For the readers of Sounds Of A Tired City, Eric Holm’s name should be more than familiar by now. We did an interview with him last year, when he released his exceptional debut album on Subtext Recordings, consisting of a collection of recordings produced on the arctic island of Andøya, Norway. This year, he’s back with his second album ‘Barotrauma’, which was recorded in the Nordic fjords south of Oslo while he was training at the Norwegian School of Commercial diving. A totally different world, different means of recording and different experiences but somewhat of the same atmosphere when it comes to the end results. We decided it was time to catch up with Eric again to talk about these otherworldly experiences and we are also proud to premiere a piece called ‘Enceladus’ from the upcoming album. ‘Barotrauma’ will be released on Subtext, 24th June.
Last time we spoke for our previous interview, you were in the middle of a diving course to become a certified diver at the Norwegian School of Commercial diving (Norsk Yrkesdykkerskole). What happened since then, what were you up to after Andøya was released?
After Andøya… Loads happened but nothing at all. I started turning my thoughts towards other things I’d like to explore musically and otherwise. I applied to NFTS and actually managed to get in but passed on it as I was in the middle of the dive course when they contacted me.
Hmmm, does this mean you prefer diving over the prestigious National Film and Television School or you just simply did not want to give up what you’ve started already?
Well, at the time I just thought the diving got there first. And money was a factor. NFTS isn’t cheap. But ultimately, yes. I prefer a more active approach to life. Too much sitting at a computer is… just too much!
How come you stayed in Norway to go underwater? One would think that Andøya was cold enough for a while…
Coincidence really. When I started looking into doing a commercial dive course Norway was a really good option. Diving in snow, ice, helmets… there was no way I wasn’t going to do that!
Tell us a little bit about this diving course. You’ve spent some time before working in recreational diving, how was this experience different?
Well, recreational diving is great fun but really it’s a totally different thing. On scuba you’re still swimming, which is pretty familiar. It’s what you’re meant to do in the water. Once you get into a helmet and start walking on the sea bed you’re in a totally different mode. More like being on another planet really. Just standing there watching your air go up as you exhale. I can’t really get over the feeling of that. Also, people tend to pick nice conditions to dive recreationally. In commercial diving you’re just going down there whether you can see or not, whether it’s freezing or not, and there’s stuff to get done. It’s work. In a way I’m not sure how I’ll relate to recreational diving now. It seems a bit boring. Not that I’m going to let that stop me though!
You’ve always been fascinated by remote places. The underwater world bears an interesting duality as you’re always on your own yet there’s a whole world surrounding you… How do you feel when you’re down there, what were your most intense experiences that you could share?
The intensity isn’t about particular events, it’s the entire process both mentally and physically of going underwater. I’ve never been able to explain it but it sort of ruined my life for a while. The title ‘Barotrauma’ is about this. I started diving almost 20 years ago. The moment I put my head underwater and took a breath, my whole life changed. It was like a whole section of my brain had been lying dormant waiting for that moment. And these feedback loops started (largely to do with music). I started dreaming about diving all the time and longing for it like a lover. Really weird and powerful. From that first day I must dream about diving 30% of the time or more. When I actually go diving it’s like all that stuff goes down with me. Some times it’s terrifying, mostly it’s just beautiful.
What made you interested in diving back then? How did you get into it?
I don’t know. I can’t remember. It was the fist thing I remember wanting as a boy. I spent my childhood stumbling around the house in a mask and fins with rubber sharks and stuff. So when I realised you could just do it, I did. And it was one of the few things I’ve done that turned out to be way more amazing than I could have imagined.
The word ‘barotrauma’ refers to an injury caused by a change in air pressure, damaging the ear or the lung. Did you get injured?
‘Barotrauma’ basically has to do with the impact diving has had on me and my life. It hasn’t been all good. On a level it sort of ruined my life. It ruined one part and created another. It’s like I’m sort of looking for something down there that I can’t find and I’m never really content on land. In a way the real diving is only in my mind. The album is an attempt to express that.
Compared to the Andøya sound recording, ‘Barotrauma’ is not only more complex but also seems to be quite dangerous. Could you share some details regarding the recording process and the equipment you’ve used?
I almost don’t want to tell anyone this but most of it came off of a GoPro. The audio from them is questionable on land but at depth the housing acts like a contact mic and you get very usable stuff and you get it from quite deep. Most people aren’t putting hydrophones down to 50m and the exhaust from a helmet, for example, sounds very different down there. If it’s not too busy you can hear the air going up and it’s expanding as it goes. As a diver you tell when someone has just stuck a hydrophone down a few meters to try and record stuff. I also used my usual contact set up on compressors, cranes, deco chambers, dive bells, everything. It’s a very difficult environment to record in. So much going on. Plus i was busy as a student on the course so I had to run around in my limited spare time.
While earlier you were working with small sound snippets, I guess this time you had an immense amount of recordings to handle. How did you compose them into an organic whole? What was the main idea?
The main idea to start was working with submerged industrial structures and to just pour my passion for diving into that. As I went along things changed and the raw material expanded but I just kept steering into the same point until I ended up with enough to release and to sculpt into interesting live sets.
This time you were also filming, what was the most challenging about the whole setup?
Ye Gods… Filming. I didn’t go up there with the intention of filming for an AV set or anything. Someone gave me a GoPro for my birthday and I just started filming. I lost a lot of potentially great shots for lack of experience. I struggled getting settings to work. That said, doing anything underwater is tricky. Everything’s either floating away or bobbing around. Water clarity comes and goes. Light, the general business of all the diving, it was madness. Once I decided that the footage had potential, I got stuck in. I’d dive all day filming random stuff. Then go home tired, nap, get up and process audio and video all night trying to plan out how I’d get this or that shot better etc. Then wake up and go down again. It was insane. If I wasn’t actually diving or working I was falling asleep somewhere. And that was the course.
This past winter was better. NYD allowed me to go back just to film and record and it was ridiculously good fun. They’re a great bunch of people up there and I’m very very grateful for their offer. I got to pretty much do whatever I wanted. I got loads of footage and would have gotten even more if the visibility was better. Really it was then that I solidified how I wanted the album to be. So that’s two albums made in Norway. I can’t really work that one out…
Do you think that perhaps you would want to do something with just moving image? Sounds like you’ve got plenty of inspiration for that as well…
Probably not. I like the union of the two. I’m not interested in the processes involved in video on its own, but man do I get into dynamics processing in audio.
What are your next planned steps? Any future diving plans or it’s time to change location?
Yeah, I’m going diving in Gozo this week! Never been there, want to check it out. All I know is it’ll be WARM!