INTERVIEW: Bard Titlestad

Chain Border

It is my privilege to be speaking with Norwegian prodigy, Bard Titlestad. Formerly operating under the nom de plume Oberon(*), Bard has resurfaced under his own name and created an exquisite opus entitled Future Whirl(**).

Bard, I think to set the tone for the readers, I would like to quote you from your website biography: "The composer is a part of a continuing cycle of creative regeneration, through which he, along with his audience, becomes an active participant in the great cycle of life." I'd say this conveys your transition from Oberon to Bard Titlestad and Future Whirl...

Yes, it applies to everything I do. Even unconsciously. The beautiful thing is to become aware of it. When you're a child you're too young to have established a clear conception of what's supposed to be real and what isn't, so you just don't have the reference material to conceive of normality. So everything is unusual and marvellous. And this is the perfect starting point for any journey of self discovery. When you are able to go back to that state of acceptance which is quite natural to a child, but equipped with reason and a certain degree of wisdom, then we will be able to see more, and to give more to those around us.

The memory of childhood is the reminder to us in our adult world that we are not merely robots in a mechanical world, but ever-evolving creatures of great depth and beauty. We are capable of giving without emptying ourselves. That's what it's all about. To create. To exchange and interact with one another. To learn and teach. That, for me, is what releasing music or playing concerts should be all about. This is what makes my life and my work interesting. It doesn't stop when the record comes out. Life is a series of fresh starts and new beginnings. We just have to see that we pursue our creativity and then let it take us wherever it's heading.

Where do you see yourself now in comparison to where you were when you recorded Anthem, Mysteries and Big Brother as Oberon?

Not much has happened. I think I've found a pretty nice balance between my life in general and my creative work. Recording my music and putting it out is certainly a bonus that comes on top of everything else. It adds that extra spice to life. That's all I ever want to do, to study, and create. There's a million other things in between, but they can easily be summarised as those two activities which form the essence of our being.

I'd like to use another quote from a previous interview: "When you improvise, you meditate." There is some sound self-help advice in that! I'd take it, for you, music is the all-great healer?

Now I am not by any means a master of meditation, but when you play music your mind can be perfectly blank or clear, all feeling, or in ecstasy, depending on how you look at it. To become the work: It's the perfect spiritual or poetic experience. I mean, what on earth can be more fulfilling for a creative being than actually becoming the work itself? Not the musician or the music alone as separate things, but the unification of the creator with what's being created. It's the ancient principle of the adept uniting with the original source of all things, the drop that falls into the ocean, or the individual consciousness losing itself to the blissful state of the one cosmic mind... It's all the same. This sounds very grandiose, which both is and isn't my intention. I could say, yeah, it's an enrichening experience that makes you feel good, and that's all that matters.

Do you consider your music ambient or even New Age?

Bard TitlestadNo. I'm just me. It's for others to give me a name or a label that will perhaps make it easier for them to relate to what I'm doing. What would you call it?

I had a hard time classifying Future Whirl, and I mean that in a complimentary sense. Earthly resonance came to mind, if someone dared create such a category. If I could quote my review, that would sum it up: "rolling tempos and swaying crescendos displaying a mastered cache of restrained New Age, not in any fashion like Yanni, perhaps more akin to Peter Murphy without the latter's baritones."

You've obviously done some extensive travelling and study abroad to hone the homogenized sound you've produced on Future Whirl, as well as your previous Oberon projects...

I don't think Future Whirl came about so much as a result of travelling as of continuous personal studies combined with living very very close to nature. During that year however, I made some trips here and there, both in Norway and abroad. And everything, everyone I encountered had something to contribute to my personal "quest" if you will. When I started writing Future Whirl I had already done a lot of songs for an album I had intended to put out. But then I had written Question, I think, and Trond (Arild Tjøstheim) told me that I should do more songs like that. Simple and catchy songs. And then the ball just started rolling. Obviously as I kept working the songs became more complex again, but I feel I managed to keep that bright, colourful atmosphere throughout. I think one of the reasons why I am so happy with Future Whirl is that it's not merely my 'musical project.' It encompasses my whole life. I am not Bard the private person one moment, and then Bard the musician the next. Essentially we are all travellers on the great mysterious road of life, where we're all like sculptors, moulding our 'selves,' perfecting the angles and the forms, until we become what we're destined to be. Future Whirl is the child born out of that time of personal exploration and discovery.

Some things come back to me now. Like during a trip to England, some friends and I were driving through an area covered with green fields, scattered forests and the sun was shining out of a blue sky. We were having a conversation about how the divine manifests itself in nature. Divine I guess is what most human beings strive to achieve - in one form or another. Perfection. Not in a picturesque way, but some sort of harmony within that enables us to bloom and grow while we're here on earth. Dying is such a scary concept to a lot of people and to achieve the realisation of the divine within may be the direct opposite of that. Divinity as a spiritual concept can be seen as a symbol which function is to render the intangible more tangible for those who find it hard to really understand the world, myself included for sure. The problem we see in our world today is that people lose sight of it and forget what the concept of divine nature represents and they cling to the surface of things, hoping for deliverance through ideological doctrines or religion. I am not saying that political movements or religion in itself is necessarily wrong. But it's sad when people fail to see that change can only come from within by means of our own personal effort. So while we wait for our saviour, we will continue deforestation, and as a civilisation, more or less passively watch the destruction of the earth. Surrounded by big cities, under the constant pressure of the media and the market, we've forgotten the divine, magical aspect of nature and what it really means for the healthy survival of the human species. All spiritual systems of consequence that I've seen talks about this interconnectedness between nature and humanity. I mean there's really no separation between the two, other than what the human mind has imposed on itself.

Things like this. Experiences that happen because you're in the right place with the right people. It's all a part of what made Future Whirl what it is. All these ideas are contained somewhere within those songs. I got lots of photographs too. I love taking pictures of places I go, or when I am with my friends discussing things. Because that too is a part of the process. The album is the external manifestation of that particular journey. The pictures, and things like this interview, is a continuation of all the different events that culminated in Future Whirl.

Where is/has been your favorite place of inspiration?

Like I said, the significance of a place has a lot to do with what happened there. There are many such places with special experiences attached to them. Lanzarote is one, with it's mighty Timanfaya National Park. A lot of the cover artwork for Anthem and Future Whirl was from photographs I took at Lanzarote. Tuscany (Italy) is another. There are many places here in Norway, in the mountains or by the sea. I had some wonderful times in England. And now I am about to go to the USA for the first time in my life. I am looking forward to that. For some reason I think it would be great to be able to live with a nomad tribe in the Sahara desert for a while. I don't think that particular dream will come true any time soon, but dreams are nice, even when they remain just that.

To paraphrase a question asked of you before, music itself doesn't necessarily influence your own work...tell me more about that credo, and has it changed since your reformation from Oberon to Future Whirl?

I listen to all kinds of stuff, from Klaus Schulze to Zwan, and I do get inspired by what I listen to. And I've been influenced a lot by several groups and artists. And some CDs and LPs I did play more often than others during the writing of Future Whirl. Like some early Moody Blues albums, Jean Ferrat, and things like that. I always felt that Future Whirl sounded kinda "British" at times. Especially Into The House Of The Sun, which was in a sense inspired by listening to some of John Lennon's albums.

Funny you should bring that up; I heard a distinct (perhaps unintentional) nod to Pink Floyd and David Bowie on Questions.

It's all about adding to one's musical vocabulary, so to speak. I mean, obviously, music is not something we can call our own in the sense that it just came out of nowhere in a rare moment of geniality. We've learned a language, and we learned to use it rather fluently from listening to those who preceded us. Take the martial arts for example.

Fantastic example!

Bruce Lee was an innovator, but he based his new system of martial arts on several other rather traditional styles. But there's more to it than just listening and adapting. There's a certain degree of experience, of inner gravity that determines where you end up as a creative person. What matters to you, what moves you and so on. In order to be a complete human being we have to recognise where we come from, but we also have to recognise that we are not merely the sum of the past and our teachers, but that the degree of our presence and awareness in the present moment is crucial to how we use what we learned and thus interpret and express the world around and within us.

As you do in your music, you seem to integrate the earth into your core philosophies. I'd say yours is a global mission?

Ah well, obviously I don't feel that I am just making music for a certain type of people. And I don't think that I am about just entertaining people. I want people to be inspired to come together to create something of substance and enjoy life. I'm a bit of a Star Trek fan and I must say I like the idea of the United Federation Of Planets, or maybe The Enterprise itself is a better example: Mission: To explore Purpose: To better ourselves.

You do a great deal of emotional bloodletting in your songs...

I don't really analyse my work. I know where it comes from. I think a lot of my bloodletting happens before the songs are written. The songs, the music and the lyrics are what you're left with when you resurface on the other side.

You dedicate an integral part of your craft to your poetic lyrics...where do you turn for that inspiration?

For each release I seem to be spending more and more time on the lyrics. I feel there is something to be shared. I think when a good song also has good lyrics, it takes it all to a whole new level. I think I've already pretty much said where my inspiration comes from. The lyrics come when I feel I have something to say. The format, I guess, is a matter of personal style. I've always been very fascinated by dreams, what goes on in dreams and the impact they leave on our conscious mind. They are very central to my work and I often try to achieve that same feeling in my songs. Anthem is very dream-like and the same goes for the songs I am currently working on. I like that. I like my work to have a sense of otherness to it. Almost like what Harpo Marx has always represented to me. A totally magical creature. A benevolent genie type of character that you see but you can't really know if he's actually real or not. You're never betrayed, because this person is not fallible like most people we meet. Its character is beyond this world that strives for personal and material gain. It's not subjected to the laws that govern the universe of the profiteers. So for myself, what I want to represent is purity, integrity and freedom from imposed reality concepts. I mean, so much is happening around you when you approach the world with an open mind. You'll never run out of something to write about.

Bard TitlestadIn an interview with Engwall Pahr-Iversen, you mentioned you've found it difficult to look at all that you've accomplished thus far and still, quote, "find me." After recording Future Whirl do you still feel this way, and if so, how do you envision finding yourself? I mean, if Future Whirl isn't a deep, soulful expression of self, I don't know what is...

Looking back, it certainly is difficult to find "me." Whatever that thing called "me" or "I" is, it's one of the most adaptive forces in the universe. The self is, I believe, the "thing" that will always express the "soul" or "lifeforce" that exists within us in the present moment. If I think back to when I was 17, a lot of my memories feel like me, but there are a lot of things I would never do now. Or at least do a lot differently. I know it's "me," but if memories were like clothes we could put on and wear for a day or two, I would most certainly leave them in the closet. It would be like going back to a lesser existence. To go back and take on opinions and views and characteristics of a human being that has so far yet to go, so much to learn... It would be insanity. In the same way as they say "two dimensional beings can't conceive of three dimensional space," I guess you can easily turn that around and say that three dimensional beings can't conceive of two dimensional existence.

We expand our horizon all the time. Yesterday I was out on my bike and everything was covered in thick fog that had just come in from the sea. You could only see a few meters ahead of you. And I was thinking that life is much like being born in the middle of this mist, and as you mindfully go along, the fog gradually lifts and reveals the world to you. So you can't really go back. Because what is there to go back to? We simply wouldn't fit into that space and time. We're trapped in our little boat that keeps moving forward through life. We don't know where we are destined to go but it certainly isn't backwards. Life is about being born, growing and then perhaps passing on into something else. So in this process, naturally the past is lost to us. We are not ever there, but here.

