I can’t believe it has been four years since I spoke to Eivind Aarset, the guitarist largely responsible for sending me on this Guitar Moderne journey. Now is the perfect time, as he is featured on four new records. We spoke about three of them, and surprise, surprise, his first new guitar in, well, forever.
There are some abstract paintings that display a wide ranging palette, yet come together in a cohesive whole, with an internal logic that makes the combination of elements, no matter how diverse, seem inevitable.
Dark Star Safari [arjuna music] combines noise and sound with wisps of harmony and melody in support of Jan Bang’s Bowie/Sylvian-like vocals to create compelling tunes. Like Sylvian’s later work, the vocals sketch a song over backgrounds that are somehow simultaneously minimalist and lush.
Dark Star Safari came together at the behest of Swiss drummer Samuel Rohrer. “He brought Jan Bang and me to his studio, Candy Bomber, in Berlin to do a free improvisation session,” says Aarset. “We hadn’t played with him before but he fit right in with our aesthetic. I used a small Gibson amp that belonged to the engineer”
From there Jan Bang took the tracks home to the Punkt studio in Kristiansand, Norway and turned them into songs. “Jan was a pop singer in the Nineties,” Aarset reveals. “He had a hit song from a movie in Iceland. He decided he wasn’t comfortable doing it anymore and turned to sampling and producing. This is the first time he has sung since then.”
Overdubs were added and Ingo Krauss, mixed it at Candy Bomber on a tube board formerly owned by famed German conductor Herbert von Karajan. Ingo worked with Connie Plank of Can fame.
The project was released as a group effort. Due to the spontaneous method of creating the music, reproducing the record at this point would be impossible, so for live shows Aarset & Co will more likely improvise once again around the vocal center of the songs.
“We are planning to debut at the Punkt Festival and maybe do some more dates in Europe,” says the guitarist. “We will get together a few days before the gig and figure it out. For the first time, Jan has to figure out how to do singing and sampling.”
Another group effort Henriksen/Aarset/Bang/French The Height Of The Reeds [Rune Grammofon], was not originally conceived of as a record. The city of Hull in England commissioned Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang, to create a work celebrating the longstanding seafaring relationship between Hull and Scandinavia. It was originally the musical companion to a sound walk that took place in April, May and June of 2017. Those who took part could listen to the music on headphones while crossing the Humber Bridge.
Henriksen, Aarset, and Bang provide electronic music, along with Henriksen’s haunting vocals, and unique trumpet tones—what sounds like saxophone is actually Henriksen playing his trumpet with a sax mouthpiece. In addition there are lush choral and orchestral parts, as well as field recordings of the bridge sounds provided by Jez Riley French. “For the record we used more of the electronic sounds and French’s samples and less of the choir and orchestra,” says Aarset. “French’s recording of the bridge’s wires implied a tone and I played that tone and some tones around it.”
Photo by Stefano Barni
Drummer Michele Rabbia and guitarist Eivind Aarset have played many duo concerts, and Rabbia has worked with trombonist Gianluca Petrella in other contexts, but Rabbia’s Lost River [ECM] is the first time they all played together. Like Dark Star Safari, the record is largely an improvised affair.
Aarset finds the experience of recording for ECM to be very different than with other labels. We recorded it in Oslo. “Manfred [Eicher] was there,” he says. “He is very good at providing an overview of the music. If he didn’t like something he would have us move on. If he did, he might ask for another take around the same theme. One thing that is really nice with him is his ability to trust his intuition and make good decision based on this. He doesn’t waste time looking back and being in doubt.”
For the lush pads Aarset provides he used the usual volume pedal along with delays and reverbs, but adds some twists of his own.
“I will add the feedback from my Boss DD-5, also some of Ableton Live’s Grain Delay set for a lower octave,” he reveals. “I get some motion from manipulating the DD-5.” The dark sound that pervades these pads is a result of his setting up an Ableton EQ plugin at the beginning of his chain. “I can roll off the highs until the sound almost disappears.”
A video from the Torino Jazz Festival 2019 reveals Aarset playing the first new guitar since I discovered him over a decade ago. “It is from near you,” he says, referring to the Novo guitar factory located in Nashville. Novo is the brand name of guitars built by Dennis Fano, formerly of Fano guitars. Aarset’s instrument is one of his offset models, sporting a mastery bridge and three foil pickups.
“There is a great guitar store in Oslo that carries some more unusual instruments,” he continues. “I picked up this one and it felt great and played in tune, even after pulling up a whole tone or a minor third on the bar. I can also detune the low E string and the rest of the guitar stays in tune.”
Though the foil pickups are single coil, the guitarist hasn’t yet experienced any severe hum problems, save for in particularly badly wired venues. “These pickups are really well balanced, especially on the low end,” he says. Still, he is contemplating replacing the bridge pickup with a humbucker, as much for tonal variation as hum-cancelling properties.
Aarset says he has yet to experiment much with playing behind the bridge, but misses the contact pickup from his former instrument. “I spoke to Dennis Fano about the best place to put one in this guitar, so I can get those strange noises I like,” he says.
Photo by Stefano Barni
Aarset’s current live rig hasn’t changed much. He is still using a pair of Eventide H-9s and an Electro-Harmonix Super Ego for some of those lush pads. “I now use an Empress Effects compressor at the beginning of the chain that is always on to smooth out my pick attack,” he says. He is also partial to the Empress Heavy distortion pedal. A Fairfield Circuitry “The Accountant” compressor lays further down the chain. “I find it brings out all the good noise from the SuperEgo and the DD-5,” he says.
Though he still sends a stereo feed from his Focusrite Scarlett Thunderbolt interface to the house, the guitarist now also runs directly through the laptop to two amps. “It is a compromise, but it allows me to use that EQ to roll off the highs and sends the loops I make in Ableton to the amps,” he explains.
Aarset says he is current working on another record with Jan Bang, but will not be recording a group effort until August. “I have to avoid competing with myself.”
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you can never have enough news and insights ’bout Eivind Aarset, he’s to me, though in a different realm, the same game-changer that Bill Frisell is, despite a totally different approach to both guitar and music, if at all comparing artists makes any sense.
your article made me dust off Michel Benita – Ethics’ River Silver (ECM, 2016), one of those [unspeakable] records that may not have ever existed if Eivind Aarset hadn’t been invited to the project (by Manfred Eicher, or the very Michel Benita) that was “taped” in Lugano, Switzerland.
unmistakable as Eivind’s voice is, on this record as it is on so many others, you’ll probably need more than one (listening) pass to make him out of the tone fabrics at every track, here.
his playing is so deeply tied with the other band members’ narrative and tone to seemingly go unnoticed at first, while at a later pass, the more replays you gift yourself with, you wonder how you could have missed him at first.
he’s been inspiring countless guitarists at every corner of the world, and you never know how he’ll play on his next project, or one he’ll be invited to contribute. and, i believe, his playing is a gift to anyone who can and want to listen, unprejudiced as to where his music may take us.
I am excited to get some new music. I love Eivind.
Eivind Aarset is such a great musician. One of my favorite albums is Surrounded by Sea by the Andy Sheppard quartet. Sax, bass, drums and Eivind on guitar. It’s very melodic and atmospheric music and his playing is so subtle and lush.
Love that record – I saw Seb Rochford play in London once – amazing drummer