PHONOPHANI ANIMAL IMAGINATION.
Label: Hubro Music.
Just like many other Norwegian musicians, Espen Sommer Eide has always divided his time between a variety of different projects. That has been the case throughout a career that has spanned three decades. It’s certainly been the case since 2010, when Phonophani, which is Espen Sommer Eide’s occasional musical moniker, released their fourth and latest album Kreken.
Since then, Espen Sommer Eide has spent much of his time working in experimental sound or audio art projects, and collaborating with fellow musical maverick Dag-Are Hauge on their long-running musical project Alog. This included their critically acclaimed sixth album Unemployed in 2012. However, recently, Espen Sommer Eide dusted down his Phonophani moniker and released his eagerly awaited fifth album Animal Imagination on Hubro Music. It marks the welcome return of Phonophani and indeed Espen Sommer Eide who is one of the most inventive musicians of his generation.
The Phonophani story began nineteen years ago in 1998, when Espen Sommer Eide signed to Biosphere’s own label Biophon Records. It would release Phonophani’s eponymous debut album later in 1998. By then, Espen Sommer Eide was twenty-six and was already making waves in the vibrant Norwegian music scene.
Espen Sommer Eide was born in Oslo in 1972, and from an early age, was interested in music. By the time he left high school, Espen Sommer Eide was a talented multi-instrumentalist who could switch seamlessly between a variety of musical instruments. Although he was a primarily a percussionist, Espen Sommer Eide could also play the flute and trumpet. This would stand him in good stead when he became involved in Oslo’s experimental music scene.
By then, Oslo had a thriving and vibrant experimental music scene, and soon, Espen Sommer Eide was meeting and playing alongside like-minded musicians. This allowed Espen Sommer Eide to discover his own unique and inimitable “sound.” Gradually, it started to take shape as Espen Sommer Eide continued to experiment not just with musical instruments, but later, with technology.
Espen Sommer Eide was one of the first Norwegian musicians to realise the potential of the computer within the music-making process. This was a eureka moment, that had the potential to change the way he made music. Later, the computer and a myriad of computer-generated sounds would become part of Espen Sommer Eide’s musical arsenal.
Before that, Phonophani released their eponymous debut album on Biophon Records 1998. Phonophani was an ambient album which won over critics when it was released on Biophon Records. This was the start of the solo years for Espen Sommer Eide.
Red Shift Swing.
A year later in 1999, and Espen Sommer Eide returned with a new album, Red Shift Swing on Rune Grammofonn. This wasn’t another solo album. Instead, this was Espen Sommer Eide’s first collaboration with Dag-Are Hauge as Alog. Red Shift Swing was another ambitious album where Alog fused ambient, experimental, minimalist and even post rock. It received praise and plaudits from critics, and at the end of the year, Red Shift Swing featured in The Wire’s fifty best albums of 1999.
In May 2001, Phonophani returned with their hotly anticipated sophomore album Genetic Engineering. By then, Phonophani had joined Alog on Rune Grammofonn. Phonophani started this new chapter in their career with a breathtaking album of soundscapes full of aural colour. Genetic Engineering was released to critical acclaim and a great future was forecast for Phonophani.
As 2002 dawned Alog returned with their sophomore album Duck-Rabbit in January 2002. The raw material for Duck-Rabbit was Alog’s post-show improvisation, which was the basis for a captivating combination of avant-garde, icy Nordic electronica, experimental and glitch. It was a potent combination of analog and digital, and one that found favour with even the most cynical critic. Duck-Rabbit with its references to Gestalt psychology was a minor masterpiece.
Oak Or Rock.
Nearly two-and-a-half years after the release of Genetic Engineering, Phonophani returned with their third album Oak Or Rock. It was released in October 2004 and was a mixture of avant-garde, electronica and experimental music. This was a potent and heady musical brew, and one that won over critics and cultural commentators. The Phonophani success story continued. However, six years before they released their next album.
Meanwhile, Alog returned in March 2005 with a new genre-melting album Miniatures. It saw Alog fuse ambient, abstract and avant-garde with IDM. This was a captivating combination that caught the imagination of critics and music fans. Miniatures also came to the attention of Spellemannprisen judges, and the album was nominated for the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy.
Later in 2005, Miniatures won Alog the prestigious prize in Norwegian music, a Spellemannprisen. This was something to celebrate.
So was Just Recording which was released in 2006 on vinyl as a limited edition of 100. Just Recording featured Alog at their most ambitious and innovative as they flitted between and fused abstract, avant-garde and experimental music. The album was hailed as one Alog’s most experimental albums. Eleven years later, and Just Recording is an extremely rare and collectable album.
