Runddans: The Beginning and End of All Music

runddans_1200Runddans is the result of the rather unlikely collaboration between 1970s pop-wizard Todd Rundgren, space-disco pioneer Lindstrøm and free-spirited sound-magician Emil Nikolaisen of Serena-Maneesh. The foundation of this project was laid back in 2012, when Rundgren did a remix of Lindstrøm’s “Quiet Place To Live.” The three musicians met in a studio in Oslo that same year, and the music slowly mushroomed from there.

After three years of extensive work, patient correspondence and carefully building the sessions together, the album is now finished.

runddans_coverThe eponymous Runddans is a cosmic mix of soul, synth, pop and disco – meant to be enjoyed as one whole piece: 39 minutes of music, broken down into 12 parts and 4 sides of an LP. Journalist Paul Lester (Mojo, The Guardian) described the experience as ‘dense, complex, thrillingly intricate yet sweepingly emotional, here the original laptop kid and the Norwegian electronicists capture a long-lost time while also managing to sound utterly future-perfect.’

– Every time you listen to it, it seems to take a slightly different form in your head. There’s no way to absorb it all the first time you hear it, says Todd Rundgren, while talking about the album.

– It’s the kind of record where you’re never gonna get it all the first time. We wanted to have things in there to make people come back and get another aspect of it. I guess that’s one of the reasons why this project has been so important to me as well: music sometimes needs to be deconstructed as much as constructed.

With utter enthusiasm, he goes on: – I’ve characterized Runddans as the beginning and end of all music. It goes places that are extremely simple and primitive, and in other places there’s so much sound and glory happening, it can’t all be grasped in just one listening.

todd_wizardThe highly eclectic Rundgren, the most renowned of the three, has been active since the late 1960s, both as a musician and a producer. He rose to fame in the early 1970s thanks to magnum opuses like Runt (1971), Something/Anything (1972) and A Wizard, A True Star (1973). Through the ’70s and ‘80s Rundgren also gained a reputation as a prime producer, working on seminal albums like Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, XTC’s Skylarking and New York Dolls’ self-titled debut.

– I actually discovered him pretty late, admits Oslo-based electronica musician and producer Hans-Peter Lindstrøm.

As one of the forerunners of space disco and a part of the Oslo Disco scene alongside Todd Terje and Prins Thomas, Lindstrøm has worked high-profiled remixes for the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Best Coast and Roxy Music.

– I guess I initially picked up some of Rundgren’s albums in the cheap bins at used record stores, he says. Eventually I started to dig into his vast back catalog and discovered his unique qualities as an album artist. He was a pioneer in making really thorough albums, more than just some great songs. He represents an eclectic soup that I just love.

serena_maneeshEmil Nikolaisen, known as frontman to the indie-shoegazers Serena-Maneesh, as well as a heavy repertoire of production work, shared some of the same sentiments on Rundgren.

– I have always known about him, glaring at his well-known hits from a distance, says Nikolaisen. They were great, for sure, but as an adult I was lured deeper into the Garden of Rundgren-Eden of harmonies, purity and his joyous bittersweet sarcasm. His restless, stupid swirls and neck-breaking stunts side-by-side, drenched in an aesthetic that just went straight to my heart – that was what made me a fan.

Lindstrøm and Nikolaisen tell how they prepared a raw draft of music as a starting point, in order to be as efficient as possible with the few days they had with Rundgren in the studio.

Even though they had briefly crossed paths before, little could they imagine that this was the beginning of a three-year long process.

– We started out with just some improvisations the first day that we got together in the project, says Lindstrøm. I don’t think that we imagined that years later this would be the baby that results from that collaboration.

– I was coincidentally in Norway for another event, Rundgren explains, and we thought it would be nice to get together for a couple of afternoons, fool around and see what happens. That’s as seriously as we took it at that point.

Nikolaisen: – You know, eight chords around a piano in Oslo, feeling the vibes and dropping some loose ideas, made us draft some small but important sketches. Then it just escalated, out of proportion. Files were being tossed back and forth, briefly meetings, travelling, chaos, more ideas on the table, and then finally finding a structure and a conclusion on it all. I think the most important is to recognize the interplay in working together and always challenging each other.

All three of them separately emphasize how this was meant to be one piece.

lindstrom_smalhansLindstrøm tells how this was clear pretty early on: – I think we became aware of that early in the process. The foundation of music bites its own tail, so to speak, being repetitive and ascending at the same time. We understood that wasn’t a bunch of songs, but an exhaustive piece of music – an endless roundel.

Rundgren substantiates this point further: – What I like about it is the way you’re in certain place the one moment, and wind up in completely different place mere moments later. But you’re still riding the same wave all through it, he says. – It’s almost like a train ride, going through little towns, big cities and rural fields, giant thresholds over great valleys, through mountain tunnels and things like that. The only way I can characterize it is like this journey, and it’s of such a character that it doesn’t have the typical linearity to it.

– You lose track of time so much while listening. I guess that’s my favorite aspect about it: It kind of reminds me of some of my older records, records I’ve usually broken into tracks. That’s how I keep track of time. When there aren’t those kinds of typical breaks, the further along you go, the more you lose track of how long you been listening to it. It takes you out of the place that you’re in. Puts you in other space where time is not that important anymore.

He goes on to speak of his vocal contributions, and how they became a part of this greater project:

– After the first couple of sessions, we thought that we needed more vocals, words and other sorts of atmospheres for the listener to hang on to. And that became my mission of the project; to make sure that there was some sort of vocal presence. That is a touchstone element. You hear so many interesting and crazy sounds, but after a while you want something that is familiar and human to reground you. I see the vocals having that purpose. It wasn’t my only role, but it became a central role for me. And in retrospect, I think that is an essential element. Without that you would lose sense of not just time, but space as well, he says, expelling his typical friendly grin.

The utter enthusiasm around this whole project shines through all three of these gentlemen, clearly proud of what they managed to achieve together.

As Nikolaisen states at the end: – We were like a triangle hovering alone up in the galaxies, where no one knew what we were doing. We could just do our own thing, so this has just been … an incredibly mercurial feeling freedom.

Bjørn Hammershaug
Opprinnelig publisert på, 30. mars 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s