The musical personas of Alexander Holm

An interesting exhibition at Copenhagen's DANSEatelier involving a group of creative minds, but with one man at it's center. Alexander Holm.

Published: October 4, 2016Words: Alexander Holm & J.Scott Stratton

I’ve never been a fan of the term Sound Artist. In fact, and this is going to get me in trouble with about 90% of the people reading this, but I’m not a fan of the term “artist” in general. I believe it to be an archaic classification of creative expression. The world is too small for such a broad, yet narrow minded classification, when the cross disciplinary study and conceptual creative processes are taking in pop culture and tradition “artist” expression is finding it’s way into the mainstream.

In regards to Sound Art, simply by definition it implies that all other forms of musical creative expression are not art, but craft. It is all creative—and like all creative, there is just as much garbage is there is greatness.

I do understand that sound art is generally interdisciplinary and conceptual in nature, but there are many “classical musicians” (for the lack of a better term) that also work within these parameters. I believe that in the context of sound, it becomes fat and grandious when combined with the “art” moniker.

I am, in no way, advocating that the formulaic pop melodies of Baby, one more time or Single Ladies should be elevated to the level of being labeled art (although some might disagree), nor am I advocating that music traditions classified as “sound art” should somehow be demoted. It is simply my personal bias. I find categorization to be a troubling thing, especially in light of the fact that the world is getting smaller and classification of creative expression are becoming more and more complex. In my ear, the more complex a categorical description becomes, the more pretentious it sounds.

But enough of me ranting, for there are people out there, that work purely with sound as tool for personal expression, and resist the pressure to box themselves into categorical boxes—let’s call them sound artisans to avoid traditional classifications. Such is the demeanor of sound artisan Jonathan Pyon, A.K.A Alexander Holm—Jonathon Pyon being the pseudonym that he composes under for his album work.

I first came in contact with Alex’s work at the first collective performance event Feast at DANSEAtelie as he was performing a duo piece, where he was composing soundscapes based on the movements and selection of objects of the other performer. It was like tantamount to watching two people trying to play a game together—yet with one person using a deck of cards, while the other a set of dice. It was quite beautiful, like two completely docile foreign creatures coming in contact with each other for the first time. But as the night drew on, I never got a chance to sit down and talk with Alexander—whom I’d never met at that time—and speak with him about his work or the performance in general.

Fast forward a number of weeks, and the stars align. I find out that Alexander is crossing disciplines and working within the field of visual installation (although, still with music as a conceptual driver), and is holding an exhibition entitled Former Commodity #1, again at DANSatelie. It’s an exhibition where a group of creatives use Alexander’s album World Pool—published under the pseudonym Jonathon Pyon—to fuel a series of installations based on their interpretations of the music.

Through an act of fate, Alexander and I come in contact and I take the opportunity sit him down (metaphorically) and have a little chat about his work, his process and his like-mind distaste for classifying himself as either artist or musician….

…I did have to ask him, though:

You describe your work on World Pool as “minimalist electronic compositions and ambient techno”, but how would you describe yourself—musician or as a sound artist?

In the context of this album I call myself a musician, but in the context of Former Commodity I call myself an artist. So I guess a bit of both. But to be honest, I don’t like to describe myself through a title. Describing a person through a title feels to me like cramming that person into a narrow category. Perhaps instead of “being” an artist, “engaging” in art is a better way to talk about one’s relationship to creative work. At least, I feel more like expressing myself this way.

Can you tell me why you are working under the pseudonym Jonathan Pyon? Is it’s “band name” or a persona that you embody for this piece?

Jonathan Pyon is a persona that I embody. I like to see the relation between me and Jonathan Pyon as a hierarchy of reality reaching into fiction. Alexander Holm is a person, who organise stuff, writes emails, or compose music. Jonathan Pyon is a person who contains the emotions that my music express.

Do you perform this work, and other music, traditional in venues?

This summer, I performed as Jonathan Pyon at Mayhem on Nørrebro and at a small festival in northern Jutland called Ingenmandsland. Since I was a teenager, I’ve been performing in venues with bands, duos and other solo projects, playing mainly rock and electronic music.

Is there a concept behind the album?

There isn’t a strict concept behind the album, but it plays a part in Former Commodity #1, an exhibition that examines the concept of publications. Hmmm … Maybe you can say that the album is the concept instead of saying that there is a concept behind it. Maybe a little cryptic. Haha.

Ya, that is a bit deep, but I get it. On that not, did you creative direct the other artists in Former Commodity #1 that working with your album as an inspiration piece?

Yes. Before we began talking about the content of the exhibition, everyone in the group listened to an earlier edition of the album. This was actually not so much to inspire, but more like a way to set an atmosphere. I asked everyone to do visual reflections of the album, but not in the sense of transferring the music into visual works, but to elaborate on the music album as a published object that contains information.

Will the concept of the exhibition follow the concept of the album, or is it more free flowing artist interpretation?

There is not a direct transfer of aesthetics from the album to the exhibition, but there is something that you can describe as a growing relationship between the two. As we go along in the process unforeseen links between the works occurs. Each of the works has its own story to tell shining back on the overall theme.

In your PR material, you mentioned examining “the relationship between the trader and the tradable product”. Can you elaborate on this?

Describing the exhibition as such is a way to objectify the artworks—items that one would normally think of as meaningful and soulful in comparison to a commercial product. It highlights a division between art and commodity, that we find interesting to talk about.

When creating the pieces for the exhibition, did you work as collective or individually?

We work collectively on all the pieces to some extent.Take the record as an example. I initiated the piece, but I think of it as a group piece in the sense that Mathias and Wilfred did the cover, Lorenzo designed it’s furniture and Stine is transforming it in some way. All the pieces are worked out like this. One of us has an idea, and the others help out elaborating on this idea.

Will the album be played in conjunction to the pieces?

Our installation has a notion of being unactivated, exhibited items that have been objectified and stored. The sound is absent and the album is presented along with the other works as dead objects with potentials of being activated.

About the exhibition series Former Commodity, will they focus mainly on your work or different releases?

Different artist’s are doing the works. Maybe I will join in some of the projects, but I will not do more solo records in the frame of Former Commodity.

Can you tell me how Sensorisk Verden has played a part in the curation of this particular event—will they be involved in all of the Former Commodity events?

Yes. Sensorisk Verden (Sensory World) is the initiator of the series and will be involved in all the editions as the curator. SV is a label I started last February 2016, a kind of catalyst for everything I involve myself in as organiser. SV catalogs projects as publications, whether it’s a performance, a music release or a concert night. Another angle on examining the concept of publications. I like to see SV as a growing sum of the projects that is born out of it’s initiative, and in this frame SV is more like a group project of all the people that contributed to it’s catalog.

As the main driver of the evening, what can people expect from this evening?

An essential thing for me is that people feel free to make personal conclusions, and not to dictate a specific experience. I would love if the works titillate people’s own reflections. I hope that it’s provoking, transcendent and maybe a little boring. I think boredom is an underestimated feeling. One of my favourite film directors James Benning makes very boring but fantastic films. For example “Ten Skies”, a one and a half hour film with ten different videos of the sky. When I first saw it in the cinema I remember that a known reviewer from the danish newspaper Politiken was there who fell asleep during the film. In his review he loved the film. This was kind of eye opening for me. haha. I am very curious to hear what will be the experiences of the music on World Pool and the works of Former Commodity #1. Boring maybe—I would love that.