Eivind Aarset is like a shy musical Jedi Knight. The force is strong in him, obviously, for his guitar has played a major part in sculpting a lot of the most important music to come out of Norway in the past ten- to fifteen years. He is an experimental jazz maestro, yet a reclusive one. The four records he has released in his own name are something like elusive masterpieces; darkish, timeless things that live their lives without neon signs and advertisements.
If reality is what we see around us every day –the natural state of the world– would you say that your music is a substratum to this, or something breaking out of it, in the skyward direction?
Eivind Aarset doesn’t look like he immediately appreciates the question, but then he smiles, as if surprised:
–Oh most definitely a substratum, a layer darker and more convoluted than this walk in the park.
We are actually not in a park, but reality on such a summer day is indeed a little like park life. Jazz however, was always more of an indoor thing.
–This notion of underground is not the first thought that springs to mind, says Aarset, but it is true that the music often seems to pull toward the somewhat darker side of things. It is the music itself that decides this though, i.e. the actual substance of sound and rhythm and the way this matter instructs me rather than the other way around.
So, notions of underworlds are not something Aarset pursues consciously. Yet darkish concepts hover around his work: The first record he released in his own name was entitled Electronique Noir, and the concept of Black noise/white silence is a kind of watchword he has hung on to. Maybe it is not about darkness though, but the enigmatic aspect of his music: Three more brilliant records down the road Aarset has often been portrayed as a soothsayer and a sage; one asking questions with his music that the rest of us will only discover the answers to in the still misty future. But Eivind Aarset distances himself from any such ideas of alchemy and jazzic philosophy:
–I don’t work with ideas, says Aarset, I work with sound. I have a love relationship with the aural clay out of which music is made. I am a physical person in that respect, I like to live and work with my senses. The guitar is important to me in its physical feel and response; I could not switch it for another instrument, a computer or mere theory. Some people –like this composer I heard on the radio the other day– are only concerned with the architecture of music, but I like the materiality. I like delving into each and every sound, and exploring the instruments and their interplay. I enjoy cooking, you know, and in a way I have the same relationship to music. My method is normally to improvise a lot and then be very meticulous when I go through the results. I guess I’m too much of a perfectionist; I try to let my self go more.
Reviews have often also made a point that what you do is new and unheard. Is the aspect of originality and innovation important to you?
–No, not at all, I would have to say. There are too many people and impulses involved to even use that concept in a meaningful way. We play together and hone in on what is distinctive and interesting. However, it is a process that happens on the music’s own conditions, and one based on the dynamic of the playing itself. It is not a matter of sitting down to create from scratch. What we are doing is trying to find a unique vocabulary, a form that is pure, which filters the ideas that occur. It is about the musical language as such –like cultivating a distinct vernacular– not about big ideas put into music.
When Aarset talks of his music he consistently says «we» –talking of his group; always as a common project. The group in question is the Sonic Codex trio, which has recently been given a second apparition, the sextet that goes by the name of The Sonic Codex Orchestra.
–We had a chance this summer to double in format, and it has been very interesting with a lot of new possibilities. From now on I think the trio and the orchestra will co-exist as two interchangeable formats, matching different jobs and venues.
Sonic Codex is the name of Aarset’s fourth and latest record in his own name, which came out in 2007. The band takes its name from the record because the majority of the material they play live is taken from this latest outing. However, the four records can also be seen as instances of one project, Sonic Codex simply being the current position of an ongoing musical journey.
–Again, it is not something I have been very conscious about, says Aarset. But I think it is true that these records are aspects or instances of one single project, a still unfinished journey. As I said, I like taking my time, trying and retrying things and making careful choices. I find that the juxtaposition of improvisation and patience is the formula that takes me furthest musically.
Most of the time I conceive of the musicians I work with as the vehicle for my musicality, not just Sonic Codex Orchestra, but the whole pool of musicians. But I can also be quite introvert in the way I work, and this side is more difficult to cultivate live and with others. Therefore I’m planning a solo album with only guitar, which will be an exploration of the aspects that are hardest to express in a band format.
Eivind Aarset has contributed on more records than almost any Norwegian musician, many of them milestones. For a long time he has been one of the most sought-after experimental guitarists around, and his signature is important to the sound of many leading Norwegian jazz artists. Perhaps none more so than Nils Petter Molvær, who more than anyone came to symbolize the hypnotic brew of Norwegian electro-experimental jazz that boiled over in the late nineties. Molvær has been one of Aarset’s closest musical partners for many years, but now the collaboration is drawing to an end.
My last concert with Nils Petter will be in September, says Aarset. I simply need more time to focus on my own music. Over the years the desire to work with my own material has grown forth, gradually. It also has to do with my practical domestic situation. I need to travel less and spend more of my working hours close to home. I look forward to being able to really delve into things and take the time I need. But at the same time it is a bit terrifying not to have the dynamic of other musicians to rely on. I think it’s the people I have played with that have formed me as a musician; so many personal epiphanies have sprung from things that others have said or played. That is something I will miss when I am now going to work more alone.
The solo record is planned sometime next year, but before that a live album featuring the Sonic Codex Orchestra is in the making.
–We have been recording every concert so far and will continue to do so for a while, finding new recording solutions every time. It is a very rewarding process to record the coming into being of a new outfit, and keeping a live album in mind all the time while we play and explore on stage.
After the live and solo albums have been completed and released Aarset will probably begin work on the follow up to Sonic Codex. The explorations that started with Electronique Noir are far from finished, it might well be a life-long project admits Aarset.
Eivind Aarseth's Last.fm site
Eivind Aarseth's MySpace site