Cold, industrial noises interject cold stark planes, with a thinly veiled layer of frost entombing the fragile sounds in their own resonances. Like a lifeless radar station starts spreading a dormant signal after years of inactivity, Per Martinsen’s latest project WAVE∞FORM slowly gestates into life. A wholly ambient project, WAVE∞FORM takes from Per Martinsen’s more reserved catalogue of music, away from his main Mental Overdrive moniker as he leaves the dance floor for the chill out room. “I’ve been working in between all this rhythmical output”, he tells me when I interviewed him a earlier this year. Although mainly considered for “soundtracks for films and short films”, these pieces have never been so fully realised as they have today on Waveform01; a 53 minute continuous composition that weaves singular melodic threads into densely orchestrated ambient tapestries.
Per Martinsen, not one to fall into a bland functional repetition, has often played in the calmer waters of ambient music as his Mental Overdrive moniker. Whether it be in fully fledged tracks like Truce taken from his latest album Hardware, or in more serene moments like the ghostly vocal and synth accompaniment we find on Please Hold On from his first album Plugged, Martinsen is a deft hand at music as environment and in WAVE∞FORM he has consolidated this as a unique project.
Coming into his own in the nineties Per Martinsen was certainly a product of that decade, with an experimentalist aptitude of a time where electronic music was a blank canvas for a whole generation of artists, each with their own unique take on musical genres. While Aphex Twin was doing glitchy IDM and Model 500 turned to Electro, Mental Overdrive was Martinsen’s unique Techno outfit. Finding a home on R&S, Mental Overdrive combined cold electronics with warm melodic phrases and aggressive percussion, to arrive at a sound of Techno that was intuitive, primal and above all incredibly beautiful. “You didn’t have a template”, remembers Martinsen, “We were just fumbling in the dark and that’s how the music evolved.” It was all about “experimentation” for Martinsen, which went from noodling around on a drum machine to a career in electronic music as one of its most innovative and intrepid artists.
WAVE∞FORM is just the latest in a long line of works that suggest Martinsen is a restless artist, who loves bucking trends and is incredibly versatile in any electronic music language. In this new ambient dialect, he has found a way to combine that experimental aptitude from the nineties with the idea of music as environment, all the while never losing touch with his artistic voice. There’s a melodic sensibility there again, which is quite a departure from the droning nature of ambient music today, while at the same time it’s very much about the machines, and especially Martinsen’s love for the modular synthesiser and the “art by accident” that it encourages. A practised operator at the modular synthesiser, he is no stranger to patching a synth, but loves nothing more than being surprised by the results. Critical of “designed music” with the “right drop and right duration of hi-hat”, Martinsen prefers the stuff that “just evolves” and this idiom is palpable in WAVE∞FORM too. The music takes on an organic life of it’s own, and although there are distinct moments that could be sectioned off into individual songs, they flit in and out of each other, like different snapshots of the same life at different periods of existence.
Feigning any sense of a “planned execution”, WAVE∞FORM sees Martinsen tapping into an improvised manner of working that extends from his live show to the studio. Like his last album as Mental Overdrive, Hardware, it’s all about “rigging up hardware and put down jams in a short period”, and perhaps revisiting them at an editing stage later on. It harks back to Martinsen’s earlier methods of working, which completely thwarts any insistence on a pre-defined form. And perhaps more significantly it upholds something of a Mental Overdrive sonic aesthetic, a sound that’s born out of machines, but possibly reflects the environment of the cold north from which they are born.
Per Martinsen believes that “you can’t escape yourself” and that “there’s always something in your DNA that if you are true to yourself will shine through”. What’s “consistent in a lot of Norwegian electronic music, is that there is still a lot of space” and includes Per Martinsen’s music. In the same way that in ”Biosphere’s music it feels like the sky is very high”, WAVE∞FORM sounds like the extensive horizon on an arctic plain, where way off in the distance a solitary signal bleeps with the invitation of life. There’s something about Martinsen’s devotion to technology and the sense of an openness, where there’s absolutely no clutter from the outside world infecting it. The result is a desolate music where the artists is putting only all of himself into it and the listener gets all of him/herself out of it. Although you could perhaps draw parallels to a sonic palette from other artists, WAVE∞FORM is truly an unique interpretation of Per Martinsen’s creative voice. “I can experiment all I want but it’s always gonna be my output”, explains Martinsen. “The approach is what keeps me interested enough in making new music” and this new project stands is one that sees Martinsen opt for yet another new approach to music.
It’s the first real consolidated effort from Martinsen to move into ambient music, and it joins the dots between his work as Mental Overdrive, his experimental aptitude, his film music, and his personally informed creative processes, to create yet another unique work in his already extensive catalogue.
* Per Martinsen plays the UFO Lounge with Kolbjørn Lyslo on the 29th of July at KAFE HÆRVERK.