An Interview With In The Labyrinth's Peter Lindahl

Interview by Andrew Holborne

I became aware of In The Labyrinth (ITL) through Richard Stockwell at Cranium Records in New Zealand. The main composer and multi-instrumentalist with ITL is Peter Lindahl, from Sweden. I played ITL frequently on my radio show (now called “Third Ear”) in Australia and found that the freshness of the compositions stood up to repeated listening. I contacted Peter Lindahl to tell him that I really appreciated his music. After chatting together over the net for some time, Peter and I decided to do an ‘email interview’ for “Third Ear.”

I’d like to thank Peter for the huge amount of time he devoted in providing me with detailed and frank answers. Peter did this to assist me in presenting a special about ITL for a radio station run by volunteers servicing only 40,000 people. But his answers were so interesting, that I thought they would be worth sharing with the larger prog community. Here’s an edited text of that interview.

~ Andrew Holborn

Part 1:
Andrew Holborn: Peter, Let’s talk first about a few tracks from the three In The Labyrinth CDs. On The Garden Of Mysteries, "Trans Turkish Express" just made me feel like dancing with its mad, swirling rhythms, whereas "Moorish Waltz" is one of your tracks that creates a really soft feeling in my heart.

Peter Lindahl: Hi Andrew. First I’ll have to thank you for all the interest you have shown in my band, In The Labyrinth, and me.

"Trans Turkish Express" portrays my visions of Turkey and maybe my lust for traveling around in Asia. Like many of the tracks on The Garden Of Mysteries, it evolved out of having been just a
tag on another song. That’s how I often work. I like to be spontaneous with my music, avoiding boundaries, getting stuck in genres and being confined by what is right and what is wrong. There’s a lot of coincidence with ITL. For me, it's very important that the soul should be present in the creative process. I use my experience of course, but I try to go by sheer intuition, letting styles come and go; likewise themes, melodies and musical structures as a whole.

"Moorish Waltz" would probably have been my first pick of The Garden Of Mysteries. Like "Trans Turkish," it developed out of another track. (They nearly always do!) I like to see what emerges when things are mixed in an unexpected way. In India, for instance, you can never know quite what to expect! Maybe I’m a mixed soul having been brought up abroad and that is why I’m a world musician. I don’t really feel at home anywhere. I just belong to the whole planet, which I love with all my heart.

Back to "Moorish Waltz," I should briefly explain that there are certain South American elements in that one, mostly from the Andes along side of the Oriental influences. Bo Hanson’s music also hugely inspired me for that one.

AH: You mentioned the importance of soul and emotions in the compositional process. Peter, can you tell me more about the way you compose your music and how you and the other musos work together to create the final sound we hear on your three CDs.

PL: The way I get compositions into my head is usually just from being inspired and having the time to experiment and express myself in my studio. The rest is all very hardFisherman work, even if it’s usually a lot of fun. Making a recording sound the way I want it and imagine it takes a lot of effort from my side. Composing and arranging is usually good fun, but production is less of a gamble and should be dealt with very seriously to get the utmost quality out of a recording.

I love interaction and all that this word stands for, both between precisely arranged parts or harmonies within a song and on a more improvised level where musicians create things together.

On our first album The Garden Of Mysteries, I played most of the instruments myself with the occasional assistance of fellow musicians such as Mikael Gejel, Stefan Ottman and Helena Selander. Helena always did a great job with her high-pitched harmonies. She has her own projects on the side, which is more Western-world oriented.

Our second album Walking On Clouds became less of a one man band thing though, as I started to cooperate with Håkan Almkvist at that stage and also decided to get in as many musicians as possible into the production.

Next, our third effort, Dryad made me return a bit more to the solitary way of making music. For the next (could be?) release, the long time project Samas Antaral, I will continue that way, building on top of pieces of music that were recorded by Stefan, Helena and several others plus myself way back in time. More recently made recordings and some brand new ones will also be included.

Witch dance

AH: Two of my favorite tracks on Walking On Clouds are "Kali" and "The Caravan from Sheeba."

PL: "Kali" was first recorded back in 1997. It was quite different then and later on a lot of sampled instruments were swapped for "real" ones. When I got around to showing Håkan the basic track, he was really enthusiastic like I've seldom seen him before or since, and it seemed to trigger him off to some of his most splendid performances on bass, sitar, tabla and lead guitar. I still really enjoy the things he put on to that track!

