Eric Holm: I was born in a horrendous ice storm. So maybe it’s just in me but if it’s cold and snowing, I’m just happier
In the far North of Norway, at the northern end of the Lofoten and Vesterålen island chain you will find the spectacular island of Andøya. It was the only place in Europe not covered by ice during the last ice age. Andøya is special for many reasons: the giant whales living just off the coast, thousands of nesting puffins, and spectacular geology and from now on, London-based Eric Holm’s splendid debut on Subtext named after this exceptional place. Now that you have a slight idea how Andøya might look like, imagine someone going out in the wilderness with a proper winter jacket and attaching a single contact microphone to a remote telegraph pole that connects the island’s array of military listening stations and recording whatever comes through. ‘Andøya‘ was one of the most impressive releases last year, but practically nothing is known about the man behind this exciting collection of mechanic purrs. This being the first interview that Eric has ever given, we tried to find out as much as possible about this man in the proper winter jacket and his fascination with remote places and unusual sounds.
Not much is known about Eric Holm… Who is he and how did he get interested in music?
I can’t really remember not being completely mesmerised by music from when I was a boy. Or perhaps I should say ‘sound’. I used to listen to music for odd reasons. This or that intro, what I think of the textural aspects of music rather than what’s traditionally thought of a compositional elements like melodies and so forth. So this is a really interesting time for me, because nowadays there is a lot of my kinda music out there!
How would you say you perceive the textural aspects of music as opposed to the traditional compositional elements then?
To me texture is what the music is made out of. You can build an arrangement but the instrument you play it on has a certain character or flavour. All sounds posses this. I just end up fixating on that aspect of music. I spent ages looking for cello music I like for example because I love the sound of the cello, then found it quite difficult to find anything I could really get into. So I recorded a few cellos and started messing around with the recordings in different ways.
Whose music you could name as an inspiration from these early days?
Hmmm… Deathprod was a huge influence back in the day. Classical Indian music was a big influence. Still is. To me a good raga almost contains the whole universe. ‘Recuerdos‘, the first track from Murcof’s ‘Remembranza’ was huge. I heard that and thought ‘I gotta get into this’. It was the idea of making music out of… stuff. It’s actually the spark that got me making electronic music. To be honest, its almost like asking ‘can I have a list of all the noise you’ve heard all your life?’ I can listen to creaking wood or bees for hours. I’ve done that. Just laid out recordings of sounds I like and just play them.
(Video by James Ginzburg)
Even though ‘Andøya’ is your first record that has been released, there must have been something before that. If so, how come we never had the chance to get to know your music earlier?
Lots of unfinished things. I sketch a lot. I prefer it to the process of actually finishing anything which to me is just tedious and I could hear the finished product in the sketch anyway. So I guess I finish things for others in a way. I have a pretty mercurial relationship to music. I find it hard to go in a straight line with things. ‘Andøya’ came together too fast I didn’t have time to lose interest!
How did you get to Andøya? What draws you to a remote place above the Arctic Circle?
We flew! James Ginzburg and I hatched this idea of going to the arctic a few years back but I was so broke he ended up going alone. It took me another year to get there. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to check out and having been there I think I’d like to keep just keep on checking! The whole region up there is amazing. I’m usually stuck in London these days but I’ve spent a lot of time in pretty remote places and I’m usually angling for a way back up a mountain or whatever.
The northernmost island in the Norwegian archipelago sounds really exotic to most people. How was your personal experience during your stay?
I was born in a horrendous ice storm. So maybe it’s just in me but if it’s cold and snowing, I’m just happier. Can’t explain it. Most people seem to think of Andøya as being really desolate from photos or whatever but it wasn’t desolate to me. It was bracing and alive and magical.
(Click on the photos to view full-size gallery)
Originally you’re from the US, how did you end up in London? Not much snowing is going on around there…
I met an English girl in Nepal years back. We got married, divorced, and we have a child together. So I stay in London. I’d like to leave but we can’t ever agree on where we’d go. So I guess I’m kinda still married!
Were you consciously looking for an idea to do a recording on the island or it just happened by chance? How did you discover this telegraph pole?
