Rendezvous with Husmus
ARTEFACT by Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren is a tribute to RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, the 1973 classic science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. It is dark in deep space, the feeling is ethereal, kinetic, and layered. There is just no need for words, but there is a little chatter on the intercom. Each song has special synthesizer qualities and all of them flow into a beautiful mix, there is a very specific story here. This music is immersive, a vision from the future, with hidden colors -- bespangled, bright, and brilliant; celestial, glittering, with soaring echoes, pulsing and beating patterns. You are headed into the unknowable future, there is no turning back. Forward motion is the best description of the nature of the electronic music made by Johan Agebjörn, who has an amazing career. He lives in Lund, Sweden, he is a psychologist by profession, he is a father, and he makes electronic music from time to time. He has two main projects, the first is his "ambient electro" or "arctic ambient" project, and the other a ”neo-italo disco” project, titled Sally Shapiro. He also has run his own micro-label, Husmus, since 2006.
A priest by profession, Mikael Ögren is a Swedish musician heavily influenced by electronic pioneers Kraftwerk and Jean Michel Jarre, as well as '90s trance innovators such as Jam & Spoon. During the mid-2010s he began collaborating with his neighbor, Johan Agebjörn, when the two remixed "Aurora" by synthwave producer Tommy '86 in 2015. Ögren's remix of Agebjörn's song "The Leftovers" (featuring Loney Dear) was released later in that year, and in 2016, Ögren and Agebjörn reworked Jam & Spoon's 1992 remix of the genre-defining eponymous single by the Age of Love.
In 2017 Agebjörn and Ögren released an ambient electronic album on Spotted Peccary Music called We Never Came To The White Sea, a soundtrack to an unedited roadmovie through Russian Karelia, where Agebjörn's grandfather was born, when it belonged to Finland.
For Agebjörn, music is a way to feel alive, to experience strong feelings, and a way for us to feel connected to each other. He started his own music label, Husmus, in 2006, to release his own projects on. The name is Swedish for "housemouse" and was chosen because there were a lot of mice in the house where he lived during 2004-2006. For a long time, the mice were the only living beings listening to the music. They also gave feedback to the music by gnawing at the cords of the computer, perhaps when they didn't like it, but more likely to see if they could get closer to the awesome electrical energy. However, Husmus was only meant for physical releases, and these days if Agebjörn wants to self-release something, he does it digitally. He hasn't released anything on Husmus since 2009. It's still also the name of his YouTube account.
After the release of their first album, Ögren almost felt like he was living in a creative vacuum, an emptiness where he didn't find any inspiration. Then, in the summer of 2018, he was on a trip to the Greek island Corfu. As one usually does, he brought some books to read – including Arthur C. Clarke's well known sci fi novel Rendezvous With Rama. "It's funny I never read it before, since I'm a huge fan of several of his other books." For Ögren it was kind of a surrealistic sensation, lying there, in the blazing sun by the blue, Mediterranean sea and practically being sucked into the dark, otherworldly, futuristic and mystical environment that surrounds the Rama novel. And ”BAM!”, it struck him almost immediately, by reading the first pages – this is it. This will become their next project. "Man, I could practically hear the atmospheric sounds and harmonies! I would even dare calling it an epiphany (after all I´m also an ordained priest, haha). As soon as I got home I called Johan and told him that we just had to do this. And as he also read the novel, he totally agreed. And after all it's pretty original isn´t it, creating a soundtrack for a novel."
And so it came to be, Agebjörn and Ögren have recently completed their second collaborative release, Artefact, also on the Spotted Peccary Music label, also employing vintage synthesizers (Gear: Access Virus Indigo II, Alesis Micron, Clavia Nord Lead 2, Kurzweil K2000, Novation Supernova, Propellerheads Reason 11 with Korg MonoPoly, Roland DJ-70, Roland JD-800, Roland JP-8000, Thoraiz AS-1, Waldorf Blofeld, Yamaha AN1x) which blend into the ethereal atmospherics and electronic sounds of a classic sci-fi soundtrack, enjoying styles ranging from ambient to trance. All of the tracks were written, performed and produced by Agebjörn and Ögren, with some additional help from their friends.
