Circular are one of my favourite ambient bands. The Scandinavian duo are signed to the legendary ambient/electronic label, Ultimae, as well as working on individual side projects. Working out of truly beautiful areas of Norway, Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik and Bjarte Andreassen have been producing equally beautiful electronic music for two decades now. I decided to ask them about the work and inspirations.
Let me start by saying to Bjarte, congratulations on the new baby!
Thanks! He is a beautiful boy who gives me great joy and inspiration.
You both live in ridiculously beautiful parts of Norway, how does that influence your sound and approach?
Nature influences our sound quite a lot, but probably on a subconscious level though. Guess everything surrounding you to a certain extent shapes your vision and creative output. Hard to say what form this influence will take in the end, but is nevertheless an intrinsic part of the musical process.
How does that musical process work in a partnership where you’re often not in the same studio?
Bouncing ideas back and forth using an FTP server or Splice (the new online service which we warmly recommend) is just the way we have to collaborate as long as we are so far away from each other. Usually Bjarte starts with the track with some kind of framework sketched out and then Jostein comes aboard to add his DNA. Not exactly like that, but we have different areas where we have more to contribute with on an individual basis – some areas overlapping of course, but the sonic tennis match works quite well, really.
‘Sonic tennis match’, I like that! You both also write for projects outside of Circular. How do you decide whether a musical idea is a Circular one or not? Is there something specific you’re trying to get across with a Circular album?
Probably touching on how we view a creative process, but from our perspective it is mostly about intent. It is like putting on a different uniform – getting into a different modus operandi, so to speak. Creating music is entering a work mode specified by your decision. So actually it is quite rare that tracks are being sent between projects.
We don’t think we have a specific agenda for Circular other than trying to immerse our listeners in our music. Take them captive and absorb them in our universe.
You’ve been together for twenty years now, what has changed the most? And what old techniques have you not been able to leave behind?
Old geezers. 20 years. Just had to let that number linger a bit. Well, change has been quite big. From going from a hardware only system to running almost completely in the box (software only), things have become much easier but options have increased tremendously as well. This is a well known challenge. Faced with too many choices and roads to travel, you have to be very disciplined and focused about what you are aiming for. But our sound has always been quite complex and multi-layered, so I guess we are happy with limitless DAWs and enough computational power to do exactly what we want musically.
Ultimae, your label, have an amazing track record for releasing quality electronica, what’s it like to work with them?
Ultimae is family to us. They understand us really well and we have a great dialogue. We have even done a track in collaboration with Aes Dana (one of the label owners) and we intend to do this again. We also take great pleasure in the good friendship with other artists on the label – people we probably wouldn’t know personally if it wasn’t for the label.
The label is very much behind its artists performing live. What’s your live set-up like? And what are the joys and pitfalls of performing ambient electronica live?
Our setup is laptop centric with controllers interacting with the DAW. Nothing revolutionary and it also quite an advantage that we don’t have to carry too much stuff around. We always admire projects that show up with lots of external gear and synthesizers, but we work mainly in the box, so our live version mirrors that method of working. When that is said, it is a challenge to create proper live sets that are dynamic and open enough to let us use that moment on stage to decide where to go next. That also involves some risk taking that you have to consider getting into or not.
Usually this means that we prioritise sound quality and listener experience instead of going completely improv and “live”.
I had already enjoyed listening to your last album, Moon Pool, when Jostein informed me you’d used some of my sounds (which I was thrilled about!), how did you come across my synth noises?
Thank you, Matt! We found some references to your sounds on a website. I am sorry to say we don’t remember which one. But we don’t regret buying your sound sets. Terrific work!
Anything you’d particularly like to see coming out from The Unfinished?
We are quite fond of Omnisphere, so keep the sets coming for this sonic wonder. A sound set for Linplug Spectral would be great.
Well, keep your eyes peeled for Omnisphere 2 sounds. Apart from Omnisphere, what are your favourite bits of kit in your studio?
I think we have become avid UAD users over the years, so I guess that we have to agree on the Apollo Twin being an excellent device. Lots of plugs that we use on all our tracks.
What hardware/software do you feel is missing from your studio? Does it even exist?
We have gone the whole circle 360 degrees. Hardware to software. And the pendulum keeps swaying. Revolution. Counter revolution. Part of human life. We are still looking for something that gives great control and interaction without relying so much on your eyes. Trust your ears.
What will we hear from you next? And where can hear more of your music and learn more about your work?
We are always working on new material. Even though we have several new and unreleased tracks ready we haven’t decided on how to publish it. Some have been shared with the audience live on stage. Please check our Facebook page for recent news: www.facebook.com/CircularNorway
Finally… Jostein, can I come and visit your studio in Ålesund?! The place looks spectacular.
The guest room is just waiting for you. The bed is made. Looking forward to it!
I’ll go and explain that to the wife! Thanks again both of you for chatting with me.