There's a lot more to Sweden than midnight sun, smorgasbords, and ABBA. Just ask Andreas Berthling, who, with his brother Johan and fellow musician Tomas Hallonsten, started making music under the name Tape back in 2000. Since then, the group has crafted a solid string of purely minimalist albums laced with a mix of experimental jazz, folk, electronic, and prog-psychedelic flavors.Luminarium(Häpna, 2008), Tape's fourth and latest release, is the first that the band has made from start to finish in its new Summa studio, designed and built by Berthling.
“We recorded our first two albums in our parents' summer house,” he recalls. “We had a very limited laptop setup, with an interface and a couple of mics. I didn't really know much about recording back then, so everything was done in a pretty simple way. Over the years, we started buying gear on eBay or when we were on tour, so the recording process is now a lot more professional — but it's not our aim to make things sound that way. We tend to like older gear that sounds a bit rough and analog, even though we use some digital elements.”
With brother Johan on guitars and Hallonsten on piano, organ, and various synths, Berthling manipulates the results using SuperCollider, an open-source programming language and real-time sound-synthesis server, which allows him to sample and then radically alter the sounds of a live jam in real time. The studio is outfitted with Coles 4038 ribbon mics, vintage Telefunken V676b mic pres, a UA 1176 compressor, and various old-school echo effects — all tools for Berthling to capture a full-bodied and gritty sound, sometimes even by reamping his SuperCollider session through a tube guitar amp.
“Usually we start by tweaking our gear and playing around with sounds we like,” Berthling explains. “I run the recording on [Apple] Logic while playing SuperCollider on my laptop — maybe a drum sample or the guitar, or I might record Johan and Tomas while they're trying to find a sound, and then work with that. Anything they do in the studio, I just place some mics and record it. Sometimes we'll add echo and delay effects later, but sometimes we record them during the take, just to commit to that sound. After, we edit everything in Logic.”
More pastoral mind trip than jazz-rock freak-out, Luminarium isn't quite the kind of album you'd crank up at a party (at least not without a few couches in the room), but there is a palpable and insistent energy to it. “Moth Wings” shimmers with multiple layers of synthesized atmospherics over a mournful acoustic guitar (see Web Clip 1), while the churchy organ-and-guitar figure of “Illuminations” gradually builds and recedes over Berthling's inventive signal processing (see Web Clip 2). Whatever they choose to grapple with sonically, the members of Tape manage to bend it in strange and interesting ways.
“It's very tricky to describe our music,” Berthling says. “My brother's main instrument is actually the upright bass, and Tomas is really a trumpet player. We tried to record like that, but it didn't work for us, so I think the mood first changed when they changed instruments. But the general thing is that we take it pretty slow, so we're a bit more relaxed when we record. Sometimes we think we're making something more aggressive and loud. But since we improvise everything, I find that we always get back to this quiet atmosphere that we've built up during the eight years we've been playing together.”
Home base: Stockholm, Sweden
Key software: Apple Logic Pro 7, SuperCollider 3
Essential synths: Korg MS-20, Roland SH-101
Tape Web site