Tracks 1-2 were co-written and co-performed by Stefan Strand, also on the Spotted Peccary label, and known as Between Interval. Strand is an old friend of Agebjörn, they would watch science fiction movies together and have made remixes of tracks for each other in the past. This is the first time that they have collaborated on any original tracks. Agebjörn got to know Strand through a Swedish internet forum for electronic music, and it turned out they happened to live in the same city (Lund). Actually, Strand is the one who advised Agebjörn to send a demo to Lotuspike when he was looking for a record label for his album Mossebo. Then, when Lotuspike was merged with Spotted Peccary, they also became labelmates.
Track 7 was co-written and co-performed by Johan Emmoth, also known as Le Prix, a talented musician that Agebjörn got to know when they were both published by Universal Music Publishing in Sweden around 2009. They made a few tracks and remixes together in disco/synthwave style during the years after, some of them for Agebjörn's project Sally Shapiro, but this track is their first collaboration for many years, and it's more ambient/experimental than the earlier ones.
The vocals on track 9 are by Martina Björk, who Ögren knew from his work at the church. "I´ve had a lot to do with Martina over the years since apart from being a soprano singer, she's also a church musician (and even has a PhD in Latin!). We often served at Sunday mass and other church services together, before I started work as a hospital chaplain. So when me and Johan both agreed that the track ”The Hall of Crystals” would benefit from having a beautiful, almost supernatural kind of voice singing the lead melody, I thought that this track almost was like it was written for Martina." And it turned out even better than anyone would have imagined. She managed to catch the very special, kind of sacred, ancient feeling and combined it with the almost melancholic, sad sense of abandonment that saturates the very moment of the Rama story that this song is trying to depict. Other than this, Martina´s been involved in other projects, like folk music and such.
The album's amazing design is by Daniel Pipitone, and the illustrative artwork is by Kilian Eng, who made the artwork to Agebjörn's single "Watch The World Go By" ten years ago. He made that single together with Le Prix, who knew Kilian (they both lived in Stockholm at the time) so that's how they got in contact. His science fiction art is astounding, so they asked him if he wanted to illustrate the cover and he said yes! You can find him on Instagram:
An artifact might be defined as an object produced by human craft, of archaeological or historical interest. This particular Artefact is an unofficial soundtrack inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s classic novel Rendezvous with Rama. To get the full story I recommend turning to the novel itself.
After a series of devastating meteor strikes on Earth, project SPACEGUARD began collecting data about all incoming objects that could be observed. One day, in the year 2131, an object that looked big was detected, heading past Jupiter in the general direction of Earth. This new object was soon named Rama, after the seventh avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, The Sustainer. As Rama came closer it was apparent that it was not a solid object, it was hollow, 20 kilometres (12 mi) in diameter and 50 kilometres (31 mi) long, and almost completely featureless. The spaceship Endeavour was sent out to encounter this rapidly approaching gigantic enclosed spinning hollow object.
To Ögren, so much of Arthur C. Clarke's work contains the same element and sense of mysticism, evoking almost esoteric depths. It's a strange feeling of echoes from the past, and at the same time a nod from the future. And along with this, so much of his work feels remarkably timeless. The main reason why Rendezvous With Rama attracted Ögren to such an extent, was that the main theme seems to be the encounter with the otherworldly, the very Other, the big unknown. He shared with me that even if Sir Arthur himself turned out to be an atheist – or at least agnostic, one of the main themes of several of his stories seems to be the encounter with the supernatural – or rather – the hypernatural. The human being standing on the threshold of a force too alien and strange for us to grasp through bare knowledge. That feeling was the main reason that we just had to realize this project. Trying to transform this stunning and breathtaking sensation into soundscapes. Hence – Artefact!
