Greetings! I am proud to invite you to pay some attention to the following burst of questions. But before we start, let me ask you how you feel today…
Well, this interview results from my incredulity when I first discovered the project V.L.E. through the first chapter of the "Book of Illusions", which then grew into pervading amazement as I got used to it. First of all I am quite perplexed by this notion of "project" speaking of V.LE., whereas, as far as I'm informed, you are not involved in any other musical entity. Maybe I am paying too much attention to plainly semantic issues, but could there be a particular and unambiguous gist behind the fact of calling V.L.E. a "project" instead of - for instance - a one-man band?
I suppose if one is to assume that I am male and I am one creature, then the one-man band title would fit, but just as you have pointed out already this is just a question of semantics… you refer to VLE as anything you like. I am not too concerned with labels. For me VLE is just another channel for my own personal expression, nothing more. However I will admit that I do write and perform in another musical entity.
"Virtual Listening Experience". And why not a more common band name actually? Is this a way to tell that this music will remain your executive property and that you don't wish to be considered as a part of the global music business?
I'm not sure what a common band name would be. "Virtual Listening Experience" is just another way of looking at the same thing. The name VLE is a direct reflection of who I am and perceived to be.
You are a self-taught guitarist. What does that mean in concrete terms? Did you resort to specific learning guidelines or methods, or did you rather get everything on the job, by trying to reproduce what you were listening to? In the latter case, who were your "models", and how sharp were you trying to emulate them?
When I say self-taught, I mean that I picked up the guitar and learned to play on my own without any lessons in theory or technique. I was never into learning other artists' riffs, so I immediately started creating my own original pieces from the beginning. If I were to try to emulate any of the guitarists I was listening to when I first started then I'd have a tall order to fill for sure. The list goes something like this: Yngwie Malmsteen, Randy Rhodes, Michael Schenker, Richie Blackmore, Steve Morse, Paco De Lucia, Zack Wylde, Otmar Leibert, Marty Friedman, Vinnie Moore, Tony Iommi, etc… I would count all these great guitarists as influences in the sense that they acted as an inspirational force for me, but I have never tried to emulate them… I don't have the patience or desire for such things.
Time to get in touch with V.L.E.'s creations. In the review I have written of "Book of Illusions - Chapter One", I framed the following hypothesis: "metal architectures grafted on relaxation/meditative background music". To what extent do you agree or disagree with this comparison?
Again, I can only say that your descriptions are for you alone. I can't agree or disagree with that hypothesis, as the VLE is more of a personal thing for me. Definition and label matter not so much as the feelings and impressions the music has on others. Whatever you get from the music is yours. I cannot pass judgment on your impressions.
The statement "… the most important element is the depiction of atmospheres where all instruments / sounds fuse together" yields a clear insight into your motives. However, it may sound stupid but reading this I have the vision of an almost "mathematical" process whereby each vibe of the instruments is thought up to match exactly the flow of the music, like in a construction game. I think you'll agree that such an assumption clashes badly with the idea of "improvisation" that you seem to brandish like a raison d'être of V.LE.. So, where's the missing link in my reflection?
When you listen to a piece of music, is it a common thing for you to try to understand the how, when, why of the music or do you just allow your mind, body and soul to be carried away? I tend to do the latter. The statement you find contradiction in is just my invitation to the listener to forget about traditional labels, structure, technique, and allow for an opening up. I can assure you, there was no deliberate mathematical calculation with regards to creating the music… sorry, but I don't possess such skills. Everything I write is from pure instinct… the music is improvised otherwise what you hear would be much more technically sound… VLE is an emotional release... nothing more.
By extension, I'd like to know more about those "improvisational techniques" that you mention. Do you mean that there exist definite patterns which allow to optimize the outcome of an improvised session? To what extent is your music really produced in one shot? Does one have to develop overlarge perceptional abilities to enhance the emotional response in real time?
