Bendik Giske

Interview by Callum McLean
Photos shot by Florian Hetz

From Oslo and Bali to Berlin, Bendik Giske’s radical, rhythmic saxophone performances hum and shudder to a techno-like pulse. We caught up with him to talk club culture, transgression and intimacy.

A core feature of your performance involves using circular breathing techniques to build endlessly cycling patterns. What interests you about repetition?

There is something profoundly real about repetition, like waves. It is the ongoing momentum that confirms our living presence. The pulse; the breath. Then again, I find that the ideals of repetition are in fact impossible to achieve with a human body, so reaching towards it becomes a way to embrace my own humanity. It puts me in a vulnerable state, especially as I get closer to exhaustion, and there is profound honesty to that.

Your breathless performances seem physically exhausting. What are your secrets to keeping energy and focus?

The performance is in itself a ritual. It is exhausting but in an energizing way. I really enjoy achieving that concentrated, meditative state where intuition takes over when nothing else matters but the here and now. It’s like reaching a state of surrender.

What was it about the more traditional worlds of jazz and saxophone performance that you felt you needed to break away from? 

Jazz has been a vessel for me to acquire knowledge. There’s a wealth of tools and directions to explore within the genre that are instrumental to how I can create. It’s been important for me to realize that knowledge provides a platform to depart from. I try to explore avenues that might reveal themselves as a gesture of opposition to the current. As a performing artist, I want to listen rather than impose myself on my surroundings. I want to establish a momentum and watch as an expression grows out of it.

“I believe empathy is a superpower”

To say the least, you have a complicated relationship to your instrument. 

I continuously find that the saxophone takes me to interesting places. It has become mine; we have grown together. There’s so much physicality in the tenor saxophone, and I feel it connects well with my body and voice. These discoveries have come out of a sense of urgency to explore other possibilities, to create outside of established frameworks. I’m not sure I’d be a saxophonist otherwise.

Your mirroring of electronic sounds involves recording your performances up close, intimately. 

I definitely find intimacy erotic. Placing microphones both very close and far away in the reverberant spaces where Surrender was recorded allowed me to play with proximity. In post-production I could take this further, almost like whispering in the listener’s ear.

We love the radical concepts behind behind what you do; at the same time, we found your music surprisingly meditative. What effect do you hope to produce in listeners?

It’s frustrating to see how polarization occurs and grows in public debate. So many people are expressing themselves in a strong and powerful ways, making unbelievable efforts to be seen and to bring their story into the light. It is clear that confrontation is needed, but for these statements to be heard, people need to listen! I believe empathy is a superpower that needs to be worked on, that entering meditative states is a portal to a richer understanding of what’s going on in and around you. 

You were inspired to create Surrender following a night at the notorious Berlin club Berghain in 2012. Can you tell us about your epiphany? 

In Berghain, I found both the music and a culture that invited me to take a counter-perspective: one in which you surrender control and just let it happen. This opens up an incredible space to explore identity, togetherness, solitude, movement and so much more. I started asking myself why it felt so special, and part of the answer manifested into how I went about creating the Surrender album, as well as much of the repertoire I’ve made for stage and art spaces. 

Bendik Giske’s album Surrender is out now on Smalltown Supersound. Catch him at Muziekgebouw aan de Ring, 6 February! Free for Subbacultcha members.