Tor Lundvall interview

The music of Tor Lundvall is a post-modern midnight dream, a universe that exists unto itself. As an artist, Lundvall remains an enigma, having released albums for the last twenty years and never once performed live or been pictured on his records. He remains a blank figure even as his music reveals a richly profound artistic viewpoint. The effect of his music is akin to deja vu’, its seldom clear where sounds originate or end, a calling from somewhere distantly familiar transformed. As the years passed and the releases continued, the questions piled up. Dais Records has just done the world a great service by reissuing three seminal Lundvall albums Ice, The Mist, and Under the Shadow of Trees and combined them with one new album, Turning, for a complete seasonally themed box of ghostly minimal compositions, appropriately titled The Season’s Unfold. Each album, framed by Lundvall’s dramatic paintings as artwork, throws the participant completely into this shadowy abyss. With a discography and reputation approaching Jandek/Muslimgauze proportions, the release of this special CD box set has prompted the curtain to be peeled back. For those unfamiliar with Lundvall’s deeply hypnotic textual music, this collection is a necessary antidote to rote genre-ism and conformity found in most modern music. The Season’s Unfold is a haunting example of one of today’s most mysterious composers and a perfect introduction to the mist-soaked, minimalism of Tor Lundvall. There is truly nothing else like it. Swingset was able to coax this reclusive artist into answering a few questions via fiber-optic lines.

How did you come to find your sound? There is something uniquely Lundvall on all of your recordings, its unmistakable.

My sound truly came into its own around November 1995 when I was recording the first piano pieces for “Ice”. I knew during those sessions that something unique was happening within the music. I think certain events in my personal life at the time must have triggered and influenced this musical growth and transformation.

There’s an amazing juxtaposition of thematic transcendentalism using processed sound in the music. There’s a calming tranquility in the naturalism yet there is something so alien about the sounds. How do these ideas connect for you?

On a strictly technical level, my trusty reverb unit plays a large role in enhancing the organic and otherworldly nature of the music. I don’t merely drench or disguise my sounds with echo. Instead, I look for unique patterns and atmospheres to emerge from the processed sound and then I construct my songs around them. I find that the most interesting pieces of music are those where you can’t pinpoint the instruments generating the sounds. Prior to 1995, I implemented a lot of foreign samples into my music. I’d record fragments from old radio broadcasts, movies and even comedy tapes and then transform them into ambient loops or washes. Many of the tracks on “Insect Wings” and “Turning”, for example, were constructed around these loops. From 1995 onwards, I’ve rarely used samples that are not homemade. Nearly every sound on my recordings from “Ice” onwards have been generated from objects within hands reach or from outside my bedroom window.

You have described your music as “ghost ambient”. Are you channeling or do these phantoms already exist, and in either case should we be afraid of them?

There’s no reason to be afraid… at least not yet!  I’m actually rather skeptical when it comes to ghosts and the supernatural, in spite of the fantastic nature of some of my music and paintings. At the same time, I have to wonder where some of the distant voices and other unintended sounds lurking within my music come from. Perhaps I’m channeling after all! These unexplainable sounds are the main reason I once described my music as “Ghost Ambient”. Although I’ve never been fond of labels, there was a time when I felt compelled to do so in order to avoid being pigeonholed.

Is there an intended affect for the listener? Surely there is a darkly romantic thread running through the material but atmosphere seems to be the thread that brings them all together, but how do you imagine people listen to your music?

I hope that the listener gets lost and absorbed in the music and the images it evokes for them. It’s certainly not entertainment and I’m sure my recordings would bore the hell out of anyone looking for just that. At the same time, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface and I hope that people will discover more with each new listening.

Do you see your work as refining a particular aesthetic? What goals do you set for yourself with the projects individually and what challenges and motivates you to continue down this path?

My work flows so naturally and instinctively that I rarely think in terms of motivation or challenges, at least not consciously. My painting and music is something I just do. My only real challenge is avoiding laziness and minimizing daily distractions. Once I’ve recorded a few new pieces of music, I suppose my one main goal is to make an album that sounds as coherent as possible. I’m never satisfied until this happens.

The voice on your records is so consistent. Is the narrator speaking to the same person throughout your work or is there a change with the seasons?

It’s a voice of personal reflection and observation for the most part. In a few rare instances, the lyrics are aimed towards a certain individual or a symbolic representation of that person. The seasons, the weather and even the time of day always play their part in setting the tone of the lyrics and the vocal delivery.

On a sentiment do your paintings and music express the singular or do they serve as separate outlets for different ideas?

My painting and music are interwoven and they channel the same spirituality and intuition. The only difference is the medium used and how they are absorbed by the senses.

