Soundescapes – An Interview With Espen J. Jörgensen (2011)

Noise Activity

Five years ago, Mute returned to its independent roots after separating from EMI. One of the first releases on the newly indie imprint was Soundescapes by Mute stalwart Simon Fisher Turner and one-time collaborator Espen J. Jörgensen. It arguably should have set the tone for Mute Artists’ new beginning, returning the label to the noisy, DIY, uncompromising point where it all began.

On the occasion of the fifth aniversary of Soundescapes, I am republishing my 2011 interview with Jörgensen. This will be followed in the next few days by the re-posting of a further interview with both Fisher Turner and Jörgensen from around the time of the album’s actual release. 


Soundescapes is a collaboration between musical auteur Simon Fisher Turner and film-maker / soundsmith Espen J. Jörgensen. The first fruits of this collaboration, the track ‘Noise Activity’, was released on 16 April 2011 as part of Mute‘s Vorwärts compilation; with that title, it is not a terrible surprise that the rest of Soundescapes explores the outer reaches of sound design.

‘I record whatever I like and Simon does whatever he likes with it,’ Jörgensen tells me from his home in Norway. ‘It’s the ultimate democracy; or maybe democrazy is a better word for it.’ Built on a mutual respect for each others’ creative vision, Fisher Turner and Jörgensen have an agreement not to challenge one another. ‘I do whatever I like, and Simon treats the material the way he wants to,’ says Jörgensen. and ‘I don’t comment on the outcome. So you could say that I’m the composer and he’s the re-composer.’

‘Noise Activity’ also appears on the forthcoming Soundescapes album, scheduled for release on a freshly independent Mute in November 2011, replete with a personal endorsement from Daniel Miller. ‘We’ve been working on this album for two to three years,’ explains Jörgensen about the album, recorded over an extended period in between both the composer and re-composer’s other activities, namely Fisher Turner’s scores and solo albums and Jörgenson’s work as a film-maker. ‘Noise Activity’ is our ADHD song. There are a couple of others which are ‘upbeat’, but not as crazy as that; some are very ambient, both light and dark.’

Already familiar with Fisher Turner’s work, I ask Jörgensen about his individual style. ‘I don’t actively try to pursue a sound, and I’m not trying to not pursue a sound. I think a lot of it comes from how I work, which is is more like an exorcism. I try to lure sounds out of devices and instruments. It’s all from intuition. I never write anything. I can have a five minute session one day and then I won’t touch an instrument for a month or two. I don’t do anything if I don’t feel like it.’

‘When I record things it’s mostly to hear what sounds I get if I hook up an instrument, be it circuit bent, analogue or digital, to an effects box or whatever; or it’s from an urge to play or record a beat. I try to record the first time I test an instrument to capture that first meeting or “moment”. I also think that art-by-mistake can be exciting, but I don’t call myself an artist.’

Artist isn’t the only term that Jörgensen doesn’t feel applies to himself. ‘I’m not a schooled musician and I don’t consider myself a musician, and so I can’t really say that I’m influenced by anyone.’

I ask Jörgensen whether his day-job as a film-maker means that the process of film making informs how he makes music. ‘They’re two different worlds, though they’re also not. I think it has more to do with my approach and attitude when I head into the different worlds. I want to be more free with music, so that’s what I do. With film you can improvise and play with the camera, editing and acting, but in the end it’s a lot of work. Music’s a lot of work, too, but Simon gets the hardest job of all – he’s supposed to make my noise work in a context, or a song, if you like. Then again, I wouldn’t call all of the tracks on Soundescapes songs.’

‘I like to write scripts which are more like skeletons,’ he says, returning to film. ‘I think it’s more fun to be open-minded when you work. If you’re not too tied to the script you can make room for things. I think visually, but when I work I often feel, or hear, what kind of music would work well without killing a scene. When I was working with [Faith No More founder / bassist] Billy Gould on the soundtrack for The Sequential Art, my documentary film about comics, he never got to see any of the footage. I told him what I wanted in the form of atmosphere and rhythm, and we worked from there.’

This sense of blind faith and trust also informs the Soundescapes collaboration. Whereas Gould never got to see a single scene, in the case of Soundescapes, Jörgenson and Fisher Turner have never actually even met one another. ‘When I think of it, I’ve never spoken to him either!’ says Jörgensen about this distance collaboration. ‘Our relationship is very text-based. It might sound very odd, but it works very well. I don’t always have control of the outcome with the stuff I record, but I don’t want to control what Simon does either because he does such a great job with putting it all together.’

