Interview: Svartsinn

Svartsinn is one of those names that you’re bound to come across soon after you’ve started exploring the dark ambient genre. Alongside its label-/regionmates Kammarheit, Northaunt and Gustaf Hildebrand, among others, Mr Jan Roger Pettersen, the projects creator and sole member, has his fair share of responsibility for the shape of whats now known as the second wave of dark ambient. Being one of the friendliest guys Ive had the chance to communicate with, plus the fact that the project’s second album has recently been reissued, it was all but logical to set up an interview and see whats been going on in the obscure kitchens of Trondheim.

Hello, JR! What’s up, what have you been up to lately?

Hello, Vladimir! Just working and keeping busy with some of my interests, mainly being outdoors a lot, fishing and hiking – but also organising concerts.

Your sophomore album, “Of Darkness And Re-Creation” (Cyclic Law, 2003), has recently been reissued. What are your reflections on the album now, eight years later? Anything you would’ve done differently? Except for the remastering, which you’ve considered necessary, obviously.

I was glad to find out I still enjoyed listening to the music on that album. The remastering went well, so it sounds much better, and I’m still very pleased with the atmosphere and moods on it.

The album layout and artwork have been entirely reworked, and they’re much more minimalistic (as is the album, in my opinion) than all your other artwork. Was this a decision on your part?

All I told the artist was that I wanted the artwork to suit the music and that I wanted something minimalistic. It came out very well and I’m very pleased with the result, which is the case every time I work with Toluen Design.

You told me unofficially some time ago that a new split LP is in the works. Could you give us a detailed insight into what’s being prepared?

Well, when we (Hærleif of Northaunt and I) were playing at the Phobos II festival, we were asked by the guys from Loki/PaS to participate on their ongoing LP series. We both have much respect for their label and music, so there wasn't a second of doubt, we said yes then and there. It was also a kind of a coincidence that Hærleif and I had been talking about a similar concept that we both felt strongly about, and that we could now go through with that. Each of us will make music to be featured on one side of the LP; it’ll be music inspired by a not-so-unknown book called “The Road”, by Cormac McCarthy. 

Other than that, can we expect a new full-length in the foreseeable future?

I have an agreement with a young, up-and-coming label in the USA, called First Fallen Star, for a conceptual album release in late 2012. It’s called the “Eulogy Series” and Svartsinn will contribute Part 2 to the series. Mystified gave the first one. I’m looking very much forward to starting work on this one; if I manage to create music similar to the way I feel about the subject, it might just become the darkest and most melancholic music I’ve made so far. Time shall tell. The working title for that album is “The Pitch Black Eternal”. Check the label for more info! 

You’ve included an entire bonus disc worth of material on “Elegies For The End” (Cyclic Law, 2009), where you let a plethora of artists manipulate your sounds into their own visions. How did you get the idea for this and was it difficult to organise it all? How satisfied are you with the final results?

More than pleased! I’m completely and utterly honoured to have had such an assembly of artists remix my music. It couldn’t have been better to my ears! The idea just came to me really; I have lots of respect for the artists in question and felt I had good contact with all of them, so I just asked them one by one until I had enough music for a CD. Totally awesome! 

You’re not the most prolific persona in the scene, with only four releases in a span of ten years. Does it actually take you as long to compose an album, or do you prefer to sit on the material for longer periods of time and let it mature? What’s the songwriting process like in your case?

I don’t want to be overly productive, which suits me naturally, since I only create music when I feel the need to or when I have a good reason to. It can also happen when I have a decent concept that I feel I can follow through for an entire album, and I go for it. I’m very strict about my own creations, being my own judge and juror; I’d rather go for quality than quantity. These are some of the reasons I’m not spewing out music every year

I don’t really write music, I just compose as I go along, collecting sounds, either to use pure or for manipulation. Then, I use up a lot of time making melodies for Svartsinn, since I can’t really play any instruments. I cut & paste, as well as use some effects to get it to sound the way I want, and I either choose sounds to fit with the melodies or the other way around. It depends on the mood and atmosphere of a particular moment. 

You always include various quotes in your releases, although there aren’t actually any vocals. What is your goal in that respect?

Quotes are usually meant as possible interpretations of the theme, or something I consider to just fit with the feeling of the song/album. 