By 2007, Alog were on a roll, and enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. This continued with the release of Amateur later in 2007. Critics hailed the album one of Alog’s finest hours, and even compared it to their opus Miniatures. There was a freshness and energy to the music on Amateur, which featured two professional musicians at the peak of their powers.
Later in 2007, Amateur was nominated for Norwegian music’s most prestigious prize. a Spellemannprisen. This time, it was close but no cigar for Alog. However, there was always next time.
After six years away, Espen Sommer Eide dusted off his occasional musical moniker Phonophani, and released his much-anticipated fourth album Kreken in August 2010. It was a case of hail the conquering hero, with critics hailing Kreken as Phonophani’s finest hour. Here was career-defining album from the Bergen based musician who continued to combine abstract, avant-garde and experimental music. Kreken was a triumphant return from the thirty-eight year old.
Eighteen months later, and Alog who were now a trio, returned with Unemployed in August 2012. It was Alog’s sixth album and was mixture of field recordings, samples, sounds and a myriad of miscellaneous instruments. The result was another genre-melting album where Alog combined voices and expressions, sounds and non-sounds in such a way that it redefined Alog and their music. Just like previous albums, Unemployed received widespread critical acclaim and the future continued to look bright for the newly expanded band.
Since the released of Unemployed in early 2012, Espen Sommer Eide has spent much of his time working on experimental sound or audio art projects. He’s also continued to collaborated with fellow musical maverick Dag-Are Hauge on their long-running musical project Alog. This wasn’t the only collaboration Espen Somme Eide was working on.
Kvien and Somner-Weathering.
In June 2015, Espen Somme Eide and Mari Kvien Brunvoll released the mini album Weathering as Kvien and Somner. It featured four genre-melting tracks, which fused everything from abstract, ambient and avant-garde to electronic, folk and jazz. This was a tantalising taste of what Espen Somme Eide and Mari Kvien Brunvoll were capable of, those who bought Weathering hoped they would be soon reunited.
Eventually, Espen Sommer Eide’s thoughts turned to his solo carer and a new Phonophani album. This would eventually become Animal Imagination, which would mark the comeback of Espen Sommer Eide’s and would see him reunited with Mari Kvien Brunvoll.
When Espen Sommer Eide began work on Animal Imagination, he was already recognised as a musical pioneer who was one of the leading lights of Norway’s experimental music scene. He was known for his use of computers, field recordings, sampling, drones, loops, glitches and even his own bespoke instruments. All this would play their part in the eleven tracks that became Animal Imagination
This included the instruments that Espen Sommer Eide had invented over the years. Espen Sommer Eide was following in the well trodden footsteps of Harry Partcg, who pioneered microtonal music. However, musical instruments weren’t the only thing that Espen Sommer Eide developed.
Whole most musicians use similar DAWs and VSTs, Espen Sommer Eide is known to develop his own software, which he continually tweaks and hones so that it suited his needs perfectly. This software allows the Bergen-based musical pioneer to create his unique and carefully crafted soundscapes. However, sometimes, though, Espen Sommer Eide resorts to the past for inspiration in the music making process.
Especially splicing magnetic tape together, which was something the founding fathers of Musique Concrète pioneered. It’s a similar case with manipulating radio static and dead air, which became part of Espen Sommer Eide musical arsenal as he worked on Phonophani’s album Animal Imagination.
Phonophani composed, played all the instruments and deployed all the field recordings, samples, drones, loops and glitches that feature on Animal Imagination. He was essentially a one-man band. That was until it came to time to record Untime Me. That was when Espen Sommer Eide brought onboard his friend Mari Kvien Brunvoll, and she added an ethereal vocal on Untime Me. This was the only help Phonophani had when it came to recording Animal Imagination.
By the time Animal Imagination was completed recording , Phonophani’s credits included composer, performer, producer and recordist. Phonophani had also mixed and mastered Animal Imagination, which was scheduled for release later in the summer of 2017.
Although Animal Imagination was the first album that Phonophani had released since 2010, it was soon apparent that it was well worth the seven-year weight. It featured Phonophani at his most ambitious, imaginative and innovative as he fused elements of abstract, ambient, avant-garde, Berlin School, electronica, experimental, free jazz, industrial, Krautrock and Musique Concrète. Animal Imagination was a carefully crafted album where Phonophani combined field recordings, samples, drones, loops and glitches with magnetic tape, radio static and dead air. The result was captivating album full of surprises aplenty.
