One Of Life’s Great Mysteries

The challenge of trying to unearth the true identity of Frank Benjamin Finger has evaded FLW for many months. With current album ‘The Bet’ providing no further clues, this mystery looks set to run the full distance.

Preferring the sanctuary of his own residence somewhere on the eastside of Oslo and the information highway to share his creative thoughts with Famous Last Words (FLW), the enigma that is Frank Benjamin Finger, or Benjamin Finger to those more closely associated with this reclusive figure, continues its momentum as to the identity of this musical composer and DJ from Norway.

Contributing to this shroud of mystery is the equally mysterious and thoroughly engaging collage of sounds that was this year’s ‘The Bet’; an album heavily reliant on atmosphere in order to express the often shifting moods of each composition considering its lack of vocal expressions due to a preference for electronic instrumentation.

By opting to conduct this discussion from afar, and with only a handful of photographs providing a possible ID of Frank Benjamin Finger, FLW was eager to learn more, despite the obvious disadvantage of not being able to unmask this Norwegian maestro in person.

“It depends on what you mean by mysterious,” is the typed response from Frank Benjamin Finger when considering FLWs’ inroads in an attempt at revealing his true identity. “It’s a word that’s open to many interpretations, but I don´t see myself as a particularly mysterious chap. I understand what you’re implying, especially considering the press release photo taken by Carsten Aniksdal (main image). If that’s the case, then I would defend myself and say that the picture clearly states my love for books. Also, I believe that my music doesn’t necessarily need a face attached to it, as it should speak for itself.”

The Bet by Christer Karlstad

The music emanating from current album ‘The Bet’ certainly speaks for itself. But it also defies categorisation on several occasions due to a mixture of classical, ambient, electronic and folk influences coming together, temporarily, before evaporating into the ether only to assume a new identity on the next hearing. If Frank Benjamin Finger fails to view himself as possessing a touch of mystery, then his music certainly assumes such a description.

“My music might be categorised as mysterious because I don’t follow the laws and orders you might expect in song writing or in an instrumental track,” comments Frank. “I don’t follow any pattern because I try to let instinct control many of my decisions. Also, I think that by not being a part of any particular scene makes people believe that you are mysterious. The need for categorisation seems to be very important in a small town like Oslo. I’m not from here [Oslo], so I don’t know that many people in the industry and I prefer to keep it that way.”

With the mystery deepening further surrounding Frank Benjamin Finger and more and more clues diminishing at an increasing rate, the patchwork of ideas and emotions stitched together and striving to make sense of the world by means of various electronica and occasional guidance from elements of classical music that is ‘The Bet’ also fails to provide any further indications as to the personality of this Norwegian composer.

“As I said earlier, I don’t see myself as part of any group or movement. I’m trying to avoid being categorised and believe that I’m following my own path. My music is not bound by mainstream tendencies or a hip sound that is fashionable in any particular year. So I would call myself 100% independent in that sense. I’m a romantic escapist and I’m trying to let the music take me in different directions all the time. I’m on a musical journey and I’m not even halfway there yet. Most of my albums have gathered much more attention abroad than in Norway. I guess a lot of critics find some of the material ‘difficult’ or not mainstream enough. So I feel more at ease being released through foreign [record] labels, feeling that they are often more open to experimentation and not tied to any specific genre or sound. Also, such record labels can distribute the music to a broader audience, which means that I’m able to be discovered by different audiences.”

Trying to apply a label on the music Frank Benjamin Finger is creating is definitely not an easy task. While the term ambient is the clearest description of latest offering ‘The Bet’, any further explanations regarding influences and end product is challenging because the music is “not bound by mainstream tendencies” as Frank mentioned, but there is often a feeling that his compositions are left wide open for a whole host of different interpretations rather than being bound by a single or dual meaning.

“‘The Bet’ is more of a psychedelic experience, I guess, and it has a bigger sound, almost orchestral in the sense that I was picturing the landscape of soundscapes through a wide-angle lens,” offers Frank a description of his latest work ‘The Bet’ when trying to describe his sound.  “The album combines guitars, synths, cellos and voices and everything is being thrown in and out through different filters, changing patterns, melodies coming into the mix and then disappearing with new sounds suddenly taking over. It’s pretty much like a recycled musical garbage can.”

Benjamin Finger DJ-Set by Jon Benjamin Tallera¦ès

Have you approached your previous works in the same way by combining a number of different ideas and influences?

