Interview with Alexander Rishaug 

Can you describe the process of creating the commissioned work ‘Ground Listening’ that you performed in Riga and Tromsø as part of the LYRA project, and recently in Oslo?


I was invited by Insomnia Festival to do a series of workshops starting in Tromsø in April and later in Riga and Daugavpils in May. The idea behind the workshops was to guide young people in working with audio recording equipment and to raise awareness of the various sounds and soundscapes around us. After we gathered the material, we dived into reworking and processing it using Ableton Live software. The goal was to create a composition right there in the workshop, so we had to work within a relatively short time frame. To my surprise, the teenagers displayed some serious skills and took it all in their stride, making the process a success despite the time constraints.


The original plan was to involve the teenagers in presenting the final work. While the presentation format was open from the start, I settled on a performance, and teamed up with video artist Ingrid Bjørnaali. Since I was using sounds from different landscapes, bringing in an artist who works with landscapes felt like a good fit. It would have been great to have her on board already during the workshops. Even though she came in a little later in the process, we had good communication along the way and she even filmed some new material after we met and adjusted it to my sounds.


As I began working with the material in the studio, I discovered its inherent richness and potential, resulting in six complete compositions. Although there’s room for improvisation within these tracks, each stands as a distinct composition.


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Can you tell me a bit more about how you integrated the workshop recordings into the final compositions?


The initial idea was to remix the students’ material alongside mine. However, I found it a bit tricky to weave their recordings into the mix. For me, the creative process starts already when I record, and I realized that, for me, it wasn’t so much about using their material but more about leveraging the LYRA setting as a mental springboard. It was less about the concrete material of the students and more about embracing the workshop experience. One composition even features a pop song, not to pander to the teenagers’ tastes but to add a bit of humor and playfulness. In a way, I aimed to shift my mindset and channel my inner teenager.


Did you do the same workshop program in all three places?


The workshop program stayed consistent across all three locations, although I tweaked things a bit based on the participants. The teenagers in Riga were a bit older and more independent, with many having hands-on experience in electronic music production, which meant that we could spend more time on music creation rather than the technical aspects. In Daugavpils, it was only a one day workshop, so I was wondering how we were going to do everything in just one day, but it went surprisingly well. Interesting to note that there were mostly female participants and their grasp of technical editing skills was quite impressive.

Do you think participants approach the workshop differently based on their gender? Did you notice any cultural differences?


No, not really. When I was growing up, there used to be more boys doing electronic music, but things have changed quite a bit. However, outside of institutions, I still often find myself teaching more boys than girls. 


Cultural differences also play a role. When I was teaching in Norway, I felt a bit more like a cultural youth worker, something I used to do in the early 2000s, working with teenagers in Mortensrud in Oslo. In Riga, my workshop was called a masterclass and I felt that my knowledge and experience were acknowledged in a different way. I feel that in Norway, when you are a cultural worker, your knowledge doesn’t have the same status as in other professions, it is often seen as more of a hobby, but in Latvia I felt a deeper respect for this kind of skills and this recognition added an interesting layer to the experience.


How much improvisation was in your performance? 


Certain elements were fixed, like the length of the show and visuals being synced with specific sequences. The intensity of the performance varied based on adjustments to time, volume, and other factors. Sometimes, when I perform, I do movements. It can be jumping off the stage or laying down or doing other things, just to play with the atmosphere and the energy in the space. And sometimes I don’t do it. It’s a part where I improvise as I don’t plan it. It just happens! On a personal level, I like to dance and as a former skateboarder, I used to jump around a lot and do strange figures with my body, so I still find it very fun. 


What made the biggest impression on you in this whole process?


It is always rewarding to teach students to listen in new ways, for example introducing vibration or resonance within an object. They always get really excited by the creative possibilities of using small microphones, like placing them in a glass or inside a pipe to create truly unique sounds with very simple tools. I find it very inspiring to be able to explore the world of sound through their enthusiasm. It’s quite amazing to see that their very first electroacoustic compositions already showcase such richness, variation, and depth. It proves that anyone can make music, when they are given the right framework. In my workshops, there is no right or wrong, which helps the teenagers relax and let their creativity guide the process. 


Also for me as an artist it was beneficial, as it allowed me to break free from the structured approach I’ve adopted in recent years, while doing my PhD in artistic research. Working with field recordings within the LYRA project brought back the freedom of composition, adding more of a musical dimension to my role as a researcher.

LYRA receives grants in the amount of EUR 206,256.00 within the framework of the EEA Grants and Norway Grants funded by Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway.

Total LYRA eligible costs: EUR 202,510.00, European Economic Area financial instrument programme Local Development, Poverty Reduction and Culture Cooperation support sum: 85% or EUR 85,000.00, of which:
European Economic Area financial instrument co-financing: 85% or EUR 175,317.60;
State Budget co-financing: 15% or EUR 30,938.40.