That is the case from the eerie, otherworldly and futuristic sound Life’s White Machine which opens Animal Imagination. It gives way to Deep Learning where Phonophani fuse glitch and techno to create an urgent, mesmeric and dance-floor friendly soundscape. Very different is Sunrise At Bear Island with its fuzzy, feel-good sound, which is reminder of the chill-out era, and the sun rising over the White Island. Untime Me features Mari Kvien Brunvoll vocal buried deep in arrangement, is a fuzzy, dreamy and lysergic soundscape that and occasionally brings to mind the Cocteau Twins. Animal Imagination is a ten minute epic, where Phonophani puts his impressive musical arsenal to good use and creates a multilayered track that scampers urgently along with waves of music revealing their secrets. They’re variously melodic, ethereal, elegiac and cinematic as they race along.
Mud Boat is less than ninety-seconds long, and is best described as a variation on a theme that gradually reveals its secrets. As it does, the arrangement quivers and shivers, before samples and field recording add a cinematic sound. The sirens that sound as End Of All things III unfolds have an ominous sound. Soon, this ominous sounding soundscape becomes dramatic and cinematic as if Phonophani are creating the soundtrack to the end of the world as me know it. What follows is a sobering opus eleven minute opus where Espen Sommer Eide lets his imagination run riot. After that it’s all change on I Have No Subconscious which meanders along slowly revealing its ambient secrets. There’s a dreamy, lysergic quality to the music as it washes over the listener, cocooning them and for five minutes makes the world seem a better place.
Very different is A Dark, Sharp, Heartless which sounds as if it belongs on the soundtrack to a Cold War thriller. Elements of avant-garde, electronica, experimental and free jazz combine to create a broody, moody and mesmeric jazz-tinged backdrop that brings to clandestine meetings away from the prying eyes of Checkpoint Charlie.
Although Firmamental has a meandering, understated sound, it’s not long before it starts to ebb and flow mesmerically, as it reveals a myriad of bubbling, glacial and elegiac sounds. Later, the soundscape oscillates before glitchy sounds emerge from the depths of the arrangement as Firmamental continues to captivate and reveal its secrets and surprises. It’s a similar case with Sirma, 1997 as it bubbles, beeps and squeaks and join with a variety of eerie, otherworldly and futuristic sounds. They’re combined with samples, field recordings and bespoke instruments and create a truly thought-provoking soundscape that ensures Animal Imagination ends on a high.
Seven years is a long time to wait for an album, even one as good as Phonophani’s new album Animal Imagination. It’s Phonophani’s comeback album, and his the first solo album from Espen Sommer Eide’s occasional musical moniker since Kreken in 2010. However, it’s been well worth the wait, for what’s another album of ambitious, imaginative and innovative work. Animal Imagination is also an album full of sonic trickery and sleight of hand.
Nothing is as it seems on Animal Imagination. Field recordings, samples, drones, loops and glitches with magnetic tape, radio static and dead air have all been manipulated by Phonophani. He also deploys a variety of traditional and bespoke instruments, which become part of his musical arsenal on this genre-melting album. It’s a fusion of abstract, ambient, avant-garde, Berlin School, electronica, experimental, free jazz, industrial, Krautrock and Musique Concrète. The result was ambitious and groundbreaking album from one of the leading lights and pioneers of the Norwegian music scene, Phonophani.
He’s responsible for what’s without doubt a captivating, career-defining album full of sleight of hand and sonic trickery. Phonophani throws curveballs throughout Animal Imagination as he takes the listener on a magical musical mystery tour. There’s surprises aplenty as the Bergen-based composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Espen Sommer Eide creates an album that veers between ambient, ethereal, dance-floor friendly, and other times, broody, moody and mesmeric, to fuzzy, dreamy and lysergic. Other times, the music on Animal Imagination is sobering, thought-provoking, cerebral and cinematic as it works away at the edges of the listener’s consciousness until some remarkable transformation takes place. Partly that is because of Phonophani’s carefully crafted sonic masterpiece Animal Imagination, and the listener’s willingness to explore and embrace Animal Imagination’s career-defining epic.
- Posted in: Ambient ♦ Avant Garde ♦ Balearica ♦ Electronic ♦ Experimental ♦ Nordic Wave ♦ Post Rock ♦ Psychedelia ♦ Techno
- Tagged: Alog, Amateur, Dag-Are Hauge, Duck-Rabbit, Espen Sommer Eide, Genetic Engineering, Hubro Music, Kreken, Kvien and Somner, Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Oak Or Rock, Red Shift Swing, Unemployed, Weathering