with Rune Flaten of Origami Arktika
January 25, 2008
So Silber finally released a new Origami Arktika album last fall & we were able to get Rune Flaten (singer for Origami Arktika) to do an interview about it. The album is traditional Norwegian folk songs & is in no way a novelty, but simply a great album. It is called Trollebotn after the part of Norway where the songs originated.
Rune – First of all, I wouldn’t mention the word ‘underground’. It is not like we make music on some hidden agenda to make it inaccessible for most people. I find that my taste in music is generally quite eclectic, so I cannot judge from my tastes what is ‘underground’ or not. We are not what you hear on your average daytime radio. But we could be. At least some of our work. Our music is for a quiet spot, not for a noisy party. Still, some of the songs work fine in a dj-set, certainly when I’m the dj.… Underground does not equal harsh, destructive, unrhythmical, or any such un-word. We are underground because we make uncommercial music. The sound? Without being hippies, we sound like the nature here. Nature expressed in traditional acoustic instruments you’d hear any band use, in addition to untraditional sound sources. But always recognizable as music. Nothing to be afraid of. Something to delve into & spend some time with. A mix of rhythm, melody, & lyrics. Sounds like music to me. Judging from the reviews we get for Trollebotn, it should be within the reach of most people’s musical taste, people with some musical curiosity. Not easily classified, but I hope worth your time.
QRD – You started out in Origami Arktika as a bit of an accessory member for a tour. How did the transition come to you being one of the dominant members?
Rune – I don’t really know. I’ve got this thing about being on a stage. I guess I’ve always liked to perform, in one way or another. As for being a dominant member - I am visible, sure. & since I am the singer, everyone assumes I control the musical profile. On this particular album, yes. I did contribute a lot towards the final sound through bringing the band to my home in the valleys, & by singing the historic texts from Trollebotn. But the music is the band, & my influence there is minimal. They are such excellent musicians; & their performance is really beyond anything I could control, even if I wanted to.
QRD – It seems your voice has a real presence on Trollebotn. Is it from how it was recorded or being so familiar with the songs or what?
Rune – Both. I am very familiar with these songs. I’ve sung them for years & years. But the sheer intensity of the recording situation made me feel very close to the stories at hand. As an example, when I hear “som lindi bære lauv”, I feel the breeze in my face, as I stood in the open air, my eyes fixed upon the mountains turning blue in the distance. The atmosphere of the place had weighty impact on my rendering of the songs. & then, more prosaic, we decided to put my voice more in the forefront this time, as the lyrics are important for the unity of the album. This is the first time for me, doing something like a thematic album, & we wanted that sense of a whole to come through.
QRD – I remember once seeing you perform using a wooden box with a microphone inside & opening & closing it to control feedback. Where did you get the idea & do you still use that as an instrument?
Rune – Actually, I didn’t feel that worked so nicely. So I’ve not used that one since. But I am always looking for other instruments, testing objects for their sound possibilities. The strangest objects have musical qualities. It is all a question of redefining instruments, as well as music. I’ve gathered a nice collection of scrap iron, antlers, plastic & wooden toys. The difficulty is in amplifying the sounds on stage, but they sound great.
QRD – What is your dominant instrument besides your voice?
Rune – Hmm. Difficult. I am very fond of natural objects, sticks & stones. I usually do one song on a tree. Different sorts of wood have different qualities of sound, the creakiness depending on how dry it is & how tough the wood. Snow is nice, ice even better.
QRD – When are you guys going to make it to the states for a show? It seems like you might be able to get some cultural grant to tour with the sound of Trollebotn.
Rune – We surely hope so. If we could get a festival or suchlike, we might be able to get a grant to cover the rest of the cost. But we are seven persons, & it’s expensive to have us over. That said, we’d love to come. Please contact me if anyone has an opening somewhere & we’ll see what can be arranged.
QRD – I know there were only minimal overdubs on Trollebotn, what was overdubbed?
Rune – We added some percussion, one bassline, & some vocal on two of the tracks. Killer couldn’t come with us on the island, so Kjell Olav joined the band & did a wonderful job. Back home we wanted Killer’s presence to be part of the album as well, & he added percussion to some of the songs. Apart from his added rumblings, the overdubs are minimal.
QRD – I know you were a foreign exchange student in the USA in high school. Do you think this had any effect on how you look at music?
Rune – Hee. No. I suppose my musical direction was already formed by that time. I met some wonderful friends, but none that really influenced me musically.
QRD – Are the songs on Trollebotn generally known in Norway, or are they pretty obscure?
