Some context on "Around Nothing and Everything Gone to Hell"

I was very excited when the Ekko festival asked me to put together a program of multi-channel pieces for their 2021 edition. The idea was I got invite four artists as well as make a new piece of my own. Such an opportunity is of course a great privilege, but selecting the artists was no easy task, as there are many more than four that I’d like to hear new works from. It would have been easier to ask 30 artists do something, but I somehow narrowed my list down to these four names: Mariam Rezaei, Vivian Wang, Jim O’Rourke and Matmos. Luckily they all agreed to do it.

Multi-channel music is a bit of a bastard. The standard for both live and recorded music is the stereo format (sadly the often superior mono format lost that battle in the 60s). Even at home the quad records of the 1970’s and the 5.1 re-mixes of classic albums that has come as bonuses in new box-set releases remains a bit of a niche format. Most record collectors and music fans is perfectly happy with the stereo format. And for me stereo was how I was raised to love music – on my parent’s crappy old stereo, on my Walkman (later Minidisc, then Discman, then iPod, and now iPhone), on my decent first own stereo, and on all the consecutive home hi-fi systems up to this day. Who needs more than two speakers? This of course informed my life as a recording artist – I started with stereo. But of course if you’re going to be working in the field of electronic music there is a long tradition for expanding the number of speakers beyond the two channels of stereo. A tradition often tied up to European academic institutions with well-funded means (well, maybe not so much anymore), with quite high standards and a focus on the technical aspects of how the music is presented. As a 18 year old I felt this tradition was a bit snobbish and decided to stick to the stereo format. But, then one day me and a friend was fooling around with cassette players and amplifiers in a rehearsal place, and I realized that it opened up for possibilites. It was just sounds in a room, and that the idea of diffusion of the sound is just one-way of approaching it. It could also be sculptural and direct. You could even physically move speakers around when they were playing. It didn’t have to be that precious. This opened up things for me, and now I enjoy every opportunity to work with an expanded number of channels.

Most music, especially in our field, is made by the artist setting some kind of concept, set of limits/guidelines, or working on aesthetic or technical challenges. Even those of us who seemingly sounds the same all the time is like this. It’s not to make the process difficult, it’s actually to make it easier. (Nothing is harder than having total freedom to do what you want). For my previous multi-channel pieces I’ve worked from different angels – some were site specific (like Saltstraumen), I’ve limited the sound sources (like only working with acoustic sounds, or specific musicians, or archival material), or I’ve worked with themes set by those who commissioned me to make the music. But, after having made several pieces over the years one thing struck me – as much as I love stereo it was very hard to stereo mixes of the pieces that I was happy with. Once I had made them for a bigger field folding them down to the stereo format didn’t work. It was simply a different set of dynamics. So I decided to keep them to their native format and not bother with stereo mixes. Meaning that there would be no records of the pieces, you got to show up when I do them. So when Ekko asked me to make a new piece I decided to reverse this problem – to expand something done in stereo. For 14 months in 2020-21 I worked on a new album, one that’s due next year (it now apparently takes 8-10 months to press a vinyl record). This was the most elaborate solo album I’ve done. It took forever to get right, and I was laboring over it way past what’s healthy, including going back and changing a mix at the mastering stage (kudos to the incredible Helge Sten, who was patient beyond the call of duty with me). At the end I was happy with it. This felt like one of my better albums, and it was made to be experienced as a proper VINYL LP. The title became “Context”. And then I decided to find out if this piece work, that was specifically tailored to the two-sided vinyl format, could be translated to the multi-channel format for an audience. Also there is an aspect of self-torture to go back into a work that I’ve spent so much (too much!) time working on. That was my challenge. But to those who attend the presentation at Ekko this does not matter. It’s just the path I took in order to get there. For the listener it is simply sound waves in room, to be enjoyed (or not) in a musical Context.

The greatest pleasure in putting this program together was the interaction with these incredible artist that accepted my invitation. Thank you Mariam, Vivian, Jim, Drew and Martin. What follows are interviews/exchanges done via email these last weeks.

Lasse Marhaug, September 2021

Read the interviews here: