TMF meets Forss

Better known as the CTO of SoundCloud, Eric Wahlforss first came to prominence with the electronic musings of Forss. Now back with second album Ecclesia, constructed entirely from the manipulation of field recordings in churches and of the people therein, Dominic caught up with the man himself for a little chat.

You have the new album Ecclesia coming out soon, all made up of field recordings from churches, what was the inspiration for this, where did the idea stem from?

Throughout my life this kind of music has been present; my mother conducts a choir in Sweden and she plays the organ and so on. I remember from early in my life having to go with my mother to watch her, whether she was practising with the choir or playing a concert. As a small child you’re kind of bored and want to go out to play, but at the same time there was something magical about the whole setting and the churches, these giant instruments like the organs. It came back when I was around twenty or so, there was some choir music that I was listening to that was pretty amazing. Since then it has really been around, and I’ve rediscovered a lot of the classics as well, Bach and those kinds.

So has your mother and her choir featured on the album at all?

That’s funny, you’re the first person to ask that specifically. Actually yes they are, they feature in a couple of places, but it’s very hard to pick out the actual pieces. It’s all very fragmented, and I know my mother won’t recognise her own choir, but they are there.

Would you like to go on and write something specifically for a choir or organ off the back of this now?

That’s a good question… The short answer would be no. Neither am I a very capable composer in the traditional sense, nor do I think that I could contribute anything to that sort of music. I add that extra dimension of cutting things up and make it sound artificial and yet somehow real. It’s just not my purpose in life, composing choir music or anything like that, but it is somehow appealing as well. One cool thing about both the organ and the choir is the sheer power they have, you’re just standing there either conducting a choir or playing the organ, they are very attractive but I’m hopelessly lost as I’m not classically trained; I just couldn’t do it.

There is also the iPad app that has been developed in conjunction with the album, so where did the idea for that come from?

Ever since my first album Soulhack in 2003 I’ve wanted to do something more than just music. As far back as ’96 I remember the old NinjaTune website where they were already experimenting with some cool stuff, it was all very rough and wasn’t actually that great in the end, but the embryo was there to do that kind of thing where it’s not just a record anymore – it’s a unified audio visual piece. And that’s something I’ve had the inspiration to do for a really long time. A while after when the iPad came out, once I’d had a chance to try it out and see that it was getting serious traction, I realised that this is a format that takes it to a new level because the it is a more personal, intuitive internet device, so it is very different from sitting in front of a laptop with a web browser; that was the main inspiration to do this on the iPad, and if that hadn’t of existed we probably would have done something in a web browser, which is an inferior format if you are trying to do something really immersive.

What do you hope people will take away from both the app and the combination of the two?

If they are anything like me, I think they will enjoy the music and they will enjoy some of those references in the music. And if they love that sort of high tech art, pushing the envelope type stuff, then I think they will enjoy the app as well. The whole concept is very simple and straightforward, it’s just taking that whole world and the old mysterious tradition that we have but very few people can relate to and repackaging it up into something new that at least if not everyone, more people can relate to.

A number of bands of late have been coming up with innovative and unique additions to albums such as you have with Ecclesia, do you think in the currently shifting music world that it will become the norm to do something extra?

I think it still has a way to go to becoming the norm, but I think there is a bit of a vacuum. This is kind of a clichéd thing to say, but there is a space in that we are only passing digital files around these days and it is very…fluffy and it gets a bit lost out there, and with something like this, something more tangible, you can actually open up a window to another world and have a more physical connection to that whole experience. I think that there is already quite a long history of artists and musicians working together; and when they put it out wanting it to be more than just the music, more of a holistic thing, and I think this is just a very logical continuation of that tradition. We’ll see a lot of experimentation over the next few years, especially on the iPad as it is a very good format for experiencing these kinds of things, but I’m not sure it will become the dominant way of doing albums.

The app seems to be an extension of the artwork, an immersive experience for the listen, akin to the lavish gatefold sleeves of the 70s.

We have that ambition; we see the implementation of Ecclesia as an instillation too, we have commissioned specially made projections and we have an interface so listeners can control the world. The idea is that the instillation will be placed in different art galleries and at some of the arts festivals throughout the year, and that is going to be the physical incarnation of the album. We did one opening performance in Berlin, but we realised afterwards that’s not really how we want to continue, it’s more like an instillation that should be in a room, a really nice immersive experience.

Has there been a deliberate focus on the dichotomy within the album, the playing of opposites?

Yes, very much so. I like the contrasting of the old and the new, the very modern production techniques that I’m using combined with the almost impossible sound fragments that are very hard to work with, and especially in that sort of context it’s very hard to make it work on a sonic level. That was very challenging, and I like that contrast of the old and new. With the artwork it’s the same thing, with the ancient connotations and old symbolic language but then brought into this very futuristic 3D world. I really like that play with contrast.

Obviously you are better known as the CTO of SoundCloud, so has the development of that as a music platform influenced and altered you as a musician?

Fundamentally, not so much, but everything has got so much better and so much more efficient from ten years ago. Back in about 2000 I sold my hardware studio and bought a laptop, everyone was questioning what I was going to do with that as there were no powerful tools back then. I ended up using the first software sampler for the Mac to do Soulhack, I remember very clearly how difficult it was and how long it took and how cumbersome it was. You also couldn’t really share anything back then, it was very primitive; if you wanted to play something you got everyone together and you sat down and hooked your laptop up to some rig. But these days you spend so much less time getting everything done, and I use fewer tools now. I use SoundCloud to share half-finished pieces with friends privately, it’s nice to have that dialogue with a few people that I trust about the music. My music is of course different from ten years ago, my influences are different, like the London and Berlin underground scenes that I’ve discovered through SoundCloud and the people I follow, I don’t know if it would be different if I didn’t have that. The tool is perfect for what I’m doing as an artist, whether it’s sharing secret promo downloads or posting tracks to Facebook; it’s amazing to be a part of that technology revolution.

Ecclesia will be available through SoundCloud on June 12th.

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