How does soundtrack play into your work, your music can work dramatically in both the foreground and the background at certain points. Do you intend it to function equally in both or are certain works supposed to be more subliminal?

That’s an interesting observation. There’s no conscious effort to make the music function one way or the other, however it usually succeeds in being absorbed both actively and passively. There’s a gray area I like to explore, perhaps even more so with music than when I paint. There’s nothing intentionally subliminal about the music, however the undefinable elements are endless and fascinating places to get lost in.

Can you tell me about where you’re from in Long Island and what about that place/time factors into your art? The naturalism is so strong in the music, perhaps you can thread a parallel?

My surroundings have always had a tremendous impact on my music and painting. This is why there are usually more places than people listed on my album credits! I moved to East Hampton, NY in the Summer of 1992. Although the town is infamous for it’s insufferable social scene, it’s also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever known. I’m instinctively drawn to the landscape out here and it continues to influence and inspire my work.

There are a few specific compositions that stand out for me, perhaps you can share some of the stories or process behind a few in particular: “Twilight Girl,” “Windshield Dream,” “Hills in Flames,” “Faceless Boy”

“Twilight Girl” was inspired by one of my paintings which appears inside the booklet of the 1st edition of “Under the Shadows of Trees”. There’s a guitar riff I’m really proud of in the second verse, although it’s somewhat camouflaged in the mix. Lyrically, it’s an answer to the grief expressed in my track “Ice” which was released on the album of the same name. The lyrics convey (among other things) the idea that one can be deeply hurt, but not destroyed by lost love.

“Windshield Dream” is one of my favorite recordings from the “Autumn Calls” sessions. The track was built around a TR-808 drum pattern which was treated with delay. The loop had a hypnotic effect that sounded like wiper blades moving back and forth across a rain-soaked windshield, hence the title. Tony Wakeford added the excellent moody bass line. The distant trumpet and agitated strings provided by the other musicians helped complete the picture.

“Hills in Flames” is one of my earliest recordings dating back to July 1991. My father had a rusty, antique dulcimer with only three functioning strings. I plucked and sampled a series of notes and then added some other sounds, including the steady bass from my old Sequential Circuits Pro-One synthesizer. There are at least 5 different versions of “Hills in Flames” tucked away in my archives, including a few vocal takes. One of the whispered lyrics can be heard on the version featured on my “Insect Wings” CD. I always loved the title of this track and even considered using it as an album title years ago.

“Faceless Boy” still manages to creep me out to this day. I was messing around with my brother’s guitar effects processor and discovered that it made some incredibly strange sounds when it was used to treat vocals. The original mix of “Faceless Boy” was released on the “Seasons Sketches” CDR and it features the most radical vocal processing.

I understand that happenstance and the unexplainable play a role in your creative process but are there any rituals that help facilitate these chances?

Taking long walks, driving through back roads or just looking out of my bedroom window are my key rituals. The things I see and the feelings they evoke always facilitate the creative process and become permanently tied into the work. I can’t listen to my track “Sunday Evening”, for example, without being transported to that precise moment in time.

What binds you to your form? For the most part your work is concise to fit the general constraint of a “song”. Have you ever considered extended or other formats?

I suppose I’ve always preferred writing shorter pieces of music that blossom, shimmer and fade. Apart from the full length version of “The Falling Snow”, I haven’t recorded many extended compositions, however this could change at some point in the future. There are a few tracks on my forthcoming album “The Shipyard”, for instance, which are more loop-oriented and exceed my normal running time.

Would there ever be an occasion or reason to perform your work live?

That’s difficult to say. I’ve had several offers to play live over the years, however I’m hesitant to go forward with a live event for a variety of reasons. My music is so studio based that it’s difficult envisioning how it would translate to a live performance. I also haven’t played a proper gig in over twenty years, so the idea of going on stage again after all that time is a bit intimidating to say the least. Needless to say, it would take quite a lot to get me on stage again.

In what sense does a piece need to connect in order for it to be considered finished? What properties does it need to contain?

It just has to feel right, however it usually takes a long time for this to happen. I’m never satisfied until I’m completely immersed in my work and all the details are in place. I need to feel like I’m entering another world.

What future releases/plans are coming?

Apart from “The Shipyard”, a limited edition cassette EP is scheduled for release on the Period.Tapes label later this year. “Autumn Calls” may also see a reissue soon. The other day during my morning walk, I had the idea of making an album about a quiet park. Song titles such as “Symbols on Pavement” and “Field of the Red-Wing” popped into my head on my way back home. When this happens, a new album is never too far behind.

by STEVE LOWENTHAL on 2/24/2011 in Features, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,