An Interview with Ambient/Experimental Group Pjusk

An Interview with Ambient/Experimental Group Pjusk

by Jason

Pjusk is the Norwiegen duo Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik and Rune Sagevik. They produce lush, experimental, ambient soundscapes that often defy clear explanation but can evoke strong emotions. The duo began making music together in 2005 and have since released three full-length albums on 12k Records and a number of shorter releases, three of which I covered from 2016: Shibuya/Vals/SyklusJostein and Rune were kind enough to answer my questions about their three 2016 releases, their collabortions with artists around the globe, and their writing and recording process.

Hello Pjusk. Can you introduce yourselves to our readers and talk a bit about what you do in the band?

Hi!  We are Pjusk from Norway. Pjusk is a project consisting of two persons: Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik and Rune Sagevik. We released our first album in 2007 Sart on 12k – a label run by Taylor Deupree in the US.  And since then we have been releasing music on this label – and others as well, but we consider our musical home to be 12k.

We are both working a lot inside the box, so to speak and the overall sound is really sample based. Jostein tends to work on the overall arrangements and Rune has a more percussive and experimental approach.  Other than that, we pretty much work together on most of the musical elements.

How did both of you get into making music?

Rune: I have always been interested in music in general, but did not discover electronic music before the late 80’s through the works of Kraftwerk and Jean-Michel Jarre. A couple of years later a friend and I wanted to experiment with sound ourself and I bought a Roland S-50 sampler.

Jostein: My initial fascination with electronic music really reveals my age – but I have to be honest.  When I was a kid, I listened to the synth riff of ABBAs “Gimme, Gimme” – and it was really that riff that caught my attention.  Since then I started checking out synthesizers at local stores, listening to music by Jarre, Vangelis and Kraftwerk.  And of course drifted over into Depeche Mode.  My first synth was a Yamaha DX-100.  Didnt really understand that at all, to be honest and the next one I got was a second-hand Roland D-50. That one I really loved. With effects like reverb and chorus – and sample based synthesis – it sounded like nothing else I had heard.  Since then I have been hooked.

What attracts you to electronic music in particular?

The surreal qualities.  The diversity of sound.  The open framework.  What is there not to like?  The hybrid sound of organic material being transformed into digital territories.

What is the music scene like in Norway? How is your particular brand of electronic music received in your local music scene?

The ambient / experimental scene is quite small.  Established musicians are more into jazz, but at the same time several are venturing into really adventurous electronic domains.  Morten Qvenild on the label Hubro comes highly recommended (Album: Personal piano)

You’ve collaborated with some incredibly musicians across the world. Can you talk a bit about your connection to these global artists and how you came to make music with them?

Collaboration is truly inspiring and rewarding.  We met Yui Onodera, Sleep Orchestra and SaffronKeira in Barcelona when performing at the Storung Festival.  Creating music together is also a way of becoming great friends. Other artists we simply get in touch with and start a dialogue.

What is your writing process like? How do you approach writing and recording tracks together?

The writing process is really based on intuition backed up by experience that functions as a framework.  That means that we have a working knowledge of what works – or should work – and then we add a bit of creative randomness.  For us the music really must resonate emotionally within us.  So the creative process is like tuning in on a radio station.  Sort of tuning back and forth until you reach that point when you go .. yes…this is actually working … or sometimes you just get lost.  And you start all over again.

In more practical terms, music making is a tennis match where we play back and forth on a musical court.  Rune serves with a weird, wonky beat and I return the serve with some added chords or some strange vocal effects.  Suddenly we start building momentum.

Your music is beautiful. Can you talk about how you go about making and choosing tones and textures for your soundscapes?

Thanks! Most artists doing electronic music today probably have quite a lot of synths and effects (both hardware and software), as do we. When working on Pjusk stuff we usually end up using a specific subset of our collection of synths and effects. A lot of our work starts with a synth sound, a loop with some sort of rhythmic quality or a piece of fieldrecording we like, and the sound gets processed through this particular subset of effects, resampled and maybe processed again.

In 2016, your released three very different EP’s: Shibuya, Vals, and Syklus. Let’s talk about Shibuya first. Can you talk about that more club like EP, the writing of those tracks, the context in which they come from with the Japanese collaborations and influence?