No, when I say improvisational techniques, I mean that the music is created without a set pattern or prior thought of how the outcome of a piece should be. For instance, I sit down before the keyboard and place my hands on the keys and record the sounds as they happen. I must make perfectly clear, I am not a keyboard player, programmer, drummer or singer. What you hear is my own natural instincts towards these instruments. When I finish recording this initial release, I then add other sounds, phrases, and outside instrumentation to the initial progression until I feel that the piece is finished. This is determined by how I feel when I listen back to all the sounds together. I don't use any programming techniques (ie. Loops). All the music is created in real-time… even the drum sounds (except in the case of "Kano"). A piece may start with keyboard, guitar or a simple vocal melody. Some songs were done within a few hours other over few days, months and in a few cases years. Each time I create, it is because I have to express myself. It is one of the few outlets available to me. It's just me recording sounds and working with those sounds until I feel I have nothing left to express. I don't think any of this is all that complicated… it is only that I have a certain way that I do things and I don't try to really understand it or analyze it. I regard every musical experience as some sort of emotional exchange, so I suppose this affects how my music is created.
What also struck me with V.L.E. is the borderless versatility, as if you had set no limits to the range of styles and sounds you are dealing with. I know you want to depict a whole collection of concepts and feelings, from melancholy to infinity, beauty, darkness, noise, chaos, repetition, power, light… Wouldn't it be possible to channel all those notions into one stream that would allow not to split the recording into virtually as many different styles as there are tracks? How strong is the will not to be pigeonholed in a closed musical division?
I think that the way I express myself musically has a lot to do with the music I digest myself. I'm open to just about anything as long as it moves me. So when I am writing its just natural for all the things that I take in to come out. I am not conscious of it. Like, I don't sit down with the guitar and say, "ok, now I will write a riff that sounds heavy"… I just play. Whatever comes out is a reflection of me so I'm not going stifle it or try to change it. For me, creating is like communicating without any mask. It's my truth and I can't really hide and say, "this phrase cannot be here", or "I must make a song that falls within one genre". With music I am freest, so why would I want to try to hold back and do something that would please the masses or go along with some preconceived logic? So to that end, I don't really care what genre people choose to put VLE in.
How big is the dilemma when you are looking for promotion channels for your music? In some way, and because of elements and structures leaning towards doom and assimilated things (down-tuned guitars, harsh vocals…), the metal environment seems to be the only one with potential receptiveness. However, I guess that you'd like to touch other publics as well. But at the end of the day, V.L.E. is obviously not driven by sales perspectives, is it? Are you on the lookout for a label deal?
Yes, the sounds are quite eclectic as they reflect my own personality and tastes. The metal community has been very receptive to the sounds, but I have also come into contact with people from other genres as well. I think the music of VLE is appealing to a lot of people irrespective of genre… I think this is more due to the atmosphere of the music. For me it doesn't matter whom listens as much as what they experience after listening. This music was meant for no one but me so I can't say that I've thought much about selling CDs or getting a record deal, but as there has been a positive response to the music of VLE, I've become more open to the idea of spreading it much further. Still, I can't imagine a label that would be interested in VLE… can you?
Subsequently, let us look cursorily at some songs of the Chapter One and try to return the concepts expressed above at the right place. Starting with "Kano", which I assume is a smooth descent (or ascent?) to accustom oneself to the delicate world of V.L.E.. I can isolate a certain atmosphere of calm, languidness, awakening. Could you sum up the genesis of this track, on which you called to an external drummer who sort of improvised his parts if I understood well?
Kano is a story of rebirth. Basically it represents an opening up of the self. It begins with birth and goes through a period of existence filled with confusion, which gradually shifts towards genuine chaos… the awakening of the soul. It's a very abstract interpretation, but it is not really meant to be concrete in definition or concept. The changing atmospheres tell the story very clearly. As you've pointed out, there is ascension towards chaos… this is the atmosphere running through most of my works. Here, you can equate chaos with knowledge or power. I cannot even remember when I began this piece, but I know that it was one that was created in a very short time. I layered the keyboard sounds, which served as the basic structure of the piece. The original piece remained without organic instrumentation until some months later when I was allowed access to a recording studio. Originally I was going to record the drum parts myself, but then I decided to ask a friend to do it. It was somewhat difficult as he wasn't familiar with the piece and had to play without a click track to guide him… I acted as conductor. I think the live drums although a bit off at times definitely added to the atmosphere of Kano. I added the acoustic and electric guitars after the drums were recorded. A friend helped me engineer the recording of the guitars, but I engineered the recording of the drums myself. Because of the time constraints on the studio I had to mix and produce Kano in a somewhat chaotic atmosphere.
