How One Band Turned A Ghost Town Into A Giant Recording Studio : The Record The Danish band Efterklang literally went to the ends of the earth — an arctic island 400 miles north of mainland Europe, to be exact — to make its album Piramida.
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How One Band Turned A Ghost Town Into A Giant Recording Studio

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How One Band Turned A Ghost Town Into A Giant Recording Studio

How One Band Turned A Ghost Town Into A Giant Recording Studio

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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We're going to hear, now, about a band that embarked on an adventure you might call extreme music-making. It starts with the fact that members of the Danish band Efterklang are obsessed with sound; with finding it and manipulating it. They've made four albums over the last 10 years and gained fans around the world.

NPR's Jacob Ganz has the story of the lengths they went to in producing their latest album.

JACOB GANZ, BYLINE: Efterklang could have gone into a studio to record "Piramida," but the band has done that already. Instead, its members: Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen and Rasmus Stollberg decided to travel to an island more than 400 miles north of the farthest northern point in mainland Europe.

RASMUS STOLLBERG: It's a territory controlled by Norway. But it's not really Norway.

GANZ: That's Rasmus Stollberg.

HEIN BJERCK: Svalbard is an arctic island. It's about one and a half hours, with the airplane, north of Norway.

GANZ: Hein Bjerck is an anthropologist in Norway. For three years in the late 1990s, he lived in Svalbard. When he first visited Piramida, named for the pyramid-shaped mountain that looms above it, the town was an active Russian mining colony.

BJERCK: At the time it was close to 500 inhabitants in the settlement.

GANZ: Now there are none. In 1998, the Russians abandoned it. That's exactly why, a dozen years later, the members of Efterklang wanted to record there, says lead singer, Casper Clausen.

CASPER CLAUSEN: This place was quite optimal because we could kind of record a city without people in it. You can go to any other city and try and record, but there would always be some kind of sounds you're not in control of in the background.


GANZ: Getting to Piramida wasn't easy. They had to pack all the gear they'd need to record in the abandoned town. The hour and a half plane ride was followed by three hours in a boat, crossing stormy arctic waters.

CLAUSEN: Sitting in a boat like that, with all of our equipment, going to this ghost town, not having written one song yet, everything felt so new and fresh and without direction. So in that sense, it was a scary trip in many ways, I think.

GANZ: Once they got there, there was nothing to do but wander, collect sounds and worry about polar bear attacks. One of the reasons for taking the trip, Rasmus Stollberg says, was hearing that the world's northernmost grand piano still sits in Piramida's empty concert hall. But most of the instruments the band found weren't designed to be played by musicians.

STOLLBERG: When you're up there for nine days, you get to hit on a lot of metal. You get a lot of rusty metal sounds.

GANZ: They banged on corrugated metal siding, lamps, a tiny shed made of glass bottles; they recorded their footsteps on a boardwalk.


GANZ: They found a fuel tank covered in spikes, each of which made a different tone when it was struck. Once they figured these tones out, they could play the tank like a real instrument.


GANZ: That spiky fuel tank was musical by itself, but much of the sound that came from Piramida had to be treated in some way - taken apart and reassembled. Fortunately, that kind of thing is built into the band's process and even its name. The word Efterklang actually means reverberation in Danish. The sound, say, a piano makes not when the hammer strikes the string...


GANZ: But all the sound after the strike itself, the sound of that ping reverberating in the air.


GANZ: After clang, after sound, that after sound - reverberation - turns out to be a crucial part of making new sounds out of old ones...


GANZ: ...of turning dinky noises into widescreen music.


GANZ: Here's how Mads Brauer turned those noises into elements of one finished song called "Sedna." The musicians started with enormous, empty fuel tanks.

MADS BRAUER: On the top of them, you could climb up them and there's this valve. And if you hit that with a mallet it almost sounds like a vibraphone.


GANZ: Brauer then lowered a microphone down through that valve, to capture the sound of the reverberation inside the tank.


BRAUER: If you kind of freeze that sound, like freeze the decay, you get this sustained note and it will kind of loop back and forward, so you'll have a little movement in the sound.


GANZ: Brauer combined that looped decay with the sound of the decay from a piano,


GANZ: The end result sounded something like an organ.


GANZ: Then he programmed a keyboard to shift the pitch of that composite sound, so it could actually be played like an organ.


GANZ: Then the group composed the song around these sounds.


GANZ: The finished songs bring up a question: When you listen to the album, you don't hear the abandoned town. So why was it so important to make the journey there, for sounds that might be a huge part of a song, but are basically indiscernible to the average listener?

BRAUER: It's not a documentation of the place. It's just where we started. And the whole inspiration point of it is, in a way, just as important as the sound that we record.

GANZ: It was about being there, says Mads Brauer, in this place that was once full of life. Anthropologist Hein Bjerck, says that the Russians who lived there had good lives. There was a greenhouse, a heated swimming pool and that concert hall. More than a decade after it was abandoned, Bjerck went back to Piramida for a book about the town called "Persistent Memories." He says you could see the remnants of a life of longing, still hanging on the walls of the empty homes.

BJERCK: There were many pictures of things that were lacking up there. Dogs and cats, and, of course, all their family that they're missing. Also, typically, an abundance of maps and pictures of airplanes. And also, calendars where you can see they were counting down the days in these two-year-long periods.

GANZ: The members of Efterklang stepped into this place with only one thing worked out: they were starting, together from zero; no songs, no structure, no album.

Here's singer Casper Clausen.

CLAUSEN: We had a trip together, the three of us. We started this off with an adventure to, kind of, formulate a starting point. And we found a lot of sounds but we also sharpened our senses. I think that was the most important about it.

GANZ: Sharpened senses, to locate and carefully preserve the echoes of a slowly decaying city. Now, like the town itself, Efterklang's album, "Piramida," is an artifact of a place and a moment that was once creative and thriving, and now frozen in time.

Jacob Ganz, NPR News.


MONTAGNE: You can hear songs from that new album and see images of Efterklang in the Arctic ghost town at

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.


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