Name: Kjetil Husebø
Occupation: Composer, producer, pianist
Current release: Kjetil Husebø's new album Sequential Stream with Arve Henriksen is out November 25th via Smalltown Supersound/Boomkat. He has also announced a new full-length for early 2023: Years of Ambiguity with Eivind Aarset and, again, Henriksen, on NXN.
[Read our Eivind Aarset interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Kjetil Husebø and would like to stay up to date with his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
It varies. Sometimes I get direct inspiration from life itself, nature, art, books, movies, relationships and the state of the world. Other times it's just about working with sketches and ideas that arise in my studio.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
It varies slightly from project to project. Sometimes it's just about exploring things. Other times it is about specific styles and expressions that I want to explore.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Same here. It varies from project to project.
For example, the albums Piano Transformed (2017) and Live at Nasjonal Jazzscene (2020) are the result of several years of exploration of both technological setup, practice and musical direction.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I must have coffee. (laughs)
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Sometimes it just falls naturally. Other times I have to fight to get something interesting out.
Nowadays, I like to start with live looping of synthesizers as the point of departure for further development.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
My upcoming album Years of Ambiguity (2023) is the result of a series of sketches that I made in my studio in 2021. The sketches were made quickly when I was testing out new music equipment and they were realised in a short time to have something concrete instead of just playing with equipment. I then selected seven sketches that I worked on further.
On this album, I have Arve Henriksen (trumpet) and Eivind Aarset (guitar, fx) together with me on several of the tracks. And on those tracks with Arve and Eivind, I mostly worked on these songs after they had played on top of my unfinished sketches.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
It's all about getting into a good workflow and being inspired to complete something that I'm happy with.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
This happens to me all the time. For example, on the closing song “Serendipity” from the album Arve Henriksen & Kjetil Husebø – Sequential Stream (2022).
This song came about through another song that we rejected. But even though the original song was rejected, I wanted to reuse some elements from it and I ran the rejected song through various samplers and plugins and then I had made a new song that Arve played trumpet on.
Another example is the second song «Single Sentence» from the same duo album.
The starting point for this song was me using an old acoustic piano track from my catalogue. I processed it completely with a granular sampler. And then I sent this to Arve and «expected» some trumpet added on it. But instead he recorded vocals on top of this processed piano track. This kind of creative process and collaboration is very inspiring for me.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
When I succeed or feel that I am inspired, I am in a state of flow which means that I am present in a different way than in “normal mode”.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Good question. Basically, you can work with the process indefinitely.
I like to leave my work for a while after I am satisfied and then I make a new assessment if I am still satisfied.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
It is important to let it rest for a while and then make a new assessment of whether I am still satisfied or not. And preferably several times.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I have mixed several of my albums myself. Composing, production and mixing are often closely linked. But this also varies from project to project. For example working on Years of Ambiguity (2023) I mixed at the same time as composing and producing the music.
And sometimes I record material in studios and let other mix it afterwards.
For example the albums Piano Transformed (2017) and Contradictions (2012) were mixed by Reidar Skår (Nils Petter Molvær, Bendik Hofseth, etc) who is a very good sound producer.
[Read our Nils Petter Molvær interview]
Sometimes it is a great advantage to leave the mixing to others. I don't master the albums myself, but am happy to make a test master for my own demo use.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I know that well, yes. In the last two or three years, I've worked on several albums in parallel, so I spend all the time thinking ahead about what's going to happen next.
For example, now I create music and sketches for material that could become several new albums and projects in 2023, 2024, etc.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing 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?
Difficult topic. Music can go directly to the soul and change the space of experience for the cognitive, the emotional and even the existential.
Experiencing good music can actually change us. It's possible that good food and drink can do it too, but music has something unique about it that's hard to articulate. As Friedrich Nietzsche said: Without music, life would have been a misunderstanding!
Making music, preferably in my own studio here in Oslo, is a unique opportunity to immerse myself in both simple and complex creative processes. I get to combine both play and seriousness.
But there is a big difference between making music in the studio and playing concerts. The latter can be more intense and unnerving.