When Swedish composer Tomas Nordmark set out to write Exit Ghosts, he was guided by three principles. Limiting himself to a pared-down set of musical elements, his structure drew from ’60s minimalists like Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Melodically, he incorporated snippets of ancient Scandinavian folk songs, which he slowed and rearranged into haunting refrains. And thematically, he was influenced by the late philosopher Mark Fisher, whose writings on capitalism, futurism, and melancholy Nordmark found profoundly inspiring. A similar set of guidelines had yielded the formal austerity of 2019’s Eternal Words, but with Exit Ghosts, “I decided I wanted to be more personal,” he tells Apple Music. Fisher’s work, in particular, made him ask himself, “Why am I doing this music?” In search of answers, the London-based artist began work on the album just before the city went into lockdown. It’s not hard to hear how the experience of the following months may have shaped its direction. Although soft and contemplative, Nordmark’s mostly wordless pieces harbor a deep-seated unease. “My friend who is releasing the album said, ‘It’s so dark and so dense,’” he says. “I didn’t really reflect on that when I made it.” Here he does a bit more thinking about each of the LP’s tracks.
“This was one of the first tracks I did for the album. I see it as a bridge between the previous album and the new one. When I started making Exit Ghosts, I made a sound palette based on Eternal Words, but then I added a few more sounds to that palette. One was a really processed electric guitar, which is frozen, in a way. Maybe that’s because I’m a guitarist and it’s a more tactile instrument, so that’s a more personal side I’m letting into the project.”
Ghosts (feat. Waterbaby)
“Where other tracks used these ancient Swedish melodic fragments, ‘Ghosts’ uses the ‘Tristan chord,’ from Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, which for its time was very spectacular. I deconstructed that, just using those first notes from Tristan and Isolde, and built the track from it. It’s also different because there are voices on it. They’re singing a line that I picked from a Swedish neo-gothic novel. The book starts with a feverish dream: The protagonist is dreaming and there’s a ghost whispering to this character, asking him if his sleep has been refreshing. There are a lot of layers embedded in this track.”
“It feels really medieval; there’s something that might be a flute sound. This rhythmic element—I call it the space-jazz drummer—feels organic. It’s actually processed noise. When I did that sound, I was thinking a lot of Arthur Russell’s World of Echo, which is one of my favorite albums. It’s so out there, rhythmically. He seems to just play and all these rhythms happen. And how he distorts his cello is so beautiful. That was the inspiration for that sound, which returns in other places, but most significantly in ‘Spirit.’ Maybe that’s the spirit of Arthur Russell that pokes into the song.”
“This is one of the few tracks where you could actually hum the melody. Coming from a background in pop music, melody is something that I really appreciate. I’m doing this skewed instrumental music, but sometimes it just happens that these layers present a melody. I think of it almost as a symphonic track, in a way.”
“Before I did Exit Ghosts, I started to make an album that was totally ambient. I did half and then I just said, ‘No, this is not what I want to do.’ But some made its way into Exit Ghosts. ‘Becoming’ is what I took from that project. It’s more serene and ambient, and it doesn’t have many percussive elements. It prepares us for the end of the journey. Maybe I see it as a transition as well, because it transitioned from the project I trashed and made its way into this album anyway.”
“If you listen to the album in full, there’s a drama: You start out one way, go up in the middle, and then you’re being washed out toward the end. There’s actually a quote from Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie that I connect with this track: ‘What the weird and the eerie have in common is a preoccupation with the strange. The strange—not the horrific…. It has, rather, to do with a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition, and experience.’ And I think that’s a summary of my thoughts on this album.”