In 2014 Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp declared that their album—the terminally titled The Inevitable End—was their last in traditional album format. Eight years later, they are remaining true to that promise with Profound Mysteries, due out April 29, which they have called “an expanded creative universe and prodigious conceptual project.” While avoiding LPs, the duo continued to release music: They reissued material for their Lost Tapes series, contributed the track “Bounty Hunters” to Rick Rubin’s Star Wars Headspace, and produced music for a comedy theater show based on the work of Franz Kafka. With an almost decade-long gap since releasing a full-length album, the 10-track Profound Mysteries release sounds like Röyksopp rejuvenated and ready for the dancefloor.
Yet the project reflects the fact that the present moment places more emphasis on the music as a multi-sensory experience rather than anything traditional. For Profound Mysteries, Röyksopp has taken the concept of the music video to the next level. Leaning into their built-in cinematic ethos, Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland have commissioned films of varying lengths attached to every invigorating song on Profound Mysteries.
Watch the debut of the Profound Mysteries short films below.
What’s undeniable is that Röyksopp has lost none of its rightfully earned early-2000s cachet, nor its connection with film and technology. When the duo’s team reached out to Scandinavian production company Bacon to help create the Profound Mysteries short films in January 2021, Executive Managing Producer Magne Lygner immediately took the meeting. “Initially, the approach was for one director for the whole concept,” says Lygner. The director Röyksopp had in mind was Andreas Nilsson, with whom they’d worked previously on their 2009 song “This Must Be It” and the irreverent short film From the Journeys of Röyksopp.
“We like to think that there is an ambiguous quality—sometimes even paradoxical duality to our music. We were curious as to how the directors would experience and interpret our music without any interference or ‘background’ story from us.”— Röyksopp
Nilsson’s schedule didn’t allow for him to take on the whole project—although he directed I Hate My Shelf, an odd three-minute film revolving around a tilted shelf, a cup that won’t fall off of it, and a mismatched couple in a hallway, soundtracked by Röyksopp’s song “Breathe.” What Lygner suggested was a more expansive collaboration that would involve nine of Bacon’s directors, each of them creating a vignette attached to one of the songs on Profound Mysteries.
“Röyksopp found that idea really interesting and different,” says Lygner, who sent reels and background information on the Bacon directors to Röyksopp’s team. From what he sent, Röyksopp chose the directors and matched them up with the songs on Profound Mysteries. This was the extent of the duo’s involvement. Once the director was assigned to their song, they had full creative freedom to interpret and use it as they envisioned. A far cry from presenting the band with an extensive treatment and storyboard in the hopes of getting it chosen, this method of working signals a huge amount of trust between Röyksopp and the Bacon creatives.
“It’s all about the word ‘mystery,’ and also subjectivity; what the listener/viewer ‘reads’ into what they see and hear,” say Röyksopp’s Berge and Brundtland. “We like to think that there is an ambiguous quality—sometimes even paradoxical duality to our music. We were curious as to how the directors would experience and interpret our music without any interference or ‘background’ story from us.”
They add, “We made a very basic set of dogmatic rules they had to obey. The film needs to be at least 20 seconds long and contain some element of the track they are making the film for. It’s really about how other people—in this case the individual filmmakers—are experiencing and interpreting our music.”
“When the directors were cutting the final films, sometimes they felt that they had to alter the track just a bit to mold it with the visual. We showed that to Svein and Torbjørn and they were incredible. Any other musician would have probably wanted to micromanage every part of the brand instead of just giving the keys to the entire thing to us and saying go ahead.”— Lasse Cato, Bacon’s Head of Communications
The shortest of the films is Hour Between. Focused around groceries spilled outside a car, the 40-second snippet from Ida Andreasen accompanies the atmospheric “How the Flowers Grow.” The longest is Initiation, Martin Furze’s Midsommar-ish visual for the hymn-like “There, Beyond the Trees,” at three-and-a-half minutes. The length of the films has little to do with their impact, as the immaculately shot and imaginatively edited vignettes have an immediate effect, no matter how brief.
The distinction should be made that these are not music videos for the songs. In some cases, what’s heard of the song in the film isn’t exactly the same as what’s heard on the album. This is the case with Martin De Thurah’s disturbing The Conversation, where a priest is talking with himself in a church as Röyksopp’s high-energy “This Time, This Place” plays. It’s also the case on Adam Bonke’s voyeuristic and sensual Dreamer with Röyksopp’s dreamy “The Mourning Sun.” This is a creative decision on the part of the directors, signed off on by the band.
“When the directors were cutting the final films, sometimes they felt that they had to alter the track just a bit to mold it with the visual,” says Bacon’s Head of Communications, Lasse Cato. “We showed that to Svein and Torbjørn and they were incredible. Any other musician would have probably wanted to micromanage every part of the brand instead of just giving the keys to the entire thing to us and saying go ahead. Sometimes when we came with edited versions of the tracks, they did a new mix to make it fit with the film. No matter what we came at them with, they thought it was great.”
Although shot separately in various locations, the films unintentionally share muted lighting, soft-focus filmic quality, and warm color palettes—even The Conversation, which is shot in black-and-white. The narratives aren’t connected in any way, yet there’s a cohesion to the 10 films. The final one, Nothing But Ashes, is directed by Röyksopp themselves. It’s a futuristic horror film in which helmeted characters set fires in the forest at night to the song’s chilling atmospherics.
“Because you have limited amount of time and budget, you have to come up with something that makes sense within the timeframe and the budget. It’s really interesting to give these creatives that challenge, and the opportunity to work with Röyksopp’s music, which is really a gift.”— Magne Lygner, Bacon’s Executive Managing Producer
“The only things they have in common is that they’re all Bacon directors, they’re all very good directors, and they’re all very ambitious,” says Lygner. “It's easy to make 12 videos, especially if they’re 30 seconds long. But if you want to put in the level of quality that these videos have, then it needs a lot of work. At the core, you have to have an idea. For music videos, it’s form over matter. This project is the other way around. Because you have limited amount of time and budget, you have to come up with something that makes sense within the timeframe and the budget. It’s really interesting to give these creatives that challenge, and the opportunity to work with Röyksopp’s music, which is really a gift.”
It’s a first for Bacon to have so many of their team work on the same project during the same period of time. Many of the directors were working on their post-production in the same location, sitting side-by-side. The only people not involved were Röyksopp. They were OK with that, calling the experience “Exhilarating and gratifying.” Says Lygner, “Svein and Torbjørn had no clue what they were getting back. They didn’t see anything before it was finalized. It was crazy, and a bit scary, but I think they saw it as an exciting opportunity.” FL