Name: Torgeir Vassvik
Nationality: Norwegian / Sámi
Occupation: Composer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist
Current Release: Torgeir Vassvik's VASSVIK SOLO - A Place Behind The Gardens Of The Houses. BÁIKI is out via Bugge Wesseltoft's Jazzland Recordings.
Recommendations: Ak Dan Gwang Chil (ADG7) :-) Watch here. Nick Cave: And the Ass Saw the Angel
If you enjoyed this interview with Torgeir Vassvik and would like to stay up to date with his music, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook.
For a conversation with one of his collaboratos, visit our Jo Berger Myhre interview.
If you want to keep reading, here are some of the artists who have also published on Jazzland / Ok World:
[Read our Anne Hytta interview]
[Read our Bugge Wesseltoft interview]
[Read our Bugge Wesseltoft interview about improvisation]
[Read our Eivind Aarset interview]
[Read our Håkon Kornstad interview]
[Read our Ingebrigt Håker Flaten interview]
[Read our Helge Lien interview]
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/ or sound that drew you to it?
I was in a band when I was 10, and I started to make songs from the time when I was 11-12, I guess. The radio, which was always on, drew me in, and there was a local band practicing right where I grew up. My father played mandolin, so it was music around me. Now we are talking about a very early age …
There was a tape recorder/player, and you could use this as an amplifier as well. And the microphone on different papers or fabrics sounded phantastic to me. It made sounds like a lion, or like the storm, or like war.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I follow you, for me it is also rooms and spaces and rhythmical patterns that take me into something unknown, something new and surprising, and for sure it is good food for creativity.
I always try to create unknown spaces to surprise myself and hopefully my listeners.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I have always made music, but I am a late bloomer as an international artist. So, I have really focused on my own voice since my late 20s.
It means I just go for lifting the voice on the basis of my culture’s music, the Sámi Joik (the animistic vocal tradition from high North), which has followed me since my childhood.
[To read the thoughts of another Sámi Joik performer, read our Marja Mortensson interview]
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I am a Sámi, and the core of our culture is animism, and I have some experiences that live in me always.
This is an important part of my aesthetics and for sure how I listen to music and also make music.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Ancient-new, unorthodox, uncompromising, unconventional.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I like to extend the potential in the Sámi vocal tradition, and deliver it to new generations with more colours. I like to work in new landscapes with unconventional instrumentation and in different stage settings. Making new timeless music, if I may say so.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
First of all, there is the voice, as it was also in the tradition, only acappella. And next is the frame drum. And my guitar, which is stripped down to three strings and one extra drone string.
Rhythmical patterns on one drum (often unorthodox patterns) and ostinato on the three stringed guitar open up for new music and take you out of the Anglo-American music in 4 and 8. And perhaps open up new perspectives and new melodies.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Every day is different, and I travel a lot to perform at concerts, festivals, conferences, education projects and much more.
But if I am at home, a “normal” working day goes like this: I wake up at 7 and read a little, shower, jump in my clothes and practice voice and guitar for one hour before a light lunch.
Then I go for a walk of two, three hours. Home working, more practice.
Out again, meeting fellow musicians for joint projects, exploring new sounds together. Listening to concerts, getting inspired. And so on ...
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
On my latest album A Place Behind The Gardens Of The Houses. Báiki from 2022, I wanted to give space to the places which are still untouched. I was sitting in Oslo where I live now, having a lot of places in mind.
But most pictures that came up were from high North, together with the sorrow over the fact that those places soon will be taken by fish farming industries and the windmill industry, something that has not happened yet. So, there's this bitter-sweet ambivalence in me, that shows up in the music.
Wooden hangers in a wardrobe, used as percussion. A piano in the same room. Glued together by vocal crescendos. Going deep into forgotten places: Báiki, the place in Sámi language.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Again, back to my latest album A Place Behind The Gardens Of The Houses. Báiki from 2022.
This one I made all alone, recording, mixing and playing all the instruments, it was a nice experience. For the previous albums I had musicians together with me in the studio, and it made something different with my compositions and the arrangements. They add their own aesthetics and fantastic skills on their instruments and extended the possibilities in the compositions. 1+1 is more than 2.
A Place Behind The Gardens Of The Houses. Báiki is something else.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I have a need to express myself, and this is how I do it.
My live music is different from my albums: It is always very interesting meeting with audiences, we make the room together and experience new places and surprise each other. There is no border between the stage and the hall.
Music can be the glue between people, something that shows that we are more similar than different. That is something.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Yes, for sure! I will say that in all your examples, music has helped or healed me and people around me. Most profoundly we are alone in life, and for getting answers on difficult issues in life, music can be a method to open up and to understand. It can help us to find a way to live with these difficult issues, like loss, death, love, pain ...
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
For explaining Western music, mathematics and physics are good tools, I guess. The human potential for creativity can come up with new uses for these tools, you can bow them and twist them, cut them and start up again, bow them, twist them, and come up with new art.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Spirituality is an important part of a human being. Through music I can open up my own holy space and express myself through this place. This is a very good filter and gives important impulses. It is a source for much of my aesthetics.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
We hear and feel through skin and skeleton. The human body is the same as it was 40,000 years ago and we are a part of what was before us.
The body can recognize things from the past and give us deep sensations of recognition. This makes sense to me.