Everything is Allowed – A Q&A with Benjamin Finger

Benjamin Finger makes music that defies categorisation even on its most loser terms yet conspires in various releases that define a singular artistic voice. It’s music that purposefully strays from accessible beat-tape music to improvised electronics, perpetuating Benjamin’s desire to allow everything in his music and as such it has developed in a distinct style in this writers opinion, even if Benjamin might not think so himself. He has released eight records to date on labels like Blue Tapes / X-ray records and more recently Sellout! Music and there’s definitive correlation between the releases, that feature Benjamin’s immersive cinematic textures and accessibly viable music even in it’s most extreme isolated forms.

Benjamin Finger’s discography reads like a travel biography and can feature anything from the human voice and acoustic instruments to alien field recordings with a central theme running through them as Benjamin conquers new musical worlds in each release. Originally from Hamar, living in Oslo, and constantly on the move as a performer, playing anywhere from Cafe Oto in London to Jæger in Oslo, Benjamin Finger is a sought-after live act and DJ. We caught up with him before his show at Jæger to find out a little bit more about what this show will entail and what exactly he means when he says; “everything is allowed”.

Hi Benjamin. I think it’s best to start with a little introduction, we know you’re from Hamar, your parents emigrated from Poland in the 60’s and your father was a musician. What sort of music was playing in your house on an average day?
All sorts of music really. The variety was huge. But I would say everything from The Beatles and Elvis (I can also remember hearing The Bee Gees, Chick Korea, George Benson, Duke Ellington) to classical music like Chopin. Ah, and my mother used to play Giacomo Puccini´s Madame Butterfly record a lot. These days I tend to use her vinyl copy in my DJ-sets for scratching or when I need to break things up.

What instruments did your father play and how did it affect your own musical education?

My father played many instruments. But I guess his main instrument would be the bass – think he had a Fender. He also used double bass quite a lot. He was constantly on the road travelling with different bands when I was young. I’m not sure to what extent it affected my musical education. He tried to teach me guitar, bass and piano (even sent me to a piano teacher). I was bad at learning notes. You know, it’s difficult when you’re a kid, you kind of rebel against everything you’re being forced to do. But I’m sure all of this affected me on a more subconscious level later.

Yes, like most teenagers I imagined that there must have been a strand of rebellion in you. The influences you mentioned in past interviews, which go from Chopin to Authecre seems go from these rebellious years to also incorporate some of what I imagine would be your father’s more stoic musical traditions. Is there perhaps something to these contrasts in your own music? 

My rebellion and non-belief in genres comes from listening to hip-hop music at a very early age. Thanks to Swedish TV documentaries and meeting some break dancers that was visiting Hamar during a spring break. They put on the track Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don´t Stop) by Man Parrish and started to move in strange ways. This really opened up a whole new world for me. It really like was visiting another planet. The early Street Sounds Electro Compilation records were also very important for my musical education. I was led to believe that you could mix or combine many different elements in music. Everything is allowed! That thought has stayed with me ever since.

You also have a history with film from watching VHS as a kid and studying the medium, and your music has been described in the past as cinematic. How do you draw much on that medium when you compose if at all? 

I’m not sure whether I think too much of a particular director, film or scene anymore. I used to before, being very influenced by the photography of Sven Nyqvist who shot Ingmar Bergman´s films and Robby Müller who worked on some of Jim Jarmusch´s films. All of Andrej Tarkovsky, Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Kieslowski films were also very inspiring to me. My latest records are not that influenced by modern classical music or cinematic as they also label it. But I do have a new piano based album coming up on Oak Editions in Italy where I’m kind of revisiting that tradition.

I hear texture playing a vital role in your music, and that I imagine is from your film experience. Is there any particular music you call on however when you are filling out the atmosphere of your music?

No, not really. I think I’m inspired by so many different sources and different ways of recording that it keeps changing all the time. Textures are very important because it’s my wish that people can listen to the albums several times and hopefully discover something new each time around.

Is there an instrument that’s central to your compositional processes throughout your recorded works?

I’ve used so many different ones, but maybe my Korg synthesizers. I’m a nerdy collector of them.

Do you usually have a conceptual framework in mind when you approach a new album or EP?

