Lumen Drones is a fascinating and powerful collaboration between Hardanger fiddle master Nils Økland and Per Stainar Lie and Ørjan Haaland, respectively guitarist and drummer with Norwegian ‘post-rock’ group The Low Frequency In Stereo. The participants describe their project as a “psychedelic drone band”, but its stylistic reach is broad and evocative and will trigger many musical associations.
The roots of the band go back to 2008, when Nils was invited to play on a track (“Solar System”) of The Low Frequency In Stereo’s album Futuro. Nils Økland: “After the session we stayed in contact, sending each other music that we liked. We all lived in the same city, Haugesund, so we met frequently and talked a bit about doing something together.”
In February 2010 Nils Økland, Per Steinar Lie and Ørjan Haaland all participated, with different ensembles, in a local benefit concert for victims of the earthquake in Haiti. With the encouragement of the promoter, they also played a collaborative set. Ørjan Haaland: “The concert went very well, with a lot of positive feedback. Per Steinar called Nils the next day and asked if we should start a band…” Intensive rehearsals in an old church hall followed, and they began recording “improvisational demos” over a long period of time, jamming on a melody line, riff or rhythmic pattern.
“Our different backgrounds made the music sound very different from anything we’d done before, mixing post-rock, improvisations, elements of psychedelia, and the tonality of Hardanger fiddle playing. Some of the music, or the themes, can be quite fixed but are never played the same way twice – always with variations, like folk tunes… and much of the music is drone-based, harmonically, like a lot of folk music is.” Per Stainar Lie and Ørjan Haaland are the band’s conceptualists, analysing and revising rhythms; they talk a lot about form in the music, and before a concert will often sketch a graphic line to indicate directions for the set’s shape, flow and dynamics. But in the execution of the music they may well take a more “anarchistic” approach in the moment: “The whole band is really open to letting the improvised music lead the way.” A variety of approaches are pooled. “Sometimes I might not recall what I played last time and make an improvised part”, says Nils. “But I also listen to our recorded rehearsals and take elements from there.”
The album was recorded in ABC Studio in Etne, Norway, with Kjetil Ulland as engineer. After completing it, Lumen Drones played concerts, art gallery events, and festivals including the Bergen Psych Fest, and supported Lee Ranaldo and the Dust in Oslo. Sonic Youth is amongst the band’s specific cited influences, alongside The Doors, proto-drone band the Velvet Underground, Durutti Column and “jazz of the Dave Pike Set” – all of which might confound listeners who know Nils Økland’s only from his earlier ECM recordings – like the beautiful Ole Bull tribute Lysøen, or the reflective solo album Monograph, or his contributions to the idiosyncratic chamber music of the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble. Yet rock has also been part of Nils’s life story, and in the 1980s he played with Norwegian new wave band Løver & Tigre. In addition to their work with Lumen Drones and The Low Frequency In Stereo, Per Steinar Lie and Ørjan Haaland are members of rock trio The Jackman/Lee/Haaland Set, with whom Økland has also jammed on occasion.