Our first Introducing interview with a non-music producer brings forth an award winning artist & graphic designer of international repute. We had the pleasure of meeting and collaborating with Halvor Bodin while based in Oslo. These collaborations included music videos, VJ sets, a record sleeve and poster artwork. A microcosm of work in his vast archive but, testament to his wide range of visual delivery. Bodin’s work stretches beyond the twenty years of his design chronology and encompasses a mix of design, art, moving image and photography. He has also amassed an enormous back catalogue of almost 100 record sleeve designs. A running theme throughout is his precise execution. Even in the most exploratory, unleashed or vibrant works there is little or no excess fat. His designs are as familiar as they are unfamiliar, and more often than not have gone through a fascinating process to arrive there. From creating video and live visuals for our DO IT! night with Rustie & Dorian Concept, to music videos for Offshore and OL & ¥oin, and most recently the record sleeve artwork for the latest collaboration release by Beatbully & Fitzroy North, it has been an inspiring process working with him.
Beatbully & Fitzroy North ‘Blåis EP’ by Halvor Bodin (Fine Grains, 2015)
Q1: Hi Halvor, you’ve completed many projects for the culture sector. What draws you to working with these types of projects, and in particular music?
Do you think there is a symbiosis between design and music?
A1: My interest in music as a listener goes back to my childhood. I grew up in a small town, but it had a major music festival. I experienced live gigs with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh at an early age, and at the outset of the Eighties, British 2-tone-ska-revival bands. I prefer working with artists and musicians that I personally like and respect. Everything changes all the time, in an organic way. Genres become extinct and artists and designers may become more, or less, relevant.
I have just recently started to work with sleeve designs again, after a seven year “sleep”. I was a bit tired of it, partly because it is hard to say no to a commission when you don’t really care for the music. But also because long working relationships with interesting artists have to end at some point.
These days I find it refreshing to work with contemporary music that feels new and relevant, like what Fine Grains represents and recent side projects by Stephan Groth / Apoptygma Berzerk. Theoretically there are similar creative processes behind making music and visual art. But I like to think of the two in separate ways. I sometimes do genre-defined, band-driven visuals, and these can be executed in a good way. However, I feel the most interesting connections between music and visuals happen more often when the creative work output comes from separate minds with their own agendas, which in the end fuse together as one coherent product. A symbiosis between design and music is only possible when the interaction between the two are not planned in detail.
It is interesting to see good musicians that are equally capable graphic designers, such as Kim Hiorthøy, Håkon Kornstad and Stephen O’Malley from Sunn O))). But I really can’t see many magical connections between their music and their own sleeves. They are just professionally very capable of creating both music and visuals. One visual artist and musician that shows strong conceptual relations and symbioses between various expressions is Carsten Nicolai/Alva Noto (Raster Noton).
Offshore ‘Summer Hits’ video by Halvor Bodin (Fine Grains, 2012)
OL & ¥oin ‘Sink’ video by Halvor Bodin (Fine Grains, 2013)
Rustie ‘Bad Science’ video by Halvor Bodin (2010)
Q2: A generation of creators who studied and worked around each other in Oslo during the early 90s have gone on to become widely recognised in their respective fields (Marius Watz, Stig Skjelvik,Bjørn Opsahl and yourself for example). From my understanding, you all had a strong connection with music movements during this period. Was there a particular mood of connectivity with sound and mixing with fellow creatives in Oslo at the time? What were your sources of audio-visual inspiration at this time?
A2: When I started to work seriously with graphic design, around 1991, lots was going on in various music genres, both in Oslo/Norway and internationally. Some of the first record covers I designed were for R&S Records (The Second Coming by Mental Overdrive) and Shimmering, Warm & Bright by Bel Canto (1992) (the first album after Geir Jenssen [Biosphere] left the band) on Crammed Discs. This sleeve design was a collaboration with another Norwegian graphic designer, Aina Griffin.
Aina and I were also involved with all the visuals for the first House & Techno club event in Oslo, in 1991, called Confusion and run by Per Martinsen (Mental Overdrive) and Peer Osmundsvaag (DJ Wizard). One club night was called Subtopia and when the club was shut down, we annected the name Subtopia for our own professional purposes. After that I did promotional material for plenty of raves and larger events, including artists like Aphex Twin, Moby, The Prodigy, The Shamen, Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers, Dreadzone, Leftfield, Fatboy Slim, Apollo 440, St. Germain, Les Rhythmes Digitales, Run DMC, Nightmares on Wax, Fluke and Hoover. Norwegian artists playing at these events were Mental Overdrive, Superskill, Origami Teknika, Applepie, Abstract, Strangefruit, Sadomaoistan, Palace of Pleasure and Drum Island, to mention a few. I did many of these projects in collaboration with Marius Watz, who coded and created his now legendary 3D- and 2D illustrations.
In 1993 I started to work for Tatra Records, mainly with Stephan Groth’s band Apoptygma Berzerk and his side projects, but also for other artists like When, Cronos Titan and Chinese Detectives. Black Metal label Moonfog Productions was Tatra’s sister label representing artists like Satyricon, Thorns and Darkthrone.
Naturally I was a part of these various music scenes and frequented the raves, clubs and concerts. However, at the time my audio-visual inspiration came mostly from cinema and MTV. I used to work in the film industry myself and in 1991 I co-founded Oslo International Film Festival. Many of the films programmed by festival director Tommy Lørdahl influenced me. Tetsuo and Tetsuo II were important, Warp Records in general, and Chris Cunningham, just to mention some of it.
