronics and video projections. And going through an old and fabulous collection of the work of the Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen I inherited from my late grandmother. As well as spending a lot of inspiring time in the surrounding nature
Thanks to Tine for her time and effort with the interview. Check out and order Works For Listening 1-10 direct from here https://sofamusic.bandcamp.com/album/works-for-listening-1-10
Picture credits: main menu pic Tine on the island of Lofoten. first in interview pic Tine on Lofoten. large pic is a still from Ruital For A Changing Time. And lastly Tine on one of the filming locations for the Living Landscape project- all pics are (c) Tine Surel Lange, and kindly used with permission