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Nils Petter Molvaer: Skeletons, Samples and Fish Fillets

Paul Olson By

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AAJ: An overdubbed improv.

NPM: Yeah. That's what "Water is.

AAJ: You just said that everything you write is composed in a different way. You don't have any consistent methodology or system?

NPM: No. No methodology. If I find something I like, even if it's a mistake, I try to use it. Sometimes I have an idea—I can remember on, I think, "Nebulizer, I had a bass line which was really, really cool. It was sort of a drum 'n bass thing. But in the end, I just had to take it away, because the song developed in a completely different direction. So there are other bass lines there—and I might use this bass line later [laughing]. I just keep it in the computer. It's a bit like food; if you go fishing, then you make a fillet, put it in the freezer and then fix it later.

AAJ: Perfect analogy. You've produced two studio records since moving on from ECM—NP3, which came out in 2002, and last year's ER. I personally like ER the best of all your recordings. I don't think these records are that similar to each other, but each seems somehow more distilled and uncluttered compared to the recordings on ECM. ER to me seems perhaps the most song-oriented yet, although you've always written very melodically. How do you think your music is changing with these recordings, and could you contrast the two albums?

NPM: I think NP3 is more angry. It's an angry record; it's darker. Probably because I was angry. It also very much reflects the people I'm working with. There was a guy called Raymond Pellicer, who was in the band, working with electronics, and he's pretty dark. His alter ego is dark Norse; I think he's half-Venezuelan or something. So all the musicians I work with sort of put their stamp on things. The process of making NP3 was also hard. It was hard in that I felt like I was struggling. Making records is always a struggle, especially making records this way, where you have all these choices to make. You're never, ever satisfied. So with NP3, I was really struggling. The strange thing is that I meet people in Germany, France, wherever, who think NP3 is the best one. You know, some people like the mother, some like the daughter [laughing]. Or the grandfather. For me, it was a process to go through, and the next one might be completely different—really completely different. That's the beauty of not having a boss; you can do whatever you like!

AAJ: The beauty and the terror. You've released a live CD, Streamer, and a live DVD as well, Molvær Live. You've included live stuff on the new American Compilation as well. I see this as being more than just something to release; I think you want to make it clear that this is performed music, music that is played in real time by a band. It can also be extremely improvisational music when it's played live—when I saw you play recently in Chicago, the set began with a long improv where the parts seem to slowly coalesce and draw together. I don't know if that improv side is really represented on the studio records. Why did you release the live CD and DVD?

NPM: Well, the live DVD was sort of an offer from Panasonic. They were recording a concert we did in Germany, and they said, "We have really good material and we'd like to make a DVD. I said, "Yeah, sure, why not. So I went down there, we were mixing it and we talked them into doing all this extra stuff —some shooting under the river outside of Hamburg in these tunnels there. It was a cool way for me to distribute the music. And it's the same with the live album, actually. I was thinking about doing one and everybody said, "Oh, you have to do a live album because it's really different from the other stuff. The songs are so different live. So we recorded one gig in London, and we recorded three or four more gigs, but the tapes were destroyed. So we had two concerts left—one was a live thing in Finland, and the other was the one from London. Then we just sat down and thought, how do we do this? Luckily I had Strangefruit there, so we could discuss it and cut things down together, because some of the songs were 30 minutes long. So we did it. Actually, that record Streamer is also mixed in surround, and that sounds incredible. That's like, really, really cool. This very nice guy who does work for Pete Townshend was mixing it in Pete Townshend's old house in London. Yeah, that was nice. A lot of blood on the walls [laughing] from him rehearsing with his guitar. I have the finished surround master and I have to figure out what I'm going to do with it.

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