Secret Thirteen Interview - Tor Lundvall


Between seasons, structures and solitude - the interview with Tor Lundvall

Ambient composer and painter Tor Lundvall manages to translate the feel of his surroundings so well that in his works you almost feel the soft coldness of the first winter breeze, decadent smell of autumn leaves, the intense scent of pines in the hazy summer forest, breath of chimneys of some small and remote village or the distant dawn or twilight covering the urban horizon. Everything is inscribed in his refined and elegant symphonies balancing between dark ambient depths, the lushness of some old folk lullaby, neo-classical and even pop sensibilities, and in his paintings echoing the sense of nostalgia for a dreamland, where solitary human and bird-like creatures play "under the shadows of trees", "in soft blue light" with cityscapes "tall and grey" looming in the background. Those visual narratives stands on the verge of the solemnity of the 19th century Romanticism, folkish and surreal fantasies of Marc Chagall and Naïve art movement. Yet the emotions they evoke are more Impressionistic. Tor's paintings serves as the continuation of his sounds (or vice versa) and you must familiarize with both in order to experience the full effect.

Thus, it was a great pleasure to contact the man himself and take a glimpse to the backstage of his artistic world. And it is much more real than one might think stretching between rural landscapes of Wyckoff (New Jersey), East Hampton (New York) and monoliths of Washington D.C.

The virtual gallery of Tor Lundvall paintings can be accessed here.


The seasonal aspect of your music and paintings is very apparent, especially in the albums compiled in "The Seasons Unfold" box set and your collaboration with Tony Wakeford. What do they mean to you? How do you perceive the changing of seasons and how do they influence your art? What is your favourite time of the year and why?

The seasons have a profound influence on my life and work. Subtle things like breathing in the first scent of spring rain, freshly mowed grass, fallen leaves or chimney smoke alter my perceptions and awaken old memories and emotions. These changes flow naturally into my music and painting. Autumn will always be my favorite time of year, however I've grown fond of the late Winter in recent years, mainly because everything is usually settled and quiet. I can concentrate on my work without the pressure of Holidays or other distractions.

The recently released box set "Structures and Solitude" compiles your last four albums. However, we find your last pieces containing more urbanistic imagery ("Empty City", "The Shipyard"). What influenced those motives? The merging (and juxtaposition) of urbane and nature seem to be reoccurring in your sounds and paintings. What do they mean to you? What is your personal relation to city, nature and their relation?

My interest in architecture and how man-made structures interact with their natural surroundings started back in the late 1980s when I used to travel by train between New Jersey and Washington D.C. I'd stare out of the train window while listening to music on headphones. The music became tied in with images of scrapyards, snow covered fields, churches and warehouses passing by in the changing light. I knew that one day I would record my own soundtracks for these unique landscapes. Many of my paintings also explore imaginary architecture balanced with Nature, a glimpse of how I wish the world would be. I lived in New York City for a short time in the early 1990s and it was not for me. I'd rather observe the city from the shelter of a park or from a distant hill.

We find your music and paintings as the continuation of each other, both being the parts of the coherent world. How do you perceive those two art forms? Do paintings inspire your music or vice versa? How do the painter and the musician within you get together?

My painting and music come from the same creative place. I approach a recording the same way I approach a blank canvas, by starting with something very basic and refining it over time. Occasionally a painting will inspire a piece of music or the other way around, but I never analyze the creative process. In the end, it really boils down to the work involved. Both disciplines require the same amount of time, patience and dedication.

Are the landscapes and the characters in your paintings taken from the real world or is it your own personal fictional place? How do your paintings relate to the real world around you?

My figures and landscapes are certainly influenced by my memories, experiences and surroundings, however they ultimately exist in a world of their own. When I'm painting, I never know what the final outcome will be, even when I'm working directly from the landscape. The imagery just makes perfect sense in the end.

Your sound is very silent and refined. What does silence mean to you? Is it a significant part in your sound palette

I prefer silence and my lifestyle reflects that. Although I live in the country, I dread the sound of leaf blowers, noisy neighbours or construction echoing through the woods. I occasionally incorporate loud or dissonant sounds into my recordings, but these elements are always balanced by softness and stillness.

Your paintings seem to inhabit strange fictional bird and human-like creatures with masks. What do they stand for? What do they represent?

I never analyze what the figures represent, they just make sense on a powerful and instinctive level. When I was a child, I remember playing with a toy that had interchangeable heads. One of the heads resembled a cat and the other resembled a bird. I would also see faces and sense personalities in clocks, fire hydrants, tree branches, wallpaper, etc.. This is the only light I can shed on the possible origin of some of my figures.

Loneliness, solitude and introvert individuals seem to be reoccurring motives in your art. How do you perceive those emotions and what do they mean to you? Is your music best experienced in a solitude environment? What is your personal relation to it?

Solitude is a more prevalent theme than loneliness in my work. I am much more content when I am alone than when I am around others. I strongly believe that if a person is not genuinely at peace in their own company, they will never find happiness or contentment elsewhere. My music is created in solitude, so naturally I feel it is best experienced in a quiet, intimate environment.

What are your general creative and artistic influences? What mostly inspires you to create and provides this impulse?

My inspiration comes from Nature, above anything else. Taking a walk outside or riding my bike to the local park is all I need to get my creativity flowing. Visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC always makes me eager to paint, I just wish I could get there more often.

Your paintings and music are very aesthetic and beautiful. Do they represent your personal notion of beauty? How would you define beauty and what are the most beautiful things to you?

If my work represents anything it's the bond that exists between myself and Nature, and that in itself is beautiful. To me, the highest form of beauty is kindness, something there is not enough of in the world. The love I get from my dog or watching the birds at the feeder are the most beautiful things to me these days.

Man and nature is another reoccurring opposition (or merging) in your art reminding us of romanticism (Caspar David Friedrich especially). What is your opinion of man's place in this world and his/her perception of nature/surroundings? This question is especially topical nowadays as we become more and more detached from it.

One of the working titles for my recent box set was "Nature Laughs As Time Slips By". Nature goes by it's own clock. Man is merely passing through. Sadly, I've met very few people who seem to have a genuine connection with Nature. They're either busy ignoring it or foolishly trying to destroy it. I wish more people would spend their time sitting in a quiet field or walking through the woods. Perhaps the experience would make them more aware of the things that really matter.

How about live performances? Do you play live? Are you going to do that in the future?

I've been talking with an old friend about possibly doing a live performance at some point in the future. Playing live is not something that appeals to me, but it would be interesting to see how my music translates into a live setting.

What are your future plans at the moment?

My next instrumental album has been completed for some time and is entitled "The Park". Hopefully this album will see a release date in 2014. I'm also currently working on a new vocal album.

The virtual gallery of Tor Lundvall paintings can be accessed here.

More about Tor Lundvall: Website - Discogs

About Author

Paulius Ilevicius is a Secret Thirteen journalist, editor and occasional DJ focusing on more dreamy and melancholic soundscapes. Born in post-industrial town of Pavevezys, currently he lives and works in Vilnius, Lithuania.