It starts in Venice with the Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement award. Then on October 30th Brian Eno will return to the stage in London at the Southbank Centre – having only appeared live a handful of times throughout his career. Performing his 2016 album “The Ship” plus “Classic compositions and other works”. Alongside longer-term collaborators like Leo Abrahams and Melanie Pappenheim. To help him realise this vision he will be accompanied by the Baltic Sea Philharmonic who are led by the force that is Kristjan Jarvi. We catch up with Kristjan ahead of the shows and talk place, philosophy and Brian.
“This may not be the conversation you wanted with me, but it is important for you to know.”
My Zoom connection is initially faulty and as Kristjan appears I can only hear every second word. The interview almost feels like it might be over before it has begun. Kristjan remains warmly patient, and we begin without any further interruption. Transmitting a calm belief that echoes his approach to music. It is surreal as he looks just like how he appears in the documentary “Nordic Pulse”.
Having lived with “The Ship” a while from my side. The piece seems to take on a new form depending on where you are and what mood you are in. It is amorphous. Its notes initially hang heavy. A journey through mist. With destination unknown. Moving at a pace you can’t control. Radio signals and blips fade in and out – extraneous. A vocoder in a trance like state chants intermittently. It moves into tumult with “Fickle Sun”. The work depends on what you bring to it each time which is why Kristjan’s description of it is fitting:
“Ships is a philosophy.
The whole concept of Ships is going to be a journey of emotional self-discovery and experimental freedom.”
Kristjan is so clear in relaying his thinking, that as he continues, I joke that he is answering all my questions without me even having to ask them.
It sounds like it was an energetic pull that brought Brian and Kristjan together. Kristjan hails from Estonia which has a special link to the album too as certain parts could almost reference the country’s very founding:
“Choirs like bells, like a national truce and the new sun.”
From “Fickle Sun: The hour is thin”. Is a solemn pean, narrated by Peter Serafinowicz, that feels like it could mark the beginning or end of a war. Calling a nation together. It feels like its perfectly aligned with the story of of how modern Estonia came to be. Kristjan notes that Brian holds great interest in a nation that “Sang itself into existence”. Referencing the “Singing Revolution” a 4-year revolution that began in the late Eighties when different Estonian tribes gathered at the Tartu pop festival which culminated in Estonian independence.
The spirit of that coming together from the “Singing Revolution” feels like it carries over into the very foundation of the Baltic-sea Philharmonic which Kristjan formed with musicians from all Nordic countries. It is renowned for eschewing sheet music in favour of committing a piece to memory. This makes them a truly unique proposition according to Kristjan:
“There is not an orchestra in the world who is not dependant on written music”.
Each member plays off each other rather than staring at the paper in front of them. Kristjan compares the sheet music to the GPS of a car. It is the head over the heart. In the documentary that tracks the orchestras formation, “Nordic Pulse”, the band are tasked with the superhuman feat of learning Stravinsky’s “Firebird” off by heart. For Ships, he believes that this approach will engender such a unique quality that no two shows will be the same. He has sold me on this so much that I intend to catch the 6:30pm show and then the 9pm show when they come to London:
“This is not going to just be a little bit different. It will be here and now. This is what we are feeling. This is what we are.”
This feels very true to Brian’s philosophy where the thrill for him lies in the unexpected and is something he has fostered throughout his career. His “Oblique Strategies” being one such emblem. Cards that encourage a different way of looking at something to get the artist somewhere new.
“Heart and mind need to be in sync. You need your mind, but don’t let the secretary become the master”.
Kristjan jokes good naturedly, but there is also a serious resolution about the need for us to balance our brains with the heart:
“Heart and balance in unanimity creates optimal self”.
You see his devotion to this ideal from how he coaches belief into his orchestra. He notes now
that when they join him it still takes two days for them to shake off the constraints of the “current world” and to start to “believe” again every time they meet up.
“If you want to go to the realm of trust. One millionth of a percent of doubt is doubt in its full capacity. Doubt is black and white.”
He likens it to the Leap of Faith scene in Indiana Jones where steps onto a bridge he can’t see and has to believe its there. This ability is something that Kristjan shares with Brian:
“Brian is the epitome of an aesthetic style that emanates from trust.
Trust of the people around you. Trust of the whole thing we call life actually and being able to let go.”
Kristjan remarks that the orchestra have quickly become “Brian’s band”. He passionately argues that Orchestras have become constrained by the glass ceiling of tradition and that their main goal is simply their own survival and to justify their very existence. They have not changed for 100 years:
“They maintain the past for the sake of maintaining the past.”
For the great composers though an orchestra was not this. They were more like their bands and the relationship was more collaborative. Kristjan argues that they would have been dismayed at the rigidity of the modern-day orchestra. That the most inspiring were always futurists: “Wagner would be the first one in Berghain – reimagining the whole thing. Let’s take their trailblazing ways and take music into the future.”
