Interview with Nicki Vassilev for Walls of Fire
Hello Renaud, how are you? What’s going on with you these days?
There isn’t really much to tell except that we are working on the next Elend album and are still pursuing our experiments with Ensemble Orphique.
To begin with, congratulations on the release of Elend’s new offering! I’m glad this time it took you just about a year to complete the album. Were the songs for "Sunwar the Dead" ready when you recorded your former offering, or you’ve changed your songwriting methods?
Thank you... but we haven’t changed anything. It doesn’t take much time to write an Elend album, you know. The gap after the release of The Umbersun was not spent searching for inspiration, but working for other projects. Composing Sunwar the Dead took us only a couple of weeks. Complications occasionally arise out of external circumstances, especially when working with many instrumentalists: this is why the production of the album took us nearly half a year. Actually, also the Officium was done in quite a short span of time; between the winter of 93/94 and the summer of 97. When we elaborate a cycle of albums, the time schedule for the recording sessions and the production has to be carefully planned in advance, but regarding the release dates we are mainly dependent on our record labels. Unfortunately it doesn’t make sense in the music market to release albums more frequently than once a year. The Umbersun was released nearly a year after the completion of its production, Winds Devouring Men and Sunwar the Dead were luckily released more quickly.
"Sunwar the Dead" marks an audible "return" of the classical music motifs in Elend’s compositions. Why?
If by classical music you mean the learned, serious tradition, you are probably right. In this sequence of albums, we need to follow a very precise dramatic development which calls for techniques used in contemporary music that we hadn’t explored so far.
The XXth-century serious music-influences in your songs are also stronger than before...
We are exploring various paths in this new cycle. What we are trying to achieve, among several goals, is musical violence, and in particular, the most adequate expression of disruption. The end is an inhuman music by means of abstraction, tension between contrasting elements, and blows of intensity. So far, none of the pieces published have expressed that fully... The audience needs to be gently but continuously forced to push back the barriers of what it believes to be bearable.
Actually, how would you personally compare "Sunwar the Dead" to "Winds Devouring Men"?
I told you all that I can say. To go into deeper detail would anticipate what will come in due time.
What do you think, could your new album be described as some sort of a slight return to the sound of the Officium Tenebrarum era?
To the "sound" of the Officium? I don’t think so. You are probably alluding to the faster pace and the theme-driven composition of some of the pieces. But I don’t believe this is enough. A comparison would be a joke by mere production criteria. But also on the level of composition, there are obvious fundamental differences. The Officium was neo-classical (in its most accurate sense) and post-Romantic in expression; very dense orchestration, with many references to the Western learned tradition up to Richard Strauss. The music of Sunwar the Dead goes far beyond in experimentation and the blending of contrasting elements. Whereas the Officium was built around the expression of violence by the most obvious combination of density and the guttural, visceral unleashing of tempo, orchestral mass and bestial screaming, the new cycle incorporates other traditions and uses violence more subtly, where it is least expected.
Any idea what your next album shall sound like?
Yes, we know what the rest of the cycle will sound like.
You know, last year you mentioned that "Winds Devouring Men" marks the first part of a new Elend trilogy. However, it turns out that there will be five chapters...
When we developed the new Elend cycle we didn’t know if the audience’s response would be favourable enough to make a long-term release schedule realistic. We had to find a sort of compromise between artistic aims and the contractual obligations toward our labels. So we opted for 3 albums, although the material was suited for more. When we resumed our work on the cycle around the release of Winds Devouring Men, we believed that the original plan would be achievable and we accepted the risk to work on this long-term involvement.
Classical as well as modern artists rarely work in such cycles. Why have you chosen this "prolonged" form of musical expression?
It is the only way to delve deeper into particular aspects without the limits imposed by the arbitrary length of a compact disc.
In this connection, the lyrics on "Sunwar the Dead" and "Winds Devouring Men" are obviously unified by a common idea. Could you give a hint at the origins of the story? I know it's been written by Iskandar Hasnawi...
The lyrics on the albums of the new cycle are all based on the same poem. It is the tale of an errancy in a chaotic, tragic world. The narrative structure is rather loose, but quite comprehensible. Winds Devouring Men was an intimate album about waiting and dreaming, an inner odyssey opposed to the external unbridling of elemental forces. Sunwar the Dead is an epic album about a world dominated by violence, where chaos is an attractive, not yet a structuring force.
J. Joyce once overworked Homer’s "Ulysses", and the same archetype traveller seems to haunt your new works...
You are free to interpret the lyrics as you wish. But the text bears no resemblance whatsoever to Joyce’s Ulysses. Unless you believe that a vague reference to Homer is enough in order to establish a parallel, a comparison with Joyce would be quite arrogant.
From classic Greek authors to Arthur Rimbaud and through a couple of languages - how important is this filigree wording in the general vision of Elend?
The languages and the quotes used in the text are chosen in regard to the themes that are elaborated. The interplay between those languages, through their sound and rhythm as well as through the imagery they have carried along their literary history, is essential.
Thinking of "The Umbersun" and "Sunwar the Dead", this is Elend’s second album title where a pun with the word "sun" marks a (generally) negative expression...
Well, Iskandar Hasnawi’s metaphors have always had a strong cosmological component. The step from overwhelming power to destructive violence is not a very difficult one to make. But I’m afraid I am not qualified for a proper analysis of all the connotations in his imagery to answer on his behalf.
Actually, how would you put the title in other words or explain it?
If Iskandar Hasnawi chose this very image, then because he felt it couldn’t be expressed in another way. A poem should be read, not dissected.
If "Vision is all that matters to a wayward traveller", what is your vision?
Well... I have no more visions.
How shall the story go on? Is there a final destination?
There is a well-elaborated dramatic structure. But I don’t think it is productive to see this cycle as a course of events with a linear kind of plot.
And how shall Elend's story go on? And yours...?
That will depend on the audience’s response to our albums. Should our music cease to interest a sufficient number of listeners before the cycle is completed, we simply will not be financially able to release the remaining albums.