Published Feb 14, 2011It's been six long years since Norwegian dark ambient duo Deaf Center released Pale Ravine, their much-acclaimed debut album on Type Records. Pianist Otto Totland and Cellist Erik Skodvin haven't been resting on their laurels however, both having released superb work under the names Nest and Svarte Greiner, respectively. Given the high expectations, Owl Splinters doesn't disappoint. Cinematic and epic, it comes across like a soundtrack for the most terrifying movie ever made, or perhaps a yet unseen Herzog documentary. The album opens with the gorgeously slow-paced "Divided," evoking the ceaseless, yet barely detectable, movement of glaciers underfoot – the sound of natural forces far bigger than us. The centrepiece of the album is the incredible ten-minute "The Day I Would Never Have," which pulls you in gently with delicate piano then later overwhelms with sinister cello before coming back full circle. The album is gloomy, sinister and, at times, quite unsettling, yet the end result is somehow soothing. It is a powerful, evocative addition to the recent healthy resurgence in modern classical music that will appeal to fans of artists such as Tim Hecker and Murcof.
Apart from being busy with your other projects, why did you guys take such a long break between albums?
Erik: We never intended to make a follow-up to Pale Ravine. Although we did occasional live gigs through the years and put out a seven-inch and some small things, we never had a grand plan to put out anything more. Also because of different life situations and changes in musical direction. Probably the main reason for Owl Splinters to see the light of day was the move to Berlin, where I got to know Nils Frahm through some friends. He has a fantastically cosy and inspirational studio here. To make a long story short, we ended up getting Otto down here for a long weekend of recording, which ended up pretty much as Owl Splinters.
Otto: After Pale Ravine, Erik developed a new approach to making music; he started using hardware more than software, so it wasn't as easy to swap material anymore. It is thanks to our live gigs that we managed to create the acoustic sound of Deaf Center. With tremendous help from Nils, which translated perfectly into Owl Splinters.
Owl Splinters was more of a studio-based project, more analogue and less built on field recordings than Pale Ravine. What inspired you to make that change in your process?
Erik: As we both are now older and had a chance to experiment with instruments and get to know other ways of making music, it was a natural direction. Owl Splinters is pretty much made entirely out of live improvisation in one long weekend in the studio. We would never have been able to make it without Nils, as he helped out grandly with everything from beginning to end. Also, it wouldn't make sense for us to try to make another Pale Ravine.
Otto: After Pale Ravine, we had no idea how to perform it live. We started out with a laptop setup and a midi keyboard. This worked out well, but we wanted to make the transition into a more acoustic setup; we learned a lot from rehearsing on the acoustic live set. Actually, a whole new Deaf Center sound was born from that.
A lot of Norwegian music has incredibly atmospheric and gothic overtones. Is there something climactic, topographical or cultural that inspires this trend?
Otto: It's hard to say; it may be the cold, long winters.
Your debut album was inspired by old silent 8mm film reels and used many found sounds. Was there anything in particular that inspired you when making this album?
Erik: Being able to record everything from scratch in a wonderful studio environment is the biggest inspiration for this record, I would say.
Otto: True, just being in Berlin for the first time and in Nils's studio was a major inspiration, for me. I can't imagine a better place for us to make the record. I wanted to take Nils's piano home with me!
Your music is incredibly cinematic and is well suited for the transition into soundtracks. Have you been approached by anyone to do this?
Erik: We were once very close to scoring the soundtrack to a British thriller, Hush, but we ended up not having enough experience for the investors to take the chance on us. Other than that, I've scored music for dance and worked with sound for art and photo installations and the like. It would be great to do more soundtracks, at some point.
Otto: There is a Norwegian short film called Gresshoppen by Håkon Larssen that uses music from both Pale Ravine and Owl Splinters. It premieres in March 2011 here in Norway and it's a great film! (Type)