If mankind suddenly - and rather miraculously - learned how to peacefully and creatively coexist, and some genius came up with a way in which we could achieve interstellar travel in our lifetime, can you imagine how different everything would be? I mean, today, everybody knows, or at least suspects, that if we were to have a common space program designed to promote the extension of human existence beyond our age, beyond our solar system, that some states would without a doubt place their intelligence agencies within the program in the name of "national interests." We currently live in a time of great distrust between peoples, races and so on. Some people don't trust the politicians, those who do don't trust the opposition. And we don't trust the system, we depend on it. But if everything were to change, if we were to see such radical changes in the whole intellectual and spiritual structure of our society, how would one be able to go back to what we're seeing around us today? Would we be able to identify with ourselves in the early 21st Century?

As far as Future Whirl is concerned, I can't answer as to how I will eventually perceive the lyrics or the music on that album in the future. I do feel that I am working with very universal concepts. The impermanence of things, the importance of keeping a pure heart, love, and the mystery and beauty and of course, the sorrow and longing that surrounds life in this world. Will I ever move beyond that way of perceiving things? Maybe. One never knows. But now at least I have written about these things, I've transmitted a message which I think is very important for everyone, myself included. But I am also doing other things now which, I guess, would complement or maybe even take the ideas of Future Whirl a step further.

Let's turn the focus to Future Whirl. I understand the album was a year-long project? Tell me about the process.

Future Whirl is the most intriguing and fulfilling project I've ever been involved in. It wasn't just writing the music, but actually living life itself in that period. I was discovering people like Alan Watts, Managerial Govinda, Joseph Campbell... people whose insight and wisdom was so colourful, so rich in its content and reach. I'd spend hours and hours outside in nature watching how the world would go from spring to winter and back again. All of this became Future Whirl. That's also one of the reasons why I decided to let go of the name Oberon. All had changed. I couldn't go on under a name that represented the past. It had to be something which couldn't be confined to a thing or a place or whatever. Total freedom.

Let's turn the focus to Future Whirl. I understand the album was a year-long project? Tell me about the process.

Future Whirl is the most intriguing and fulfilling project I've ever been involved in. It wasn't just writing the music, but actually living life itself in that period. I was discovering people like Alan Watts, Managerial Govinda, Joseph Campbell... people whose insight and wisdom was so colourful, so rich in its content and reach. I'd spend hours and hours outside in nature watching how the world would go from spring to winter and back again. All of this became Future Whirl. That's also one of the reasons why I decided to let go of the name Oberon. All had changed. I couldn't go on under a name that represented the past. It had to be something which couldn't be confined to a thing or a place or whatever. Total freedom.

A theme on Future Whirl is "the future is never a given thing." Very zen-like! Would you care to elaborate, and how did you apply it to this album?

The future never is a given thing. A few days ago I was talking to a very very good friend of mine about the nature of destiny, which is quite an interesting concept. I think the only way to predict a possible future scenario is by looking at the characteristics of a person or a thing's nature. A person's nature will probably be decisive in dictating the choices and actions this person will make in his or her life, and thus indicative of the consequences this would have. But it is only on rare occasions that we get so close to someone as to seeing their true nature. But I mean, by looking at our own nature, we might get an idea of what lies ahead for us. So we might actually have a chance of influencing our destiny to a certain degree, by letting go of ego, and not being afraid of change.

Beyond that, the future is a totally abstract concept. I don't feel anything in particular about it. You sort of sense that you have time in front of you, and the older and more aware you get, the more you realise that the abstract aspects don't apply to the movement of time, which is very real and scary sometimes. I just happened to really look at a friend's face and I realised, gosh the little boy I always hung out with has become a grown man now. How uncanny.

I talk about it in Dune Song, in Never Be The Same Again... most of the songs talk about it. But all my songs stress that instead of feeling that we're in the middle of an existential crisis once the awareness of impermanence dawns on us, we should look at the beauty of life, and let the inevitable remain just so; inevitable to the degree that it becomes unimportant. Unimportant in the sense that it will have no limiting consequences for our experience of life. If you love someone, love them completely, if you feel rich doing something, work on your mind so that these feelings can remain and become a guiding light for you at the crossroads we're all bound to come across again and again in the future. Let's not get desaturated, so to speak. Let's live in technicolor. Let's live completely! I'm not saying I am. But this is where we should be heading, in my opinion.

