Filling the Void – In conversation with Void of Sound

It’s 15:00 in Oslo’s Parkteatret on Olaf Rhyes Plass and the café has just erupted in an abrupt loud roar from the table sitting across from me. A deathly silence follows the sudden outburst, and people in the vicinity of the noise suddenly turn their attention to the man who expelled the loud eruption. He directs his attention to the people sitting beside him with woozy recognition that he might have overstepped the boundaries of decent public behaviour for a Saturday afternoon, and excuses his outburst as an attempt to cure his friend of the hiccups. The ambience is slowly restored to the level it was before, while the friends, at the source of the noise, take their leave. My gaze returns to the world outside through the window, where Oslo is covered in a new crystal clear blanket of snow. A tap on the shoulder diverts my attention again, and I see the figure of Sigurd Borge Kristoffersen looming over me. I recognise him immediately, from his gig the week before, where he played amongst other Norwegian noise artists at Multino!! He gives me a big powerful bear hug when we greet each other for the first time, and I let him settle in while I get two beers ordered to our table.

Sigurd Borge Kristoffersen goes by the artistic alias, Void of Sound, and is a prominent fixture on Oslo’s noise scene at 23. With a formidable discography and extensive touring experience at an age where most of us are still trying to settle on a career path, Sigurd is a determined young artist, displaying a talent far more mature than his years. His music is subtle and pensive, focusing on a kind of cinematic ambience in which the listener is coerced into a void of space and time, opening up to a world of surreal emotion. Void of Sound is at its most impressive during a live performance, and much of the recorded material derives from this context. The music allows the listener to drift off on his/her thoughts, with time becoming some abstract idea rather than a known constant, as bowed tones and slow winding movements melt away the reality of the world around you. It’s music that speaks for itself, yet there is a very unique talent behind it all, and through the following conversation we try to uncover what drives the artist behind this Void of Sound.

I thought we could just freeform the interview, which is a lot like your improvised music.

Yes. Just like a conversation.

What have you been up to since I saw you last at Multino!!

Working. I have a full-time job as a barista. I was tired of studying. I lost focus constantly and I was not able to concentrate. Working is much better for me. When you’re a student, you’re always a student, you now.

What were you studying?

Science of religion. It was very interesting, but it was so hard for me to combine it with music, especially touring. I was lucky to have one month off during a semester for a tour. It worked because my professors were too nice, but it wasn’t a sustainable situation. I stopped after three semesters, instead of doing it for eight and being unhappy.

So you’ve had some success as a musician, being able to tour?

It might be a bit hard to define success as a musician today, but it definitely feels like I’ve accomplished something. Most musicians, especially in this kind of ambient, noise and drone landscape, are more dependent of contacts. Not that many people are represented by an agency or a label to arrange everything for you. For most people, like the people who played at Multino!!, it’s about building a network. It takes time. Every new concert abroad is one new contact.

And that’s something I’ve really admired about the noise scene here. There’s a strong sense of community.

Absolutely, and people always help each other out. Like Utku (Tavil – Multino!! organiser), he’s been helping so many people get gigs.

There doesn’t seem to be any pretentiousness about it either. Even the people like Lasse Marhaug, who have been doing this for a while and has received some recognition for his work seems very down to earth.

Yes. I don’t know Lasse Marhuag personally, but he’s probably one of the most profiled Norwegian noise musicians abroad, similarly Maya Ratkye is a very prominent artist too. If you look at other genres, everybody seems to start at the bottom and when they grow they have to say goodbye to the bottom and go to the next level. Maybe some of them loose touch with the people that they knew in the beginning and some of them get a little too hung up on the fame, but here, and in this scene it’s not like that.

And it seems to be an international thing, with artists like Golden Retriever able to tour in the states, and you touring Germany and Japan solely relying on that sense of community within the noise scene.

Yes. I know that Golden Retriever’s tour in America was fun for them, but I also heard it was a little bit exhausting. It’s a community, but it’s not always easy. You have to learn where to look and sometimes you find there’s not such a big community for this type of thing. In Germany, for instance it’s mostly based around Berlin. I played one gig in Augsberg and one in Frankfurt for this last tour and especially in Frankfurt it’s hard to get people to come to concerts.

