The listening of Pip‘s Possible Worlds, the one-take recording (without overdubs or editing) they recently dropped on the SOFA catalog, was a real pleasure to me and I cannot but recommend a check, even if you’re not a lover of improvisational sessions. Let’s discover it and this band by the words of their forgers, Torsten Lavik Larsen (trumpet, sampler, synthesizer) and Fredrik Rasten (guitars, electronics).
Chain DLK: Hey folks! How are you doing?
Pip: Good, thanks! We are looking forward to our concerts coming up in Oslo at the SOFA label night on the 25th of November and at KM28 in Berlin on the 5th of December.
Chain DLK: Some preliminary questions for readers who never met your art… first, as we used this magical tricky word (‘art’), what’s your personal definition of art?
Pip: Maybe something like an activity dealing with an abstracted or aestheticized aspect of our world, allowing us for ways of thought and for experiences that are not directly about the basic needs or about the economy.
Chain DLK: What’s the sparkle that caused the creative fire of Pip?
Pip: A playful exploration of different musical ideas and having quite similar musical tastes have made it easy to work together in this duo.
We went to the same high school and listened to a lot of the same music, mostly the things happening in the Norwegian jazz and experimental music scene at the time (around 2006-7).
After some playing together in a more conventional jazz quartet, we wanted to explore the duo format and more minimal approaches to both lyrical musics belonging to jazz and free-form improvisation.
From there on we have explored many different pathways, often involving playing multiple instruments at the same time – Torstein has combined the trumpet with electronics, small synthesizers or even harmonium, while Fredrik has explored playing more than one guitar, using open strings in different tunings.
We always played with what we had at hand, often things we got cheap at flea markets, like old guitars, toy instruments, Casio keyboards, etc, and included these findings to the core of guitar and trumpet.
In the last years, before the work with “Possible Worlds”, we were working with the basic instrumentarium – acoustic guitar and trumpet, with music, focused on long stretches of sound and on intonation.
“Possible Worlds” is summing up our history as a duo quite well – it has equal parts improvisation and composition, a strong focus on intonation and timbre, and it includes a big collection of guitars, electronics and keyboards played in real-time.
Chain DLK: What’s the meaning of the word ‘Pip? Nothing to share with ‘Picture In Picture’ or is there any relation with that acronym?
Pip: Naive enough, the band name is nothing more than the onomatopoetic sound or word for bird sounds in Norwegian. We had an interest in birds and birds singing and in sampling them in our early days. Half-jokingly, but also serious – the band name was a suggestion for the aforementioned quartet we played in, but when the two others were reluctant to the name, we formed our duo with that name. We like that it is simple and derives from a word for bird sounds, although we would probably have come up with another name if we got together for the first time now.
Chain DLK: You existed since 2006, but you weren’t so visible since the last years. For instance, the first time I met your sound occurred when I heard your untitled output on Creative Sources. Did you prefer to stay in the shadows on purpose or is there any other reason explaining the fact your outputs weren’t that easy to find on the surface of the musical oceans?
Pip: I think that up until the last 3 years, when we released the Creative Sources release in 2016, Pip was as much a playground for musical exploration and socializing together as it was a goal to go on tours or release records. But we are happy now to release on SOFA, to play concerts regularly and to reach out a little longer.
Chain DLK: Besides music, how did your friendship start?
Pip: We knew each other a little from before through common friends, but we became good friends when we were at the same music high school in Oslo.
As mentioned earlier, our friendship and the duo project has more or less been one thing, and it is hard to see where one thing ends and the other begins.
Earlier, we always rehearsed at Torstein’s parent’s house, and playing music together was always synonymous with hanging out in a relaxed way, letting the playing and the social interaction mingle seamlessly.
Chain DLK: One of the most fascinating aspects of your recent Possible Worlds is the fact it was recorded in one-take… what’s the main benefit of such a decision?
Pip: I think we have always had as an ideal to record the music as it is sounding in the room, and nothing “more”. That is also a consequence of our work with an extended instrumentarium – we wanted to play the different instruments and sound sources as a big instrument in itself, instead of layering them on top of each other in a recording session. With that said we are not principally opposed to overdubbing and at one point we considered the chance of adding something on top of the “Possible World” take. But it has a nice feeling we think, that what you hear on the record is just the way we played it there and then, only with the adjustments of volumes, eq, etc. that a recording process normally involves.
Another benefit is that we can reproduce the same sound live, without pre-recorded tracks or added musicians.
But to clarify, we did not take one take only, we did three long versions of “Possible Worlds” on that September day last year, and it is the third one that ended up on the record.
Chain DLK: Possible Worlds sound like the meeting of two apparent poles, the American minimalism and Indian Dhrupad music… is such a meeting of Eastern and Western poles the reason behind this title?
Pip: No, although an interesting point! But there are strong influences from Dhrupad and other Indian classical music to some of the American minimalists, as La Monte Young’s and Terry Riley’s music exhibit for instance, so they are not too opposed either, in that sense. The intonation aspect is an important part of the Dhrupad tradition, and seems to have had a quite huge impact and influence on parts of the field dealing with just intonation historically and today, and maybe especially for those following in the tradition of American experimentalism / minimalism.
