Blue Sky, Red Guitars by Erik Wollo


Erik Wollo


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Blue Sky, Red Guitars 




AV:  Before we get down to questions about your latest CD, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you got started creating the style of music that you do now? 

EW:  I started to play the guitar at the age of 11. The first years it was the usual influences like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. And all the major electronic artists. I also studied the classical guitar repertoire as well. Right after high school I started my professional career. At that time around 1980, I played a lot of jazz oriented music, leading my own groups touring around inNorway. Playing in small clubs, concerts and doing festival and TV performances.

Gradually I became more interested in ambient soundscapes and the idea of creating music for a recorded media like tape, vinyl or CD and using the studio as an extension of my instruments. In 1984 I quit all the bands, and started to build my own studio. I wanted to concentrate more on composition, and less on playing live. Which also resulted in a new direction musically. On “Traces”, my third album (1985) you can hear a more modern electronic musical world, with influences from various genres, also ethnic music. All the time with a minimalistic and ambient approach.  It was  one of the first albums  recorded entirely using the newMIDI technology at that time. Since then I have continued basically on the same path and mostly used computers for writing my music. 


AV:  Your latest CD, “Blue Sky Red Guitars”, was released not too long ago. What was the inspiration for this project and when did you actually start work on it? 

EW:  This is my 12th album and I started to work on it in 2003. Most of my music is electronic. But in 1997, I released an acoustic guitar album called “Guitar Nova”. This was a concept I had worked on for some years earlier. In fact, all the way back to 1979. I spent a lot of time developing the idea of making a new type of acoustic guitar music, doing overdubs in the studio.

“Guitar Nova” was very well received and I wanted to work more on this concept. To do an all acoustic ambient album, but this time I incorporated more studio electronics. Mainly using a lot of layered and overdubbed guitars, but also adding some creative effects, as well as discreet synth sounds. I have a nice collection of various acoustic guitars, that gave the music a wide range of sounds and moods.

The musical idea this time was to make an expression that was very similar to my electronic music. Using the same way of building up the compositions. I also wanted to use other composers material, arranging it in my way.  I have been a long time fan of “Kraftwerk”, the German group of synthesizer masters. I admire both their concept and their way of composing. For this album I did two cover version from their repertoire.  “Computerlove” and “In The Hall of Mirrors”. Actually it started as an experiment. How would it sound, to transfer extremely programmed and sequenced electronic music into an all acoustic guitar performance? So these tunes really started the whole process of making this album. And nobody has ever done this before. 

AV:  Once you get an idea for a music project do you set aside the time to work on the music and dedicate your full attention to the project or is it a little less structured than that?

EW:  I am a professional artist, and this is my full time work. As a freelancer, I have a lot of projects and I can not always set up my own schedule. Ballet music, video music and  film music and other things. And in my situation it is necessary to be able to switch between projects very quickly. But when I have the opportunity, I always try to work very intensively with only one project for a certain period. Then take a break from it, leaving it for a  couple of weeks or longer. Try to forget the music, getting it out of my system. Then I will come back to it and listen to it in a new and objective way. This is very important. So I guess my working methods are very structured. 

AV:  Does beginning a new project bring to mind echoes of your previous works and how do you let your new work be its own creation without becoming too derivative of what you have created before?

EW:  In the beginning of a project, I try to not be to rigid on the directions. Just play around for a while, just making sketches and have fun. Then after some time I will see where it is leading. So in the beginning I will let it be very intuitive. Just like walking in a landscape for the first time. Walking outside all the paths and trails, to see new things and to discover what it is all about. Let the landscape lead you.

But I also like to go back and use material and ideas from my previous work. On “Emotional
Landscapes” I even resample myself, using sounds and loops from “Traces” and “Silver Beach. And on occasion I  also use some of my old melodic phrases, arranging them into a new arrangement or an entirely new composition.

AV:  On a project like this (or any of your past projects for that matter) do you isolate yourself during the creation process or do you sometimes seek outside opinions as to how things are going?

EW:  When I start a project it is very important for me to be able to isolate myself, and trust my own instincts. Basically, at this time I just use myself as a barometer of what works and what doesn't.  But after a while in a process, it is very important to play the music for other people. Different kind of people, not just musicians or other artists. There is a real danger of becoming too subjective and to involved in my own music. One of the big challenges in being a composer and artist, is how well you can listen to your own material objectively. Especially since I am my own producer, and often  work alone.

This has also something to do with personality and experience of course. 