This is why he has such admiration for what Max Richter has done with Vivaldi:
“That’s what we’re bringing to Brian, is we’re taking his music and interpreting it anew, which is very hard to replicate.”
He notes with excitement though that they will be getting to share the stage with the original creator. You can see Kristjan come alive when he discusses things that break the mould.
Particularly new music. I recommend Nicolas Jaar and some other artists that I hold dear, and he eagerly notes them for later. He regards this as crucial to life – noting how it extends to his 86-year-old father:
“I could play him some Death Metal and he’d be like – cool”.
All it requires is an open heart.
This openness is evident from his pop production work with Kerli on “21st Century Kids” to productions like “Midnight Sun” where they defy categorisation. It was the driving force of his start point with “Absolute Ensemble” too and their refusal to be labelled.
According to Kristjan, the best music comes from writing and collaborating “without an agenda”. It should always be about what you can give rather than what you can get.
“You created a field of oneness. It doesn’t come from people who think about what they can get. It comes from people who band together to create a unified understanding of beauty. Everybody now can give which I think is beautiful.”
He believes that its important that this transcends the Orchestra themselves and extends to the audience too:
“The whole essence of this tour is to create this oneness in everybody. The audience is not just a participant but the co-creator of a moment that defines all of us.”
What he hopes it will achieve is a moment that is capable of being extended to a “Lifestyle”.
“Dynamic peace. We are desperately lacking oneness to reflect. If you have a noble silence at the centre of your being. The noble silence which is actually you.”
This is why he values composers like Arvo Part but also David Lynch. As this idea lies at the centre of their work. Brian is the same. A “Channeler”:
“Brian see’s everything as happening inside of one person.
This is another core tenet of Kristjan’s philosophy. It is not only the coming together of people but the stoic notion that change in the world has to begin with yourself:
“If there is a war going on inside you. Just stop it. Its not THERE, its HERE”
This touched upon our constant search for happiness outside of ourselves. The idea of a whole universe within each person that can extend to a shared consciousness:
“We are the smallest fractal but we contain everything”.
To him, our advancement depends on recognising this and as he says turning the moments into a lifestyle and recognising the energetic importance of feelings as the smallest unit of life itself: “We need to redefine things as feelings.
The main job of an artist which Brian and I are super aligned on is to create feelings. Amplify those feelings. Amorph them. Then change them again.”
Kristjan links AI to the ingenuity of the great composers by highlighting that it offers a future where we do not need to learn so slowly and painfully. It will not be bound by the insecurities of humankind. When we fear It and remark upon its consciousness it is only because we invest it with those qualities when we interact with it. He marvels at the work of Damien Riehl who recently developed software with Noah Rubin to generate 300,000 melodies a second. Creating a catalogue of 8 note melodies numbering 68 billion. Theoretically all the melodies it’s mathematically possible to create and put them into the public domain: “He’s given the right for everybody to be free. Thank you.”
“AI as a tool can be transformative – but we have to realise it’s a tool.”
Hence his contribution to “Estoniia Muse” (Spelled with two I’s as he points out). An immersive AI system that guides users to a digital Nordic Forest that then prompts questions to personalise the experience and help the user explore and harness their individual creativity. “We are going to a different dimension – an internal one.”
Rather than replace or even merge with humanity though he wants it to bring out the best in humanity.
Kristjan currently calls Estonia home and jokes that it was a girl who led him there – his wife. He feels very strongly about the feeling his homeland gives him:
“I want to re-create Estonia, not as a place you see on a map but within your heart. Redefine things as feelings. Estonia is totally feeling. When I came back to Estonia, I discovered that simplicity of self is rooted in the understanding that everybody who is conscious is actually the consciousness of nature. It’s all beautiful. Nature just creates all the time in a very persistent way. It’s a constant process of transformation. There is no such thing as life and death. That is only our human perception of it.”
What emerges with Kristjan is joy in all life, that he sees in nature, because it is almost the purest form of creativity.
“If we can see the beauty and the ingeniousness of every single moment of nature and its consciousness, almost from an objective third person where you’re looking at the whole universe and you realise…wow, this is absolutely magnificent.”
He lights up just as much as he describes the gratitude that he has for being able to work with people who elevate, trust and resonate beauty:
“Thanks to Brian and people of understanding, we believe ourselves again. This project is a constant evolution of self-discovery.”
The clue to the entire piece seems to lie in the concluding track. Which has a tear inducing feel of liberation and joy as it swells and ascends. Where the journey has culminated in transcendence. A cover of the Velvet Underground – “I’m Set free – to find my own illusion”: “Why are we doing a cover? It is everybody’s tune. It’s is an anthem”
This is the joy that Kristjan and Brian create. It does not need to be “theirs”. They point to new paths beyond our obsession with our own selves. Liberation through sharing. All are capable of being “Co-Creators”.