2020 will be the 10th anniversary of New Forces, the carefully curated noise label run by Stefan Aune. For nearly a decade, Aune has delivered harsh sonic artifacts from artists across the world – Japanoise legends like Killer Bug find a home alongside contemporary American greats like Shredded Nerve, Interracial Sex, and Striations. So far in 2019, New Forces has put out more than ten releases, including tapes by Limbs Bin, Serration, Jackson-Pratt, and a 2LP reissue of The Rita’s masterful Magazine.
In addition to his work on the label front, Aune has been making noise since the label’s inception – at first under the monikers Breaking the Will and The Sun Turns Black, but these days his electroacoustic project Kjostad seems to take a lot of his creative bandwith. Combining nature-based field recordings with abrasive textures and processing, Kjostad both rewards patience and indulges your inner harsh head.
Stefan and I talked about nature, personal creative pathways, and more.
Jordan Reyes: Has nature always been an important part of your life personally?
Stefan Aune: I was born in Northern Minnesota into a family for whom outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, and cross country skiing were important. When I was little we moved down to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis / St. Paul) so the north woods were less immediate but I’ve always spent lots of time up north visiting family. I eventually discovered hardcore music and the vegan straightedge, so hunting and fishing haven’t been something of interest for awhile, but I still love to spend time in the woods or on the lake. Hiking, kayaking, canoeing, getting away from people and enjoying some solitude are all very important to me. Without dropping too hard of a “lecture” on your readers I’d also argue that “nature” is important for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you live in rural Minnesota or the middle of Brooklyn, ecology, plants, animals… these are part of your day to day life and you should consider your relationship to them. To paraphrase an environmental historian named Bill Cronon, one of the problems with ideas like “wilderness” is that people imagine wilderness or nature as distant, far away… places you visit. In fact, nature is something you have a day-to-day relationship with and humans seem to get in trouble when they forget about that reality.
JR: Can you remember some of the first natural sounds you heard that you thought you should record?
SA: I’m not sure I’ve got an interesting answer for this one. My initial forays into noise music were driven by the artists I was around at the time (Baculum, Wince, Gnawed, Wilt, Juhyo), great harsh noise and PE artists that seemed to be doing really interesting things with these tables full of devices. After observing those artists my thought process was: “if I get these pedals I can make these sounds,” which I think is the thought process many noise artists start with. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but I think it can sometimes give artists a ceiling on their own potential if it’s all about gear. I don’t like to see performances that just feel like a gear showcase of whatever devices they’ve purchased in the last 3 months. Gear is a tool for making music and I want to see what you are doing with the gear. What has been really valuable with my Kjostad project is turning that formula on its head and giving all priority to the sounds sources, trimming away effects where possible, and really trying to start with interesting sounds. This has bled into my other projects such as Breaking The Will and Form Hunter, in that I try to assemble collections of good source material that can then be played through some sort of electronic system or assemblage of gear.
JR: What is your process for field recording? What do you use? Do you go to any specific places?
SA: No set process, but one of the cornerstones of Kjostad is that most (but not all) of the sounds are recorded literally at Kjostad Lake, which is a small lake in northern Minnesota about 15-20 minutes from the Canadian border. It’s where I go when I go home to visit family, and it’s been artistically invigorating to really explore localized, place-based field recording as the impetus for music. I usually use a Zoom H4n which is a nice hand-held recording device. I need something portable as much of my field recording involves just walking around the woods. The thing about making field recordings in a forest is that 90% of the audible sounds are wind and birds. 9% is squirrels and chipmunks, and usually the other 1% is the engine on a boat or truck, or maybe one of my younger relatives yelling as they jump into the lake. You’ll hear all of those things in Kjostad recordings, but you’re gonna hear all kinds of other sounds that won’t be immediately recognizable. It’s not just me passively recording the environment – I may rub the microphone against a piece of birch bark, or grab an interesting rock and scrape it against a deer skull laying on the forest floor. Field recording is definitely an active process, in which I’m sometimes quietly recording the forest, and sometimes “playing” the forest in different ways. Additionally, part of my process is just recording everything and finding interesting moments later on. I probably make just as many tape loops out of sounds that were unintentional accidents as I do of sounds that I intentionally set out to capture. You have to leave yourself open to happy accidents, but I think that’s true with any kind of experimental music.
JR: What equipment do you use for Kjostad? Is there a difference live versus recorded? Does it change based on the tour you’ve planned out?
SA: A whole variety of things. As I said, sound sources are key, so it’s devices like tape players and samplers supported with a few effects or other electronics and a contact mic or two. The best pedal is the Boss Bass Overdrive ODB-3 so you’ll usually see a few of those on my table. For both recordings and live sets I try to assemble a collection of sources and tracks that I’ve already composed and sort of play them like a conductor, using shorter vignettes or compositions and merging them into a larger track that has a narrative or flow to it. I use a lot of stereo panning and try to create a wall of sound that is dense but still has recognizable parts embedded in it. Like I said, once I press record, or begin a live set, there has been a lot of work beforehand to collect sounds sources, some of which will be featured “raw,” but many of which have been composed into larger tracks or embedded on tape and fashioned into loops. You still need to leave room for performative spontaneity, however. I don’t want to just sit up there and push play on a sampler.
JR: Tell me a bit about the ending to your description of the first Form Hunter tape – noise being a blast of euphoria. Is that how you experience harsh noise? Is that what it provides you?
SA: Definitely, these sorts of loud sounds feel really good to me, and a well executed harsh noise performance is going to give me a rush or surge of adrenaline. It’s hard to describe, but noise can really take over all your senses.
JR: There’s a recurring motif in a lot of your work of artillery and military. How did this become important to you? Do you use it conscientiously in your work? Why?
SA: These motifs are born out of a general interest in war and violence as integral parts of human history. I work as an academic historian and one of my areas of focus is the history of colonialism, imperialism, and warfare. I’m not trying to produce a pedantic “protest” aesthetic, but rather highlight the fact that an incredible degree of militarization literally structures our day-to-day lives in the United States, in often invisible ways. It’s very much in the industrial tradition of saying “look at this, how are you going to deal with this??” – as opposed to the more punk rock tradition or simply screaming “I don’t like this!!!”
JR: You’re straight edge, too. Does that play any role in your work? What does straight edge mean to you? How has it benefited you?
SA: It plays a role in my life generally speaking, so of course it impacts my work in some way, but none of my projects are defined by any effort to emphasize the straight edge thematically speaking. The one exception is the X Means Not Welcome compilation on FTAM, which was a fun chance to slam together the iconography of harsh noise and youthxcrew hardcore. Honestly, attending noise shows, particularly festivals, just emphasizes that I’m definitely making the right choices relative to intoxication.
JR: What else is in the future for Stefan Aune? Anything else you’d like to say?
SA: Thanks for the interview! Nothing I said is a rigid template. Learn by doing, develop your own process. I’m just making this up as I go – everyone is. Plenty in the works from my label New Forces, which you can keep track of at newforces.bigcartel.com as well as @newforcesnoise on Instagram. Look for an upcoming Kjostad full-length CD on Chondritic Sound titled “Extinctionist,” an LP from my duo Form Hunter on Found Remains, and some renewed activity from my project Breaking The Will. 2020 also marks the ten-year anniversary of New Forces, and I’ve got some really exciting stuff in the works to celebrate, including releases and performances.