Rune – They are very obscure for the general public, although some of them are commonly known among the people who deal with traditional Norwegian folk music. The songs by Jørund Telnes are mostly a local affair, unfortunately. Traditional folk music is not very big in Norway. People seem to prefer Irish folk, for some reason. & country music is huge! But the awareness is growing, & some bands have managed to take crossover folk to great popularity.
QRD – Since Origami Republika is such a massive network, it seems that everyone in Norway must be involved with it. But when I came to Norway it became pretty clear that it is pretty underground. How known is the Republika to most Norwegians?
Rune – Completely unknown. In the
underground music scene, not the ‘underground’, but the real underground,
the concept is fairly well known. Luckily, the diversity of the Republik
makes it difficult to pinpoint what it is all about, & most people
get confused & give up. A couple of years ago, a fairly complete
dictionary of Norwegian modern music was published & the Republik was
left completely out. This even though factions like
QRD – What’s your interest in Elvis about? Him as a pop icon or an actual musician? Does he have much influence on your music?
Rune – I can’t say he’s got much of an influence on my music. His presence in the way he sang was amazing. The dumbest lyrics & he found some way to anchor them to his emotions & poured it out. Pop icon, yes. Performer - absolutely. I prefer his 50’s songs, as they are more raw, unpolished & full of guts. He gets to me, somehow. I’ve liked Elvis since I was a kid. The first album I listened to day & night was a Louis Armstrong tape, recorded sometime in the forties. I remember listening to that one in bed, over & over again when I was eight or nine. But the first album I bought myself was Elvis’s Flaming Star. Not his best, surely, but for a ten-year old boy it looked really cool.
QRD – A lot of artists are always against the establishment & throwing away the idea of liking their country. It seems with Trollebotn you embrace your Norwegianism. Would you consider yourself patriotic or is their another word you think is more accurate?
Rune – Patriotic... No. I am not blind to the stupidity of the concept of borders & governments. I like living in this part of the woods. But Norway? What is that? It is a concept, like most countries a result of wars & romantic notions based on a need for protection & a need for commerce. Today we see how indigenous groups are popping up, demanding independence. At the same time we are combining states into bigger clusters. Stability is not the norm; just get out a historical overview of the Polish borders throughout the last 500 years. Or the Norwegian, last 1000 years. I do not advocate nationalism. But I am very interested in the heritage available to me. Be proud of who you are, but do not be afraid of change. All the traditional folklore here in Norway has pendants in other European countries. People have always traveled; & ideas, fashions, & myths are contagious. I marvel at people who claim to have an untouched, native culture. With contact, inspiration occurs & new modes of cultural expression emerge. So, another word than ‘patriotic’. I strive towards being culturally aware. Aware of the shortcomings, as well as the beautiful achievements. Without believing in the Ark, I do think there are common cultural traits connecting all people. They are the foundations. But the variations make life worth living.
QRD – With how the music industry has changed over the past ten years, what do you see as the benefit of working with a label instead of just handling a release yourself?
Rune – Two things. Firstly, the label knows the ropes. Killer has his own label, & has released two 7” for us. But it is comforting to have someone outside the band who actually knows their way around do this end of the business. Secondly, I like the musical profile of Silber. We feel comfortable within that catalogue. I remember how I, when young & uncomfortable, encountered some really good bands by following labels. Being on Silber might attract ripe listeners to our music.
QRD – To you what is music about in general & your music in particular?
Rune – How much time have you got? I’d like to answer this one to anyone who brings up the question in person. Music is not a general subject & is subject to changes through time & space. Making music is something I love to do, something that makes me happy, sometimes sad. It is frustrating, but rewarding without borders. Music is about being larger than you are. I claim the privilege of changing my mind as often as I like on the subject of music. & art in general, actually. Just keep it coming, & I’m pretty much content. Surprise me, make me laugh, & I’m happy.
QRD – Pretty much everyone involved with Origami Arktika has other projects they’re working on. Do you guys practice a lot or are things pretty improvisational & just based on everyone being fairly competent improvisers?
Rune – There is not very much practice involved normally. When we have a project, like a concert or a recording, we get together & work fairly intensively for a while, focusing on the matter at hand. Yes, everyone is a very competent improviser. When we play live, we have songs, but not in a very fixed manner. You’d recognize it from its released form, but always in a new form, in some way. Improvisation is part of the joy, the moments when the music takes control.
QRD – Anything else?
Rune – Not at the moment, no.
Official Origami Arktika
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