How did you come
to music? What were your influences when you were growing
I got into music in the early eighties when I heard
bands like New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, Depeche Mode,
OMD, Wire, etc., for the first time. Hearing this music
was like discovering a new universe. A universe that
I wanted to be a part of. Two years later (1983) I bought
my first synthesizer and spent more and more time in
my bedroom turning knobs. Because I often worked all
night I was too tired to go to University where I studied
archaeology. Around 1985 I had to take a decision: continue
studying archaeology or try to become a ‘musician’.
I chose the latter simply because I found it more interesting.
But I still get a lot of inspiration from what I learnt
from my archaeology studies. Studying the Ice Age and
Stone Age has definitely influenced my music.
You come from Tromsø in Norway, which
seems to be a place where a lot of Norwegian musician
come from. How do you explain this?
This could have something to do with Bel Canto. We were
signed to the Belgian label Crammed Discs. The first
Norwegian acid house records we made (Bleep, Mental
Overdrive, etc...) were also released on Belgian labels
like SSR and R&S Records. Because we had contacts
abroad, we could also help other artists from Tromsø
with their first releases. I guess the success we had
also inspired local artists to make music. If we could
make it, they could make it too.
You recorded two albums as part of Bel Canto,
which was, and still is, a rather successful band. Did
you already have in mind to work on your own project
at the time?
It happened by accident. In the summer of 1988 I started
listening to acid house and techno. The second Bel Canto
album, Birds Of Passage, recorded in the summer
of 1989, had some elements of this music. While recording
Birds Of Passage in Brussels I also worked
on my own material in a small 8-track studio nearby.
This was the first time I used a sampler. This material
became the Bleep album The North Pole By Submarine.
I had to admit that I really enjoyed working on my own.
I also had a few small club hits (A Byte Of AMC
and The Launch Pad), in the UK. In the summer
of 1990, Anneli (Drekker) and Nils (Johansen) moved
to Oslo. I stayed in Tromsø, 2000 km to the north
(!) reading astronomy and making music on my own. Bel
Canto was signed to a major record company, but I had
lost interest in that kind of music, and therefore decided
Will you ever release any more music as Bleep?
I doubt it. But a re-release of The North Pole
album is very likely.
The North Pole By Submarine was quite
heavily influenced by club culture, and this influence
was still a bit perceptible on Microgravity.
How did you make the move from dance to ambient?
It happened very gradually. After Novelty Waves
(the track used by Levi’s) I felt the pressure
from the record company to make a follow-up ‘dance’
album and become a pop star. 'You should start working
with this drum’n’bass guy from London',
etc. This felt completely unnatural to me. Drum’n’bass
records were made by youths in Britain, not by a Norwegian
guy living totally isolated from that scene. I wanted
to go in the opposite direction, back to the underground
in a way, and therefore I decided to leave R&S.
How do you actually describe your music (if
you do at all)?
It’s very difficult. Atmospheric electronica?
What was your reaction when Levi decided to
use Novelty Waves as the soundtrack for one
of their TV and cinema advertising? Were you asked if
they could use it or was it done via R&S?
The record company and the music press were a lot more
excited than I was. It was the first time that Levi’s
had picked an non-American artist to do the music. And
a techno track! At the same time I knew that the Levi’s
artists had a strange tendency to just disappear after
the advertising campaign. Like one hit wonders…
It was done through R&S, but with my permission
You have worked with quite a few people over
the years, including Pete Namlook, Bobby Bird or Deathprod.
How does working on a collaboration differs from working
on one of your own project?
If I am working with some really talented people, it
can be a lot easier than working on my own because they
contribute with elements too. What do I look for in
a collaboration? What makes it exciting? Surprises I
guess. Collaborators who contribute with elements I
couldn’t do or didn’t think about. Still,
I feel like a painter or writer and prefer to work alone.
How did you come to work with Bobby Bird, of
Higher Intelligence Agency on the Polar Sequences
project, for the Polar Music Festival in Tromsø,
and Birmingham Frequencies? Did you know each
I met Bobby when I played at the Oscillate club in Birmingham
in 1994. We were sending each other records, and when
I was commissioned to do the Polar Sequences
project with a foreign artist, I invited Bobby to Tromsø.
Birmingham Frequencies was Bobby returning
With Deathprod, you revisited the work of Arne
Nordheim on Nordheim Transformed. How did you
get involved in this project, and how do you regard
Nordheim’s work? Have you been influenced by his
Nordheim Transformed was Rune Grammofon´s
idea. I did not know his music very well before I received
the recordings. I had heard about him of course, but
I have never been particularly interested in electro-acoustic
music. But I really liked what he did on these recordings.
Shenzhou was based around the work
of Claude Debussy. What started the project, and how
did you work on it? Did you have to follow a different
process than usual?
