Behind the alias of Deaf Center are Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland, too pals from Norway. They are equally fascinated and inspired by the lights of the cities, an atmospheric walk in the empty forests of Norway, the dark yet disarming emotional contour of the movies of David Lynch or Kubrick. Erik has recently moved to Berlin where Deaf Center recorded, within three days, their latest album Owl Splinters, in Nils Frahm’s studio. He also runs Miasmah one of the most distinguished labels of experimental music and has being releasing solo work under a variety of monikers, the most prominent Svarte Greiner (Black Leaves in English). Otto has also been actively producing work for Nest, among others, as well as taking care of his home in Norway. I first encountered their music when exposed to the beautiful sincerity of Pale Ravine (Type Records, 2005). I was impressed by the density of their modern classical-ambient soundscapes, knowing that both considered themselves classically untrained or to be more specific self-taught musicians.
I had the chance to see them perform live here in New York as part of this year’s Unsound Festival’s Beyond the Dark – a tribute event for the music of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki at Judson Church in Manhattan. Erik has also performed as Svarte Greiner with Polish-German percussionist Paul Wirkus on the live soundtrack for Murnau’s German Expressionist classic “Nosferatu”.
In the following questions I try to focus on Deaf Center’s creative process, their thoughts about computer sequencing as opposed to live instrumental performances, and the power of words in their music-making.
MP: How did you come up with the name Deaf Center?
Erik: I can´t remember exactly, but it was a name that I was going to use for my solo material first, remixing a track that Otto did, calling it “Deaf Center Remix”, which ended up being our common name. It was also the first DC [Deaf Center] track that was ever made (the track City on Neon City).
MP: Congratulations on your newest outcome, the first after 6 years. Do you feel that Owl Splinters picks up, both texturally and emotionally, from where you stopped with Pale Ravine or is it its own self-expanding universe?
Erik: Thank you. I think they definitely have something in common, though the way their made is so different and there was no intention to try follow up Pale Ravine sound wise. I think its best if peoples take on Owl Splinters as a self-expanding universe, rather than having to compare it to PR.
Otto: The process of making Owl Splinters was very different from Pale Ravine – texturally, I would consider Owl Splinter much richer. Emotionally, I would say Owl Splinters is darker.
MP: During your set at Judson Church I was engaged by its meditative flow. Was it all improvised?
Erik: Yes in the way that we have very small things set like maybe a certain key we’re working around, and Otto plays one piece in the end which is from the record. We did however pick out certain sounds from the album that we play underneath some parts of the performance to make it slightly recognizable for the audience.
MP: Do you think that playing live and improvising has opened up your working/creative process and the way you compose your albums?
Erik: Yes, most definitely. The way I/we make music now is totally different from back when we made PR. None of us had any idea on how to perform things when we did our first live shows, but over the years things become more and more live – which I think is think is much more fun to perform. This has been the case on Owl Splinters and some of my own albums under “Svarte Greiner” also, meaning the way the album is made in a much more live improvised way rather than composing it traditionally.
Otto: Yes, having a set this improvised makes it a little unpredictable – even for us. We heavily depend on improvisations when we make new material also.
MP: Both of you have been producers (either in your collab in Deaf Center or in your solo works) and know both sides of the story. What would you define as the pros of computer sequencing, as opposed to the physicality and intuition of live instrumental improvisations?
Erik: Pros. For the computer sequencing, you have much more control over all aspects of the sound and the way it’s presented. Though I think a good combination of the two approaches is the best way to work. It’s all a big experimentation progress in different ways of making music. Making Pale Ravine, Knive, Kappe, Flare & Owl Splinters have all been very different processes, and hopefully this will continue to change.
Otto: With sequencing you get the time to work with details – It’s easy to go back and add or change something. But when I just use computer sequencers, I tend to end up with a result that feels more clinical. The best way to go is a combination of both.
MP: Your choice of words for album and song titles is triggered by atmospheric and emotional gravity. How does that have impact on the mood and the sound palette you end up using?
Erik: Album titles and track names were all invented after the music was made. Which has been the case on pretty much all releases. I find it much more fun finding track names after the music is done, impacting the mood and how people would listen to the track by playing with words.
MP: Erik, I have read from your previous interviews that you are a big cinema buff and that walking in a city or a forest can inspire you. With your music, do you intend perhaps to guide your listener through what you see or feel in a similar way that a movie director does?
Erik: In a way, I guess so – though in the end the music i/we produce is a product of whom we are as persons, rather than trying to put too much intellect or depth in everything I/we do, it’s more up to each and every person that listens to it, to come up with their own interpretation, which I think is a good way to listen to things. In my perspective, listening to music is all about mood and making your own little universe out of it.
MP: Are you working on any new solo or Deaf Center releases?
Otto: I’m working on some new Nest material for a 10” Serein release.