May 9, 2018

Interview: Espen Sommer Eide

Interview: Espen Sommer Eide

By Heather Jones



On May 12, 2018, artist and musician Espen Sommer Eide will perform at Kunsthall Stavanger as Phonophani in collaboration with the Austrian video artist Lia. Below, the artists answers our questions about the intersection of music and visual art, performative fieldwork, and newest record Animal Imagination.

You describe yourself as both a musician and a visual artist, creating music as well as site-specific installations. How do you view the relationship between these two fields of cultural production? Do you keep the two separate or are they fully integrated in your practice?

I believe they are connected, through the idea of the "experiment". For me, to be 'experimental' is to create a culture of curiosity. Or perhaps cultures. So in this way they are related, but there are of course differences as well. Music is an ancient practice, where contemporary art is the new kid on the block. Music and improvisation might have existed even before language. Music also has a very strong social element, and it shapes us from a very early age. In this way music is often mining emotions from past experience. Music is always central in all my art works. 

What is your background and how to you come to work at the intersection of music and art? 

Actually, I was on my way to become a philosopher, I got a master degree and was ready to lock myself up in the ivory tower, but got sidetracked i the early 2000s by the success of my duo/ensemble Alog, which led to intense touring and music-making for several years. The art scene was then starting to open up more to music and sound art and I wanted to explore a wider range of subjects so I started making installations and events and performances in an art context. I was attracted to the way sound and music could be used to tell stories and have a political or ethical impact. My first large project was a music festival called the Trollofon, that hosted electronic music on the Bergen electric trolleybus. It became more of a relational art project than a straight up festival., and helped rescue the electric bus from being shut down. 

Spirit Catcher (phonograph-box, tripod, bellows, motor, electronics) by Espen Sommer Eide, reader Anne Marthe Dyvi.

On your website, you mention performative fieldwork. Can you give a more in-depth description of that term?

Yes, I began developing instruments myself, first for use in music but then they evolved into instruments for research as well. These hybrid instruments I then take out into the field, like a scientist, and use to engage with a subject, like in my work with dead or dying languages, or animal sensory biology or the perception of landscapes in the arctic. Both in a metaphorical sense, but also directly – for instance I built a musical instrument controlled by an eye-tracker that I took to Bear Island south of Svalbard a couple of years ago. I could then tune in to that desolate landscape and study the birds or the shapes of the mountains through the fog. And at the same time create a musical performance. I strive to not translate anything into music, but allow the music and the subjects to arise simultaneously and interact in a more complex way. 

The exploded lapsteel. Photo: Isabelle Vigier.

You’ll performing at Kunsthall Stavanger under the recording identity Phonophani. Can you tell us about the upcoming performance and your newest record, Animal Imagination? 

Yes, it is a work born out of my current interest in animals and their sensory experience. It is difficult to imagine and make music like an animal would, it is hard to play techno like a dog. I have not found the perfect way of doing this yet, but I keep trying! The work tries to capture some of the energy and the movement and the relatedness of the world of creatures, plants, fungi and the like. But in the end it should be enjoyed as music, plain and simple. I started making music as "Phonophani" in Tromsø in the end of the 90s, and this album also leans a bit back to that time of ambient techno and experimental electronica. I have invited a friend and VJ- pioneer Lia from Austria to make special live visuals for the concert. 

Espen Sommer Eide is a musician and artist from Tromsø, currently based in Bergen. With the projects Alog and Phonophani he is a representative of experimental electronic music from Norway, with a string of releases on the label Rune Grammofon and Hubro. He has also produced a series of site-specific pieces and artworks. As an artist his works investigates subjects ranging from the linguistic, the historical and archival to the invention of new scientific and musical instruments for performative fieldwork. Learn more about the artist on his website, here

Back to Top