Zen is a very rewarding thing to study, but we should be aware that we all should find our own truth, arising from the circumstances in which we're born and live our lives. I mean, we should, as far as we can, study all religions, and cultures, because behind all the differences there will be things that are uniquely human, which are the things that usually point towards some sort of truth. Appearances and symbols are just that. They are representations of underlying truth. So let's learn about the symbol, but let us not remain there, at the surface.

I sense the kanji lettering on Future Whirl has an earthbound meaning to it. What is the translation?

Its direct translation is bamboo shadow on bamboo, which implies layers of hidden meaning, as well as a sense of existential longing. It was made for me by a Japanese Kanji master named Yayoi Doho. If I was to choose the same type of name-strategy as Prince, that would be my Symbol.

You recently completed your first true live gig in Goes, Holland. How was that experience?

It was a private happening, so I felt pretty secure. I felt I was playing to people who already knew what I was about. Afterwards I was shaking like a leaf though... very strange. I felt naked and lost. But it was a very electrical feeling during the actual performance, and people liked it a lot. It seems like the live experience differs from the studio experience, in that live you just release yourself to the music. You can't go back and do another take. You're not an artist stepping back to take an admiring look at his work, you are the work itself, unravelling in front of an audience. It's beautiful and scary at the same time. But I'd do it again. I was thinking of maybe making recordings of it available through my website at some point.

Please do! Tell me more about the impromptu performance at the Dutch train station en route to your Goes gig? What was in your mind, just a "hey, what the hell, let's go for it" mentality? That had to be very satisfying.

Hehehe, I suppose it just went to show our limited experience with "off the roads" travel as well as my lack of understanding of the mechanics of the Dutch language. We happened to get on the wrong train twice, which had us ending up at some end station somewhere. So we took out the guitar and played some of my songs, as well as While My Guitar Gently Weeps by George Harrison, which is just one of the most beautiful songs I've heard. The other passengers that were present didn't look convinced. But for me it was a good feeling. A train ride expected to last for about 2 hours ended up as 5 hours of criss-crossing across Holland!

Ha! That's classic… Tell me, if Bard Titlestad simply wants to kick back and listen to someone else's music for relaxation purposes, who would it be?

Bard TitlestadKlaus Schulze's Trancefer and Time Wind albums, ISHQ's Timeplapse in Mercury, Richard Clayerman's first three albums, Francis Lai's Le Passager de la pluie soundtrack, the whole Scott Walker catalogue and Jean Ferrat's albums from the 60s and 70s. Especially his Aragorn masterpiece.

I see you've got your hands in a couple of side projects, contributing to Bright Paper Werewolves and Eridu Arcane, which features Trond Arild Tjostheim, who plays lead on Lotus on Future Whirl.

I appeared on those recordings first and foremost as a session musician / arranger. Bright Paper are very close to Trond, so that's how I met them. Trond had actually planned to do Lotus as an Eridu Arcane song. He had written the lead guitar, and I came up with the steel string part as we were rehearsing for his project. I liked the song a lot and began working on it, and eventually it ended up on Future Whirl. I think the song will also be recorded for the next Eridu Arcane album, but without my lyrics, arrangements and the extra guitar parts I recorded. Will be really interesting!

What does the "future" hold for you, Bard?

Well, we never really know, do we? I hope it will include lots of good friends (even from Legends Magazine?) from all over the world coming together in the spirit of discovery and humanity to talk, discuss, laugh, muse and reflect. We are only here for a limited amount of time. Let's make it a happy time!

I couldn't agree more! Thanks for your time, Bard, this was a true honor.

Likewise, Ray. Thanks a lot.

(*) Oberon's Anthem was reviewed in Legends #115.
(**) Reviewed in this issue.

Legends Online