We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Where did it all start for you?

It all really started when my brother played me Slumber Tides, by Greg Haines. The album was released in 2006 on Miasmah, and I was just fascinated by this new music. I was a rock/metal head from the age of 10 to 16/17, when I listened to Guns & Roses, Metallica and Black Metal. Another part of its was that I went to a musical high school, and all the students in our composition class got Macs, with Logic on it, but nobody taught us how to use it. That was until we got a substitute teacher and he was like; “why the fuck are you not being taught how to use this expensive software that the government is paying for.” He taught us how to do simple recordings and the basic ins and outs. I eventually sat down with a midi keyboard and started to write music. At some point after that I created the name Void of Sound and I played my first concert April 2011.

What was that first concert like?

I still have the recording from that concert. It was much more ambient than now. When I play today it’s noisier, but still very melodic. Back then I wouldn’t use vocals live – I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it – but now it’s on of the most important aspects of my live show. You evolve all the time. I have two albums coming out this year, and although I can’t really talk about them, they are more ambient again. They are both very atmospheric and relaxed, but at the same time, they are very noisy and fucking loud live. You saw my concert it was very loud.

It was very loud, but what set it apart from the other artists was that it felt more open than the other bands, who tended to be more aggressive.

Some of the more noisy groups, often those with drums, are more aggressive for the full fifteen to twenty minutes. I start with one thing and I work around it.

And you build up to a moment?

Yes, and that’s important for me. I don’t know where I’ll end up. It’s something that I build up tom and gives the audience a bit more time to get into this void.

Is that where the name comes from?

I’m not 100% sure why I chose that name, but kind of glad that I chose it now. Void can have many meanings and it feels like it’s timeless.

That’s also what I got from the concert. I got lost in the music and started drifting away in my thoughts.

I’m glad to hear that.

I lost all concept of time during your performance.

Laughs. The only reason I paid attention to the time during that concert was that I knew Utku would come up to me in 20-30 minutes to point a finger at his wristwatch and then just turn the sound and lights off. Sometimes I easily drift away myself. That’s one of the many things I try to do with this music.

Are the performed pieces unique as a result or do you rely on repeating a composed piece?

In one way they are all unique, but in the last year, I would start with one tone and work around it, but if you ask some of the people that have seen me before, they would say that some of the things are a little bit of the same. Right now I’m in between places, where I’m wondering what I’m going to do next. I really like what I’m doing now, but every year I try to do something new.

Do you have a theme that you improvise around, something you might have worked on before you reach the stage?

No, It’s all in the moment, but maybe some of these moments could be repeated at concerts, but I never plan it like that. Maybe I think it’s more unique than it really is, but at the same time it’s quite common for musicians to plan what they do. (Laughs) Maybe not in this genre.

Does that mean that when you are in the live performance situation, that you are feeding off the audience a lot?

Yeah, especially from the feedback I got from my concerts from a few months ago. It’s given me a lot of confidence on certain things, like not being afraid to use my voice.

And what changes when you turn the live performance into a recording, like the two albums coming out later in the year?

For me, these two albums are little different than what I’ve done earlier. Earlier I would start from scratch and I would work around that material, but now it’s more about working around old material and creating something new. I record everything when I play live and I basically just have a lot of material.

So the albums will be live performances that you’ve essentially revisited?

Both, yes and no. There will be some elements from the concerts, but it won’t feel like a live recording. These two albums will be more ambient and less noisy. It’s a mix. I have so much material that I don’t know what to do with. I’ve been working on one of the albums for three or four years. Some of it is old material, some of it’s new material, and some of it’s old material that I’ve twisted around. I feel very strongly about this album. I sent in the final mixes more than half a year ago, but I still listen to it. I’ve probably listened to it a thousand times, and I’m not even joking.

And it’s stood the test of time?

Yes, I don’t want to release anything that I don’t like after listening to it a thousand times. (Laughs)

What do you hope the listener will get from it?