“I have pretty much tried to change my expression and sound on each of my albums,” replies Frank. “‘The Bet’ is my fourth album and I think that anyone who has followed my career will agree that there has been differences. I think ‘Woods of Broccoli’ (2009) was more of an electronic folk album with ambient tendencies. ‘For You, Sleepsleeper’ (2010) was an all-rounder in terms of expression and perhaps my most ambitious record yet, where I combined many different influences and styles ranging from shoegaze to hip hop and jazz. I really wanted that record to have a broad palette. ‘Listen To My Nerves Hum’ (2013) was more minimal and concentrated around piano motives and tape and voice loops combined with field recordings.”

When composing songs, do you have a particular theme in mind or is your song writing more impromptu?

“It’s both really,” flickers the immediate response on the PC screen in front. “Sometimes I have a clear idea of what I’m after and sometimes I manage to get there, but it might take some time. Other times it’s kind of a search whereby I’m playing around with a new instrument and then ideas start to formulate. During other occasions there is what I prefer to call work accidents whereby something occurs from trying different musical combinations that normally shouldn’t fit or belong together.”

Frank Benjamin Finger’s ‘The Bet’ was pieced together over twelve months, with the first six months spent constructing the first draft and then the second half of the year to add or eliminate various ideas. The album was recorded in Oslo at Frank’s own studio in Bygdøy, with various instruments such as the cello being recorded in Trondheim and performed by the likes of Elling Finnanger Snøfugl, as well as the bare minimum of vocal parts by Inga-Lill Farstad set down in Frank’s own living room. Definitely a DIY approach and one that is deserved of the title independent artist, but despite such creative freedoms one that encountered a few problems as Frank explains.

“I had several problems after recording the first draft of ‘The Bet’. It was hard work trying to mix all of the elements going in different directions in the foreground and background and to make it sound like a whole. I knew that I wasn’t interested in doing a safe record. I wanted to put many different elements in the mix; sounds you don’t normally associate with the music or that fit together during first listen. So it was quite a test trying to put techno and hip-hop beats in there, but things had to fit in a weird kind of way.”

Do you feel that ‘The Bet’ is a true reflection of your initial thoughts for this album?

“I am very satisfied with the end result and I think I did the best I could out of it. The record came out the way it was intended, and some parts even surprised me. To be honest, I don’t really listen to my albums again after they are finished because normally I’m so sick and tired of the material after having spent so much time on it. So I´m always thinking; ONWARD! Let’s make another album.”

With inspiration for the music of Frank Benjamin Finger deriving from art and literature, as well as a broad musical taste including  Frédéric Chopin, Alice Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Cocteau Twins, George Michael, The Residents, Spacemen 3, Vincent Gallo, Fugazi, The Fall, Robert Wyatt, Butthole Surfers to name a select few from an extremely long list, some of the haze surrounding the creative processes in terms of developing an understanding of ‘The Bet’ begins to lift when considering the vast number and diverse artistic references Frank Benjamin Finger has to choose from. If anything, the lighter and darker atmospheric shades of ‘The Bet’ gain more understanding when you have the likes of Fugazi rubbing shoulders with the mega pop stardom of George Michael as part of your personal music interests and further suggestion of the diverse creative places Frank Benjamin Finger is coming from.

Benjamin - by Christian Evensen

“‘The Bet’ is a lot like life in general with its ups and downs. I wanted to tell a story, which everyone can interpret in their own way, and it has its safe and dark passages. I guess I’m always interested in the dichotomy between good and evil. I believe the record would be boring without all the contrasting melodies in there. For example, an album can quickly become very tiring if it’s only dark or beautiful melodies all the way through; therefore, you need the contrasts. I still think the ending sounds very positive, like entering a new world full of possibilities, or at least it sounds that way to me.”

The front cover of ‘The Bet’ is another reflection of the personal interests and ideas fuelling the music of Frank Benjamin Finger, as the aforementioned inspiration of art plays an important role when it comes to the creative expression and endless interpretations one can apply to his work, rather in the same way different interpretations can be applied to fine art.

“The title of my latest album is taken from what the painting is called, The Bet. It was painted by Christer Karlstad (www.christerkarlstad.com), who is responsible for so many great paintings. In fact, I have ideas regarding future of collaborations with him. I think the music fits the painting very well. There’s something open about it, like you can interpret it in many ways, and that’s something I’m trying to achieve in terms of my own music. The painting for me, personally, is like something of a puzzle, with several critics having referred to my music as a sound puzzle, which I’m very pleased about. Also, Lynn Fister was responsible for the back cover. I think it really compliments the front cover and makes it a unique whole. She did a great job!”