What is a Svartsinn live performance like? Could you describe it for those who have never had the chance to see you? How is a live performance different from what one can hear on the albums?

Hmm, it would probably be better to ask someone who was actually in the audience about this, but in general, it’s a bit different than what you can hear on CD. I do play one or two full songs from a CD release, but it’s all merged into a full live set without any pauses. I use sounds from my entire back catalogue, but I mix them together differently than on CD. Furthermore, I always use new sounds live, so that every live appearance sounds a little different.

There seems to be an actual bond between dark ambient artists in Scandinavia; I’ve got the impression that you were friends with many artists on a private, personal level as well as on the professional one. To what extent would this statement be true?

Yes, it’s entirely true, and not only for Scandinavia. I’ve had the privilege of being booked for shows around Europe and Russia over the years, meeting lots of dark ambient artists and also dedicated listeners of the genre. I’ve made friends with a lot of artists from all over the world over the internet as well. I guess it’s simply easier to keep the relationships in Scandinavia active

You often mention the Trondheim dark ambient scene as a vital and vibrant one. What scale are we talking about, how many people are actually actively involved in the scene in your hometown? Because it seems to be a very limited market in other parts of the world, usually coming down to a few people only.

Well, the scene itself is actually just a few artists that have become known for making high-quality music. There is no big market for this kind of music or live shows in Trondheim, however. We have a show every now and then to entertain ourselves and our friends, but that’s all. The scene for noise, experimental and sound art is a bit bigger here than elsewhere, though, and in the last few years, these two scenes have started to intertwine a bit, which is good. 

You’re also active as a local promoter, organising various dark ambient events. What’s the current status of your Prosper In Darkness Productions? Is there still an interest for dark ambient and related genres in Trondheim/Norway? What is the largest scale event you’ve organised thus far?

I guess I can refer a bit to the answer above. PID is alive, and I do no more than one or two shows a year, since the number of people that are genuinely interested in this music is quite low, and too many shows will result in fewer and fewer people. The biggest event I've ever organised was a show a few years ago with Kammarheit, Svartsinn, Northaunt, Allseits, Avsky, Diskrepant and Taphephobia taking part. It was a great event with a sizeable audience (for Trondheim at least).

You’ve already released three albums on Cyclic Law. It seems that the label has become a real powerhouse for the second wave of dark ambient artists, as most relevant dark ambient projects of today are signed to that record label. What is it that (obviously) makes them the best out there?

It’s hard to say, really. I guess Frédéric had a good start signing artists that ended up becoming known. That demanded lots of hard work from his part. After that, I suppose that more and more good artists wanted to be on Cyclic Law, and then it all comes down to choosing the right ones. These are just my presumptions, however. 

What was it that inspired you to form Svartsinn in the first place? What is it that keeps you going today?

I needed a creative outlet for my personal issues, frustration and worldview. I knew I had something in me that wanted to get out; dark ambient turned out to be just the thing. It’s more or less the same today, but lately, it’s been much more of the latter, since the personal issues have been less pronounced lately. 

What do you listen to when you’re not working on your own material? Any specific artists that you’d like to recommend?

I listen to many artists, as I’m a man of broad taste. In addition to dark ambient, I listen to a lot of diverse metal (and related genres), even jazz/fusion and neoclassical. For the past few months, it’s been a lot of Bad Sector, Bohren Und Der Club Of Gore, Blood Box, Taphephobia, Inade, Circular, Elegi, Svarte Greiner, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Jacaszek, Greg Haines, Max Richter, Deaf Center, The Sight Below, Cisfinitum, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and Murcof. I’d also recommend the newcomers on Cyclic Law: Psychomantheum, Parhelion and Triangular Ascension. Hærleif of Northaunt has a new side project called Therradaemon, it will also be out on Cyclic Law in the near future – ultra-dark ambient.

Finally, my mandatory question I tend to ask every musician I interview – what’s the one thing you’d like to be remembered for as an artist?

I’d appreciate if people remembered Svartsinn for making them actually feel something while listening to my music or seeing a live performance of mine.

Thank you for this interview. I’ll catch you for a drink somewhere soon enough, hopefully. Any final message for the fans?

A thank you to all those who follow Svartsinn, buy the music, come to live shows, and give their feedback and support!