Yes, Shenzhou started with a loop. I bought
Debussy’s Complete Orchestral Works looking
for orchestral samples. The first loop became the first
track, the second loop became the second track, etc…
and the whole project was finished in just two weeks.
A very simple approach: one track consists of just one
loop plus effects.
You’ve worked on the soundtrack for Insomnia,
and have also scored Man With A Movie Camera
with Per Martinsen, of Mental Overdrive. Do you have
any more soundtracks in the pipeline, or would you like
to do more film music?
I could always do a soundtrack, but the stress and deadlines
involved in such work doesn’t appeal very much
to me. I often receive requests from film directors
and producers asking if they could use a track from
one of my albums. That’s easy work!
You also regularly remix other people’s
music. What makes you decide to remix a track?
I did remixes years ago, but not anymore. I find it
Your work has also been remixed by others. How
do you react to musicians interpreting your work in
It can be interesting to hear other people interpreting
my music, but I have the feeling that remixes belong
to the eighties and early nineties. I liked remixes
a lot when I was collecting Depeche Mode 12 inches in
the eighties, but at the moment I don’t care much.
What usually inspires you to write music?
A good sample! I guess being outdoors inspires me a
lot, but only in a subconscious way. When I write music
in the studio I generally try to think of ‘nothing’.
Sometimes I work in a less abstract way: On a track
like Chukhung, I tried to describe the feeling
of sitting alone on the summit of Chukhung Ri (5700
m) in Nepal looking down at the neighbouring glaciers
and valleys. I only work in the studio when I’m
very inspired. If not I just drive out of town, go skiing,
climb a peak, take some photos, or play with the kids.
People often refer to the long nights and icy
landscapes of the Polar Regions when talking about your
music, which seems an easy cliché. Does it bother
you to always see the same kind of references?
When we formed Bel Canto in the mid eighties I wanted
to make something I called ‘Arctic music’.
The idea came to me while taking part in an archaeological
excavation in a remote area of Northern Norway. I guess
I am still influenced by this idea, but probably in
a more subconscious way, as I’m not trying to
describe the environment as, let’s say, in a painting.
Or maybe as in a very abstract painting… I have
tried to avoid words like Arctic, Polar, winter, cold,
frost, etc... for many years know, but the journalists
obviously find it very tempting to use them when describing
the music. But I should also admit that it works when
promoting a record.
Autour De La Lune is very austere
compared to your previous work. Did you set off to produce
something as minimal as this? Was this what you originally
The original idea was to sample bits and pieces from
a dramatisation of Jules Verne’s Autour De
La Lune (from 1960) and make a soundtrack for these
samples. Unfortunately it did not work out because the
voices were not good enough. They reminded me too much
of cheap B-movies. But while working on this project
I bought a very good Russian telescope. Studying the
moon with this telescope gave me the idea to make a
soundtrack for ‘studies of the moon’, still
inspired by Jules Verne though.
What attracted you to Jules Verne’s De
La Terre A La Lune?
A few days after receiving the invitation from Radio
France Culture, I was watching a documentary about Jules
Verne. This gave me the idea to make a piece based on
one of his works.
It was originally a piece for the Radio France
festival in Montpellier last year. Did you have to adapt
the piece for the album? If yes, in what way?
It was supposed to be performed live, but the festival
was cancelled due to a strike. The piece has later been
adapted for the album by deleting a few tracks that
I wasn’t very happy with, and by adding a few
You regularly play live all over the world.
I would assume that playing live involves a complete
different process to working in the studio. Which environment
do you prefer?
I definitely prefer the studio. There I can experiment
and make mistakes for hours until something interesting
suddenly emerges. I don’t dare to use this approach
The legend has it that you were once contacted
by what would become Royksopp, and put them in touch
with your then label, Apollo. What did you think of
their work as Royksopp and the attention they have received
over the last couple of years?
Yes, it’s true that I picked out the best tracks
from a cassette they gave me around 1992 and delivered
them to R&S/Apollo (Aedena Cycle: Travellers
Dream EP). I still have the tape. I really like
some of the tracks on their album, and their success
is just fantastic!
You are regarded as one of the most important
ambient musicians around, and are often associated with
people like Brian Eno. How do you react to this?
What do you listen to when you are at home?
What is the last album you bought?
Mostly electronica, but I am also discovering ‘electro-acoustic’
composers like Salvatore Sciarrino. Last album: The
Staedtizism 4 compilation from ~Scape.
What are you currently working on, and how
do you see Biosphere evolve in the coming years?
I have just finished painting the house, and will hopefully
finish the next album next month. This will not be as
austere as Autour De La Lune (my last ambient
album for a while), but more ‘pop’ influenced.
I am also supposed to finish an album based on a trip
to Cho Oyu (8201 m) in Tibet. I am not sure how Biosphere
will evolve in the coming years. Biosphere should be
as unpredictable as the weather is up here!
Email interview July 2004
Thank you to Geir and Jim. Photo Marianne Sørheim.