Nature Is (Generally) No Laughing Matter to Tor Lundvall
In both his visual and auditory work, Tor Lundvall expresses a surreal lucidity — familiar, but didactic — perhaps drawing from something not unlike the collective unconscious. Joseph Campbell’s revelatory The Portable Jung describes the collective unconscious as both “the instinctive aspect of the psyche” and that which consists “of mythological motifs or primordial (pre-dating mankind) images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its exponents. The whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious.” And what portion of this planet could be more inherent to its collective unconscious than the material it’s made of? Lundvall frequently makes mention of nature and its impact, embracing and exploring ideas from the weather cycle to symbiosis. But for all the prescient imperativeness within, considering such a broad, important topic, he retains his humor. I mean, it’s sort of a drag when “serious music” is taken, well, too seriously. Forgive the simplicity, but the natural world is like … pretty fun. It’s also wondrous and terrible, but it’s fun, too, and ripe for collaboration. On the excellent new collection, Nature Laughs as Time Slips By, Lundvall’s playfulness and exquisite sonic curation are as proudly on display as ever, making for a memorable listen, and an essential one.
What sorts of feelings do you get when you revisit the earlier pieces that make their way into box sets like Nature Laughs as Time Slips By?
I have very fond memories of those early tracks. My mind goes straight back to the exact moments when I recorded them. I remember the time of day, the details of the room, the open window or door where I'd place my microphone to capture the sounds of birds, insects, etc. Heavy nostalgia for sure, with an occasional smile or slight twinge of, "What the hell was I thinking when I recorded that one?" There are a few tracks on Insect Wings [Leaf Matter and Broken Twigs, Early Ambient Recordings: 1991-1994] Volume 2, for example, where I flirted with New Age a bit, but I still love them all.
Let’s talk about the tag "ghost ambient," specifically "ghost" as a descriptor, and the association with something returning. In your music, does "ghost" entail nostalgic sound? Does it imply a recall of the past?
I curse the day when a former record label asked me to coin a term for my music. To be fair, "ghost ambient" is much better than "postmodern gothic," the clumsy and unfitting term a former gallery once branded my painting "style" ... yuck. "Ghost ambient" actually does make sense for a variety of reasons, including your point about recalling the past. My memory recall is so vivid it's almost frightening. I relive certain events as if they happened yesterday. I hate it when people claim that they "never look back" in life. That sounds like tremendous denial to me. The past is constantly fueling my work and my imagination. I could never turn my back on it.
Speaking of recalling, conceptually, what about dreams and the subconscious? How do the more nebulous, shadowy aspects of human life make their way into your work?
Dreams and the subconscious are powerful allies. These intangible forces flow naturally through my work, and I never question or analyze how or why. When I'm on the verge of falling asleep or shortly after waking up, I recall snapshots of countless past dreams. I can never remember the details of these visions once I get out of bed — at least not consciously. However, I am certain that these dreams have influenced my music and painting. Strange golden constellations, multiple crescent moons in the night sky, vast cities, obscure flying objects, luminous gateways out at sea, etc., are recurring visions and symbols in the more powerful dreams I've had.
Your work in both visual and musical realms have a preoccupation with the natural world. Were there any specific nature-driven sounds or experiences that affected your output?
My experiences in nature are too numerous to mention; however, my earliest memories are the most powerful. I also recall those late summer nights in my teens (around 1984-'87) when I'd listen to music alone on the beach, watching the moon rise over the night ocean. Those moments had a tremendous impact on my life and work. If I had to choose one sound from nature that has deeply affected my music, it would be the sound of the night insects — especially katydids and tree crickets (I'm also an amateur entomologist). Their mysterious songs permeate many of my earliest recordings.
With the recent passing of Pauline Oliveros, I can't help but associate her idea of "deep listening" with your work. Do you find yourself engaging with the sounds from your environment constantly? Does it affect your creative process?
Always. The sounds around me are constantly inspiring new compositions and paintings. Apart from the natural world, man-made sounds such as distant machinery, trains, flagpoles and ship masts clanging in the wind, etc., have always inspired me. The song "Lost" from Under the Shadows of Trees, for instance, was inspired by the droning of a distant lawnmower.
You humorously mention that one of the working titles for the box set was Observations of a Misanthropic Recluse. It's obviously a bit tongue in cheek, but is isolation important to your work?
Yes. I'm not a very social person, and I enjoy my solitude. That's not to say that I don't enjoy the company of friends and family from time to time, but I do need privacy, a quiet environment and relative peace of mind in order for my creativity to flow.
Speaking of tongue in cheek, I'm tickled by the cover art to Nature Laughs as Time Slips By. This is absolutely just my own opinion, but I see sort of an absurd twist on both the monstrous and the beautiful. Is humor important in your work? What about absurdity?
That’s a great observation. I couldn't survive in this world without my sense of humor and my love of the absurd. My closest friends and family are the only ones who have witnessed this side of my personality. I imagine I come across as somewhat reserved otherwise. I'm not always conscious of how humor affects my work, but then again, I have folders filled with not-so-flattering and occasionally grotesque cartoons of family members and others I've observed over the years. My late father adored them all — especially the caricatures I made of him. The more irreverent they were, the more he loved them.
What are you working on these days?
A new vocal album is slowly taking shape. Lots of late-night recording sessions under the influence of blueberry hibiscus tea.
Have you read any good books lately?
I’ve been reading On Some Faraway Beach:The Life and Times of Brian Eno on and off. Interesting in parts, and not so much in others, like the man himself ... or all of us, for that matter.
Anything else you'd like to say?
Not really, although the tragic death of my labelmate Cash Askew in the Oakland fire has cast a very sad shadow over the past week. I didn't know Cash personally, but I love the music of Them Are Us Too and her untimely passing affected me deeply. I'm hoping for a kinder year in 2017, but with all that's going on in the world, it's hard not to anticipate a darkness on the horizon. Of course, that's the misanthropic recluse in me talking. Hopefully, January will at least be quiet so I can paint in peace while listening to Kevin Drumm's forthcoming 6-CD box set. I can't wait for that one.