Some favourite records over the decades which all are filmatic and visual in my mind are Metamatic by John Foxx (1980), The Unreleased Themes for Hellraiser by Coil (1987), Papua New Guinea by The Future Sound of London (1991), Obsidian by Psychic Warriors of Gaia (1992), Surfing on Sine Waves by Polygon Window (1993), Leftism by Leftfield (1995), Black Earth by Bohren & Der Club of Gore (2002), Burial (2006) and Faith in Strangers by Andy Stott (2014). The work of Oscar Fischinger, Hans Richter, Paul Sharits, Jordan Belson, Viking Eggeling and of course László Moholy-Nagy have been other more timeless influences for me.
Apoptygma Berzerk ´In A World Full Of Locked Rooms´ used for live visuals and screen printed poster
Q3: I found it interesting what you said about not seeing a disparity between digital and analogue objects. No difference between buying music on FLAC or vinyl, reading a book or Kindle for example. Does this belief come through in your creative process? Do you think future generations will share the same holistic experience, or embrace only one format?
A3: Both vinyl and lossless digital formats are high quality. Streaming of highly compressed data is not. I do not use Spotify or Apple Music myself. I prefer to be a selective consumer, I really have no need or time to listen to everything. SoundCloud is a more interesting place to look for new music. Physical books are still great, so are e-books. Growing up professionally the last 28 years with the birth of proper usable computers (i.e. the Macintosh) and the evolution of software for creative professionals, I have no need to be nostalgic about the analogue. I am at one with my computers, they are not mere tools, they are me, I am them. In that way, the computer is both analogue and digital. I am equally comfortable using a lead pencil on paper and a Wacom pen on a Cintiq.
I totally understand why younger generations want to explore the analogue from the past as “real”, “organic” and “dirty”, as an addition to regular computer work. But there is no need to be dogmatic or nostalgic about the analogue. In a lot of my projects I prefer to go back and forth between the analogue and digital. I do a lot of reprocessing with an analogue starting point. I like for example to use sound in my audio-reactive visuals, to translate information to various shapes. And also to turn it around; like making a freehand drawing with pencil on paper based on a composition / framework that has been generated by music or sound. Pencil drawings or photography / video of physical matter in the microscope are also possible points of departure. I think future generations will continue to have a curiosity for the physical world (and outer space), even if everything will be more digitally driven.
Apoptygma Berzerk playing ´Radioactivity´by Kraftwerk. Photo by Rune Hellestad (Fredrikstad, Oct 2015)
Q4: Of all the audio-visual projects you have been involved with, which have you most enjoyed and why? Which projects would you like to be involved with in the future?
A4: Visualmuzic.com from early 1999 is worth mentioning. We were 24 musicians, designers, programmers, illustrators and animators in Oslo who published an album on the web for free with videos or interactive visuals for all the songs. The users could even download sound files with separate instrument tracks for remixing, and upload their versions.
This was the first free album published on the net in Norway, an artistic collective project, an experiment on how music and visuals could be presented in the digital realm in the future. Visualmuzic was a proto-Apple Music of sorts, but it was free!
Another project important to me personally was the short film I made in 1999 entitled Hydrophobia. It was created for an art festival and screened at Blå i Oslo as a warm-up for a Biosphere gig. The music in the film was a song by Satyricon with Snorre Ruch called Blessed From Below and Mystery System by Neil Cole aka Djum Djum (vocalist on the Leftfield mega-hit Afro Left).
I have enjoyed all the audio-visual projects I have worked with, both making music videos on my own in the studio, and VJ-ing. I recently did live visuals for an Apoptygma Berzerk concert in Fredrikstad; my biggest live production so far. I am hoping to do more on that level—and even larger—in the future. I would love to be able work with an extended preprod-time and create more sophisticated relations between sound, light and video projection. I am planning on stepping up my pace with experiments in my new studio on the island Tjøme, an archipelago in the Oslo Fjord, and dig further into various relationships between sound and visuals. I am thinking of using field recordings for animations. For example, translate sub-sea sounds into drawings. The landscape of that particular part of the Oslo Fjord is a clearly visible geological morain shaped by glaciers for more than eleven thousand years ago. I want to explore the philosophical aspects of the way nature and man make marks on their surroundings on a wider time frame. Or just have some fun in the studio.
Apoptygma Berzerk ´The Cosmic Chess Match´ still from live visuals
Q5: Finally, how do you see the audio-visual experience developing? Are there any people in particular you feel are pushing boundaries within this field?
A5: I don’t know exactly, I should follow other’s work more closely I guess, art festivals, more clubs / concerts etc. But in my experience, there is plenty of work and experimentation still to be done! A lot of moving image work today is in the tradition of linear traditional storytelling with proper cinematography. Even in the visual art scene. This is of course OK, but personally I am more interested in the tradition of abstractions or concrete visual expressions. Like free improv drawing in a space-time continuum. It is always more important to try to make something new than to relate to a tradition.
Lastly, I have to mention Denial of service/H. Martis. His work with the video for Love is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy for the DFA) by David Bowie (2013) is probably well known. I think his work pushes boundaries, both his audio productions and visual works, and especially when they operate together: DENIAL OF SERVICE