Interview with Russell Garwood for Zero Tolerance

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, much appreciated.
First off, for those who are unfamiliar with Elend, would you like to describe in a few words what you guys do?

Elend's aim has always been the rendering of violence in music. There are two sources of inspiration for our work, both of which were responsible for the creation of this project: extreme metal on the one hand, and the learned Western musical tradition on the other; the intention of the first, the means of expression of the latter.

Who is in the band, and what role do they play?

Core trio:
Iskandar Hasnawi, Sébastien Roland, Renaud Tschirner: various instruments, sound-design, programming, mixing. Lyrics by Hasnawi. Layout, music and vocals by Hasnawi and Tschirner.
Closest collaborators:
David Kempf: violin, direction of the orchestra. Esteri Rémond and Laura Angelmayer: soprano vocals and vocal effects.
Plus session instrumentalists and vocalists, but their number varies depending on the album.

Congratulations on the new album, this took two years to appear, quite a long time since the music had been written for longer... What caused the delay?

The virtual impossibility to master such an unprecedented sound. Mixing an Elend album is a very intricate and difficult procedure due to the density of the music. No one else has ever tried to combine a subtle orchestration of acoustic instruments and choirs with extreme vocal experiments and layers of noise or electronics – there are no models we could follow. We had to develop our own techniques, and that takes time.

This is the last album in the Winds Cycle – what was the purpose of this cycle, what were you hoping to achieve with it, and do you think you have met these aims?

There is no purpose other than producing the albums we would like to hear ourselves. Working on something that spans several albums is the only way to delve deeper into particular aspects without the limits imposed by the arbitrary length of a compact disc. We have successfully explored various paths in this cycle. But the aesthetic issues we are concerned with are not necessarily what the public would be interested in, even if the result happens to suit both the maker and the recipient.

And the aims of your music in general – what effect do you want the music to have on the listener?

What we are trying to achieve in music, among several things, is extreme violence and oppressive darkness, and in particular, the most adequate expression of disruption. The end must be a music that becomes inhuman through its degree of abstraction, the tension between its contrasting elements, and its blows of intensity. The listener needs to be gently but continuously forced to push back the barriers of what he believes to be bearable.

How do you guys go about writing the music?

Pragmatically and empirically: almost anything can trigger a mechanism of associations that generates an idea for a piece of music, but everything needs to be tried and tested first.

I understand this time around there was a big change from the first draft to the final piece. What were the differences?

The first draft was revised when we decided to shorten the overall sequence of albums from 5 parts to 3. The end result is much more radical than initially intended.

Recording with 30 instrumentalists and vocalists must be difficult – were there any problems with this album?

Apart from the usual financial difficulties, the recording sessions were much easier on this album than on the previous one. We had to direct fewer musicians (there were nearly twice as many on the last record), and had worked with most of them before.

How do you manage the recording, is it with an orchestra, or all instruments separately?

We use methods similar to those used for the recording of film scores, which actually includes both: ensemble parts with the full personnel and solo parts are handled separately. Some passages have to be done with all instrumentalists, others section by section, depending on the precision of instrumental timbres we need to obtain in view of the final mix. When very harsh and powerful rhythmic effect in one particular phrase is required, we have all the instruments of one section play each line separately and integrate it into the whole afterwards. Unlike what most listeners would think, the music we write is not suitable for a standard classical symphonic orchestra – it goes far beyond because of the whole electronic dimension that cannot be achieved live in a simultaneous performance. A great amount of work has to be done in post-production.

How do you afford to make your music on such a grand scale?

Actually, we can hardly afford it. Record label advances barely cover the recording costs, although the musicians we work with accept to be paid less than the standard fees. We do have our own studios, but producing this kind of music under the laborious circumstances involved and with the concomitant marginal public interest is an experiment bound to fail in the end.

Do you think the fact the foundation for these albums was a poem has affected the music in any way?

This text is by Iskandar Hasnawi, one of the two composers. The fact that he did not intend to set it to music originally is irrelevant here. It functions as a unifying thread that enables the composers to stay focused. It can channel the music, be secondary to musical logic, or both can evolve simultaneously. What matters is the coherence of the result.

Do comparisons to, and associations with, metal bands/genres annoy you, or do you think they are apt?

I really don’t mind, as long as they are furious and brutal. When we founded Elend in the early nineties, there were elements in our music that appealed to the metal scene much more than to other communities. There seems to have been a certain curiosity for innovation in the domain of dark and violent music, which made music eluding the instrumental norms of metal no hindrance to the listener, as long as it carried elements this particular public was familiar with. In our more recent albums the affinity to metal is still noticeable on the level of intention, I would say, even if the connection is less obvious for the neophyte. But the crucial point is that since the beginning Elend’s main concern has been violence in music, and although most audiences do not appreciate that, the extreme metal scene should be predestined to acknowledge our work. I believe that this is the reason why this audience is still partly drawn to what we are doing.

What niche do you think you guys fill in the world of extreme music?

It's not really my business to think in these terms. This is a question for our record labels.

And music in general?

I don't know. There is nothing out there comparable to what we are doing, is there? What matters most to us is remaining true to our own aesthetic convictions. Whether or not we please an audience is not our primary concern.

Your music is very dark – what do you think causes this darkness? From where does your inspiration come?

I don’t know about inspiration. The only thing I know for sure is that we have the will to create the type of music that we would like to listen to but that unfortunately does not exist. Since nobody else seems to be crazy enough to do that, we have to take care of it ourselves. Elend is the work of a couple of people who have quite diverging views regarding many matters. We happen to concord in a small domain, which results in the work we do in Elend and some related common projects. Apart from that we have musical interests that may not seem compatible with Elend's dramatic compositions. The work done together is based on an arbitrary choice, that’s all; but based on a mutual, equal comprehension of certain aspects of music.

What drives you to make music in the first place?

An Elend album consists not of music alone. The visual and textual dimension is as important to us as the sound. It is a way to combine all the various aspects of the work that we are interested in doing together in one single object – light years away from the current view of music as an entertainment product.

Have you guys ever considered or been approached to score a film? Your music seems very suitable...

We have never been approached so far. In principle, we don't have anything against collaborating on a soundtrack for a film made by someone else – it could be an interesting experience. But I doubt we will find a film we are capable of fully appreciating.

What do the main band members do outside Elend?

There wasn't time for much else during the last couple of years.

(Renaud Tschirner)