First published 2011; edited 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Body/Head – No Waves (Matador album, 2016)

The duo of ex-Sonic Youth bassist / guitarist Kim Gordon and improv musician Bill Nace continue their Body/Head collaboration with the release of a live album recorded in Tennessee in 2014. Titled No Waves, this is more than just your typical live album, being a headlong journey into the outer edges of music’s malleable core.

I reviewed the album for Clash and you can read the review here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Inspiral Carpets: Craig Gill RIP


Today brought the tragic news that Craig Gill, drummer with Inspiral Carpets since he was a mere 14 years old, has passed away at just 44. Gill is one of those understated heroes, delivering the definitive beat that the rest of the Madchester scene grooved along to.

Photographer Andy Sturmey and I covered an absolutely superb Carpets gig for Clash in 2012, from which the band photo above was taken. Gill was incredible to watch, a real powerhouse drummer with a furious, compelling energy that you couldn’t take your eyes off.

To truly celebrate Gill’s legacy I suggest you stick on the intensely funky ‘Dragging Me Down’ from the overlooked Revenge Of The Goldfish LP extremely loudly. Rest in peace Craig. Forever cool as fuck.

Photo (c) 2012 Andy Sturmey // Post (c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Moby & The Void Pacific Choir – These Systems Are Failing (Little Idiot album, 2016)

moby_thesesystemsarefailing

I reviewed the new Moby album for Clash. As any longstanding readers of this blog will be aware, I have something of a troubled relationship with Moby’s music, mostly driven by the fact that I got into him upon the release of ‘Move’ and haven’t always agreed with his stylistic shifts. And so, somewhat negatively I admit, I really wanted to dislike These Systems Are Failing, I really did.

It turns out that it’s really, really good.

My review can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The Fantastic Plastics – Invasion (Altercation Records, 2017)

The debut album by Brooklyn duo The Fantastic Plastics, Devolver, was one of my absolute highlights from 2015. Its release saw me give the record a glowing review for Electronic Sound, as well as offering up further convincing proof that pretty much any music that originates from Brooklyn’s streets is still über-cool.

Tyson and Mandy follow up the album with a new EP which literally and figuratively picks up from where Devolver left off – namely synth-punk songs about demoralising work schedules, romantic Fifties-esque notions of sci-fi sensibilities and some of the most urgent synth-augmented rock since Devo’s Something For Everybody; ‘The New Elite’, with its line ‘we won’t be obsolete’ directly responds to a track on Devolver that suggested the human being was being replaced by technology, of little comfort here as machines mesh seamlessly with guitars as to be indistinguishable.

If what you want is something frantic, relentless and a huge amount of fun (albeit delivered with a wryness that suggests deep ongoing cynicism on the part of this duo), Invasion is unstoppably well-intentioned, taking in everything from Pink Grease-esque sleaziness and electro-infused riffs that feel like the duo have spent a long time listening to the mechanics of ‘My Sharona’s staccato centrepiece.

Honestly, when I was growing up, listening to the way synth music felt like it was overtaking pedestrian guitar rock at an incredible and thrilling pace, I’m pretty sure that The Fantastic Plastics were what I was imagining future music would sound like all along. By that measure alone, Invasion is nothing short of essential.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

John Foxx – The Complete Cathedral Oceans (Demon / Metamatic album, 2016)

John Foxx’s Metamatic imprint, in conjunction with Demon, will issue the three volumes of the Ultravox! founder’s Cathedral Oceans opus as a deluxe limited vinyl set on September 30. I wrote a short piece about The Complete Cathedral Oceans for This Is Not Retro. Read it here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith for This Is Not Retro

Kim Gordon – Murdered Out (Matador single, 2016)

‘Murdered Out’ is a new collaboration by former Sonic Youth bassist / guitarist Kim Gordon and producer Justin Raisen, featuring Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint on drums.

The track was inspired by Gordon’s move to LA and her observation that so many cars were being resprayed to a black matte finish, a rejection of expected norms and an anti-corporate, anti-establishment, undeniably alternative approach to life. Like that attitude, ‘Murdered Out’ is anything but conventional; everything here is fuzzy, messy and utterly non-linear. Distortion is used with heavyhanded abandon, leaving this track with the same black matte finish that Gordon was originally inspired by. There’s no doubt that the style of the track was entirely conscious and not as loose as it perhaps sounds, but nevertheless Raisen and Gordon give ‘Murdered Out’ a messy, detached quality that’s refreshingly ugly.

‘Murdered Out’ is available on iTunes.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence