LIFE AS A MINIBUS PIMP
textura has long been an admirer of Helge Sten's work, whether it's material the Norwegian musician and producer (b. 1971) has issued under the Deathprod name, as a member of Supersilent, or as a producer for Rune Grammofon artists such as Susanna and the Magical Orchestra (2004's List of Lights and Buoys and 2006's Melody Mountain two particularly fine examples). A few years ago, Sten established a new project in partnership with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones called Minibus Pimps, and though until now they've largely concentrated on live performance, the two recently issued the mini-album Cloud To Ground (reviewed here) to provide listeners with a physical document of the Minibus Pimps sound. As Sten is not someone who consents to many interviews, textura is especially honoured to feature him, and we sincerely thank him for taking the time to speak with us about his latest venture and other projects.
1. The obvious yet unavoidable first question is: when did the two of you first meet and how did you eventually come together to form Minibus Pimps?
I met John at the Punkt Festival in Kristiansand in 2010. John did an unannounced solo concert (the music he wrote for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Nearly Ninety performance), and as Supersilent was the next act, we asked him to join us, which he did even though he had never heard any of our music.
For his solo perfomance he was using Kyma, and when I listened to his piece, I knew we quite possibly had some common preferences. Our chat about Kyma essentially sparked the question: How would it sound if we both used Kyma in an improvised setting?
2. In what way did you determine Minibus Pimps' musical style? Did you consciously formalize it at the outset or did it naturally emerge as you played together?
We never really talked much about what it should sound like or what Minibus Pimps should be. The music we make is a result of very specific programming within Kyma, and using these tools in an improvised setting. The programming is often so specific that this will establish a core or a framework for a musical piece, but how we choose to move around within this framework is improvised.
3. Could you clarify the degree to which the group's sound is determined by the Kyma computer system and describe how it works?
Kyma is a software that runs on a dedicated DSP processor unit named Pacarana. It's a very advanced system, and you really have to sit down for a few months just to learn how to use it. You can build sounds, processors, and instruments by using small building blocks, or you can program the sounds using scripts or code. You can also add code into the small building blocks. It's a flexible supercomputer for sound design, and it so happens that it is also an excellent tool for improvised music. It's used quite extensively for sound design in film, like the voices in WALL-E. Since we build most of our sounds and instruments from scratch, our input into the programming decides the sound, not the system itself. Also, we use familiar instruments like guitar, bass, and violin as input sources for our sounds, even though you can rarely hear anything that resembles the source after the processing.
4. The seven tracks on Cloud To Ground add up to a modest half-hour. Why did you choose to keep the total time on the modest side?
It was a decision based on how the pieces worked together, and also what would sound good on vinyl. The length of each side determines the volume of the cutting, and Cloud To Ground was made for the LP format. For a good sounding LP on 33 RPM you should stay between thirteen to eighteen per side. We had a few hours of material to choose from, so it was never about the lack of material.
5. Given that you've worked with a huge number of artists over the years, I'm guessing that you're not easily starstruck. Having said that, did you ever find yourself when working with John Paul Jones stepping back from a moment to catch your breath to remind yourself that the person with whom you're working is one of the preeminent rock musicians of all time?
It's impossible not to be affected by such a situation, but all of that somehow resides in a parallel universe. However, what is most amazing is to work with a composer and musician with such musicality and experience who still has the urge to push the musical outer limits. It sharpens your senses to the maximum. He also happens to be one of the nicest persons I've ever met.
6. What does the future hold for Minibus Pimps? Are there concrete recording and/or touring plans in the works?
We're looking into some shows for 2014, but these are not yet confirmed.
7. I've seen you often credited with ‘Audio Virus' on your projects. For the sake of clarity, could you elaborate on what the term means? Is it a bit like Brian Eno's'oblique strategies'?
The term was a result of using a wide range electronic devices and no ‘normal' instruments. It was probably more appropriate in 1993 than it is today though.
8. Being such an admirer of your Deathprod releases, I was saddened to see you retire the Deathprod project. Why made you decide to end the project? Is there any chance it will be resurrected?
The project was never really retired, even though when the Deathprod box set was released, I did not have plans to continue. I am working with a new project these days, which is a commissioned piece featuring Biosphere & Deathprod. This will be premiered on April 2 at the Tape To Zero festival here in Oslo. I have also toured with Deathprod in 2013 and this year, for performances of the Treetop Drive album. The reconstruction of the electronic parts from twenty years back was a challenge, to say the least. We will do a few more of these Treetop Drive concerts in Europe this year.
9. The last Supersilent album appeared in 2010. What's the current status of the band, and are there plans for a new album to be released? And what other projects are you working on at the moment?
We've had a new album ready for about a year, and it'll be released in 2014. There are concerts lined up for this coming fall, mainly Europe and Norway. I'll be touring with Susanna in the US in late March (and US/Canada in June), and with Supersilent and Deathprod in Europe later in 2014. I also hope that Minibus Pimps will be doing some concerts.
10. Finally, is there anything happening musically at the moment that you're particularly excited about (or, put simply, what's on your iPod)?
I would say Jenny Hval and Jessica Sligter. And not on an iPod, vinyl of course!