Published on October 8th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The story behind Radiomagnetic, the new album by Norwegian duo Frost, is so fascinating that it seems a shame – not to mention rather difficult – to attempt to paraphrase it. As such, here is a shameless copy/paste job from the press release which we urge you to read before engaging with this simultaneously haunting and haunted LP of lush, nocturnal electronica-pop…
In 1999, the Russian settlement of ????????, or “The Pyramid”, as it would be called by the Norwegian administrative authorities, suddenly turned into a ghost town almost overnight. Where around 1000 people (mostly Russian miners) had lived and worked since the settlement was sold to the Soviet Union by Sweden back in 1927, there was now a complete silence.
The dry climate of the Spitsbergen arctic desert has since preserved facilities such as The Pyramid’s own school, swimming pool, football ground and hospital remarkably well. You can even find toys on the floor of the nursery that the kids had to leave behind in the midst of play, as the Russian authorities ordered an immediate evacuation of the place.
In the years that followed, some strange radio signals started to appear across the shortwave AM band in the populated areas within the Arctic Circle. In these transmissions, wonderful pop music could be heard beneath the static. Between songs, a deep and melancholic male voice announced the music in Russian.
Nobody knew where these signals were coming from, until a Russian radio amateur recorded the signals, and traced them back to the exact coordinates of the now unpopulated Pyramid.
In 2008, after re-locating to their native Tromsø to “monitor the melting of the ice-cap”, Per and Aggie received an envelope covered with Russian stamps.
Inside was an old C60 cassette tape labeled ????? ????????? (“Radio Magnetic” in Russian), and a letter from the analogue-loving radio enthusiast, stating that he had seen Frost perform their soundtrack to the Russian silent movie “Mother” in Arkhangelsk some years earlier, and that he thought this recording might be of interest.
Per and Aggie immediately unpacked their old cassette tape deck, put the tape on, and discovered the beautiful music it contained – the music of a ghost radio filtered through static and time, like faint echoes from a recently lost civilization.
The whole phenomenon was the most haunting experience, and this tape has been the main inspiration during the writing and recording of the new album – taking a look at alternative, electronic pop through a 2012 lens.
On 1st September, Frost performed in one of the empty buildings in the abandoned ghost-town of Pyramiden, “filling it with music and projected photographs from when this Russian mining settlement was vibrant and alive”; suffice it say their gig at London’s Queen of Hoxton venue on Wednesday 24th October should be a somewhat less otherworldly affair, but one worth checking out nonetheless.
Intrigued? Rocksucker certainly was, so we fired some questions over to Frost duo Aggie Peterson and Per Martinsen in the hope of finding out a little bit more about the project, not to mention the myriad other points of fascination hinted at on what must be this year’s most tantalising press release…
Are you able to explain how – or which elements of – the old Russian radio transmissions infused themselves into the sound of Radiomagnetic?
P&A: The radio transmissions mainly helped us get a distance to our own music – inspiring us to take a step back and observe our music from a different perspective. You can easily get ‘blind’ when in the process of creating your own music. It’s easier to view something in hindsight, especially when a piece has a time-stamp of a given period, coloured by the technology and references available at the time of making. When writing and producing our album we tried to construct such a filter through which we listened to what we were doing in real time. An imaginary ‘time-distortion’ plugin for our computer, if you like.
Do you know if these transmissions are available to hear online anywhere?
P&A: We might post a recording on our SoundCloud page soon. Keep an eye on http://soundcloud.com/frostnorway
How did your recent performance at Spitsbergen go?
P&A: It was a very special concert for us. Just entering the empty, dusty buildings, containing all this stuff just left behind in a hurry was an experience in itself. We were standing backstage at the old theatre looking at old props and instruments, in the coldness of 14 years of Arctic desolation, watching the room filling up with people once again. Lights switched on, imagery projected on stage, and then – really loud sound.
It felt like doing a leap in time, bringing our music back to another decade, to a place with no phone-coverage, no internet, in historic buildlings and social structures of an empire that no longer exists.
Being in Pyramiden is like being somewhere everything has been put “on hold”, where everything has gone Thundra in an instant. And it’s very quiet. Very empty. Like outer space – on Earth!
Have you given any thought yet to your next album, or any other projects you might have on the horizon?
P&A: First of all we’re going to tour with the new album. We’re in the process of booking shows now. Also Per has a new Mental Overdrive album coming up soon, and Aggie is putting on a new stage performance with her Femme Digitale alter ego in December.
Can you elaborate upon the following other projects mentioned in your press release?
*Staging art shows for babies (Aggie)
Aggie: ‘Babylounge’ is installation art for babies. It’s a room for 0-18 months babies/toddlers, where they can explore a magical world filled with sounds, lights, and special objects. There are shimmering mirror-ball dewdrops hanging from the ceiling, big, soft mushrooms to climb, puddles made by mirror and changing textures of the floor. The lounge is also filled with sound, because, when I became a mother myself, I was noticing how all grown-ups change their voice when they speak to a baby. I wanted to see if there was a sort of universal and “instinctive” language between mother and child.
I started to collect voices from mothers from different places in the world and with different backgrounds, and the tone of voice, the softness and the warmness – seems to be quite the same, no matter what language you speak. The sounds that are filling the Babylounge are recordings of these women humming, singing and talking to their babies. For me, these sounds symbolise the power of love through human voice, creating a protecting and peaceful “army of mothers”.
*Writing dystopian ‘transmedia’ novels (Per)
Per: Earthbound – Surfing the Apocalypse is a dystopian sci-fi novel, a series of music releases and art shows, plus a multitude of fictitious online sites and characters. You can buy the soundtrack including an e-book version of the novel here http://loveod.bandcamp.com and read more about the project here http://www.earthbound-surfingtheapocalypse.com
*Composing scores for silent movies (both)
Per: In 2009 we were commissioned to write a new original score for the silent movie Mother from 1929 by Vsevolod Pudovkin in collaboration with Russian electronic artist and composer Sergey Suokas. The soundtrack will soon be released digitally through the Love OD Webstore, and a DVD is also available there.
*Building sub-bass driven laser installations (Per)
Per: You can see pictures of the installation ‘Elsewhere’, which is one of the pieces connected to the Earthbound – Surfing the Apocalypse project on display in the gallery Kunstverein Kölnberg in Cologne this summer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tiedrevolverman/sets/72157630317136942
*Putting up stage performances with strange, blonde alter-egos (Aggie)
Aggie: Femme Digitale is my alter ego — a somehow disturbed and lonely woman, who longs to be some sort of diva. She has locked herself in an apartment, and she lives her life isolated talking to her self and communicating through music and internet. I’m working on a stage play with her this December.
*Starring in various movie shorts (Aggie)
Aggie: I was working for NRK (Norwegian equivalent of BBC) for some years as an actor in a series of shorts. I’ve also been doing some theater, performances and other small film projects. It’s merely a hobby, something for me to explore “on the side” – but very interesting to do, for me as a singer.
Per: We’ve been living in and part of the Oslo music scene for a long time, but recently moved back to our Arctic hometown of Tromsø. You should all check out some of the new local talent, like Boska and Le Petit Garcon, who have both remixed Frost.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, with just the entire back catalogues of five different musical artists for company, whose would you choose?
The Residents (in order to keep sane)
Derrick May (in order to remember how to bounce)
Depeche Mode (so I have something to hum along to)
Kraftwerk (just because)
Mental Overdrive (to make sure sombody does)
The Future Sound of London
Frost, thank you.
Radiomagnetic is out now on FrostWorld Recordings. For more information, please visit frostnorway.com