Every concept, every emotion presents itself to the vivid consciousness in some primary form. It belongs to the art of this form. If sound, to music; if formed words, to literature; the image, to poetry; form, to design; colour in position, to painter; form or design in three planes, to sculpture; movement, to dance or to the rhythm of music or verses. - I defined the vortex as "the point of maximum energy," and I said that the vorticist relied on the "primary pigment," and on that alone.
Heathen Harvest: Could you please tell us about your background, as Vortex is a one man sound art concept…
--Ezra Pound, Vorticism
In December 2008 the legendary post-industrial label Tesco in Germany announced the debut release of a new German dark ambient entity called Vortex – ‘Phanopoeia’. This is no breath-taking affair considering the huge flood of genre productions over the last decade. But the press information secured some additional interest: ‘The German ritual drone project Vortex is dedicated to the British art movement of Vorticism of the early Twentieth Century (1913-1920).’ Sounds like a concept album. ‘The music of Vortex pays audiovisual homage to the great Vorticist art. Psychedelic drones, ritual drums, processed sounds, glimpses of acoustic harmony, and original sound documents are blended to grant a holistic sensory experience.
Vortex transcends the limits of dark ambient soundtracks on a quest for the unknown. Vortex is pure psychoactive energy.’ This is quite some idea and raised the wish to talk with the artist to see what really is behind that. Meanwhile the album is here, packed in a beautiful semi-glossy 6-panel digifile, with moody artwork and vorticist images (‘vortographies’). The music has a very soundtrack edge to it and is beyond the generic drones very close to the principles of ‘Neue Musik’ and post-industrial. And not to forget the voices of the era…
The following interview was conducted via email.
I did some soundscapes before for other artists for several years - so time was up for a solo effort. In the concept of Vortex I was able to combine content and music in a very intense and transmedial way. I did not set any limits concerning the use of acoustic or electronic sources, so Vortex allows a wide of sound-experiments.
HH: Vortex takes the name from a British art movement of the 20th century. Could tell us something about this background?
Vorticism comes from Latin (and English) ‘vortex’. It is a literary and artistic movement in England from 1912 to 1915 and was founded by the painter and poet Percy Wyndham Lewis with the publication of the magazine ‘Blast, a review of the great English vortex’ (two issues 1914 and 1915). Vorticism can be seen in the context of Cubism, the Bloomsbury Group, and the Italian Futurism and was a countermovement of neo-romantic sentimentality. The Vorticist group began with the Rebel Art Centre which Wyndham Lewis and others. The name Vorticism was in fact given to the movement by the American poet Ezra Pound in 1913 (see quote above) although Lewis had been producing paintings in the same style for a year or so previously. The idea of a new kind of art was carried on by Lewis, Pound, T. E . Hulme, T. S. Eliot and other famous artists. Although the term 'Vorticism' does not appear in the issue 1 of Blast magazine the word 'Vortex' does appear in the texts and the subtitle. Vorticist works of art are usually characterised by the unease created by a disrupted perspective. It appears as though there is such thing as life seen through a 'vorticist lens': This lens distorts the neat lines, and sends them in different directions, none in parallel. Latent power, sinister, potentially explosive forces seem to reverberate through Vorticist works. The style originally derived from Cubism, but is in fact more closely related to Futurism in its embrace of dynamism, the machine age and all things modern. This modernist tendency immediately struck me as something still valid and up to date.
HH: What was the initial point to focus on Vorticism?
Many years ago a friend of mine brought me a leaf from the olive tree that grows out of Ezra Pounds grave in the San Michele Cemetery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy. This totally fascinated me. It was like this little leaf contained something of the spirit or lost energy of this famous poet. I always kept this leaf and certainly had to create something with these thoughts. Vortex is the result - for this early era in Pound’s work is one I like especially. Not to forget his connection to T.S. Eliot, another great poet I totally admire.
HH: Is the Vorticist reference only on the content level but also important for the composition of the music?
Well, that was the hardest part. In fact I tried to work out the principles I found in Vorticist texts to figure out how to handle these concerning music. The musical structure relies very much on mirrored elements, on palindromes and certain loop pattern. So in some tracks there is actually the idea of Vorticist music present. Not in all of them, some focus more on the atmospheric and historical aspects of Vorticism.
HH: On this first album we find influences of dark ambient, movie soundtracks, post-industrial noise, martial beats, mysterious samples and neoclassical and folk accents. Although the focus is ambience, this never gets boring or too generic. What are your direct influences?
