Exit (Tomas Nordmark – ‘Exit Ghosts’, May 14:th 2021 via Valley of Search)
Having cultivated a deep appreciation for conceptual art and the phase-shifting minimalism pioneered by the downtown avant-garde community of NYC in the ‘60s, Nordmark set out to blend that with his pop-oriented upbringing and unique perspective on electronic music. The Swedish-born, London-based composer credits university as the formative period during which these various interests coalesced, and ever since, he’s been pursuing an intellectually rigorous musical style that blends cathartic melodies with a deeply felt ideal of truth through art.
For Exit Ghosts, Nordmark’s stirring new album, and a spiritual sequel to his 2019 debut LP, Eternal Words, he wanted to build upon the strict structures that the first record was created in. Exit Ghosts pulses with an unrelenting energy, waving and cresting around ambient tension and gorgeously realized melodies. “I wanted to be very deliberate in my approach,” he explains. “I made a few decisions to strictly limit my technical palette, such as using only one synth. I wanted to mirror the process-based work introduced by minimalist composers, but to elaborate and update it. I’ve been working on this process since Eternal Words, and Exit Ghosts is in conversation with that album.”
Though the two feed off of each other, Nordmark’s forthcoming album exists in its own universe. On “Ghosts,” which features vocals by South London duo Waterbaby, the album’s only guests, percussion mirrors a heartbeat and choir-like vocals give the song an ethereal edge equal parts inviting and unnerving. On “Aftertime,” strings wispily float across the composition while synths recall the emotive groan of a foghorn searching for light through the mist. Within the world Nordmark’s built, he manages to explore a vast amount of territory despite the limited tools he’s allowed himself.
Exit Ghosts is partly influenced by the history of film scores and the aesthetics carried by that tradition. As an instrumental album, Nordmark is tasked with conjuring emotions without words, and the way he utilizes specific cues mirrors the process of film scores, in addition to the work of seminal composers such as Tim Hecker, Arthur Russell, and Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Much of the album was also inspired by the writing of Mark Fisher, a British cultural theorist with an emphasis on politics, popular culture, and music. Nordmark found a commonality between Fisher’s ideas of lost futures and his own feelings towards pop culture. “I believe there are certain things in our society that hinder pop culture from progressing into the future,” he says, before adding, “I thought to myself, ‘If I’m going to make music, I want it to be in response to these writings.’” In that sense, Nordmark is residing over a world in which the immediate consumerism of 21st century music apparatuses are reimagined to support a bold frontier. “I wanted to see if I could make something that felt totally new, and by using a strict process, I was able to disconnect myself from the work in a curious way.”
Nordmark began the album right before the first lockdown in the UK, back in March of 2020. Informed by the choral hymns and folk tunes of Nordic tradition, Nordmark began editing and cutting fragments of melodies layering and then sequencing them according to a strict process of creating new melodic textures through a process he calls ‘hyper-anachronism.’ From there, he let the process work itself out, using the intuition of the notes themselves to guide the direction of his work. Though Exit Ghosts is entirely informed by this strict set of rules Nordmark commits himself to, the work still functions both inside and outside of this world. It’s a testament to Nordmark’s ability to translate his ideas into a style of music that works both intellectually and as an a priori feeling that exists in all of us.
“My system partly begins with math, but it becomes emotional. It twists, and the structure ends in a different place than it began. That’s why I find creation so thrilling.” Nordmark sets up a situation through which unintentional ingenuity can occur, and Exit Ghosts is, in this sense, an album―a brilliant one at that―that is equal parts deliberate and accidental. Tomas Nordmark concocts situations for the unexpected to occur, and in that universe, unending beauty is slowly revealed.