Interviews

The strange songbird of electronica exits the Berlins street to visit his Copenhagen roots

While it may seem difficult to navigate the electronic scene in Copenhagen, there’s always one place to count on when it comes to everything with a heavy repetitious beat: flagship club Culture Box, summi regis of electronic music in the capital. Their list of great artists, local and international, is close to inexhaustible, and they highlight development in artists by inviting them to play more than once. One of these people are Bjørn Svin (1975, born Bjørn Christiansen) whom I was so lucky to catch for a few questions.

The self-educated composer and music producer found himself engulfed in music from a very early age, feeling the funkiness of electronic music with his mind and body from the first beat on.

My classmates and I got into electric boogie and breakdance when I was 9 years old. Tracks like Herbie Hancock´s “Rockit”, Rock steady crew´s “Hey you (the rock steady crew)” and Shannon´s “Let the music play” were all featured on a cassette tape I had bought in the supermarket. This was my first music. But I also noticed that the versions of these tracks were essentially better on my friend’s identical tape. It was a tape that included the original versions! And I remember realising that the most important difference was the quality of the sounds.

Early on, physical interaction with the music was furthermore essential to acquaint himself with what was playing. It is necessary to feel the music in the bones to understand it – and more often than not, movement comes before thought, especially when it comes to music. It’s a compelling signal from our brains to follow a beat.

Dancing to music was for me away to respond to the separate sounds and to the funk. More this than a more basic feel-response to a groove.

These early experiences shaped Bjørn throughout his childhood, and slowly, funkiness became an integral part of his identity.

Already back then, he had started experimenting with creating his own Megamix Tapes with his sister’s double cassette recorder. During this time, his parents had moved to the country, and without his friends, he was heavily influenced by listening to Danish radio, and particularly host Kim Schumacher, who during ‘84-85 sent New York underground vibes out all over the little Kingdom. It is therefore no surprise that already in ‘97, he sent out his first album Mer’ Strøm, presenting a funky bag of bad shit bonkers, taking you on a trip to a soundscape of pumps and spikes.

Even from his music, it is obvious that Bjørn nurtured a fascination of the futuristic peaks and plummets. You wouldn’t be the only one to think that these noises were almost reminiscent of nature’s own little beatboxes – birds.

Besides music I started to develop and interest for birds. Parrots and parakeets to be more specific. I started to have volieres full of birds, (at some points more than 100!). I loved their sounds, this abstract but very expressive way of insisting telling the same little story over and over again..! At the age of 16 I got my Korg MS20 synthesizer. It could do some sounds a bit like my birds. So I played these sounds for my birds and they went totally mental.. This was an amazing moment I will never forget.

They say mimicry is the highest form of flattering, and it is no exception here. While we strive to create something new and innovative, nature is always a step ahead of us. But where some people try very hard to integrate themselves with the world around them, other people let the world come to them and grow from there.

I guess the playful target-less exploration of sound articulation has just grown into my identity in a very profound manner. I still stop there – forgetting my music, just dwelling in the sound – when I work with music nowadays.

And although some people might find it hard to understand the digitalised versions of natural inspirations, it is clear that Bjørn does not intend to include the human voice just yet.

I have always been attracted to music with a pure and solely musical message, detached from lyrics and human language. Electronic music where synthetic sound gives voice to a futuristic abstract language. I seek this when I listen to music. I have noticed that more and more people are seeking the same thing. It is now more common to appreciate.

 
And despite the doubts I expressed earlier, I think it is too – time has carved out a place for electronic music, and people have consumed types of it for more than 30 years. Pop and Rock have assimilated electronic music into a whole new wave, concealing the elements in a coat of comfort. Listening to electronica still demands another kind of presence, because it doesn’t try to blend in – and neither did the abstract artists. When I asked Bjørn what his thoughts were on it, he said

If it is “hard” or “easy” to approach “abstract” or “non-abstract” music and art.. it really depends on what experience you are seeking when you are taking it in. For me, music with lyrics is very hard to swallow, not because i don’t like it – actually I don’t know whether I like it or not, until I have heard it several times – but because I access it slightly aparte so to say.

It is hard not to think of Bjørn as a digital organism, taking in the world of electronic music through osmosis, effortless, and creating waves of new music in the process. He seems to be unified with the funk – he is the funk – identifying himself with his work on so many levels. It is therefore no surprise he rose as one of Denmark’s leading live performers, collaborating with names like Håkon Lidbo, Goodiepal and Copyflex. His work has bled into the classical world through his partnership with the quintet Carion, and into the art world through his work with the visual music group Silicium and visual artist Carl Emil Carlsen. Initiated in 2015, this art project is particularly interesting, seeing as they

.. are exploring the relation between electronic music, synthetic 3D animation and physical live performance in a 3D environment – working on our third piece to be performed at Click Festival May 20-21 2017. There are exciting experiments in detailed interpretation of midi streams for both audio and visual content in the making too. This enhances for me the scope of composition, but in a natural way. Because I have for a long time (since approx 2010) composed in the direction of creating living and organic characters with their own expressive life.

This project, together with parenthood, accounts for the long silence between his latest album Browen (2010) and until today. The last publication shows a much more muted Bjørn Svin – while his characteristic repetition of sound patterns remain, it seems that he has gone off on an adventure to explore the individual sound by itself, giving them a space to breathe, live and develop. Part of the music is muffled, and part is spiking, spawning the illusion of being above or below water. This synesthesia is, it seems, part of Bjørn’s movement towards the organic.

Overlapping with the production of Browen is Bjørn’s acquisition of a teaching position at the three Danish music academies. Since 2007, he has been mediating his knowledge to others without actually ever had anybody telling him – an intriguing paradox that he himself has never actually seen as one.

 

I am self-taught composer and producer of electronic music that teach other people in creating electronic music. I do this because I like to show and explain. This is, at best, a bit like performing live. And in some cases, I guess my students mostly appreciate my passionate relationship to sound, rather than what I am actually showing them. I suppose I just want to teach them and show them how awesome it is to dive deeper into the technical aspects of sound design and sequencing. The introductions and the explanations of certain principles is sometimes more just like…small talk, so to say. Because the real deal is the ears and the brain’s conception of the sound when they work with it themselves. I can unfold a bit for them, and tell them where to start.

Coming back to where you will be able to see Bjørn this month – Copenhagen – it is apparent that Bjørn Svin is quite intimate with the club scene here. He has also spent a lot of time in the other European capital of clubbing, Berlin. I have always personally felt a wide gap between the two cities, like a couple of sisters, where Berlin is the loose and wild one, and Copenhagen sulks in the corner, a little colder, but with her own charm. And spending so much time there, I figured I would ask Bjørn if he felt the difference as well.

In both cities, the club scene is reflecting the cities in the ways that the consumers are actually using the club scene. In Copenhagen, you don’t have much time and it is mostly occupied by people who live there. In Berlin, there are a whole segment of young culture-tourists that take their time to enjoy life alongside with the Berliners who live a cheap and easy life with simple work and clubbing on the side.

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