Borknagar – Øystein G. Brun
Written by Andreas Aubert
The Norwegian band Borknagar can easily be labelled Avantgarde. Whether speaking of the music, the lyrics or the artwork, it can be said that it is not exactly the usual cup of tea. Through it all shines a philosophical approach to life, an existential wonder. I caught up with guitarist and main songwriter/lyricist Øystein G. Brun via email, to discuss philosophy, spirituality, lyrics and the creative process. He was more than willing to explain his approach to life as a travel, and to share about its many facets.
What is your relation to philosophy? Of the works you have read, what has been most significant for you?
I have always had a very philosophical and pondering outlook on life. This has been a source of development for me, both personally and musically. I wouldn’t necessarily say that my thoughts have any roots in the traditional terminologies within philosophy. I have read a good deal of philosophy over the years, but I have primarily had a very eclectic approach, which means that I have never immersed myself very much in more specific literature. I am also a fan of the “free thought”, and I have always been seeking ways of thinking which breaks with what is announced and approved. As an example, this was a great point with the album Empiricism – a title which represented the opposite of everything Borknagar had fronted up to then. At the same time it was probably the most spiritual and metaphor-based album we have done. This is nice, because it creates a lot of questions for eager fans who are wishing to understand the bands expression.
Are you interested in Quantum Physics? Spirituality? Can you say something about a possible connection between the two?
Oh yes! I do not really consider myself spiritual, really, but I believe that the world around me often will look at me and my musical expression as quite spiritually charged. I believe this may be so because I have always lived in a world where there is no distinction between what is often called reality and spirituality. I believe Christianity specifically took part in creating this distinction, it was them who came up with the term spirit in the first place. To be spiritual today one either has be part of a religious community, perform rituals or seek arenas where one is seen as spiritual in a social context. I have never felt drawn towards any of that, as I am convinced that spirituality is part of the individuals’ mental contact with the surrounding world. But there is a tendency that things go terribly wrong when someone starts to define and systematize these things.
Quantum physics is of course a very exciting and huge topic. I believe that quantum physics in many ways represent the west’s connection with what has often been seen as spiritual or “supernatural” throughout history. I am a big fan of the philosophical dimension of the term. Today quantum physics is often used in an attempt to explain what happens in our heads – that the reality we experience is a result of a complex interplay of nervous impulses. These are things I have been pondering about since I was a little boy. I remember we had natural science in school in the 80’s, and a teacher taught about the nervous system – that all the impulses are the same, just with a different frequency etc. After that I have pondered a lot about what music tastes, how a picture sounds etc.
The creative/artistic process: Do you feel that such work in many ways means to come into contact with something bigger than the rational mind and the every day consciousness? Many artists say that they do not know where their works come from, or they feel that it comes from something bigger than themselves. Do you feel this way? Is it perhaps so that art comes from oneself, but from other parts of oneself than one is usually in contact with? Even if something is more intuitive, it does not necessarily follow that it is not part of oneself? Perhaps it is only the intuitive which is truly coming from oneself, as the mind is very programmed?
I have also thought a lot about this throughout the years. What I find so fascinating about music is that it is a form of expression which is, in a sense, nothing. You need a guitar to create a riff, and a stereo to play the music, but the music in itself is not very tangible. Still, in the old Hellas, music was seen as the noblest art form because it had a healing effect. Apollo was the God for medicine and music. I once wrote a bachelor degree about music therapy, a very exciting subject. I was surprised about how much literature and research there is on this subject. In example, many research projects have shown that music actually has influence on our physical bodies, not only mentally – a very interesting dimension in itself.
Personally I believe that when making music, one is using parts of the consciousness which is not in use otherwise. To make music, one needs to have an instrument and one need to be able to play the instrument, but one also needs a mental potential. I think this is something one has to learn to call forth. I am in a very meditative state when I create music. I totally lose the feeling of time and place. The music gets colours, contours and depth. It may sound stupid – but I actually dissolve into my music when I create it.
