An exclusive interview with Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik of Pjusk and Circular

Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik (Photo by: Bjørn Harald Myhre)Jostein Dahl GjelsvikCircularPjusk Pictures.png Click image for more pictures

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik, one half of Norwegian electronica projects, Pjusk and Circular, and formerly also part of Neural Network. With both Pjusk and Circular with new albums in the making, we got to hear some of Jostein’s thoughts on the music scene, working in projects and his motivation for being a musician.

Jostein, what got you into music-making and how and when did you start out?

I started out the same way many other electronica artists start – by using trackers (around 1988). Soundtracker on the Commodore Amiga was first musical playground, although I have to admit that I used to be extremely fascinated by the 64 SID-chip. I never created any music using the 64, but I loved listening to tracks created by Rob Hubbard in particular. But the one who actually got me into MIDI, synths and samplers, was my tracker-buddy and friend Oddgeir Hvidsten (ed. Motion Control). We created many tunes together on the Amiga and although I by then had some first-hand knowledge of synthesizers, he bodly suggested that we should ditch the tracker and start creating music using MIDI-sequencers instead. And voila – Neural Network was born. I quite vividly remember purchasing our first synths, a Roland JV-80 and a Roland JV-30 and trying to find out everything we could with regards to synth tech and how we could use them. I still have the first track we created together using a Roland S10 sampler and our JVs on my HD.

Do you have some influences you would like to share with us?

At the same time I guess I started investigating more well-kown artists such as Jarre, Vangelis and Kitaro. I won’t say they are influencial at present, but from time to time I still listen to Jarre’s “Oxygene” and some old Vangelis tracks. The “Bladerunner” track is magnificicent – lots of mood and atmosphere – and that fabulous Yamaha CS-80 of his – pure silk.

Concerning all-time influences I think it would be arrogant not to mention Future Sound of London and Biosphere. FSOL did a lot of stuff that inspired and sparked a lot of ideas and direction for Bjarte and myself. I think they had (and probably still have) a unorthodox way of approaching music making – a certain playfulness when it came to assembling layers of sound. Circular and Pjusk are also very sample-based – which I tend to forget from time to time when I venture into the halls of virtual synths (and consequently get lost).

Biosphere, on the other hand, did ambient music in a way we really enjoyed. The more recent material I find less interesting, although gems are still popping up on occasion. I guess the key element of his music is atmosphere – and I remember one particular striking moment when Bjarte and I had spent an entire night working on our debut album, Nanotopia. We just got back home in the morning when the mailman arrived with “Substrata”. Of course we had to put it on instantly and when the track “Poa Alpina” started – it was just an out of body experience. OOBE ;-) So I guess we owe it to Mr. Geir Jenssen among others for our love for the ambient genre.

My father is a big classical music buff, and I listened to his music as well during my younger years. I guess it kind of started resonating within me, but what really clicked as a child was “Jive talking (Bee Gees)” – the synth riff was something I immediately took a liking to. Strange. :-) I have always been in love with the otherworldly sound of synths & samplers.

You have always been working as part of a group – has this been intentional and in what way do you feel it has affected your music-making?

I have always been quite fond of the dynamics of working together with someone. It is less demanding, and much more rewarding in terms of getting someone to share your musical ups and downs. The biggest advantage however, is purely based on the fact that we have different ways of approaching music-making. Bjarte, for instance, has an admirable way of coming up with new and intriguing ideas, whereas one of my strong-points is arranging. Bjarte has always been the sound programmer as well – having created hundreds of sounds for the Korg Wavestation EX and Matrix 6R. Although I would like to view myself as a sound designer, I am more a skilled atmosphere designer. Over the years we have come to realise and acknowledge these pros and cons – and try to challenge them as well, but more times than often we just confirm them. Oh … by the way.. One skill that I am really lacking, is beat-making – I usually get help .. or use sample snippets to improve my lousy rhythm tracks. Rune (ed. Rune Andre Sagevik, other half of Pjusk) is also far better than me in this area.

And naturally then to follow up, do you see yourself working as a recording solo artist in the future?

Never say never, I guess. But then again – at the moment our release schedule is more than full. We’re now in the position where we can, as long as the quality is adequate, release our material. Quite a good spot to be in. I sometimes wonder how it would be to work totally on my own and my conclusion is always that I don’t have enough time to spare in order to do this properly.

The music of both Pjusk and Circular – even some of Neural Network’s material – bears some resemblance in that it is timeless, atmospheric and somewhat natural/organic in form. Through your music, what do you want to convey?

Our emphasis has always been to evoke feelings and create immersive atmospheres. We don’t have an agenda in any way – but I would like to think that we use elements of storytelling. Pjusk is more minimalistic in this respect – only hinting and suggestive of human presence. Circular is a much more commercial-sounding project – more rhythm and percussion oriented – whereas Pjusk is more in the direction of artistic expressions. I see the two projects belonging to very different genres and target groups.

As Circular, you have recently teamed up with Bjarte [Andreassen] again and are now soon ready with a new album on the French Ultimae label, how has it been to work with Bjarte again and go back to the Circular project?

