Name: Eivind Aarset
Occupation: Guitarist, composer, improviser
Current release: Eivind Aarset's Phantasmagoria or A Different Kind of Journey is out September 17th via Jazzland.
Recommendations: The tune “Brilliant trees” by David Sylvian with Jon Hassell on trumpet. A beautiful song from the young David Sylvian from his great album “Brilliant trees” made in 1983 I think. This was the first time I heard the sound of Jon Hassell, and this changed my musical path.
Panthalassa - Bill Laswells mix translation of Miles Davis work from 1969 to 1974. This period of Miles Davis music has been highly influential on me and my music, and has been with me from my teenage years. I think Laswells reconstruction from 1999 are really well done. He keeps the roughness and magic from the original recordings.
[Read our Bill Laswell interview]
If you enjoyed this Eivind Aarset interview, visit his official website for more information. He also has an overview page on the homepage of ECM records, with whom he not only released many of his own works, but a few classic collaborations as well. He is also on Facebook.
For more thoughts from a few of his collaborators not mentioned in this feature, read our Vladislav Delay interview and our Samuel Rohrer interview.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
My starting point for writing music was never a very clear.
When I was around 12 music was already my main interest. I discovered artists and bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Santana. But listening to Jimi Hendrix especially was a game changer for me. I wanted to play guitar too.
I learned a lot from friends, and from listening and playing with records, and then normally I wasn´t able to play what was on the record. So I often made up small bits and pieces that in my mind sounded like something in the same territory.
What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
It is an interesting question, because to me it felt like a very personal experience, the wild sounds of Hendrix, the physical raw energy, so much more interesting and touching to me than what I normally heard on the national radio in Norway at the time.
But looking back, I clearly see that there was nothing original about my passion, it was a part of the cultural movement amongst the youth in my generation at this time. And I met many musicians who had the same musical wake up call. But still, the record I listened to, “Hendrix in the West”, is a major influence.
On this live recording I love the improvisatory flow he has, how he spontaneously orchestrates his playing with sounds and voicings. It is actually also very delicate at some points.
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?
My development to find my own voice has absolutely been a long travel. For sure I spent a lot of time trying to emulate others. Jimi Hendrix, Larry Carlton, David Torn, Ry Cooder, Pete Cosey, John Scofield, Daniel Lanois, Eddie Van Halen and Mike Stern were among the artist I try to sound like.
[Read our David Torn interview]
One thing that maybe helped me to find my own voice was that I was not very successful in sounding like my musical heros, instead I found something else, which I had to learn to appreciate. But maybe the most important change came when Bugge Wesseltoft invited me to play in his band, and to make my own solo record on his new label Jazzland.
[Read our Bugge Wesseltoft interview]
In his band, Bugge didn´t want any guitar solos, or rhythm guitar playing. This was a big challenge, because up to this point, playing rhythm and solos, was what I was doing. I was also growing tired of my cliches, so I decided, when I was making my own solo debut, to stay away from the licks or strategies I had followed, and instead find different ingredients to put in the stew. Or to put it differently; expand my vocabulary.
But also the time with Nils Petter Molvaers different bands has been important, as he, like Bugge, was uninterested in having a traditional guitar player in his band. He left it basically open for me to develop my own role in his band. And in this music, which were a hybrid between DJ inspired electronic groove based music and jazz, there were no established guitar tradition, so this gave me a big possibility to experiment and investigate possibilities on stage.
[Read our Nils Petter Molvaer interview]
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Depends a bit on what you define as identity I guess.
One thing is the actual identity, you know being who I am as a person, where and when I was born. All that creates an identity. And then there is an artistic identity, which maybe is more like a label other people put on you. Like for instance for me, I am maybe assosciated with jazz/ambient/electronic music.
But I really try to not let any of these identities, influence my creative process. I try to go where the energy and interest leads me. And I think my taste, instinct and limitations will anyhow make what I produce recognizable for people who know, and like my music.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning as a composer, my biggest challenge was understanding that the building blocks I had made were actually enough to make a tune. I had, and still have a huge respect for good composers, so believing in my own material took me a while.
I have more belief in my own work now, and it always gives me satisfaction when I create something that wasn´t there before. In the beginning compositions were only a hobby for me. I was established as a working musician long before I released any music of my own.
As a musician in my early years, I was very occupied with the idea of making the “correct” stylistic performance. This has totally changed. Now I just think about how my performance can contribute to the identity of a tune, it has to feel organic, not forced, and still it should idealy be interesting and surprising to listen to.
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?
I started early buying pedals, and made many stupid choices on the way. But some times those stupid choices can turn to gold when used differently than maybe originally intended. Sometimes pedals have rested in my workspace for 10 years or more before I suddenly find a better way to use them.
The first equipment besides amp and guitar that made sense was a Roland Space Echo, and a volume pedal. When I started to work as a studio musician I got really interested in outboard gear and invested among other stuff in an Eventide Harmonizer which stayed with me for many years. Other important tools include a Boss DD5 digital delay, and the Alesis Bitrman, a bit reducer and ringmodulator.
The last 10 years or so I have been using a computer on stage, it opens up a lot of possibilities, but also new challenges. The challenge being how to maintain the tone and feeling of the guitar, and not least, with all the possibilities opening up on the computer, to find a way to set it up where I can work intuitively in a live performance situation. Meaning that the setup has to be effective to control and not too complicated.
What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I am not sure about the motivation ... often curiosity maybe ... Sometimes I read about something, or I have a friend who is enthusiastic about something, and then I want to check what it is, and what it can do for me. I normally have no precise picture of what that piece of equipment will do for me. I just taste it, use my senses to feel what it gives to my performance.
Happy accidents have also played a big part in my interaction with equipment. When happy accidents occur I try to remember what made the accident happen and then add it to my vocabulary.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I don't think it really “questioned” it, but the revolution with affordable computers and samplers in the 90s changed a lot. Being able to use editing as a part of the compositional process was really important to me.
In addition there are some pieces of equipment that have been an integral part of my vocabulary: the before mentioned Boss DD 5, a simple digital delay from the 90s which gives me the possibility to make stuttering sounds and beautiful backwards soundscapes. Alesis Bitrman, a strange piece of equipment from 2003, destroys the signal in different ways. It is hard to find these days. Ebow became a part of my vocabulary in the 90s I was especially inspired by the work of Michael Brooks, (he used “infinite guitar” not ebow) but also by the turkish master Erkan Ogur, who is a virituoso with fretless guitar and ebow.