I’m always looking for stuff to record so yes and no, but I wasn’t expecting the poles. Which is usually the case. James Ginzburg and I were walking along in the snow, passing these power lines, and you could hear them humming from 5 meters away. Naturally I had to go back and put the machine (as I call it) on them. That’s what’s on the album cover. James was there taking pics while I was recording at night. Great photo. It took all of maybe ten minutes and when we got back to the cabin I listened to them and kinda freaked out at how good they were. Loads of levels of stuff happening in them. Something had to come of it. And it did.
Tell us a little bit about the recording process. What have you been doing exactly and for how long have you been doing it?
I started recording things about 8 years ago just because I could and I wanted to make music out of noises no one else had recorded, things I couldn’t get any other way. I got really interested in recording minute sounds of things, little scratches and so on, and I was eventually driven to making and using contact mics in an attempt to get really clear recordings with as low a noise floor as possible. Portability is really a priority because I’m always wandering around and running into things unexpectedly so the whole set up is usually pretty simple. At the moment it’s a Roland R-05 and my arsenal of contact mics.
‘Andøya’ has been featured on dozens of end-of-the-year lists. Were you expecting this kind of enormous success? How do you feel about it?
Nope. In fact James and Paul Jebanasam had to pretty much drag me into it. But it’s been really great and I’m very happy so many people liked it. The world of music is a wonderful thing to take part in. After all the years of listening it’s nice to be able to contribute to the ever growing body of human noise.
What were your favourite albums of 2014?
Probably ‘Crush Songs’ by Karen O. I don’t know. Things don’t have much of a chronological order for me. I’m always finding things I missed when they were released. Things come out but I don’t get into them immediately because I’ve got my head down some hole or another.
These days, I just got my hands on all the Universal Indicator stuff from Aphex Twin. Bunch of acid techno which I’m a total sucker for. ENA made a worthy offering called ‘Binaural‘. Worth a listen. Then there’s the Ensemble Unicorn, who make medieval European music that’s incredibly well produced and performed. That’s not new to me but as we’re coming off of Yule it’s fresh in me. I can’t roast and drink without them! Also, though this isn’t a release as such, I saw Robert Curgenven recently. We played a gig together in Sopot in Poland. That was a real inspiration. Field recording music with film he shot over in Australia. Some of the best audio visual narrative I’ve seen. Really brilliant. Great guy too. I’ll give anything Peder Mannerfelt makes a play. He get some really great off piste grooves going.
What are your future plans regarding music? Are you working on anything these days? What and when should we expect?
I’m working on a long production that will hopefully get aired in Berlin in March that’s being built around diving which is a great passion and soon to be career (again) of mine. And hopefully it will turn into a release later in the year. We’ll see but I’m quite excited about it. Totally different direction to ‘Andøya’ in terms of process.
What fascinates you the most in the underwater world?
Underwater… Big question. The first thing I wanted to be as a child was a diver. I used to wander around the house as a boy in my mask and fins, doing backward rolls off the sofa and stuff. Then as an adult the first time I put my face under water with scuba on my life was warped around it. I can’t really explain my connection with it. I like the psychology of being under water, of getting to the point where you can’t just go up any more. The feeling of being in this almost infinite expanse that’s so overpowering. Literally, you are powerless against the sea. And it is beautiful. The light looking up, all the lifeforms down there. I never get tired of it.
Could you tell us more about this diving sound project? Also about how is it different in terms of process?
I’ve spent time working in recreational diving. I’m now doing a course to get certified in commercial diving here in Norway which is great fun and very inspiring. I’m hoping to be able to record stuff under water, process it and see what I can do with it. So it’s back to working in diving too. I want to capture the romantic period I’m in with it before I get lost in the every day of diving for a living again. The ideas I have for the next release are all to do with this. The process of it at this point differs in the sense that it’s more about working with a much larger palette. ‘Andøya’ was all about working within the limitations of just a few recordings. Which was great. But the diving album is much more open. I’m not being strict about the content. If it works, use it. I’m working more toward a conceptual, visual idea set. It’s very literal rather than the process based jam that was ‘Andøya’.