My influences range from ‘Neue Musik’ by Bartok, Penderecki, Stockhausen and Ligeti via melancholic neo-classic by Arvo Pärt and Henryk Gorecki to the more typical labels of post-industrial music like Tesco, Loki Foundation, Cold Meat Industry and Cylic Law. The main influence may be experimental film soundtracks. This is an area I would like to work myself more in future.
HH: I imagine it is hard to get into a hermetic world like that of soundtrack composition…
Yes, in deed, this is very closed to new influences and artists – the happy few simply share their work. There seems no more space left. But anyway: I am in close contact with an LA-based film maker who offered me the chance for a feature film soundtrack. But that is not fixed by now. I really hope it will work and give me the chance to do more…
HH: Where do the voice samples on the album come from?
These are public domain recordings of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound intonating their own lyrics in a very preacher-like way – a bit like Aleister Crowley at the same time. I like to aesthetics of these voices, the dated quality, the spiritual impulse… On track six you can hear Pound reciting a German version of a poem about the ‘vortex’ haunting him…
HH: What about future projects?
As ‘Phanopoeia’ was finished by the end of 2007 already, I was busy working on several tracks – some of them for compilation projects which have not been published by now. We will see. The next full time album will be called ‘Rockdrill’ and focus even more on Ezra Pound, the man himself…
This is the name of a Vorticist sculpture that was considered archetypical by Pound and others. It shows a strange human creature handling a huge power drill to split a rock – a nice metaphor of modernity by the way. This is again about the focussing of energies. This album will have very melodic parts – and very rhythmic ones as well.
HH: How do you handle the very controversial history of poet Ezra Pound, who also wrote propaganda for Mussolini in the Second world war and was accused of anti-semitic remarks after the war, held captive by the allies in a metal cage at Pisa etc.
There are certain very dark spots in Pound history that prevented him from being recognized full scale as the important poet that he really was. In later years he signified his anti-semitic tendencies as stupid wood-paths in his life. What he really wanted to create with his ‘Usura’-poems was a radical critique of greed and capitalism. You can see that probably more clearly today than back in the years overshadowed by war. And his idea of fighting capitalism seems more valid today – especially in the world wide financial crisis…
HH: Bands and musicians dealing with touchy subjects are often attacked for affirming certain political positions. Do see a connection between art and politics?
Yes, certainly – to some degree. Like other genres (hip-hop, hardcore) post-industrial music is sometimes used as an instrument of political propaganda. At the same time I am not sure whether this works or not. Or at least: how. Music is kind of irrational as an art-form. So it is hard to say how especially a certain artefact is interpreted. You can easily use music as a projection screen for your own wishes and ideas. I personally try to use content and certain lyrics with responsibility and very carefully. So Vortex is at the same time political and spiritual. But not in a rationally capable way of promoting political or religious ideas. Vortex tries to capture the psychoactive energies and transmit them to the devoted listener… One future project of Vortex is the soundtrack for a photo book by a German artist about one of the darkest chapters in German history (in the 20th century): the systematic killing of so-called mentally ill people. In fact they killed people with depressions, people with traumata, survivors of battles and bombings. Incredible. Even melancholia was considered an illness in the 1930ies and 1940ies So: This is in fact a political project with an unmistakable anti-totalitarian message…
HH: How do you relate to spiritual and esoteric concepts and world views?
I am in fact a spiritual person and appreciate alternative and pagan religion. But Vortex was never meant to promote this. It might ‘sound through’ in dealing with mythical concepts of Vorticism anyway, but it is not a dogma of any kind.
HH: How did you get into the Tesco realm?
I know the people from Tesco for many years now and appreciate a lot of their work. I knew that they would be able to produce this album the way it should be. Klaus immediately liked the music. It appeared logical to stick to Tesco. And I am really satisfied with the result. And due to Jane’s Tesco distro in New York American people will also be able to obtain the album easily.
HH: Will we see you live in future?
I would like to perform live, yes. I would also include a lot of acoustic instruments then and prepare a video – but I am not ready now. Let’s see what happens.
HH: Thanks so much for your time and patience. All the best for your future work… Samples and Info
This interview was conducted by Maria Nicoli :Ikonen: Magazine. This is the official and exclusive English transcription for the Heathen Harvest Webzine.