Yes and no. But I normally try to chase a theme or limit myself with certain frameworks/tools of how the album should sound. Other times I just try to go with the flow and see where it leads me. Sometimes you can get very interesting results by not limiting yourself to one idea. I’m also a big admirer of so-called mistakes and first takes.

Since Woods of Brocoli, your debut, your sound has never remained fixed in any one category, and I believe this is something that you insist on, but is there a consistency to all this music besides the artist at the centre of it?

I have specifically tried to stay away from repeating myself. It’s about challenging myself and trying to find new perspectives. And I never feel to comfortable in one spot. I do this to get myself going. It’s a motivation issue. And I do think there’s a consistency to the albums, although maybe in a private way. Regarding the consistency; the albums have not always been released in the order I wanted to because of putting out several albums within a year. This sometimes leads to problems, for example manufacturing delays etc… I wish they had been released in the order they were meant to be. But making plans in the music industry is a tricky and sometimes a frustrating affair.

Have you found there’s been an evolution in your work over the course of your 8 odd releases and what usually motivates a new area of exploration in your music?

I think they just have different expressions, moods, styles etc…And they represent different aspects of my music. A chain of development and a curiosity to express different states of mind is what I’m aiming for. They have also been released on labels around the world that are open to different music, thank god! Many of these labels also represent different distinct styles within music. But I guess I can admit that it’s a bad career move to never stay true to one style. People seem to like to have artists in a safe place genre-wise. For me ideally the ultimate goal would be to try and find my own style, but that is very difficult to achieve. But I’ll keep on trying!

I think you have a style and one aspect of your style that’s stood out for me in your music is the way you combine traditional instruments with electronic elements in that it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. How do you achieve this? 

I think that has a lot to do with the mixing and how you put pieces together. The carefully selected sounds one may pick makes all the difference. So I try to put a lot of effort into mixing things the right way. I’m also quite obsessed with trying to mix sounds that wouldn’t or shouldn’t normally go together or blend well. I’m a big fan of contradictions within music.

I imagine, since you yourself are not a trained musician in the traditional sense, you call on many musicians during the recording process. Is there something of a community of musicians that you call on when needed?

No, there’s not a community in that sense. I have always felt very much on my own, making music in Oslo, I’m not part of a musical community, and I don’t know that many in the industry or anything. In fact, I hardly know the music industry here. But for example, the girl who always sings on my albums is Inga-Lill Farstad. The other ones are people I have contacted because I know them personally or like their works. Also, I’ve gotten in contact with many artists from other countries since I’ve been signed to so many labels abroad. So I call upon them when needed. Touring has also helped me meeting people that I have started to work with afterwards.

How do you usually contextualise the recorded pieces for the stage, especially in the absence of other musicians?
My set up is normally built up around three or four synthesizers, kaos pads, loop pedals and a SP-555. I don’t really like to be in the centre of the stage so I’m usually screening my own directed Super 8mm visuals when I perform. It’s not that interesting to see a geek throbbing the knobs and caressing a synth, is it? For bigger live sets (in Norway) I would normally have Inga-Lill Farstad on vocals and Rudi Simmons on guitar.

What does a Benjamin Finger live performance usually entail?

Always a mixed bag of new stuff, some tracks from my back catalogue combined with elements of improvisation. I try to renew my live sets every time I perform, if I have the time. And then usually record them as tracks for albums later. It’s fun to try out new stuff in a live setting

The last time we spoke you also mentioned that you are bringing out a new album in September. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Yes, there´s an album called 10 (vinyl/digital) coming out on the norwegian label Sellout! Music run by the lovely André Ishak. It´s a beat driven affair and maybe some of the more accessible stuff I have made since For You, Sleepsleeper in 2009. And there is another one coming out on Oak Editions in Italy (November) called Ghost Figures which is quite the opposite. Just piano, cello and field recordings. They could´t be more different, haha…Also, some future releases coming up on Blue Tapes and X – Ray Records, Flaming Pines and Eilean records in 2017 I believe.

And that’s all the questions I can think of. Is there anything you’d like to add?

“A universal style is one that knows how to embrace lovingly those not quite developed. ” ― Witold GombrowiczFerdydurke