Out Now | Pre-Spring ‘24 Kollektion
Whitney Wei: Tell me about your musical background.
Bendik Giske: My musical background comes from Norway, and in the later young, adult years also from higher, musical education. So that's very present. But what's also been present for me, I think, is this enormous formative experience that was to be exposed to Balinese dance music culture, and I say dancing music because it's almost inseparable in the way that the traditional stuff is presented. It's very much music accompanying dance. But you can also choose to view it the other way around. The dancers all very often have a narrative aspect so they have characters and they have an art of suspense. It's based on the Ramayana, so it's full of gods and demigods and creatures that are half human. [There is this] aspect of storytelling, but also the aspect of movement and costumes and a lot of them are masked characters, so it's kind of assuming an identity through masking yourself and going into character. And so I think that's been very much kind of at the core of how I understand music and how I want to communicate.
Whitney Wei: I understand that you played both the flute and saxophone, but what led you to the decision to stick with the latter?
Bendik Giske: It is interesting because it kind of can you imagine when someone first picked up a cylinder and realized they could make music from it? It must have been twenty thousand years ago, I don't know. So it kind of connects to all of humanity somehow, this way of interacting with an object. The flute kind of sticks with me, but I have to say that the trail of exploration that the saxophone took me on is just not an experience that I've had on any other instruments and I think with the saxophone has provided for me—this experience of exploring the kind of territories and challenges that I thought were either impossible or were unaware of their existence... It's purely a discovery of the capacity of the instrument and kind of also just longevity with an instrument that opens up all these sonic territories.
Whitney Wei: You occupy this unique space where you play an acoustic instrument, but exist within a very electronic music and club centered world. How do you negotiate these two seemingly opposing musical forces?
Bendik Giske: It's been an interesting experience. The choice that I made was that electronic music very often explores time and repetition. In a way, the tools for electronic music production are rigged to do just that. [The electronic musician] Caterina Barbieri once talked about how her oscillator is an object that already makes sounds, so she's not creating sounds much as she's shaping an already existing frequency or hum. And so I adopted those ideas into my own practice. What if my circular breathing is the oscillator? What is my mouth cavity and my airflow? All of this is the subtractive or additive synthesis when I apply voice to the saxophone when I sing and play at the same time. It distorts the sound of the saxophone, almost like a ring modulator would and so the more I thought about this, I realized that I have all these tools at my disposal. That's the choice that I made and I don't think it's an opposition. it's almost more like something that I want to put into the conversation.
Whitney Wei: Were there any challenges that you faced being drawn to this ecosystem but not necessarily having a blueprint to follow?
Bendik Giske: If I'm gonna say there was a big challenge, it was maintaining patience. I developed a kind of confidence in my own material but initially, I was a gigging musician. Meaning that I would play other people's repertoire, but then I discovered this gem [of my own improvisational sound] that just kept growing and the more I interrogated it. That really became kind of an opening of the floodgates where I said goodbye to a lot of colleagues, professional relationships, and so on. My reality became in some ways, more of a monoculture where I kind of just focused on my own project, which is a wonderful luxury.
Whitney Wei: A gigging musician necessitates you to blend into an ensemble. With this new focus on yourself, did you have to develop a new persona or an alter ego to step into when you made the shift to creating your own sonic material?
Bendik Giske: I don't want to bad mouth anyone, but I had a booking agent at the time that at one point told me in not so many words to present "more normal" because of all the things that you mentioned. This request made it very clear for me that I probably didn't have a future there because pursuing the expression where I felt I had something special to give was in conflict with the environment in which I was working. That was a moment of clarity for me when I understood I have to actually start carving out my own space. It's been fun. I decided to do it through play and being less worried, if it landed or not.
Whitney Wei: On the topic, I remember seeing you perform a few months ago and feeling like, wow, there are so many expressive elements you combine as an artist—bits of electronic music, the saxophone and this incredible personal style.
Bendik Giske: Thank you. I mean, Berlin is a fruit basket, isn't it? You can just pick any flavor and play around with it. It's such a fantastic environment to meet people and ideas and creative expression and also just unlearn a few of the kinds of codes of presenting music. It's been important for me and doing that through some version of subversion. I'm not saying that I've been kicking in closed doors necessarily but it's been important to discover through experience that I can experiment with various degrees of nudity for instance. It's fun because it's on stage and that often depends on the culture that receives it as well, the scene that receives it. So, yeah, Berlin is a wonderful place to discover and grow. I think it's been good to me.
Whitney Wei: You said that your new musical approach on your record takes you to "a flow state, somewhere between ecstasy, elation, and spiritual awakening." What does spirituality mean for you in this sense?
On the subject of spirituality, I have observed that a lot of people and subsequently communities find themselves in a state of spiritual crisis. We're in a time and age where many of us have felt very pushed out of the organizations and spaces that provide the spiritual experience. I use the word spirituality, but what when I use that word, but what I really mean is the understanding that you are part of something greater. I think a dance floor is a fantastic example of that because you go in and you experience that your presence influences the community, and the community and the circumstances influence you. It's almost an easy way to experience part of a greater whole.
I think the practice that I have in my repertoire and, by extension, the performances that I give are in fact, a result of these experiences. I attach the saxophone to it and it makes a sound that invites other people to partake in my experience. That perspective has been quite liberating for me. I've realized that when I go on stage, I'm not telling anyone to feel this, that, or the other or engage. I'm just engaging myself and, by extension, that creates a resonating experience for other people.
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