You mention music therapy. I know that some people have proven "scientifically" that a lot of metal music has a bad effect on the human body and mind. One example is the Japanese Dr. Emoto who has made experiments with water. He would expose water to different kinds of music, and then photograph the water crystals. When the water was exposed to "heavy metal" (Nirvana) the water crystal gave a "disturbing image". I will not go into detail here, but the link http://www.whatthebleep.com/crystals/ can be one reference point for more information. When you were writing your dissertation on music therapy, did you come across information like this? What do you think about it? Does metal music lower our vibrational frequencies, as I have heard from "New Age people"?
What you are diving into here is a huge topic that involves a spectrum of perspectives in order to give a proper answer. First off I have to say that I never came across Dr. Emoto’s ideas while I did the research for my dissertation. In regards to "music therapy" as a profession and philosophy, Dr. Emoto is far from a natural choice when it comes to being a valid source. I have read some reports from serious studies that music has a certain impact on the human body- the vibration that the music creates had an effect on a few types of cells. In one study they found that a female operatic voice within a certain frequency range had an effect on some specific cancer cells, the membrane simply got torn apart by the vibration. Interesting enough, but I think that the main route for music in a healing perspective is via the brain.
I believe that music first and foremost have an impact on the human mind, of course in different individual or social settings and intentions. Of course, depending on some variables, music can have both a positive and negative influence on a human being. We have all heard the stories from Guantanamo where they torture the hostages by playing Metallica on high volume. In this case I don’t think the music itself is the key factor when it comes to the strategy of the torture, but the music
empower feelings and combined with the actual situation, the hostage most likely goes through a personal hell.
I don’t think that metal lower our vibrational frequency, to me that is a far too easy explanation. In my point of view this is a typical "New Age" way of trying to explain certain things in life. I think the picture is a bit more complicated and maybe less mystical (mysterious?), but yet impressive. After doing my dissertation I got an offer to publish a book on this theme (music therapy- and how you can use music in social work), so I could easily have written pages about this topic but I’ll try to leave my message on this short. Music, and certainly metal I would say, has a unique ability to influence and empower feelings in both an constructive and destructive way.
Many people who do not understand metal say that it is chaotic, evil, aggressive, hateful etc. I do not necessarily consider this to be true. There are certainly a lot of bands living up to the stereotypes, but at the same time I consider a lot of metal music to represent very intelligent and high forms of art. Borknagar is one of the bands who in my opinion fit into this category. Some bands are very much concerned with the mundane, primal, worldly. Other bands bring in something "which is not of this world" into their art. I see Dark Tranquillity’s "The Gallery" as a prime example of this. This type of metal, which you represent, seem to contain in it a great spiritual quality, something transcendental. In this respect it has similarities with both certain types of literature and art. Please comment!
Well, I think that music is a complex phenomenon that is composed with very different intentions. Some music are made for dancing, some music have a certain massage, some music provokes, some music is about business, selling records and become rich and so on. And we can easily find stereotypes all the way, within all kinds of music. Speaking for myself, I have always had a very simple yet vague intention with my music. Music I enjoy is music that has the ability to release certain feelings and energy within my mind that physical stimulation are in no range to trigger. At a certain point in life I just realized that I had the urge to make this kind of music myself. So making music was in the very beginning a very self-centred move, so to speak.
With my music I have always tried to express emotions and thoughts that has a very undefined and vague character, the dimension of my mental/spiritual (not religious!) life that only music can project. I have always felt that some music has this ability. For me, Pink Floyd (as an example) is such a band. Their music appeals to me like nothing else in this world and it adds a certain emotional dimension in
my life. That’s something I also would like to achieve with my music, without making too much of a comparison to the referred band…
Concerning the nature of metal: metal is such a diverse phenomena that I will not attempt to bring forth any definition of what it essentially is about. Sometimes I have felt that in essence it is about affirming life, sometimes in very constructive ways, sometimes less constructive. Even if some bands are screaming about suicide etc it is still lifeaffarmative the way I see it – it is a dynamic
expression, it brings about circulation of ones energy. But – if a band only deals with suicide and hatred it becomes stagnant even though the music essentially is dynamic. I had an experience at an In Flames concert where I felt that the music in essence comes from the same source as i.e the great words of the Indian mystic Osho. It is about the same thing. I feel that authentic expressions may come about in many forms, but in essence the core of it is the same. Please comment!