Artefact is an adventure in electronic music that pays tribute to a classic science fiction diegesis, a story that raises more questions than provides resolutions, which is one of the best ways to tell a tale. Who made the cylinder? Why did they make it? Where is it going and what will it do once it gets there? Most of the chronicle assumes that Earth is somehow part of the mission of the mysterious craft, at the end of the novel the artifact just whizzes by, and Earth is only a brief blink on the way past. The sounds are pure electronica, fantastically engaging beats and sweeps, beeps and melodies, with lots of awesome fast moving effects. Imagine that you are falling slowly through wind and darkness, there are colored lights and spaceships, swaying and moving, seemingly to the music. We are traveling through the melancholy of a long journey in the cosmos. The feeling is complex: bittersweet and positive, the sound is dreamy and electronic with lots of sustained echoes and glowing atmospheres, decorated with a pulse and just soaring with no limits. It works well for dreaming as well as for launching your voyages into deep fantasy, experiencing science fiction.
I asked the two intrepid sound creators where they might dream of going in the future, for vacation, or perhaps on tour, maybe just exploring, or by time machine?
Agebjörn replied that he would choose Japan, "I've never been there and it's an interesting country. There are also places in Russian Carelia that I haven't seen yet (mine and Mikael's earlier album explored this county, that's a different story). For the time machine option, I would choose Italy in the early 80s, since I'm also fascinated by the Italian 80s disco scene." Something else that he has not tried yet would be to go cross-country skiing from sauna to sauna in Carelia.
Ögren replied to my same quizzical inquiry, "Man, this is such a big question. But to me the biggest, most important and greatest journey ever to be made is the inner journey. To dive into the spiritual depths of oneself is also to get in touch with the realms of a higher force. Other than that – on my bucket list is actually going to the nuclear plant of Chernobyl, and especially for a visit to control room number 4, perhaps the most infamous place on earth, the place where the most disastrous meltdown was made possible. Just going there to witness the ultimate monument of human arrogance and pride. And what happens when we ascribe ourselves the perfection and infallibility which we´ll always lack. To me the Chernobyl-Rama connection is suggestively intriguing. The Raman artifact itself signals some kind of ancient, otherworldly failure or disaster. And just as the artifact keeps on living a life of its own long after it´s creators vanished, so does Chernobyl. It is said that the “elephant foot,” the concentrated pillar of nuclear waste that melted its way underground and piled up – is still warm, even some thirty-five years later. I actually had some thoughts on creating a soundtrack for the nuclear plant – until the totally astonishing composer Hildur Guðnadóttir made the epic soundtrack for the Chernobyl series."
To close, I would like to share something that Ögren said to me about the meaning of music. I said unto him, "Human beings have many unique characteristics compared to other creatures here on Earth, including the use of speech, story telling, and the preservation of history. What is music to us?"
His reply: "Where so many other attempts to express thoughts and feelings through words - musical textures, rhythms, atmospheres, melodies, disharmonies by far exceeds all other attempts. One single song can sometimes express what an infinite amount of words actually fails to. And that´s why I mainly prefer instrumental music. Even though there are of course a lot of tracks and songs that contain fantastic poetry, rhymes, and vocal expressions, I think that the presence of human words so often tends to banalize what we actually want to express as spiritual beings. The American writer Terry Teachout puts it beautifully in stating that ” Instrumental music is nonverbal and thus radically ambiguous. It doesn't lend itself to what might be called content-oriented analysis, though plenty of intellectuals have tried to analyze it in precisely that way.”
Artefact is both peaceful and propulsive, a journey through the tension and beauty of space exploration, the fear and curiosity of alien contact, the majesty of stars and the great swaths of emptiness between them. The album releases May 21, 2021 on Spotted Peccary Music CD format and in 24-BIT AUDIOPHILE, CD QUALITY LOSSLESS, MP3 and streaming formats. Find consumer sales and streaming links here:
FOOTLINKS FOR A DEEPER DIVE:
Arthur C. Clarke
Artefact Unboxing Video
Track 8 “Monitoring the Zooids”