I must say that "Behold the Night, Beyond Sunsets" is the piece that impressed me the most through the permanent gorgeousness concealed behind the hypnotic riffs, and then the "whispered" screams reminding me of your country-mates Agalloch. I think this song breeds a huge mind-drift via contemplative images. Do you agree with those comments? Am I right if I say that this track is the only one with a typical "metal" songwriting?
I'm not sure what you mean by typical "metal" songwriting, so I can't really comment on that. However, I will agree with your other statement regarding it breeding feelings of "mind-drift via contemplative images". It is my favorite piece for that very reason. It is a song that gives me a feeling of floating… gliding over the ocean to be more exact. This is the reoccurring visual in my mind. It is a very hypnotic piece. I believe you are the second person that has mentioned an Agalloch reference. I find it strange because "Behold the Night…" was written years before I ever heard Agolloch's music. However, I take this as a great compliment as I do like some of their music.
The oddly-titled "3 in 5" starts like a fire-circle hymn with this subtle flute melody, and then those drones and various effects set an unsettling "synthetic" soundscape before the song fades out with a melancholic withdrawn ambient part. I think it is a song to go under, silently, a kind of downtrodden introspection. Could you imagine yourself composing a whole album in this vein, as I am persuaded that dark/indus/ambient freaks would unreservedly subscribe to such hallucinations?
3 in 5 is all about reflection. It's a very dark and abstract piece. There is a lot of darkness in all of us and I think with this one I was trying to descend deeper and deeper into darkness because I wanted a taste of the beauty there. A way to escape the false existence of the "sunshine world" we like to create for ourselves. I was searching for something dark, beautiful and very calm… that which I can't obtain in this world. I suppose I could compose more songs that fall within a particular genre, but it is not something I think about doing. If it happens, it will be a natural occurrence.
To some extent the last track "Stark" prolongs this atmospheric approach, though more tinged with symphony. If this had to be the soundtrack for a movie, which one would it be? Generally speaking, would you be tempted to try your skills at composing a whole soundtrack?
Hmm, interesting question. I'm not sure what movie Stark could be used for. I have written for short pieces of film before, but not a whole movie. I'd love to try to write for a whole film. I think it would be really challenging for me.
While we are speaking I reckon that Chapters Two and Three of the "Book of Illusions" are already in the can. What is the actual situation with the work following Chapter One? How would you characterize the evolutions from recording to recording in terms of spheres of sounds, quality of production and arrangements, etc? Do you have an idea of your progression scope?
Chapter II is a collection of mood/atmospheric keyboard music which has already been released, but most don't realize this. You can purchase a copy of Chapters I & II from my web site: http://www.mp3.com/vle Chapter III will be the most aggressive, dark and diverse of them all. There will be more songs with vocals as well. Although the music is already recorded it is not all mixed. I hope to improve on the production quality as well, but since a lot of the original material began on a shitty 4-track, it kind of limits the potential for a pristine production. Still, I don't think the production quality will be much worse.
How far do you intend to reach with V.L.E.? We already discussed the commercial side of it, so I think of personal achievement and recognition. Please illustrate the ideal output in a few words.
All I care about is the impressions the music have on others… I think I have exceeded any expectations in that regard. I put the music out because a close friend suggested it and because I was bored and curious. I am very pleased for all the positive feedback. I don't care about recognition otherwise I would have my name and face all over the place. As for personal achievement, well, I think when someone relates a positive response to the music, it makes me feel as if this person understands and is not afraid to open up… this is the great achievement.
Looking at the scene nowadays, don't you get the impression that some values are being prostituted? The load of true emotion, sincerity and authenticity injected in the music of many major bands is pretty disputable, and mutual plagiarism ad infinitum seems to be a most reliable factor to come through. But in the end doesn't the public get what it deserves? Aren't you sometimes appalled by the lack of demand and herd-behavior of people in their relationship to music? Are these thoughts you prefer to avoid?
I agree with everything you've stated above. This is an issue that is really disturbing. It is something I don't understand. The music they call metal today is not metal, but what can you do when the people choose to eat what they are fed? I don't know if they are totally at fault as the so-called musicians that write this fake music and the big, fat money pigs that push it out to the ignorant masses. They are just as guilty, I think. It's a viscous cycle and I'm not sure if/when it will ever end.