AV:  Tell me about a good day that you had while creating this new CD and how moments like that keep you moving forward into each new project.

EW:  One of the tricks I am very aware of as an artist, is the matter of being surprised. To work in a way so that I can be positively surprised by myself. In such moments, nothing can compare to it. When I have found some tonal combinations that has everything I can wish for. Material that is really containing the essence of my musical personality. These moments move me forward, and I know that this is the way I want to live. 

AV:  If someone were to pick up your latest release what would they find there? Give me an idea of the feel of your latest release as compared to what has come before. Would your listeners recognize it as your “style” or might they be surprised? 

EW:  “Blue Sky Red Guitars” contains some of my best guitar works so far. With arrangements and mixes that really help drive the compositions. Most of the material is very quiet and peaceful. But the album also have some intricate rhythmical parts. All the time with strong emphasis on the ambience and room of the music. The tunes all have a kind of common drone and environment that are mixed discreet in the background of all the various layered guitars. To give the music an uplifting and airy vibe. But stylistic it is not so far from my electronic works, like “Emotional Landscapes” or “Wind Journey”. 

After all these years and all these albums, I guess I have developed some typical “Wøllo” ways of doing it. But I try to surprise and do new and fresh things for every release. Also within each album I want the music to have some variation. I like to combine different compositional elements on the same album. One tune can be concrete and rhythmic, and the next can be very abstract and ambient. So that the listener can be inspired.

One of the worst things that can happen to an artist is when the audience knows what the next album will sound like. I want each new release to be a positive surprise for the listener.

AV:  When did you know that this project was done and that tweaking the mix would not make it any better than it already is?

EW:  For me the finalizing is a very sensitive period of a project. At this stage I need total concentration to be able to make the right decicions. It is very important to have enough time and not to rush it. I will sometimes leave the material, pretend that it is finished. Then, suddenly I will listen to it again and in different locations. After a while I will eventually discover the weak parts. I will then fix it, doing some new mixes. And then I will again leave it for a while. Finally I will let it go, when I have the right feeling that this is it. When the music really has grown up and started to live its own life.

But it is also important not to leave the music too overpolished. Picasso once said, don’t finish the last 2 percents of a work. It will make it more alive.

AV:  Do you ever feel apprehensive when it comes time to take a project like this to the next stage and release it to the public?

EW:  If I am satisfied with the product, I will feel very good about releasing it to the public. As an independent artist I can myself decide when the album is finished. So I feel very good because I know that I did my best to make it good.  When the album is ready I just cant wait to get it released and played for as many people as possible.

There are stories about artists working for the big major labels with no artistic control. If I was in such a situation, I would certainly feel more apprehensive.

AV:  What kind of feedback have you been getting since releasing this CD? How closely do you follow reviews or the comments you receive from your listeners?

EW:  I have received some very good response on this CD. Both from the public and the reviewers. As well as the radio stations, especially in the USA.

I try to follow reviews and be open for comments. It is always interesting to hear new views and new opinions on the music. I also get a lot of fan mail, from people who write long and in-depth letters about my albums. It really makes me satisfied, to have the feeling that I can communicate through my music.

AV:  When you finish a project like this and it has had a little time to settle down after the official release do you ever go back and take a critical look at the project and think about things that might have been done differently or have you already moved on in your mind to your next creation?

EW:  I force myself to move on to my next creation. But it is important also to look back. After a couple of years, I will sometimes discover new things about a release. Both positive and negative things. This is a way of learning and growing. And it gives me a feeling of being on my way, and that is important.

But there is a fragile balance here. Like in life, it is important not to be too conscious about the past. It will distract from the new possibilities here and now. As well as the future.

AV:  What might your listeners be looking for in the near future from you as far as the next musical project?

EW:  I am currently working on a new album. With lots of electronic soundscapes this time. Together with various electric guitars. It might be a little more spaced out than before!

AV:   Is there anything else about this project that stood out in your mind that you would like to pass along the readers of Ambient Visions as we close out this spotlight?

EW:  “Blue Sky Red Guitars” is a milestone in my acoustic guitar work. I am planning to work on more music in the same direction. But of course I will also continue to work more on my electronic landscapes.

As I grow older, I more and more realise that music is mainly about artistic content. And not so much about style and genres. 

I want to thank all my fans for supporting my work. As a recording artist, it is sometimes hard to communicate. And I hope to do more concerts in the near future. To get the chance to meet my audience.

AV:  Thanks Erik for taking the time out to talk to me and I hope that you will have many more milestones in the career ahead of you.