PHOTO BY MADS TEGLERS

Interview: Line Gøttsche

PHOTO BY MADS TEGLERS

72 seconds into “Opal”, the first track on Line Gøttsche’s debut solo album, the piano slows as it ascends. The momentum is just enough to carry it to the top of the next chord, as it slackens into the gravity that sends it tumbling down the other side. It’s never clear to me whether the Danish composer’s music is dragging her along or vice versa. Perhaps this ties in with the fact that Omonia is a breakup record, analogous to those moments when life steers us all away from hard-earned and seemingly inevitable desires, prising the reins from our hands as future plans shrink to mere horizon specks. We can either push back against the forces that will invariably overpower us, or we can relax into the flow and accept. It’s a beautiful record, and I wanted to talk to Line the moment I heard it. Below, Line and I discuss the elasticity of classical music, the transitional utility of sleep and prioritising fervency over perfectionism.

Where and how did you write Omonia? I see from your Facebook page that songs like “Armor” have existed for at least two years already.

Athens, Greece was where the shape of the work began to emerge. Before I went there, I was a member of an electronic pop band, and I had during a couple of years been trying hard to make myself compose like a real pop musician – that is, I tried to write tight, finite songs with no interconnection. I was really struggling in this attempt to live up to the ideals of the pop genre – a genre that is consistently holding on to the cultivation of the singular – one can be a pop comet or a release a single.

I arrived in Greece in the early spring, and I think it was a mix of the lusciousness of the climate, the view to the mountains and the glittering Mediterranean that opened my mind enough to make me able to think along new lines and see that I did not necessarily need to squeeze myself into this fixed structure. It became clear that if I wanted to create a reflection of my inner life (and this I did, since Omonia was my first work as a solo artist) the structure would have to resemble the mind’s. So, I decided to create  a full work – an impressionistic suite based on the themes of variation, repetition and transition. A work that had the same meshy, expanding structure as the mind’s. I wrote:

Using repetition as a poet device, Omonia can be described as an aesthetic exploration – an exploration of how the expression’s elements scintillates in different musical illuminations. The variations are performed to show how music’s building blocks can – at the same time – be the same and not the same. So, the work serves to illustrate the fact that context is crucial to the perception of all things. 

This structure, I believe, is more suitable for the expression of what I want my music to reflect: Inner and outer life, and what happens in the borderland between. These movements are not delimited entities, as pop songs are; conversely, they can be characterized by their fluid, flowing nature. Just like the elements of the music, they will repeat themselves and appear in different garbs as they interlaces. So, the work is an auditory picture of the mercurial mind – an elucidation of how interior and exterior conditions influence each other.

Is there a central lyrical concept for the record? I feel I picked on up certain allusions to love and loss during most of the pieces…

Yes, definitely. I can say without turning a hair that it is also a break up-album. Just as its form is focused on the mystery of variation, the work’s lyrical dimension is also circling around this concept – this time on a personal level.

This transformation thematic is also a mainstay in the two videos that my brother and I made for the work – one of them shows a nature scenery during the change from day to night; the other one an opal that is being slowly absorbed by a shadow. Thus, both videos are visual versions of the music’s illustration of how things can be the same and not the same.

The pacing of the record is particularly compelling. There are pauses that feel like held breaths or minor surprises, and tiny stretches of gathering pace that mimic the feeling of running downhill. Are there any particular artists that inspire this fluid, almost poetic undulation of tempo within your music?

 Until I was at the age of 18, I was a classical violinist and since then, classical music has been a still growing inspiration for me. The way this genre influences my work relates not only to the compositional structure – it also has something to do with the way in which this type of music is being presented: The elasticity and dynamic that exist in classical music is so rich and organic and closely related, I feel, to the alterable, fluctuant flow of inner life.

This taste for the fluidity of beatless music that I have is certainly not inspired only by my background as a classical musician. It’s also a backlash against the programmed music that I worked with before I began working as a solo artist.

 

While piano and voice are the central forces of the work, the perimeter of Omonia is adorned with other acoustic instrumentation. There’s something about the way the album is produced that positions these extra instruments at the “edges of the room” – they have the impression of lining the walls of Omonia. Was it always your intention to bring other instruments into the record, or did their inclusion come later in the process?

In the year before I began creating the actual work, I was thinking a lot of how to orchestrate the music. The only thing I knew was that I was not interested in any sort of midi or digital instrumentation. In the electronic music sphere, you can very easily get so absorbed in technical perfection and euphony that the infinite amount of options that the computer offers make you forget everything about the beauty of real, acoustic instruments. When programming an instrument on a laptop, you can decide everything down to the last detail – this is not only the sound of the instruments and the tones or harmonies that they play, it is also which manner these things are is being played in. What I on the contrary preferred, was to pick some individual musicians and set them free to interpret my compositions in their own ways.