Composer and violist Catherine Lamb’s music for instance (which we really like), has a clear influence from Dhrupad music, in the way the harmonic and melodic aspects suffuse in a sonic equivalent to light and shade.
The idea was to find a rather simple title that could work well as an overarching association for the music. “Possible Worlds” has both a philosophical interesting content as a metaphysical idea, and it also has some poetry to it in our ears. In philosophy, it has to do with the conceivability of circumstances and their metaphysical possibility. Often, the thought experiments and examples are given in philosophical discourse have a poetic or evocative side, besides also often being rationalistic and “dry” in their motivations or goals.
We think the title works good with the music, and that the piece can be heard as a kind of “world” in itself, with its own logic, form, color, and sound.
Chain DLK: Do you remember your emotional or mental set before and after the recording session?
Pip: Not really, but remember a high level of concentration while playing and in the end a mixture of delight and exhaustion, as well as Torstein’s remark right after we finished the take on the record: “Ooooh (sigh), that was long!”
The place where we recorded, Flerbruket, is a multi-usage space for recording, practicing, residencies, etc, a hours travel outside Oslo, and Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard who recorded is a good friend of us, so it was all a very nice atmosphere.
Chain DLK: Improvisation in Possible Worlds plays a role, but apparently tonal aspect as well…
Pip: Yes, improvisation plays the role that the actual sound-making and the nuances of it is shaped live, and the improvisational aspect allows for a real time interplay that is important for us and our musical method.
The composed aspect consists of a long form of specific musical materials or parts, a tonal system based on 11-limit just intonation, and the instrumentarium of the piece, with two electric guitars, two acoustics, trumpet, keyboard, sampler, chimes, and bells.
It seems like this is a good way of working and common for many groups that exist somewhere between composed minimal music and improvisation – to create a flexible musical pallet by means of composing and improvising collectively.
The just intonation aspect is an important focus in the music. The main chord that we play and improvise on is a Bb-major chord, that is, speaking in harmonic ratios, built up of a 5/4 major third, 7/4 seventh and a 11/4 – approximately a quarter tone raised perfect fourth, as well as the 21/8, a perfect fifth above the 7/4, so a slightly lowered perfect fourth.
We also add chords with other tonal roots, foremost a septimal Eb minor chord, and together the chords create some very dense bitonal clusters. The Bb-major chord in itself also has some quite dense sonorities, such as the 22/21 interval produced by the combination of 11/4 and the 21/8.
We have worked more intuitively with intonation in general for many years and more recent more systematic with just intonation. In a way, JI shows us a very interesting aspect of the sound quality that inherently exists in harmony, in tonal relations, since in the just tonalities the pitches “fall at rest” with each other. You don’t hear the fuzz and beatings that are part of more complex or irrational tonal relations.
The ephemeral quality of working with JI is also something appealing. That the really exact intonation and the sound of it are not easily attained, and that you only find moments of the clarity of these sounds after concentrated searching and active listening.
Instead of thinking that any tonal system or approach to pitch is better than another, we think that a general focus on intonation and the investigating of sound phenomena connected to pitch relations are sources for sonic beauty, and within such a way of seeing the subject, the familiarization with the JI-sounds is a great resource and a detailed referential framework for harmony, both in theory and in our listening experience.
Chain DLK: The choice of the cover artwork seems to feature some connection… the representation of an invention during a stage when the flight was still a dream…
Pip: The cover image is of Fredrik’s father flying his ultralight plane in the early nineties (it might look like a picture from the early days of aviation, but it is actually not!).
We think the picture has many possible links to the music and to the title, Fredrik was (like his father) very interested in airplanes as a child, and the sound of propeller motors resemble the periodic sounds of just intonation sonorities as in our music.
The cover picture has a kind of alienness to it, with the colorful simple airplane, the pilot in the open air and the desert-like airfield. One can imagine someone landing on another planet, another possible world. Also, the act of flying an ultralight plane is a way to shape one’s own world, by finding an alternative subjective sphere or point of view up in the air.
Chain DLK: What’s the relation between Possible Worlds and your previous releases?
Pip: Possible Worlds shares the working with an extended instrumentarium with our first release, a self-released untitled CD-R (2015) that we recorded ourselves at Torstein’s parent’s house. Also that one has a more composed structure, with frameworks for improvisation and fully composed songs mixed together. Our Creative Sources release form 2016 shows our work with only prepared acoustic guitar and trumpet, and has in common with Possible Worlds its focus on timbre and long stretches of sound.
Chain DLK: Any work in progress?
Pip: We have ideas in mind for new music, but nothing concrete yet. We are also living in different cities at the moment as Fredrik is mostly based in Berlin and Torstein in Oslo, so it takes more planning to rehearse and make music together. But we will play more concerts with Possible Worlds in the coming year, and are looking forward to letting it grow further as a piece from playing it live.
Visit Pip website here: www.pipband.com