Erik Honoré interview
Musician, record producer and author Erik Honoré (born 1966) has contributed as a musician and producer to more than 50 records with artists as diverse as David Sylvian, Eivind Aarset, Arve Henriksen and Brian Eno/Peter Schwalm.
“Heliographs” is, astonishingly, his first solo project, and is due for release on HUBRO this autumn. Today the festival Punkt, that Erik co-organises with Jan Bang i Kristiansand opens with concerts by John Tilbury / Keith Rowe / Kjell Bjørgeengen, Streifenjunko + Sheriffs of Nothingness and finally a world premier live performance of Håkon Stene´s Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal project. Here´s a little interview with Erik conducted by HUBRO head honcho Andreas Meland.
Andreas: I often think that I’m very privileged to be able to have my own label. Sometimes people send me music that I can’t help but play again and again although I have more than enough other things I should be listening to. This was how I reacted when I received the first version of what has become your debut album, Heliographs. Why didn’t your solo debut come out a long time ago?
Erik: There were two reasons for this. First, I have been involved in so many collaborative projects that the need to release my own record hasn’t felt so urgent. I’ve released several duo recordings with Jan Bang, had a duo project with singer Greta Aagre, worked in the studio with David Sylvian, Sidsel Endresen, Arve Henriksen and others, and have worked extensively as a producer. Second, I waited until I felt comfortable with a musical language and had found a working method that I thought functioned well.
Andreas:Tell us a little about your work on Heliographs. When did it start?
Erik:I recorded the first tracks in August 2013, and it took a few months before I realised that it should probably be some kind of solo project. Because even if the elements I had used were drawn from very different sources, such as earlier sketches, samples from concerts, and entirely new things, there was a sort of musical narrative that began to take shape.
Carrying out a project alone would have been a lot more difficult without the encouragement and ideas I received from, especially, Jan Bang and David Sylvian. They’re both very good listeners, in the sense that they have the ability to express what they’re thinking about the music, which enables them to give constructive feedback. And I’m very privileged because everyone I asked permission from to use samples (Sidsel Endresen, Eivind Aarset, Nils Petter Molvær, Jeffrey Bruinsma, Jan Bang) as their musical contribution, or to lay down backing tracks (Ingar Zach), said yes. This was really decisive, as my working method is to combine samples with synthesisers and studio equipment.
Andreas: Was it more difficult to make a solo record than to collaborate with other musicians?
Erik: When I had made a start and found this outline of a musical narrative, it was mostly a question of working persistently. After a while I felt that the elements began to fall into place organically. A sort of internal dynamic arose in the project, where one finished track triggered the next, and it was obvious where the path had to lead.
Andreas: I’ve searched on the net to try and get an overview of what you’ve worked with previously. I already knew about your close collaboration with Jan Bang and the albums you made with Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset, Sidsel Endresen, Christian Wallumrød and David Sylvian. I also knew that you had produced all the records made by the pop group Velvet Belly, and that you had produced albums with Claudia Scott and Unni Wilhelmsen. But I also discovered that you were credited on records with Kristiansand-based bands like Ave and Munch from the late 1980s. This question might be a little too broad, but where do you come from, on a purely musical basis? Were you a part of one of the Kristiansand scenes?
Erik: My longest and most important musical collaboration has been with Jan Bang. We started working together in our late teens, as a duo based on synthesiser and vocals. We met through our common interest in artists we later got to know through the Punkt Festival and other collaborations, such as David Sylvian, Brian Eno, Jon Hassell and Laurie Anderson. We were a part of the music community in Kristiansand that encompassed bands like Munch and events like the Quart Festival, but in purely musical terms this was about people who were involved in very different things. So there was never a “Kristiansand scene” in that sense, but more a community that collaborated on arrangements and on the little record label T23, across genres.
Andreas: Now you’re living in Oslo. Do you have a studio at home?
Erik: Yes – in fact, I recorded most of Heliographs in my home studio, and then added tracks at Punkt Studio in Kristiansand. Besides, a good deal of the source material consists of the samples, which come from live concerts and live remixes. The live remixes, which are a key aspect of the Punkt concept, entail improvisational work with sampling. I have had an opportunity to work with this kind of thing in depth for ten years with Punkt, so it was natural that it became the main tool in the process, along with synthesisers.
Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset, Sidsel Endresen, Ingar Zach, Jan Bang and Jeffrey Bruinsma all contribute to your album. You have worked with most of them a number of times for more than a decade, so these are obviously people you like to collaborate with. Can you tell us a little about how you started to work with each of these musicians?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Arve Henriksen on three of his solo albums, starting with Chiaroscuro in 2004, which I co-produced together with Jan Bang, then on Cartography in 2008, and Places of Worship in 2013, where Arve, Jan and I composed a lot of the material together. I have worked primarily in a live remix context with Sidsel. She, Jan and I had a trio project featuring live remixes of everything from the prog band Battles to the contemporary music group Ensemble Modern. I also got to know Eivind Aarset through the Punkt Festival. Violinist Jeffrey Bruinsma, from the Dutch improvisational string quartet Zapp 4, is a newer acquaintance. His contributions on the album are long samples recorded in connection with a live remix in Germany. What they all have in common is that they are all musicians whom I respect highly. They are people who have come so far in developing their idioms that they have become utterly distinctive and are extremely conscious of the aesthetic choices they make, while they have retained the emotional, communicative qualities that are absolutely decisive if I’m going to be interested in working with them.
Andreas: You and Jan Bang initiated the Punkt Festival in 2005. Tell us a little about what your idea was at the time, and how the festival has developed since then.
Erik: The idea behind Punkt was to create a festival concept that was as much a continuous artistic project as it was a traditional festival. We planned to accomplish this in two ways. One was Live Remix, which was a sort of extension of the live sampling method, in other words using samples as improvisational instruments in a concert setting. At Punkt we systematise this by having other musicians remix all concerts immediately on another stage, so the audience is given an improvised interpretation or continuation of the concert they just heard. This proved to be a completely new, original and effective way of creating music, and the concept has obviously been interesting for both musicians and audiences. The other element we built the festival on was the constantly growing network of Norwegian and international musicians we had acquired. On this count Punkt is closely connected with our other activities – both studio work and concerts.
Andreas: Could you have initiated a festival like Punkt in another city than Kristiansand, or do you feel that the festival is closely connected with the city?
Erik: It was important that Punkt came into existence in Kristiansand, both because that was where the necessary financing was available in 2005, and because a smaller city can host a close and intimate festival without sharp divisions between audiences and performers, which generates a good atmosphere for developing such an uncompromising project. But it has been proved entirely possible to take the whole concept on the road: there are Punkt spin-offs in Paris, London, Tallinn, Wroclaw and several cities in Germany.
Andreas: You’ve published three books, the most recent one in 2005. Was it the Punkt Festival that destroyed your career as an author, or are you still writing?
Erik: That’s right – I published three novels between 2002 and 2005, but I started focusing more intensely on music when we initiated the Punkt project, and at the same time there was a lot more studio work. I still want to cultivate my career as an author, but it has to come naturally, and probably at a point in time when there aren’t so many other things going on constantly.But my writing actually turned out to be useful during the process of making Heliographs. The titles and narrative on the record were derived from elements in the first novel I published, “Orakelveggen”. The album title comes from the opening chapter of the book, which is a fictional account of the development of the very first photograph. The inventor Joseph Niépce called this process heliography, which means sun-writing.