Hans-Peter Lindstrøm's Hardware Rabbit Hole
Norwegian producer Lindstrøm swears off computers on his meditative new album On a Clear Day I Can See You Forever. PopMatters speaks with him about his new toys and the new perspectives it's opened up.
On a Clear Day I Can See You Forever
Hans-Peter Lindstrøm only appeared on my computer screen for a few seconds, walking around Oslo at night among windblown swarms of leaves. "I don't need to see you," he said over Skype, which was a relief for both of us (I looked like shit). But if his goofy track titles—"Really Deep Snow", "Swing Low Sweet LFO"—don't make it clear that he's the nicest, smiliest Norwegian on the planet, his gently risky and always good-natured music does. Though he's bridged the gap between dancefloor and hipster adoration as an architect of the "space disco" sound that emerged from Norway in the mid-2000s, he doesn't care much about looking cool. Would someone who did make something like Six Cups of Rebel?
Lindstrøm's starting from scratch on his new album, the subdued and soundscape-centric On a Clear Day I Can See You Forever, assembled in part from material commissioned by the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter in Høvikodden, Norway. Albums sourced from site-specific projects tend to be subdued and often work best within their designated place of performances, but On a Clear Day is a thrilling exception. Only four tracks long, the 37-minute record has some of the slow-burning majesties of Miles Davis' most ambient material. It has nothing to do with the dancefloor and everything to do with the collection of hardware Lindstrøm's been slowly rebuilding after selling much of his gear around the time of Rebel. Every sound we hear on On a Clear Day was generated with synths rather than presets, and if our chat was any indication, he's falling deeper and deeper down the hardware rabbit hole.
How has your process of making music changed now that you're exclusively using hardware?
I would say it's what everybody says: it glues much better together that way. The thing with this album is it's less bass- and drum-oriented and more focused on evolving soundscapes and simple synth melodies. It's much more simple than my previous tracks, and because of that, it's been really good working with hardware because it's been very easy to blend everything. There's lots of good software, but it's all about making this digital sound analog, and I already have so much stuff, so I decided to go all in. I was saying to myself I wasn't allowed to do anything by software. I've been using the computer just for cutting and pasting and stuff. I didn't go all, like, tape splicing and stuff like that. That's maybe too much to ask for even when it comes to hardware.
How is this music different from the music commissioned by Henie Onstad Kunstsenter?
The second track is actually live at the museum, the "Really Deep Snow" track. The first and third are very similar to the stuff I did, but every time it's different, so even though I've played the album two times now in Norway and am going to play it a few more times, every time it's different. That's a good thing because when I'm performing with a laptop, there's not that much room for improvisation.
The opening chord of the title track reminds me a lot of some of the sounds on Miles Davis' Agharta, and there's a piano motif that sounds like a riff on "'Round Midnight". Are you a jazz fan?
Yes, I'd say that I am. Some of the Miles stuff was a big inspiration, especially the album… Is it called Get On?
Get Up With It?
Yeah, yeah, some of that stuff with the wah-wah organ is different from everything else he's done. It's very, very exciting music, so that's been a big inspiration. I haven't really heard much of "Round Midnight", but I don't know, I was trying to make the synth sound like a guitar or a saxophone or something and make it kind of lyrical in a way.
The first track is a take I recorded just for trying out the Memorymoog, and after a few weeks, I thought, "oh, this is kinda good actually." So the only thing I did was add some organ, some wah-wah, and some backwards Rhodes. It's a very sparse and kind of solo track, but I really like it.
You've cited Robert Wyatt as an inspiration, too. How has he influenced your work?
The thing is with Robert Wyatt is he's one of those artists that's been good through his whole career. He has this sound, but none of the records really sound the same, in my opinion. I would especially say Rock Bottom is really good, I like the "Red Riding Hood" thing ["Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road"], but I just bought the Matching Mole vinyl, and I think some of that stuff is great as well. I don't think my records sound like Robert Wyatt. It's more just his perspective and his attitude [towards] music. He seems very free, open-minded.
You sent your Yamaha CS-60 to be repaired a while back. Is the one you used on this record the same one? Did you finally get it fixed?
Yeah, that's the same one. I got it after like 12 years or something. I finally found this guy outside Oslo, who was able to fix it, and I got it back. I didn't use it at the arts center because it wasn't ready by then, but I used it on the album—not for everything, just for the last track. It's been stored all over Oslo with people who were supposed to fix it and didn't know how to do it. It's been in a coma for more than ten years, and suddenly it woke up and got alive.
In a Reverb interview you said you'd sold a lot of your hardware. Now that you're re-accumulating it, how does your collection look now vs. then?
I didn't sell everything. The only things I regret are the Prophet-5 and the Juno-60. And oh yeah, the UK synth—the Oscar? Oxford? Oscar, I think it's called [the OSC OSCar, made by the Oxford Synthesizer Company]. But I kept the Memorymoog and the [Korg] MS-20, and I've been buying some more stuff. You should consider what you're selling because you'll probably regret a lot of it. I needed to do it in that part of my life and my career.
I just needed to focus on the music and not all the hardware that didn't work. Six Cups of Rebel was only plug-ins made in Logic. I made a lot of plug-ins to get everything to sound as crazy as possible. But on this album, I just wanted to make a peaceful, really mellow, warm-sounding album, and I would say that the hardware and synths I have in the studio proved the right equipment for that task.
Do you see yourself returning to digital production anytime soon?
I just fell into the rabbit hole of Eurorack, so, to be honest, I don't really see any point at the moment. It's so much more fun to go to the studio and not start with updating the plug-ins on Logic or whatever but just turning on the speakers and the stuff I have in the studio to play instead of programming. I'm just kind of tired of programming. It's much more fun just to play and be carried away. I don't work with [anybody], so the music I make comes straight from my heart and through my fingers into the other keyboards and through the speakers.
Even to have someone to mix your music... I feel giving my music to somebody like an external mixer is supposed to be better or more balanced, but it takes away some of the personality, so I tried to do it myself. Maybe it doesn't sound as good from a hi-fi perspective or something, but it's more personal, has more character. Ask me in five years; I'll probably say something different.
Photo: Lin Stensrud / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR
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