I hope the listener will understand that it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time on and feel the atmosphere that I tried to create on the album?

And that’s the essence of your music – atmosphere and a feeling rather than something technical?

Yes. I was not a good guitarist in music school. I blame it on Void of Sound. I didn’t practise the guitar; I just started making ambient music. (Laughs)

Does all your music start from the guitar and the bow?

Yes. I’ve wrecked a lot of bows. I think I actually destroyed a bow at the concert you witnessed. There were very few strings left and sometimes it happens. It’s not something I want to do on purpose. Financially it’s not very feasible.

Also for the record, I listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page’s bow techniques rubbing off) and I still listen to a lot of Guns and Roses. Lot’s of people my age won’t dare to say that still listen to Guns and Roses. Appetite for Destruction is still a good album.

Even Spaghetti Incident has its moments?

It’s has the worst album cover ever. (Laughs) I think for me Use your Illusion I & II is also very good. The cover of Live and let Die, Estrange and So Fine from Use Your Illusion II are great. Estrange is probably my favourite.

It was a very theatrical album, compared to Appetite.

Yes, the only theatrical thing about Appetite for Destruction was the way they looked and the album cover.

And besides GNR what other artists influenced you?

Another very important influence is a Norwegian artist called Alexander Rishaug. I actually know him personally and he’s a very nice person. Other influences are Lawrence English, Rafeal Anton Irisarri and Machinefabriek.

But still a lot of Greg Haines stuff has influenced me – especially, the progression in his music. It starts very quietly and then it just builds up. Miasmah is really good label and even James Welburn’s album Hold on that label – although it’s slightly different music – is fucking good.

These artists you’ve mentioned are all professional working musicians and they’ve been doing it for a while, but what’s the reality for a new artist like yourself and making a living out of this type of music?

Well, there are many opportunities, the way I look at it, but I’m very patient about this whole thing. Let’s say I got a grant, or some kind of graduate money, instead of relying on my job, I’m not sure if I would be happier or more productive. I enjoy working, and of course I would like to make some kind of living out of it, but people have to think differently than they did ten / twenty years ago. And personally I’m very optimistic. Soon I’ll be 24 and in the future I really want to make music for games. There are so many beautiful games with beautiful music. A very good example is a game called Limbo – it has a very ambient soundtrack, very atmospheric. Another example is music for theatre and installations. There are so many more opportunities than ten / twenty years ago. One door closes and two more open.

I guess the formula has changed and you are not merely relying on recorded music anymore.

Yes, and it must be extremely frustrating for the musicians that have been doing this for twenty or thirty years. But one problem today in Oslo is that venues make musicians and artists underbid each other. It’s like “if this is not enough for you, we’ll just ask someone else.” Some places expect musicians to work for free. What the fuck is that all about!

It seems that the music is undervalued, since there are so many people involved in the scene today.

Yes, but some musicians are also responsible and they end up playing for free, setting a standard. Everybody is making it harder for each other.

And that’s where that sense of community in the noise scene comes back into it again, because thanks to people like Morten Minothi Kristiansen, you have venues where you can charge what you want at the door.

And Oslo is not that big of a city, so you don’t need much more than venues like the Deichmans Library. It’s good in Oslo now.

I witnessed this first hand at the Multino!! There was a decent crowd every day I was there.  

There were many faces I hadn’t seen before.

But lets get back to your work to rap things up and besides the release of your two albums what are you looking forward to this year.

Planning concerts.

Will there be another tour?

Hopefully. It’s not difficult to arrange, but it does take a lot of time – sending a lot of emails. I have a few contacts, but it doesn’t mean that I have a guaranteed gig. I have a list of places I’d like to play, a lot of festivals. One festival I’d like to play for in the future would be the Incubate festival in the Netherlands. I’ve played the rewire festival there, and that was incredible. I love to plan tours, sending emails. A lot of people hate sending emails, but I love it.

We should probably wrap it up I guess; any last thoughts?

Yes, fuck this interview. (Laughs)