“The technology shouldn’t control the music; the musician should control the technology.”
So says Trond Engum, the Norwegian bandleader of The Soundbyte. The avant-garde ambient band, built primarily around Engum’s ingenious guitar and electronic sounds, is a by-product of prog metallers The 3rd And The Mortal, which Engum formed and fronted in 1992.
“When we started using electronics, we did what most metal bands do, which is to use a sequencer,” says Engum. “That repetition became really frustrating because everything that we had rehearsed, like all of our tempo changes, disappeared. This is when I realised that I needed to learn more about music technology in order to control it.”
The introduction of electronic themes in the music was the inspiration needed for the charismatic frontman to create The Soundbyte in 1998, with fellow The 3rd And The Mortal bandmate and accomplished drummer Rune Hoemsnes. Now he’s on the band’s fourth album, Solitary IV: a powerful landscape of dark tempos building up to apocalyptic crescendos.
“Our goal for the last few years has been to use the technology at the same time as we are playing, while also taking control of the technology,” he says. “For example, none of our music is sampled or pre-prepared: everything is part of the instrumentation. You could say that it has been quite a long journey!”
All of the instruments on the album were recorded live, including the electronic sounds, which are controlled by or processed through the guitar and drums. “We try to mirror the live performance in the studio and mirror the studio recordings back to the live performance in order to get the best of both worlds and improve the composition process,” reveals Engum.
Norwegian folk influences can be distinguished through the intricate melodies of the dramatic Solitary and Descending, adding a darker element to the music.
“This is a dark album compared to the others and I suppose it is a comment about what is around us at the moment, what we are hearing and what we are seeing,” says Engum.
Solitary IV features the expressive vocal styling of singers Tone Åse and Kirsti Huke, who emulate the dramatic lines of each song with improvised vocal tones rather than lyrics.
“I did not want to incorporate any lyrics, because the listener is able to make up their own opinions about the different moods that we are trying to create,” Engum explains. “We attempted to make the album as visual as possible. Instead of warming everything up with analogue technology, we tried to cool it down.
The band released a short promotional video for Descending that depicts a landscape in which a building begins to crack, but leaves on the trees keep on growing.
“That goes back to the idea of stripping things back. The video is of my hometown, Trondheim,” says Engum. “The idea was to break something down and have something organic grow out of it. The building starts to crack and everything starts to decay, except for the trees that have leaves growing on them.”
The controlled progressive metal melodies expressed in The 3rd And The Mortal are distinguishably entwined in the dreamy electronic improvisation of The Soundbyte, thus tapping into a truly enlightened motley of darkened emotions and visuals. Engum’s preservation of the music’s essence through ingenious technique is ever evident in this fourth album and is an inspiration to fellow prog musicians.
“I don’t feel like a visionary,” Engum says, “but I believe that it’s a good thing to have control over the technology in order to keep a human aspect within the music.”
Line-up: Trond Engum (guitars), Rune Hoemsnes (drums)
Sounds like: An avant-garde ambient landscape of electronic tones with distinct prog influences
Current release: Solitary IV is out June 30 on ToT Records