Being somewhat of an enigma, Eric Holm seems to be at his most comfortable when operating at the extremities of experience. For the past two or so years, he has been carving a niche in noise and experimental music that confronts and challenges its audience. Signed to Bristol based label Subtext, 2014 saw the release of Andøya, his debut record that was the coming together of various field recordings Holm made whilst exploring a remote Finnish island 300km inside the Arctic circle. By attaching a contact mic that he'd engineered to a remote telegraph pole, used to connect military listening stations, he captured and then sculpted the recordings into a brutal, pounding black deluge of phenomenal noise.

Holm's most recent work Barotrauma was exclusively performed in Berlin as a commissioned piece for MaerzMusik festival's The Long Now, presented by Atonal over the weekend. Playing to an audience who had taken up temporary residency in Kraftwerk (imagine Berghain but mightier), the behemoth venue became a cathedral of noise for 30 hours. Empty loungers invited willing participants to lay back and allow the sublime sound of electronic and ambient performances to wash over them; some of which were sixteen hour long concerts, improvised sound installations and film screenings.

The 405 caught up with Eric beforehand to talk about his desire to find pure sounds in the industrial subterranean chaos of diving bells and decompression chambers.

You use very original production methods for your music. Can you explain how you made your debut record Andøya?

My friend James Ginzburg and I had this plan for ages to go and see the Aurora Borealis. After some research we decided to rent this place 300km inside the Arctic Circle. It's pretty bleak... there are loads of mountains surrounding it but this place is just flat: a wasteland of snow right on the beach. We were wandering around out there in the snow and they had these power lines that ran all the way around the island. Being a big field recordist, we walked past these poles and were like, "what is that noise?" You could hear them vibrating and it was like "wow!" I put my hand on it and was like - "yeah, I've gotta come back!" The machine on this thing was immense. We came back at night and we recorded these things with the contact mics that I make. That's also what the album cover is of, as James took photos while I recorded so it all came together in this weird way.

What then happens to the recordings when you enter the 'listening" phase as it were?

With the Andøya recordings, I got them home and they were one of the most amazing things I've ever recorded, with the rattling of the wood and the vibrations going through. It sounded like signal tones: just layers and layers of stuff... and I thought, "yeah I'm just gonna start messing around with it" so within a relatively short time I produced an album. The track names are places on the island and the island itself is called Andøya. The recordings themselves weren't that long where all the tracks are one or two instances of these recordings that are just modulated to death. There are no stems, it's just one single unit that moves in whatever way it does and I built these things to process it. They weren't very easy to control... but ya know, they did what they did.

So your production method is one of chance rather than a linear, thought out process?

I don't really like making music in the way that you build something. I'm interested in the discovery and the process of making music: not having my vision and then making it happen. I'd much rather be surprised by what I come up with. Don't get me wrong, in some respects I wish I had more control over the processes that I'm setting in motion, but I think nowadays there's so much power in what everybody's got. For example, you get a bunch of software, recording equipment where in one sense it's almost like, we could just have unlimited power over what we're gonna sculpt and how. We're just gonna record that thing again 'cos it was crap etc. I prefer the limitations 'cos it forces you to think in different ways about what you're working with as opposed to this linear approach to things.

What happens when you need to record a pure sound that is buried in layers of chaotic noise?

There's loads of stuff that sounds really good. Some tram goes by and I hear it all the time, but it's messy and you can't isolate it from the people and the cars. I want something pure: to be manipulated. I was just on a commercial diving course in Norway and there's loads of good stuff up there. Diving bells and decompression chambers and everything's going "phhhhhh ssssseeeee". And I'd be there like "can everybody just shut up for two minutes." I was so frustrated up there because it was never quiet. I'd go back at lunch when everyone was gone and start recording things. You have to find situations... Before I got into recording things, I almost liked listening to sound as music but it becomes very difficult to know what to present to people at that point. I personally wanna mess with things too much but also occasionally present things as they are. It goes back to that business of discovery and accidents and I suppose in some sense, if you could almost set it up so that you could have enough good accidents, you're just 'the happy accident' guy. Is there a skill in setting up situations that will just fall down well?

Can you explain the concept behind your new work Barotrauma that you have made specifically for MaerzMusik?