This diversity when considering inspirations and influences infiltrating the world of Frank Benjamin Finger is not confined to the creative processes of song writing and recording, as there is another side to this Norwegian composer which extends itself to the world of DJing. Such extended musical activities come as no surprise considering an early exposure during his teenage years to the genres of hip hop and breakdance and the street art of graffiti, before accepting a stint as a DJ at his father’s night club, who is also a musician, where the techniques of scratching and making mixes were developed. Therefore, how does the life of songwriter differ from that of a DJ?

“Being a DJ is a completely different experience from playing live shows. I can relax more as I’m used to having a lot of gear when I’m playing concerts. A lot of things can go wrong during a gig, but when I’m performing a DJ set, I’m usually not that worried. Having said that, I only use vinyl when I’m DJing, which means that so many things can go wrong in the mix, but I think that’s some of the charm with live mixing. There’s no such thing as the perfect mix anyway. I kind of enjoy what happens to music when it’s a bit out of sync.”

Are you a regular fixture on the DJ circuit in Oslo for example?

“Yes, I constantly play DJ sets in Oslo. I’m also part of a monthly club called Protect Your Balance with DJ Indiana Ross once a month at Mir in Oslo. We spin records and are always introducing a live act to perform in the middle of the set. The nights have been pretty successful and we have started to develop a very loyal crowd. I think anyone who is open to new music should check it out. People tell us that we really are the only ones doing this sort of thing in Oslo. I think it’s fair to say you can pretty much hear all kinds of genres being mixed throughout the evening. So bring you friend and ‘free your mind and your ass will follow'(a Funkadelic album dating back to 1970) is pretty much our motto.”

The identity of Norway’s Frank Benjamin Finger remains an enigma and one that is on a par with the UK’s modern street artist Banksy as mentioned in our review of ‘The Bet’ earlier this year. Such a mysterious identity is appropriate for the music this Norwegian is creating, considering the previously mentioned diverse range of influences and his preference for “music when it’s a bit out of sync”, because if you’re searching for an apt description of latest work ‘The Bet’, then music that is out of sync with the rest of the music world generally, is a fitting description for the atmospheric and open to interpretation of the songs making up this latest album.

Is this Frank Benjamin Finger?

(Main title image courtesy of Carsten Aniksdall)

FLW - From the Tapes

Man of mystery Frank Benjamin Finger shared his thoughts with FLW regarding a couple of songs from latest album ‘The Bet’, as well as remembering one embarrassing night involving a loss of memory when performing live, and drumming up new ways of keeping audiences entertained when performing live.

“Yes, there have been several strange experiences when I have performed live. I would say that the weirdest experience that has happened to me during a live set is that I completely forgot how to connect a lot of the instruments and technology that I used one evening. For example, I experienced not getting any sound at all on some of the instruments due to forgetting a button or something, which is never any fun! It might have been due to being a little drunk during the set-up, which added to my fear of too many cables!

“Amusing things in a live-set is that I have recently had a tendency to start breakdancing during some tunes. Maybe I should start to incorporate that element when I play up-tempo sets in the future?”

Two songs from ‘The Bet’…

“‘Kid Dreaming Landscapes’ started out with a cello played by Elling F. Snøfugl. I started looping the cello in order to find parts I really liked which, in this case, sounded claustrophobic. I also had some field recordings of children in a schoolyard which I had recorded in Lisbon earlier that year. I started to mix the cello with the voices and felt I had an interesting atmosphere; very open but a bit spooky. I added guitar (e-bow) sounds on top, and then some of my own voice far back in the mix. This sounded like a good melody that could establish the mood after the short intro.

“‘Nasal Breakdown’ is another story. I had recorded long piano parts on my field recorder. Then one day I started to loop the short piano intervals, playing the same notes over and over. I felt the piano gave it a warm trance-like quality and I pretty much wanted it to stay in that zone, especially since it’s the opening track of side B. It’s a soft opening in contrast to side A. I later contacted Lynn Fister, who runs Watery Starve Press [record label responsible for ‘The Bet’] because I was familiar with her earlier songs and asked if she could lay some vocals on top of it. She has a very ethereal voice which I think lifted the track to another level.”

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