Name: O Future
Members: Katherine Mills Rymer, Jens Bjornkjaer
Interviewee: Jens Bjornkjaer
Occupation: Producers, songwriters, composers, sound artists, visual artists
Nationality: South African (Katherine Mills Rymer), Danish (Jens Bjornkjaer)
Current release: O Future's new EP Maculate is out via DMY.
Recommendations: I would point out a book with a selection of love letters between Tchaikovsky and his benefactor Nadezhda von Meck. This was a platonic relationship since Tchaikovsky was gay and they never actually met in-spite of her paying for his life for more than 12 years. An incredible story and insight into how it actually was making art in the 1900 century.
Sticking with Tchaikovsky I recommend everyone to dig into the 6th symphony. He wrote it shortly before his death which also happened under suspicious circumstances. The themes are heartbreakingly beautiful and the end of it is literally the musical equivalent to the act of dying. Breathtaking!
If you enjoyed this interview with O Future and would like to find out more about their work, visit their official homepage. They are also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, bandcamp, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
O Future consists of Katherine Mills Rymer and myself, Jens Bjornkjaer, each with our separate journeys getting to this point in time. And since this is mostly questions about music and I am mostly the music composer, producer in this duo I will attempt to answer.
I grew up in a family of musicians and started practicing at the age of 5 but only started creating my own music as a teenager. I was swept away when I discovered jazz and felt a huge amount of freedom in that genre which later became a block around my neck and I went into electronic music and found the freedom of uncharted territory again.
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?
As I said I was into jazz being a saxophonist studying music in New York, when I realized that being original and fresh was practically impossible in that genre. I felt like jazz was equivalent to the classical music that I had grown up with in the sense. It is something that was invented decades ago and now is almost always a curated musical genre that seeks to present this music as a museum piece rather than being innovative as it was when invented.
My transition from that into the world of discovery and invention went through technology that allowed us in a much easier way to make new things again.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Being a white male from the middle class in Denmark. Identity has not played a big part in my life - juxtaposed to minority groups like blacks, latinos, LBGTQ+, and others who have had to struggle everyday with their identity. Since I had all of these middle class liberal privileges from birth I never had to make my work about identity.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In many ways the challenges in the beginning of my career are the same now. But over the years I have realized that originality basically is the only thing that really interests me and because of that - it’s easier to be critical and determine if something is just nice or it has something more that has a potential for a place in music history.
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? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I first spent a lot of years as a child and adolescent only playing music analog with a lot of jamming and having fun. This I feel has helped me understanding the importance of improvisation as a way to explore places you don’t know and have never been. Using this approach in the technological sphere I find very helpful and a way to utilize the tech as a gateway to finding new horizons.
During my career, recording music has changed from tapes to computers and it’s hard to emphasize the significance of that change which have allowed us to investigate sounds that simply never existed before.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I once was in a band and we went to Brazil to record an album for 3 months. All of our equipment was being rented there but when we got there we realized they only had 1 synth. A Yamaha D50 which was not something that was cool or that we even knew, but ultimately we took it with us. Subsequently I fell in love with it and the whole album ended up with a foundation of sounds from that.
Point being anything can be great if you understand how to use it.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaborations have always been something I enjoy and we have done it in multiple different forms and shapes. We have made visual artworks for Martin de Thurah and 4 algorithmic operas with artists Sulsolsal as collaborations and generally love working with and getting surprised by other artists.
Nowadays it’s in some way more important to collaborate for the sharing and PR purposes rather than an actual urge to make collective work with others. It’s become more of a branding exercise as everything else in this world of thirsty fellow travelers.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
We don’t have a fixed schedule which means that every day is different and yet so extremely similar as well. We basically work almost all the time since we engage in a lot of different artistic expressions that all take a lot of hours to create.
As O Future we make songs and tracks, makes visual digital and analog art like paintings, drawings, NFTs and music videos and also compose film scores, operas, concertos and other forms of music. Since we are also married and work together in the same house every day, it all blends together in a big pile called life that’s quite hard to dissect.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Two years ago I scored a film by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei titled Vivos that is about 43 Mexican students that disappeared in 2015. The film is incredibly sad and beautiful and has a lot of very intense scenes. Scoring these beautiful and sad scenes with parents and loved ones discussing their missing sons was something I felt very proud of.
I also recently made a track in which Ai Weiwei is reading Allen Ginsberg’s poem Humbom for the upcoming Allen Ginsberg - The Fall of America - 50th anniversary release. It was very special to make this piece with two of the biggest artists of all time together in one piece.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
This question is impossible to answer I feel. I don’t really have one perfect way of being, to make my best work. It is mostly something that comes out of a moment of inspiration or a vision which fundamentally all stems from preparation.
My interest is in creating new art and to do that I need to know as much about the history of art and music as possible. So I study the past and the world around me, and all of that knowledge somehow turns into my own ideas and actual pieces of work.
I like the Churchill quote: “The farther back you can look the farther forward you are likely to see.”
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
For me, music is a balm, in and of itself. Since I make music for a living, the actual making of it (composing/producing/playing) heals me. I often do not listen to anything if it doesn’t have something to do with making work. As it becomes too much, and ultimately ‘hurtful’.
I think natural sounds, hypnotic sounds of nature can heal. I don’t watch or listen to it but I understand it. Nothing heals like a breathy kiss on the neck when you are having a bad day.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Being someone who creates by merging and reusing genres and philosophies, I am fundamentally against not being able to use anything you want - to make art and that anyone has any right to critizise you because of it.
That said, I do understand the systemized oppression of millions of minorities throughout history and do want to make reparations to move towards equality. It seems though that some people find it more important to scold others for their supposed immoral actions as, in my view, a way of over compensating for their own branding purposes.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
This is a hard equation for me to answer. I hear music inside my head and use tools and instruments to make it available for others to hear. Obviously it doesn’t end up exactly like the original inside my head version. But I guess the senses helps facilitate and color this process.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My purpose as an artist is to make work that will be significant in 100 years. Which to some seems, hyperbolic and almost old fashioned. But my approach is to have integrity in the body in my work. It is hard out there on the streets of hard commerce /capitalist end games to make work without a jaundiced eye.
I also don’t think music (for the most part in our time) is effective politically. Political art often seems dated very quickly which probably is inherent in its purpose of making change now! Music also doesn’t hold the same cache politically like it did in the 60’s-90’s. The image has now superseded it.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I think music expresses the space between words.
19th century composers where into this. Sometimes words lack the solemnity of ‘non meaning’, that only sounds have. Nothing gives energy than your favorite hook or beat and nothing makes me cry like Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony. It can describe beauty and pain without being kitsch. It’s the ultimate meta data.