 

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PHOTO BY MADS TEGLERS

There are a couple of these instrumental embellishments that I find particularly captivating. Firstly, the reverberant tones that ping from left to right in the closing moments of “Girls”, which sounds like a drunken woodwind instrument. Secondly, there’s the very romantic saxophone that rises in the latter half of “Rome”. Who performed these sections, and how did they come to be?

While I was looking for a wind player for Omonia, my boyfriend told me that he once held an exhibition preview where he had a saxophonist playing an improvised solo of two hours. I immediately new that he was the man I was looking for. The two stringers, who I had been working with for a while at that point, I already knew was extremely disciplined music readers and classically trained, so I thought that it would be funny to bring a more wild or lush type into play. Mads Egetoft (this is his name) comes from Copenhagen’s alternative jazz scene, while the the cellist is mainly working in pop music and the violinist swear by the classical genre. I was quite conscious in the choice of combining three musicians from different genre backgrounds. What I found interesting, and what I think balances such a personal work in a very fine way, is this the combination of these three musicians with great artistic personalities.

I’d love to ask more generally about the recording process. It sounds to me as though Omonia is the product of a variety of different microphone setups; sometimes the mechanism of the piano is distinctly audible (during “Aristokrat”, for example), while “Opal” has a more muffled, underwater quality to it. How and where was Omonia recorded and produced?

In the process of recording the work, I have been focused on getting my priorities right. Again, my visions were catalysed by what I experienced working in the field of electronic music. With this piece, I wanted to create a work to which perfectionism was less important than fervency. And to achieve this, I picked recordings from different times and places, prioritizing the quality of the takes instead of homogneity or quality of the sound. So, Omonia is actually recorded as different places as in a small concert hall in Athens, in my own and my producer’s tiny studios in Copenhagen and at my childhood’s school of music in the town where I grew up.

When listening to the final work, I have come to realise that I, just as I like result of having three diverse instrumentalists in the ensemble, think that the variety of different pianos’ sounds is actually an enriching element. Also, I find it quite fitting into the overall concept of the album, as the pianos are different variations of something that goes under the same name. 

Many of the tracks run together seamlessly. You sing the first line of “Aglow” while the final chord of “Opal” is still in decay. Is it possible to perceive the record as one continuous piece? 

The record is definitely thought as a whole. I have had a couple of insomniac nights recently. As these nights have passed and turned into days, I have been amazed by the feeling of having to decide myself when the one section turned into the other. If you know what I mean, sleep can be seen as a kind of “device” for navigating though the parts of the day that includes evening (bedtime), night (sleeping time) and morning (time to get up). What I want to say with this is that transition is a curious thing. Where does one song end and where does the next one begin? This is up to the listener to decide, just as it is up to the sleepless to decide when the night is over and the day begins.

Your mother painted the beautiful watercolour cover for the vinyl version of Omonia, while your brother Thomas put together a shimmering, spiralling video for the song “Opal”. Have you always created in collaboration with your family? What was it like to have them involved in bringing Omonia into the world?

 It was the first time a did a large project with my family. Strangely enough,because it felt very natural. Actually, the whole process of making the visual as well as the auditive elements of Omonia to me have been characterized by the vision of praising and worthing the natural. This ideal is running as a thread all the way through every aspect of  the release: It is in the way that I intuitively composed the music, it is in the videos that are both showing pure, untouched nature, it is in the instrumentation and the production of the music and it is in the hand made cover painting – but it has also been present in the practical aspects of the the whole process. A lot of the elements of the full cross-disciplinary work have grown out of each other or out of coincidence. Obstacles such as shortage of time and money has extended the process – but with extra months without which the visual aspects of it would not have had enough time to come into my mind. And the content and narrative of these videos again was highly affected by natural coincidences that actually made the coherence of the whole work even stronger.

What it is all about, I mean, is seeing what is right in front of your nose – this counts for compositional ideas, instruments, nature sceneries, opals, family members, water colours – things are so much in themselves

What other music have you been listening to lately?

Josephine Foster, Alice Coltrane, Scott Walker, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Court And Spark by Joni Mitchell.

What else is on the horizon for you?

I have during the last months been absorbed in studying the borderlands between language and music. This will at some point turn into one or more releases and/or publications. Too, there has been some fantasising about a small Europe tour with Omonia next year. But this is still all in the air.