Read a transcript of Joseph Stannard's conversation with composer, tubist and violinist Eyvind Kang, part of a series of exclusive interviews with collaborators and members of Sunn O))
How did you first get involved with Sunn O)))?
“Probably through [Sunn O))) engineers] Randall Dunn and Mell Dettmer, the studio that they work in, they're also good friends of mine. And we did something before with Jesse Sykes, “The Sinking Bell” on the Boris and Sunn O))) collaboration, Altar. Stephen and I had some mutual friends, but I didn't really get to know Sunn O))) until this piece came about. I went to the studio when they were recording basic tracks for Aghartha, it was kind of coincidental timing. I just happened to be there and they invited me in. I was sitting there when Attila recorded the vocals, to which we later added our own sounds. I also got to see how they work in the studio, Stephen and Greg. They were leading the process, but in their own way, y'know? They don't really tell you anything, what to do, everyone is doing their own work, but it's going through them, in a way, through their ears.”
So they're filters, in a manner of speaking?
“Yeah. I noticed that happening with Attila, definitely. He was in one world, doing his own writing, his own thing, and then they just went in there and they did it. No comment, no censorship. And later, we did that, me and Jessika and the other musicians. We kind of got involved in the piece and did our own work without much critical intervention from Stephen or Greg. They were just like, 'Do whatever you want!'”
How did you find your way into these dense, riff-orientated compositions?
“Well, let's see. What they do is just with two guitars, or guitar and bass. It is dense, but there's a lot in it that's unfolding over time, the different frequencies of the feedback coming out. Those create envelopes which are more or less dense – sometimes it's very static, sometimes it's very active. And so I started listening to those closely on the basic tracks and trying to think of a way to create an acoustic sound that could sort of emerge from those tones that emerge... so, in a way, the arrangement that I did emerges from a psychoacoustic phenomenon that emerges from them. It's three times removed, but it's just gone into the realm of acoustics, completely. Another thing is that I remember I had some interesting conversations with Stephen. He was talking about waveforms, dissonance and consonance and different types of complexity in waveforms. Knowing that he thought like that kind of grounded me into thinking about waves and vibrations rather than harmony and music theory in the traditional sense, y'know?”
Stephen characterised the process more as pure arrangement than orchestration.
“Yeah, right, right. Definitely, we wanted to avoid the feeling that there was the band accompanied by an orchestra or whatever. We talked about that. I think it would be better if you didn't realise there were other instruments going on, because when you listen to Sunn O))) in the first place, it's not like you're thinking of the instruments that they're playing. They recorded basic tracks and we overdubbed, but I guess you could say we kind of deconstructed what they had done in the first place. So it's a mirror image, in a way, created with acoustic instruments. And with the choir it's interesting because there is a mirror; I based a lot of the choir parts off of Dylan Carlson's guitar melody that he made up. I created a mirror image to that.”
“I haven't talked to him yet. Yeah, I'm really curious. By all accounts he was real enthusiastic about it.”
Presumably you've had some time with the album, to digest it?
Are you able to appreciate it objectively after having been so involved in its creation?
“I can totally listen to it from a different perspective. It's been a long time. The last thing we did was “Big Church” and that was about six months ago, maybe more. “Alice” was the first thing, and “Aghartha”... that was over a year ago. Me and Jessika were driving from LA, coming back from visiting her sister, and we listened to it on the stereo of the rental car, which was great. It was probably about a month ago, and that was the first time I really got the timing of it, the slow pacing. Yeah, we were thrilled.”
Obviously there's an element of darkness to Sunn O))). Given that you're coming from a very different, distinctly non-metal background, is this something you can appreciate about the music?
“In general, when I'm listening to something, I don't think of it as dark or light. Same thing with Monoliths & Dimensions. But then I don't listen for that, I don't have that going on in my mind. But there's definitely a transition there. I mean, the end of “Alice” is extremely uplifting, and I thought that was a new thing for them. But I dunno... maybe not, because when I listened to the basics, it sounded like that.”
Is there scope for future collaboration between yourself, Greg and Stephen?
“We've talked about doing some live collaborations in the future, but I don't know how that's going to work. I guess Stephen seems to be able to make things possible, he's just that kind of a person, I mean, just conceptually. That's how it was with this recording. At first I couldn't really conceive it, I was just trying to figure out what he was hearing. But yeah, hopefully we'll do more. I don't see why not. There's so many people involved... it's not a community but it's a mentality of like-minded people that worked on this from their own angles. I'm thinking of the engineers, the guys in Vienna, they had a lot to do with the choir parts, that was like their crew, and Stephen had some connections over there, Attila's in Budapest, y'know, then over here in Seattle they're working with a lot of different people, so I think it's like they put people into vibration.”
“Yeah. We're like vibrating stones, in a way. Have you ever seen that movie, Meetings With Remarkable Men? It's a movie about Gurdjeff's life, and in the very first scene there are some musicians meeting for a competition to vibrate the stones in the mountains, somewhere in Afghanistan or whatever. They're all playing beautiful music then finally one guy starts singing some overtones and tunes up to the vibrations, the resonance of all these mountains. That's what they did to us. [laughs] Y'know?
Is there anything specific you have taken away from your experience with Sunn O)))?
“There definitely is. I'm not sure if I can really grasp it. I have a feeling that anything can fit with anything else, if you look at it from the right way. And the way that you make a piece of music or create something into the reality is one particular perspective. You put together things from many different perpectives, so it's a question of finding the right perspective to look at it from and then anything can really fit with anything else. That's one thing. And another is just the whole idea of envelopes and dynamics of sound. It's a little more of a technical point, but it really stretched how I thought of a crescendo or a de-crescendo, or a dynamic level. It was a real in-depth study of that for all of us. It was very difficult for the musicians, too. It was a real challenge, even for Stuart Dempster and Julian Priester. All the musicians that are on there are incredible, I mean real virtuosos, you know, and this music really, really challenged all of them, and all of us too, to go further into the concept of envelopes and dynamics over an extended period of time. So I have that to thank them for... I'll never be the same.”