Regarding the situation in the States, could it be that the average fan-repartition balance has changed lately? After the total domination of brutal death metal it seems that we see more and more daring initiatives take form in more mind-challenging and sensitive artistic fields. A label like Dark Symphonies appears like the standard-bearer of this avant-garde wave, with bands like Maudlin of the Well, Rain Fell Within or Autumn Tears… Do you have knowledge of those bands or others, and if so which ones would you recommend? Would you like to order V.L.E. under the same creative banner?
Yeah, there has been a change. I think on one hand it's great, but then you have those artists who try to do things that don't come natural to them and the results are sounds of contrived foolishness. I hope in the end, truth will prevail. I have only heard a few selections by Maudlin of the Well… I liked most of what I heard. The other two I'm not too familiar with their music, but I have heard of them. For many years I've been into the more experimental and avant-garde type bands. I guess I get bored easily and like to hear things mixed up from time to time. Still, this genre merging and bending lacks any power if not done with feeling. The bands that I think are successful in this are Arcturus, Solefald, Sigh, Fleurety, etc… As for me, well I don't know that I could put myself in the same league as those musicians, but I will admit I do like to create whatever I like, without any genre restrictions.
Lately the geopolitical world order is being threatened subsequently to the attacks over New York and Washington. It may be an uncalled-for subject in the frame of this interview, but I feel like asking, since you are one of the first native Americans I am in contact with since then, how you perceive the events and their consequences from inside, the retaliations, the biased media haziness in which the people are kept, the blind patriotism, the biological war affair, etc.? Don't you find it sort of ironical that most US citizens are not even able to roughly locate Afghanistan on a world map?
~the VLE~: Actually I'm not a native born American, but I've lived here for most of my life. I don't really care to discuss the current state of affairs of the USA, but I will say that the attacks were spectacular but not surprising… well, at least not to me. In my experience with the educational system here in the US, I've found that you are not taught much about the history or culture of many other countries. The emphasis is just not there in grade school. When you go to college you can seek out this knowledge, but unless it is in your major concentration you are not encouraged to. The way it is here is that education is not as important as money, prestige and power. So, it is quite understandable and not surprising that one could go through their whole life and know nothing about Asia or the Middle East. When you live in the most "powerful" country in the world, I guess it's not so important to know anything about other countries… not until one of those countries attacks and kills thousands of your people. Can you imagine how many books on Afghanistan, the Taliban and Islam were bought from bookstores or taken out on loan from the libraries here in the US after Sept. 11th? I suppose now they will learn…
Regarding the not-so-bright socioeconomic prospects awaiting, are you afraid that the level of musical resourcefulness and popularity will go through a dark period, or will we on the contrary witness a rise in unbridled inspiration and avant-garde movements as artists will realize that everything can end in a second?
One can only hope for the latter but I believe you've forgotten the other alternative… an increase in the output of bullshit.
Back to V.L.E., could you suggest a few methods to boost the full enjoyment of the music, be it particular sceneries, lightings, sound material, beverages or soft drugs?
Personally I find the music most effective turned up really loud with the lights turned off… with candles burning. The best is with headphones in the same setting, but I have also had great experiences while outdoors… sitting on a cliff above the raging waves of the ocean. Or just lying back looking up at the sky… for this I don't think you will need any drugs.
The artist who painted the ethereal and stylish cover of "Book of Illusions - Chapter One" is called Christophe Vacher. Am I mistaken of this sounds like a French name? Please tell me more about this graphic designer, how you came across his creations and where we may see more things from him. Will he collaborate for further album artworks of yours?
I came across one of Christophe Vacher's works while searching the internet some years ago. I think his paintings have this dark yet beautiful quality to them and represent my music well. To see more of his works and learn more about this amazing artist you should go to his web site: http://www.vacher.com Chapter III will also feature more of his great work.
Time to put a period. As usual I'll leave the final words to you. Here is your opportunity to tell our readers why they should absolutely keep a close eye on V.L.E.!
Well, first I must thank you for your patience. I know it took almost a lifetime for these responses. Thanks for your interest beyond the music. And to all the others who remain… look deep inside… be afraid… you'll find the answer to all this pain. Play it loud! Hail and Kill.