Nanook of the North are Stefan Wesołowski and Piotr Kaliński (a.k.a. Hatti Vatti), two acclaimed Polish musicians who meld a stunning array of acoustic and electronic sounds into sonic narratives of impecable beauty.
At the end of the week, the duo will release a conceptual and enchanting self-titled debut album via Denovali Records. The album was birthed after an invitation by the Sopot Film Festival to perform an improvised score to a film screening of Robert J. Flaherty’s classic 1922 silent movie Nanook of the North. A few years after the performance, to maintain the ambient essence of the film and live score, the duo travelled to Reykjavík to record the LP with Stefan playing violin, synth, and piano parts, and Piotr taking care of electronics, more synths, and the final mix down, which happened in Greenland. It’s a haunting, deeply moving album driven by the brutality of the Far North and the duo’s connection to it.
Ahead of the LP's release on Friday, XLR8R chatted to the duo over email to dig a little deeper into their processes and nature of the project. They've also offered up a full stream of the album, available to stream via the player below.
So you’re debut LP is on the way via Denovali Records. What can we expect from the record?
PIOTR: I hope you will feel the atmosphere which was inspiring us during the recording sessions in Iceland and Greenland. The record is very Far North inspired, it's more brutal than sweet, but also very emotional at the same time—just like nature and everything there. Technically and musically it's a blend of electronic textures, old analog synths , and sounds of violin and piano with lots of various effects. To me, it's hard to say what kind of genre it is. But one thing is for sure, it doesn't sound like mine or Stefan's solo work—I think we create a new language for our collaboration, and it's a bit far away from our "daily" sound signatures.
You’re both highly regarded solo artists in your own right. What inspired the collaborative project?
STEFAN: Mostly our friendship, because if we didn't like each other and would not be patient with each other, we would probably would have left this project many times. A few years ago we were asked to live score the 1922 Nanook of the North documentary at a film festival and Piotr simply dropped a casual thought: why wouldn't we record it? So the idea was fertilized, but we were not ready to do it properly yet. We had different points of view, different aesthetic needs, but we also never threw the project away. After a few years of doing our own stuff we finally found out that we were ready to get back into Nanook, so we went to Iceland, holed up in beautifully situated studio in Reykjavik harbor and practically recorded whole album in one week.
What were the specific intentions of the project to begin with?
STEFAN: For me, the main and only intention is always to create quality, trends-resistant music and it was the same this time. Except for the fact that this time I wasn't working alone and my head and my vision weren't the only ones I must satisfy. It was quite an interesting artistic journey, as we promised ourselves we would not go into compromises, nor into an insincere cross-style project. We wanted to create something built from our differences.
The album is dark and deeply moving. Where does this raw emotion come from?
STEFAN: Apparently from our souls. We are both quite North-focused guys, we love cold, dark, and rough sea, raw landscape, and nature in general. Also, we both loved scary stories and movies when we were kids. This material may be dark and moving, but definitely not sad and sorrowful. It’s intended to be a soundtrack to the film Nanook of the North.
Why did you choose this film in particular?
PIOTR: The movie was just a beginning. Back in 2012, we were asked to play a score for a silent movie. I was looking for a movie and sadly I realized that most of the old movies—I mean like 100-year-old movies—are a bit funny or too exaggerated. Then I found Nanook of the North, a very interesting documentary piece about life of Inuit people in Far North territories, and except for just a few scenes, this movie is very serious and it's simply very beautiful from the art point of view.
Did you just go about writing a soundtrack—did you watch the film while recording or did you just keep it in mind while in the studio?
PIOTR: No, even during the live concerts with screenings, we didn't look at the movie. It's just a inspiration, a mood—it's not a real soundtrack, it's more like music inspired by the movie.
Was the intention always to release it as an album—or was it going to be just a one-off film score?
PIOTR: We had a few live gigs a couple of years ago, even without a project name. But we felt that it could be interesting to manage a good recording session and to keep some pieces for the next centuries, haha. Also, a few people told us that it could be an interesting idea. So after few years of silence we went to E7 studios in Reykjavik and here it is.
How do you find producing in collaboration compared to producing solo?
PIOTR: Everytime is different. Me and Stefan have known each other for many years, we are good friends, but we decided to do something together quite late—I guess it's different when you work with close friends, especially when he comes from a totally different musical background and education. Right now, we speak almost one language, but before we had some crisis—our vision about the project were still close, but very different at the same time. After some gigs and recording sessions the problem was gone.
Talk to me more about the production behind the album. Where and when was it recorded?
STEFAN: The first sketches are still from the beginning of the idea, I think it was 2012. I think "Sisamaat" is the only song that survived all these years and we put it on the album. We recorded this material many times using many ways in many places, but I think 80% of the album was recorded when we decided to go to Reykjavik, combining work and pleasure.
Generally speaking, how did the tracks come together?
STEFAN: We just tried a lot of things, and we recorded a lot of music, and finally we started to speak the same language. It was easy to put the right tracks together then.
What was your setup for the recording process?
PIOTR: Most of the recording sessions were done in Ólafur Arnalds' studio in Iceland, one of the best places I've ever been to, full of magical gear, lots of old analog stuff, a great piano, and a stunning harbour view. I'm responsible for most of the many different synths (like the Juno 106 or the amazing Korg PS 3200), field recordings (nature sounds from Greenland and Iceland), and beats; whilst Stefan was more focused on violin and piano. We also had some Inuit guests, I recorded them in Greenland and that's why you can hear some throat singing and traditional drumming between tracks.
Is there one particular track that you’re most proud of on the album?
PIOTR: Hmm, good question. I like all the tracks, but everytime I hear "Arfineq-pingajuat" I feel a little bit lost.
STEFAN: I'm partial to "Qulingiluaat," because when I improvised it using this spectacular Korg PS 3200, I knew it would make a great epilogue to the material.
What’s next for Nanook of the North? Can we expect more material?
PIOTR: For sure, there will be second album. We are very happy about our Denovali release and we're very focused to play it live as much as it will be possible. So I hope we will be able to perform soon in your countries.