Another effort of Håkan was to refurnish the entire album, changing the order of everything. My intention had long been to place "The Caravan From Sheeba" first, but he wanted more vocals up front so I agreed on that, thereby making "Kali" the initial track. The mid-bars of the song were spoken by Stefan Ottman. The three written verses that I had were otherwise sung by me, but here it felt appropriate to have Stefan read out the lines like a narrator. He did it really well, but perfectionist as I am, I asked him to do it again after a year or so. I wanted him to make it more fluent for the sake of the tranquility of the text. This particular verse describes the huge grassy park of Calcutta in India where fireflies twinkle and scintillate like little stars in the calm of the night. All around and beyond that, you can hear the wild, crazy traffic of the bustling city. I wanted that to come out, the contrast between opposing elements which so often prevails in India, especially up north.

Håkan made a really fuzzy guitar solo using his E-bow magnet instead of a plectrum and all his boxes connected in the noisiest way ever. I added some sound effects at the end, trying to combine them to create an image of big cites in India, though, in fact, those were taken from both American archives and from several other places not connected to India. Here you have traffic jams, kids pulling carts, dogs in a wild chase, thunder, among other things.

I started writing "The Caravan From Sheeba" back in 1991 and finished it in `99 with a lot of changes occurring along the way. Initially it was intended for the cassette, which we released privately here in Sweden in `94. The title of this was Mysteriernas Trädgård, an exact translation of The Garden Of Mysteries. Mikael Gejel and I wanted to close the cassette album with "Sheeba" but I decided to put it aside to give it a better destiny since I didn’t feel at ease with that early carnation of ITL and was beginning to feel it was time for me to make an exit.

One thing that worked wonderfully from her first go at it was Helena Selander providing the sectionThe lord of mushrooms towards the end with her angelic voice. This way it hopefully got a bit closer to Ennio Moricone´s film scores and perhaps also those of Nino Rota. Also, my father contributed to "Sheeba" by playing the cornet, a medieval wooden trumpet at the very end. It’s mixed up with sampled brass to make for a broader sound. I recall him nearly not making it because the cornet is so hard to play.

There gradually came a whole lot of versions of "Sheeba" before it finally turned out the way I wanted it. There is one take with the mellotron playing most of the lead and I remember trying a lot of bell sounds that didn’t fit in all too well. On the final version you can hear mandolins and (sampled) santoors taking the lead; at times, oriental woodwind sections and occasionally viola da gambas and (sampled) cellos. I remember having only one string on the gamba at the time. I didn’t even tune it up to a normal pitch. But it seemed to work anyhow.

AH: "Nargal," on your third CD Dryad, seems to me to break new ground musically. There seems to be a stronger classical component to its structure. The instruments you’ve used, like bells, create different textures to other ITL tunes. Obviously, there’s a darker atmosphere in this composition, too.

PL: "Nargal" is a figure of great evil in a saga written by Stefan Ottman and Mikael Gejel back in the eighties. This fairytale is called Samas Antaral. The song is divided into two parts, the first based on a riff that I made up sometime around the mid eighties and the second deriving from a separate track called "Gar Skuorras."

Stefan wanted a classical element (as he nearly always does) and at the same time, a brutal atmosphere verging on insanity. So we hammered out a terrifying mid section on my keyboards using harsh sounding (sampled) cellos and double bass strings. Later on, I doubled these with viola da gambas and Håkan tripled parts of it with his electric guitars.

One detail that both Håkan and Stefan tried to get me to alter while we were laying down the tracks was to exchange the mandolins and santoors for a flute in a couple of bars where everything loosens up a bit, since he reckoned these notes should be played in legato and wereScarecrow more suited for a wind instrument. It didn’t work out too well though, so we scrapped that and just had Helena pull off some of her longest notes ever! She had to do it in two overlapping cuts to bind it all together.

One bloke who participated among the string sections was Mikael Lövroth, a violinist with whom I virtually don’t have any contact these days. He’s well imbedded inside the arrangements, just to add a slightly more live feeling. It’s the same with my gamba. It’s kept more or less in the background, except at the start where I combined it with an electric guitar, which both together play the melody.

One hassle with "Nargal" was that it was really hard to get a good bass line into it. First I used a synth bass, playing it very mechanically, then Stefan and I worked out a complicated and melodic bass line which I thought was lacking in rhythm and temperament. So Håkan finally succeeded in making something between the two of them using his electric bass.

One detail, which you may find interesting, Andrew, is that the classical section that introduces "Nargal" once used to be at the end of the song. It was Stefan’s idea to switch it all around and I admit having been very skeptical, mainly because I felt I wasn’t quite up to the effort. It would be a timely and complicated process, considering I did everything on reel-to-reel tape at that stage back in the mid nineties.

Continue to part 2!

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