First I would like to point out the fact that we never did part – although the process has been really slow and sometimes a complete standstill, we have been focusing on creating our next album all the time. The new album is actually four years in the making – consisting also of some esoteric material that was created for the Divergent album. I guess one of the reasons why we used this long to return with an album, is due to the fact that Pjusk was conceived and realised. Pjusk is quite a different project, although I think there are some similarities with Circular, but a different musical path altogether. But it is always great fun to work with Circular tracks – Bjarte and I have lots of fond memories – staying up late composing – going to bed in the morning after having stuffed ourselves with a manly dinner – the fascination and interest of vintage synthesizers. The list goes on.

Pjusk received massive critical acclaim for your compilation track and subsequently the seminal “Sart” on Taylor Deupree’s “12k” label. How did you get in touch with Taylor, and do you change your approach to music-making when you wear the Pjusk-hat, in comparison to your Circular or earlier Neural Network monikers?

Getting in touch with Taylor was pure luck, I guess. I didn’t even know the label, however Rune did – and asked me to send our demo to 12k as well. We sent 8 parcels with our demo CD and received 3 responses. Taylor was one of them. I have never worked with someone so well-organised – I really cannot stop praising how he runs his label as well as how he is as a person. The entire process leading up to album release was streamlined and without slips – so we see no reason to part ways with 12k and these days are working on the follow-up to “Sart”.
As I mentioned previously, Circular and Pjusk are really quite different – we think quite differently – and in that regard, Pjusk is probably the most distinct and clearly “defined” in form. We spent a lot of time placing boundaries for how we wanted Pjusk to sound and be perceived – and looking back, I feel we accomplished that. Circular is probably a lot more playful project – and we do not take ourselves too seriously either. In that sense, we probably appeal (I hope!) to a different audience than those who like Pjusk – and probably have a better commercial potential if I was to brave such a comparison. Another thing which is very satisfying is that we have finally succeeded in leaving the country, Norway. We had a taste of the sweet life with our contribution on the Interchill compilation, and we now finally see the possibilities coming our way. As a matter of fact, at the time of this writing, Circular are heading the lineup for the Aurora festival in Greece in August later this year.

Taken together, both projects are in my eyes on each their side of the commercial “fence”. Pjusk clearly has more appeal within artistic circles – evident to us clearly through invitations to play live at Landmark (ed. established art venue in Bergen, Norway) – curated by the Bergen Art Hall. Further, we see that the projects we are compared to are less accessible – which in turn makes it all the more fun to see that both projects on their own manage to stay alive and are actively working both in terms of having a future and progress.

Looking at Norwegian ambient electronic music today, it’s difficult to ignore big names from the past such as Biosphere, Information and your own groups, to name just a few. Having been in the game making music in this genre over a decade now, how do you feel the music scene has changed in this time?

I must honestly admit I have always felt somewhat on the side of the established scene, and have never been particularly occupied with the idea of looking up my musical peers. Therefore I have probably only skimmed the surface of any changes on the scene and am not in a great position to deliver a good analysis of what they are. But what is apparent is that many more now produce electronic music – in all categories and genres – which again is only a good thing, right? In our own projects we stay faithful to our expression and emphasize our own distinctness as a key factor to stand out from the crowd. And I hope we are managing that.

We – as Soundscaping – had the pleasure of hosting a live concert with you playing live as Pjusk for the first time in many years. How do you feel about such live performances for music that is typically released for a mostly home listening audience?

This can work, but it requires knowledge of the music and the form of expression. I actually believe more in a clearly defined and pure live event where the audience know exactly what to expect and do not get mixed around with those coming to hear uptempo dubstep or other dance music to be blunt (ed. The Villa hosted a drum & bass night with DJ Teebee after Soundscaping’s live concert). And I truly believe the possibility is there to facilitate such an event – purely on the premises of the home listening music.

What do you listen to yourself these days?

Musically I am “all over the place” – I gladly listen to Stars of the lid, Bola, Lusine ICL, Loscil – but lately I have been in Circular-mode because of our upcoming album release. Hence I have devoted my time to Carbon Based Lifeforms and Solar Fields – and a few other acts on the Ultimae label. Regardless of that, I am very keen to find the music that communicates and puts me in the right “mode” – it could just as well be “Glassworks” by Philip Glass or the “Plastic Bag Theme” by Thomas Newman. I believe I am not too experimental – if the music is too fragmented and rational, it quickly becomes boring in my ears. In that respect I believe I am quite ambient in preference. Truth to be told – my greatest musical moments have come with tracks by Boards of Canada and Ulrich Schnauss (not including the euphoric moments with FSOL and Biosphere in the 90s). As you probably see, I have a strong emotional connection to music and have come to the conclusion that I actually am addicted. lol

What are you going on to work with pending the release of your new Circular album?

We (Pjusk) are working on our second album together with a project called Strie as well as the Japanese project Fjordne. Our progress has been slow but steady, and we are confident that we will finalise an album during 2009. We are also working on the next Circular album on Ultimae.

Thank you for your time and best of luck with all your projects in 2009, any last thoughts to share with our Soundscaping readers?

Enjoy life! :-)

Selected discography for Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik:

Sart (as Pjusk) – 12k, 2007
Glass Darkly (as Circular) – Origo Sound, 2004
Divergent (as Circular) – Beatservice Records, 1999
Nanotopia (as Circular) – Origo Sound, 1997
Modernité (as Neural Network) – Origo Sound, 1995

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