CREATIVE PEOPLE SERIES: Audun Aschim Steffensen
Audun is one of those people you always knew were going to be a musician. I think everyone who knows him associate him with unorthodox ways of combining different artistic expressions and curating creative projects. Audun is a musician, composer & concept developer. He is doing many interdisciplinary projects, writing chamber music, orchestral, music drama, theatre, film. Next year he will release his debut album as a leader, with the German harpist Hanna Rabe and Norwegian drummer Axel Skalstad recorded in Hamburg, and is currently collaborating with photographer André Clemetsen on a project called “Anastasis” which will result in several church concerts in 2019 and 2020. They recently visited Warsaw and I had the privilege to sit down and talk with him about his upcoming projects, flow states and how he became a musician.
When did you start playing music?
I’ve always loved music. I grew up in a very musical family and my dad is a amateur/semi pro musician. When I was a baby, my dad actually used to play classical music on the piano to calm me down. When he played I used to stop crying. When I was 9 years old my dream was to become a rapper. I started playing guitar when I was 11 years old after passing by a guitar store in Oslo, getting a strong intuition that it was something I had to do. It hit me like a lightening. So a couple of days later I brought my dad to the guitar store and I asked for the most black metal, satanic lookalike guitar in the store. My first guitar was a Epiphone sg filled with cuts, piercings and a hollowed cross in the body, totally badass instrument.
Can you make a living by doing music in Norway?
Yes you can. My everyday life consist of many different things. I think most people who work freelance in smaller niche genres has to do a lot of different projects. It is a reality that consists of many things, and use of different skill sets. For me it’s mainly three things composition, performing music and developing concepts, sometimes teaching and arranging. Usually I mix these three types of work. Some projects is short-term while other project can go over longer times in both planning and execution. Like one or two years.
What kind of projects are you currently working on?
A commission work for string orchestra, music for 2 theatre plays, 1 short film and music for my trio. All simultaneously and all at different stages in process. Also just came home from Warsaw. I am collaborating with photographer André Clemetsen on a project called “Anastasis” which will result in several church concerts next year. It will include many of my favorite musicians. The lineup for the project is a bit secret so I will not say much about the details of who is involved, but the theme is about values. As the day's situation is now, we in a downward spiral in many ways when it comes to our society. Therefore, I think that the debate on what kind of values we should focus on in 2018, 2019 and 2020 is extremely important as a foundation from where we act from and relate to ourselves and others.
What kind of values ?
The project is a continuation of a photo exhibition that was on tour with Bjørn Eidsvåg.Etterlyst: Jesus. It was a photo exhibition called hvor skjer jesus? for Kirkens Bymisjon which is based on Jesus values. It was about where you can find Jesus values in 2018 in other people. Jesus as a verb, not as a person. I think that to believe that a historical religious figure will come and save us has little usefulness in 2018.
I think its so much more important to look inside and see where we can find the values in ourselves. Anastasis is an ancient greek word and it means resurrection. It is more about the resurrection of values in ourselves than something that happens outside of us. The project has some kind of spiritual side, but it is mostly a desire to confront the values that our society currently appreciate. Some of this values are possessions (what you have/what you own), positions (status) and talent.
If I had to pick one, I think honesty is an important value. Honesty and thus integrity is one of the things we lack most in our society. It’s so easy to make our reality seem different than it is, to be dishonest about ourselves, since we live in a society where we don’t value honesty at large. You can’t put «honest person» on your resumé, and you wont win a honesty prize. Honesty has many layers, and goes even deeper when you start questioning and contemplating taken for granted truths and aspects of reality. It’s actually possible to debunk most of the conceptual frames we operate from. It’s very empowering to realize something you previously held as truth as false. You can not change anything until you see it as it actually is. Historically, honesty and integrity was honored as important values by many of the old greeks. I think a lack of this it is one of the reasons we are in the situation we are in right now.
Sometime being delusional will make you feel safe, but it will not make you free.
Tell me more about what you did in Poland?
We went to the graveyards on all saints and all souls day. The graveyards were filled with people and lights and we tried to capture the atmosphere for one of the acts in «Anastasis». Besides meeting producers, filmmakers and artist, that was our purpose, but we ended up in many unexpected adventures.
I love Poland, you can really feel the slavic atmosphere and darkness of the past. Poland lost every war, and came bad out of everything, but a lot of good things is happening economically today, so it’s a country with strong traditions, but at the same time evolving fast. Almost all families has a big tragedy related to the cold war and 2nd world war, something which is far far away in our generation back home.. I randomly met an amazing up and coming film maker that randomly filmed at the same graveyard for her school project. She was one of Ukraine largest literary critics and is going to teach at Harvard next year, only 23 years old. 2 years ago she got bored with her academic success and moved to Warsaw to attend the best film school. I resonated with that decision, since I am really fascinated by Polish cinema and think it is the best film industry in the world. She told me her unique background story and I think she should make a movie about it.
What kind of story?
Her grandparents were communists and they met in Auschwitz. It is really an unique story. Because it is the greatest tragedy in modern history and her grandparents found love in the midst of it. She is an amazing «result» of something coming out from hate culture and the most horrible tragedy in our times. I also think it is important because many communists were also in Auschwitz but it’s not known in popular culture. So I think it would be an amazing film about perspective. A necessary film.
What are you trying to convey through? your music?
It’s different from project to project, piece to piece. People often ask what is art? What is the meaning of music? as like there is one answer to it. There are as many answers as there is intentions. I know many belive that reality has meaning, but ask what is meaning and contemplate it, you might realize it’s a complex form of construction in the human mind. My vision as an artist is to meet you where you are right now and show you something else simulatinously. To create a connection between the music and yourself or a connection with yourself and a deeper part of yourself. For me, it’s all about getting under all the filters. A raw experience of love, mystery, purpose and inspiration. I think that there are times in your life where you are forced to see your life in perspective, this often happens after an accident or a tragedy, but art can also point you to this. If you are able to get and experience being really present with yourself while having an infinite perspective of possibilities at the same time, that is an artistic vision for me. Intimate and infinite at the same time. To experience something abnormally beautiful, unknown at peace. We all experience something in life that has triggered en experience of something greater than ourselves. Some experience it through drugs other experience it through meditation or travel to a new place or art.
How do you do that?
A combination of searching while consciously challenging myself. It can be contemplating, meditating, traveling, searching out new experience in art, and life or simply just create. Something that triggers and force me out of my usual way of living and experiencing life. When you get out of your normal way of living life it is easier to gain new perspectives and experiences that you didn’t know existed. Humans are habitual creatures. More than we like to admit. We have the same thoughts as we did yesterday, we do the same things and have the same emotions over and over again. For me it is important for me to balance the physical, the mental and the emotional parts of me. When all three are aligned, I am at my best, and can focus on being present and create.
Do you feel like you are in a kind of flow state?
Yes, absolutely. Being creative is one of the greatest pleasures I have in my life. To me, it’s about being in touch with a part of you who is always open and always exploring that is never constant. In many ways. Anything can happen. It is probably the biggest high for me. Being creative and create. For me it feels like the energy I get in touch with through the process is often more important than the final result. That being said I really like working on long-term projects. I like to work on something for a really long time and then make it look like it is really easy and sponatanous. There is a concept in system thinking called emergence which describe this very well. You do several thing at once, and then something at a higher level shows up - something that wouldn’t be possible if you hadn’t had all that pieces put together. A million decisions in a blink of a moment. This is where you can find
depth in simplicity. And it’s a good way of describing the framework for my music and path in life: Simplicity with richness.
Where can people find you?