Interview: BJ Nilsen

BJ Nilsen is a staple figure on the Touch Music roster. He has been crafting experimental music for over 20 years, making use of both field recordings and instruments.


What are you doing in Iceland at the moment?

I’m working on sound design for a new rendition of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” by Australian director Benedict Andrews for the National Theatre here in Reykjavik. It’s a new experience as I never worked with theatre before, but it’s going well and I enjoy it.

I recently watched “Enter the Void”, and noticed that your music features in the soundtrack. How did you come to be involved, and how do you feel about the way in which your music has been utilised in the film?

It was done through Touch as they have the publishing rights. The result worked well, though I had a bit of hard time hearing what was what. I felt the underscore became a bit crowded.

You recently composed and performed a soundtrack for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. How did it go? How did you approach the composition process for this?

First it’s a great movie, perhaps over-scored throughout the years, but I got to work with the new extended version which is about 25min longer than the original and that makes the film about two and a half hours long.

This is really long to score and perform. I did it in steps, creating a skeleton from beginning to end, and then I interacted live with the film. So I would say it’s 50/50.

A lot of interesting field recordings feature in your music. How do you go about recording and compiling these?

I always keep recording equipment with me and lots of my sounds are incidental – I’m trying to keep an open ear most of the time. Sometimes it’s more planned, if I’m at a specific location and want to capture the sound from there.

How do you incorporate these field recordings into the music?

I gather the sounds and work with them in the studio, trying various ideas out. For me it’s important that the sounds feed off each other. I also work a lot with EQ settings, paying attention to details and rhythms within the compositions. I imagine it’s not much different from ‘writing’ music.

You also make use of a range of different instruments. How accomplished are you at using these?

Not technically very good, but I know my way through harmonies and which sound I want.

Is there ever a particular place or atmosphere you try and convey with your music, or do you leave this up to the listener?

Being caught in the present using psychoacoustics and auditory illusions. But it’s always up to the individual, some people think the music is dark where I does not find it dark at all. I always try to listen in different locations or homes before doing the final mastering.

Is there a certain time or environment which works best for you when composing/recording music?

I find the wintertime best for making music. It has to be a silent environment as I work so much with small details.

Would you say there is an appropriate listening environment for your music?

No, it’s up to the listener. I had people saying that they like listening to The Invisible City in their car!

You’ve collaborated with a wide variety of artists. How easy do you find it collaborating with other people? Are there any qualities in a collaborator which you deem to be important?

I like the collaborations a lot. They make me do stuff I wouldn’t normally do, and they then feed into my solo work. I think there has to be a mutual understanding in sound for it to work out. It shows very quickly if a collaboration going to work out.

What’s next for you?

January starts with a blast – going for a sound workshop with Touch in Brussels then I have a residency in Vienna for 3 months. There’s a few gigs in between. I’m working on the next solo album, should be out early next year.

Any chance of performing in the UK sometime soon?

Nothing planned yet!

BJ Nilsen’s website – http://www.bjnilsen.com
Touch Music website – http://www.touchmusic.org.uk

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