Yeah, I know the feeling that you are trying to bring forth here. Music in general has a very primal out spring I would say, as music always have been apart of human activities. I also think that music might be one of the factors that in an evolutionary perspective have stimulated certain qualities in the human brain. I simply think that music has an influence on people beyond being the usual social/cultural factor. In other words I think that music has some sort of connection to the early mankind or to our forefathers if you want. Some music has the ability to unveil this connection.
I believe that some music (including the lyrical expression) has the ability to empower such a primal dimension. For me there is certain music (depends on bands, music style etc.) that are able to bring forth profound emotions with an existential character. Some musical/artistic expressions just have this
I have tried to "understand" your lyrics, but it seems that they cannot be understood by my rational mind. Your lyrics weave great landscapes in my imagination and they point to things outside the grasp of my mind. What is left is wonder. I believe that this sense of wonder can be liberating, and that it also contains elements of merging, disappearing and becoming whole. It seems to me that your lyrics are not meant to be analyzed in detail and understood rationally, they are rather meant to trigger something in the listener. I can imagine that another aspect of the lyrics is that they are meant to merge with the music, and your music can not be "understood", so why should the lyrics be "understood"?
First and foremost I am a creator of music and the music is really the core my expression. My intention has never been to tell a story, bring forth a political/religious view or something like that. I believe that there exist much more suitable mediums for that purpose. I want my lyrics to mirror the music somehow, but more on an emotional, almost spiritual, level.
I once said to a journalist that music one can define by two words (xxx metal) tends to be boring music. It was basically meant as a joke, but there is something serious to that phrase. I really believe that genuinely "good" music should be more or less impossible to describe by words- there should be a dimension to music that solely appeals to the "free-thinking" part of the mind. For me the same goes with the lyrics as I don’t want them to fit in to or being limited within the paradigmas that you find in the collective mentality in Norway anno 2007. My lyrics are sometimes just a long, long chain of thoughts, ideas and some sort of existential wondering. As with my music, I just dive into the stream of creativity with no bigger thoughts about where it carries me.
Your lyrics may appear very "intellectual", due to the widespread use of "complicated" words etc. I feel that at times you are balancing between being poetic and being "quasi-intellectual". It seems that the lyrics contain many layers; poetry, science, nature, philosophy – very eclectic stuff. It appears to me that some of the lines of your lyrics has a specific meaning yet others are more designed to weave landscapes, as I mentioned earlier. Please comment on this!
Intellectual or not. As just stated my lyrics are mainly a long chain of thoughts. I am the type of guy who think is it more interesting to watch "the making of Lord of the Rings" than to actually watch the movie. I have always loved to travel but not in order to get to a certain place- to spot B. I just like being a traveller. My point here is that I am very much into the process of things. The same "philosophy" I also have regarding my music and lyrics. When creating music it is not the actual note/chord I find interesting in a melody but it is the tension between two notes that carries the spirit in the music. Just as an example.
Lyrically speaking I am on an everlasting journey, a journey that never ends with clear message/ending. The only certain aspect with my lyrics is that they tend to actually manifest as a kind of journey. Weaving landscapes is the very essence of my lyrical expression. That also connects with the fact that when I work with music – I see my own music as landscapes with colours, shapes and so on. In the end of the day my music and lyrics are tied together in different ways and I find it difficult to really put words on how everything comes about. I believe that life is a long journey and everything you do in life is a part of this travel. My music is just an artistic parallel to the life I am living- sometimes life is obvious and simple, other times life is a complicated mess.
Facts about Øystein and his music
Øystein G. Brun:
– 32 years old
– Father to a girl of five years old, another child is on its way.
– Lives in the countryside in Garnes, 30 km east of Bergen.
– Educated as a social worker
– Pedagogical leader in a community for handicapped people
– Has been active with music since 1989
– Formed in 1994
– Debut album released in 1996 on Malicious Records
– Signed a record deal with Century Media Records in 1997.
– Has released 7 albums in total
– Has sold approximately 3-400.000 albums
– Has toured with bands such as Napalm Death, Cradle of Filth and Emperor
– New album will be released in 2008
– Debut album "Terra" released on Century Media Records in 2006
– Musical project consisting of Andreas Hedlund (Vintersorg) and Øystein G. Brun
– New album will be finished this year
– The music is a mix between metal and “soundtrack” music