The new album comes from the commercial diving course in Norway. I've been diving for years, recreationally and I always liked the idea of working in some way with the concept of it. Commercial diving is a lot more different from recreational diving, which doesn't really have a whole lot of interesting sound. Commercial diving has many more industrial sounds. Lawrence Oswald, who is connected to Kraftwerk contacted me about this [MaerzMusik] festival and was like "would you be interested in building something for the festival?" I said yeah, I've started working on some stuff - this is the direction I'm going in and seems like it could work. It turned into this thing that will become the next release, though I'm not sure what form it will take yet. I'm not even sure if other people will hear it.

Is the venue important to you when performing live?

I'm becoming a lot pickier about where I'd like things to be played because of how it sounds in the spaces. Originally I would have been really against the idea of visuals because I'm much more interested in playing music in the environment itself. You can't really argue with this place [Kraftwerk]. Like I said, it's a new idea, starting to think about spaces in a particular way. I always like the idea of churches and cathedrals. You'd want to sculpt something for that space. In some respects I think the best way to listen to music is on a set of good headphones. You lose details in different spaces all the time, regardless of whether it's passive or not.

Do you want your music to be able to transport its listeners to a specific landscape?

I'm not 100% sure of what aspects I'm communicating. There are aspects of being underwater which are amazing; there are aspects which are anxiety producing and claustrophobic. All of that stuff I want to express as an idea. The stuff around Andøya was more straightforward. We were in this massive landscape: jagged peaks in the distance etc., blizzard after blizzard after blizzard. It snowed 2m in two weeks whilst we were there! There are photos of our car having been completely buried. We had to go and find it by poking various things through the snow and eventually dig it out.

Did you ever just stop and think, "What are we doing"?

I come from a place that snows a lot so I was quite happy being up there - but it was a bit bonkers. When we left, it snowed so hard the night before that the ploughs which usually run 24/ 7 around the island had stopped... so we woke up in the morning and were like "this is bad". There was 3ft of snow in the road and we had to get to the airport. We called a taxi, whose driver was like "yeah, no problem!" But the plough finally came round and the taxi was reversing down the road, as it couldn't turn around. Luckily, they managed to hold the plane. But as far as expression goes, I wasn't trying to capture the place necessarily. Just being there... it was a very direct sort of thing. There wasn't much to do. That's how it went really. If it captures anything, it's kind of unintentional in that sense.

Where do you think the distinction lies between a sound artist and musician?

I don't know (laughs) I've been having this discussion a lot recently and I guess it has to be said that I'm somewhere in between. I guess the way that I approach things is not as a musician, but more like an engineer in some sense: from the point of view of making things. There are people that write good songs and melodies and that's a whole different alchemy that I have nothing to do with - you know what I mean? Where do you draw the line? It just doesn't mean anything. It's your own personal way of looking at things. Sound art's a weird one. Isn't music already sound art? And if it's not, then what is music? Is it an art form? Yes. Is it sound? Yes. When you say sound art, it just means, "be prepared for drones and just...stuff". But then you get people who sing and then process the melodies to death - so that's sound art...(laughs). You were a musician... but now you're a sound artist.

Do you collaborate with other musicians and artists?

There's a collaborative aspect to all of it just because my group of people all make music, so we pass things around and things get altered, realised through that process, or destroyed. Recently, I've been at a point where I've found my voice, if you will. For a long time, everything I did was such an experimental process that the idea of collaborating with somebody would be like "well I don't know what I'm bringing to the table." I didn't know what my style was almost. Now I feel different and want to think about people that I would want to work with as a future possibility.

Is "the circle of people" that you refer to fellow London based artists?

Not really in London. James Ginsberg is in London but (Subtext label boss) Paul Jebanasam and Roly Porter is now in Bristol. I've been in England for 15 years and London for almost all of that time. I also lived in Bristol for a while.

Do you feel that artists are gradually moving away from London?

It's no longer like Berlin and other places where there's lots of funding for the arts. You've got such a twisted false economy, but then it's always been that way. Going back 200 or 300 years, all those great composers were funded by patrons who would put them up so that they could write. I'm not saying that everybody needs that, but if I ever won the lottery, then I would buy an awesome building where you could apply for a one or two year artist's residency. You know, it's monastic, but at least that way you've got a place to live in London. You could always just buy a space and leave it there. You don't have to monetize it...but that's already art isn't it? Build something that has no purpose in the usual sense of the word right?