Shibuya is basically a DJ-set we performed at the Dommune, Tokyo (located in the region of Shibuya). We are quite fond of the Berlin techno sound and truth be told, we became a bit tired of performing our tracks live – tracks that were really mellow and gentle.  Time to finally get some 909-action up and running. When we got the opportunity to do a DJ set, we sort of jumped with joy and started remixing/reworking tracks that we thought were appropriate. Great fun, but we are still searching for that upbeat / percussive Pjusk sound.  I think we had our moments with the set that certainly worked, but we would prefer a more overall intriguing sound.  Perhaps more avant-garde and experimental, while still having the underlying beat and punch. So – musically we are back to where we started with “Sart”.

Vals is more like your work on Solstøv. Can you talk a bit about writing and recording those tracks and working with the fabulous artist Strië?

Yes, Vals is an anagram of “Sval” – but it also has a direct meaning of the word waltz – so in reality Vals is made of tracks that never made it to the Sval album.  Working with Strië started actually when Jostein found her work on Myspace (remember that one?) and sent her a request to start collaborating. Working with her was quite demanding.  She had quite strong opinions about musical directions, but at the same time we knew that creative tension can be extremely rewarding.  And I think we created great music together – also because we set our sights high. An exhaustive process, but fulfilling nevertheless.

Lastly, Syklus is the sort of work that is referenced above in my question about working with global artists. Can you talk about Syklus a bit and the process of writing each track with the various collaborators?

Syklus is a celebration of friendship.  We are so fortunate to have many friends across the world and we had been toying with the idea to gather them all on an album.  Also Jostein has a nerve wrecking habit of inviting artists for collaborative work, so we were actually stockpiling work-in-progress tracks at an alarming rate. What to do?  Let us release them on EPs.  So Syklus is the first in a series.  This is actually the first time we tell anyone, but there will be a second EP as well – perhaps a third.  And we have several artists already onboard scheduled to be working with us: Taylor Deupree, Rod Modell (DeepChord), James Murray and Yui Onodera.

Your last full-length release was in 2014: Solstøv. Has your creative process changed in any way since recording and releasing that album and the current 2016 list of EP’s you released?

We don’t think our creative process has changed significantly from album to album, but you could say that we sort of have tried to shift focus from album to album. We try to find a focus point if you will on each release to help us create new and interesting material. Like on Solstøv, the focus was to use the trumpet as our main source of inspiration, while on Sart we concentrated more on vinyl noise, sounds from tape machines and sampling an old piano. Trying to concentrate on sourcing sounds from one particular instrument at a time as a way to come up with a concept for an album so to speak. A goal we’ve not always achieved, but none the less a concept we always try to utilize or have in the back of our heads while creating new material that is supposed to go together on one album.

It is also fascinating working with smaller formats.  An album is a huge undertaking.  A lot of work.  But we are still returning to it.  Right now we are sort of rediscovering our debut album Sart.  It was in many ways more adventurous and fearless than what we did later.  It is time to risk a bit more.  Solstøv was definitely risky business for us, but somehow we feel that we could have pushed it further into those murky, experimental waters.  Now is the time for getting back to the beat.

For our gearheads, what sort of equipment do you use live and in the studio?

Jostein: Equipment wise, I have to agree with Rod Modell (DeepChord) (a recent interview he gave) about the entire industry spending too much energy on the analogue, retro wave.  So for me, I think the most exciting stuff is happening inside the computer.  Software like Melodyne, for instance.  Pure magic.  But I would like to see more new, innovative directions being explored.  Please no more emulations of ARP, Korg and Roland synths.  Let us do something new, yes?  But at the same time I have to confess being a Universal Audio fanboy (UAD) – a lot of those plugs are a pure joy to use.  So there goes my logical reasoning totally into oblivion …    The DAW of our choice is Ableton Live – both for production and live performance.

Rune: Nothing fancy. We are maybe a bit boring equipment wise. I use a computer, Ableton Live, Push, a keyboard and various software synths and plugins. On the software side I often end up using the built in Ableton Live stuff, some Fabfilter plugs, NI Reaktor, AAS Tassman and the plugins from Ohmforce.

What is next for Pjusk? Can we expect more releases in 2017?

We have planned some more collaborative stuff for 2017, and hopefully, we’ll get started on a new album.

Thank so much for answering my questions.




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