Raphael Vanoli, an interview
QUESTION 1 - How did the project come about?
Basically it was Nicolas Tourney that I met the second week of February 2020 at the Performing Arts Forum, a place of residence for artists, where we were both working on our music. We often saw each other, and we chatted music, and as we worked next to each other, we listened to what each one did. Nicolas offered to release a drone part on his label. I said yes. When I returned to Amsterdam, where I was to live with my girlfriend at the time, I realized that this relationship was going through the wall. My relationship ended, and I returned to my old apartment. At the same time, my father - who has had a passion for astronomy for 17 years, he builds his telescopes himself - sent me a video he had made in March 2017 of the planet Venus during the day: we saw a crescent, something very different from the representation we can have of a planet like Mars, Jupiter or Saturn. As he gives free astronomy lessons in several centers in North Germany where he lives, he wanted for a video presentation of Venus the day to put 20 seconds of my music. I said to myself, when the coronavirus crisis had just started in Europe and it was going to last a long time, and that each one was going to be confined in its corner, I said to myself: and if I transformed this drone project in audio-visual drone. Basically, I thought it was going to be solo guitar and pictures. I was then confined with one of my best friends who is an artist, whose name is Lena Glücksmann-Nilsson. We both had a romantic relationship that had just ended. So we talked a lot about love and relationships. As she is a poet, visual artist and performer, we wanted to work together. We did a lot of tests. Most of my friends are musicians, whether in jazz, pop, contemporary music, improvised music or electronic music. No one was in concert anymore, and everyone was bored. Everyone set up their own little recording studio in their corner, often in their living room.
I asked my best friends, these heart musicians, if they wanted to contribute to this drone play. So this piece became a monster with a jazz pianist (Wolfert Brederode), a singer from South India (Sandhya Sanjana), two drummers who played electronic music and bow cymbals for the occasion ( Frank Rosaly and Gerri Jäger), a classic percussionist friend who played marimba (Niels Meliefste), a friend from Berlin who is also one of my favorite drone musicians (Hilary Jeffery) who played tuba and trombone and who also cut a lot in shape and made drone proposals.
QUESTION 2 - What is the method of creation and the specificity of making a two-hour play?
At the beginning you asked me for a 1 hour piece. I thought I would stay at 60 minutes, or even a little less, rather 40 minutes because I find that one-hour pieces are sometimes a little long. Thanks to the possibility of traveling in the Netherlands during this period, I was able to go to The Hague to record the pianist Wolfert Brederode, and other places. So, after a month, I ended up with hours and hours of beautiful recordings. At first, I was thinking of taking a motif from Jean-Sebastien Bach that I had used in December 2019 with the Silbersee ensemble, which is the most important contemporary vocal ensemble in the Netherlands. I had done 8 concerts in December with them, where I had arranged pieces by Liszt and Bach. I had developed a technique where I took a pattern and put a microscope on it, in order to stretch it as far as possible, to lengthen it as much as possible. I took the motif of a Bach cantata called "Mitten wir im Leben sind", which means: "We are in the middle of life". And this is the central motif of this vocal piece which lasts 4 minutes. And this is a motif in 7 chords in C major and in A minor. It’s very diatonic. But if you stretch it out, it becomes a music that gives chills. When I offered this motif to my friend from Berlin, Hilary Jeffery, when I sent this piece to him, he immediately started cutting it out, because he prefers it when it remains on a single chord. So he played tuba on a D minor chord. And it became the opening, this beautiful snorkel.
QUESTION 3 - It is a work with many friends, but above all it is also a father-son project?
Yes, it was mainly a job to connect with my family who lives in North Germany, when I was alone in Amsterdam in my old apartment. Since I had my family very often on the phone; I said to myself "why not do a job with my father?" Like that, he could also have for the first time in his life an artistic project, he who is above all a scientist in solar energy. When I told him about it, it immediately motivated him: I had the impression that this motivation gave him a youth that I had lost myself. He bought a used camera, and he filmed and photographed Venus for three months, working every day.
QUESTION 4 - How to qualify this project? Drone? Music of the Spheres?
Drone music is apparently not metric music, but I believe that every music is metric. In terms of BPM, instead of being between 60 and 140 like most music, it has 4. Or maybe it even has only 2 or 3 BPM. Or we can also say that they are fermata. It's music with a very slow tempo. I love Sunn O))) who plays a piece of drone that lasts 1 hour and a half, playing 8 chords in all, and that's it… Only time and these 8 chords. For me, the drone is music like any other, but it also offers a lot of time for reflection. It’s music that, after a while, opens up to me. I hear a lot between the notes. I hear all the beats, the harmonies and the dissonances: suddenly, this is music that gives a lot of space to the imagination. So it sometimes looks like meditation music. I don't want to use the term "sphere music" because it's a term that has been overused by the world of new age music, which is often shallow for my taste. When this music calls itself esoteric, then my back hairs stand up and I cringe.
QUESTION 5 - How did you record Venus by Day?
We were in separate spaces because of the Coronavirus ... The only ones to record in my space, it was Léna and me. I asked her to do hyper-spontaneous music. We then played for an hour, saying that everything that was going to be recorded would end up on the disc. And that’s what happened with the others too. Everyone did "first takes". I told myself that we were going to do it the old-fashioned way, like in the 1920s, when a recording by an orchestra, for example in Paris, was super expensive. We only used one microphone. It was like taking a photo in 1870. You had only one shot in 1920. I like this aesthetic of the moment, which means that afterwards you will have to live with all the imperfections. So that means that when you record, you’re even more focused, you’re in the moment. And if everyone works this way, then I had hoped that everyone could meet and that it created a group dynamic. I think it worked pretty well. There was a real deal, and everyone played with lots of breaks, lots of space.
QUESTION 6 - What are your musical influences?
It's a good question. I will try to give you a very short answer. I like music in general, and art too. I actually like everything related to the senses, like perfumes. My first influences come from jazz music and world music. I also really like songs, pop melodies, metal. Extra-European music attracts me a lot. I had the chance to play in many groups in Amsterdam where the composers were influenced by Carnatic music, Hindustani music, or Fulani music, Brazilian music ... At the age of 16, the first thing I bought was not a guitar, but a Wha-Wha pedal, because I heard Voodoo Child from Hendrix. When I was 15, I didn't have an electric guitar. I took my big brother’s, and bought pedals. I have always loved the guitar with effects, as played by Jimi Hendrix. He marked me for a long time, long before I learned be-bop at the conservatoire d 'Amsterdam. And then, at the turn of the 2000s, I had a trio with two laptop musicians. They were using Super-Collider. We had done a few concerts for three. One of them, Roddy Schrock, recommended this CD by Christian Fennesz called Endless Summer. I've been listening to this record for 20 years now. I even had to stop listening to it for a moment, because Christian Fennesz said to me: "stop, your game sounds too much like mine. Do your own stuff, damn it, shit your music, stop listen to me! ”. We're not really friends, but we know each other, and he gave me this advice to focus on my own things. So I’ve been trying to do this ever since. Besides this record by Fennesz, there is also another record by this Icelandic bassist and composer called Skùli Sverrisson who played in the New York scene and who has now returned to live in Iceland. His music is very beautiful. If I were asked the question of the three discs to take away on this lonely island fame, there would certainly be Endless Summer by Fennesz, and then After Silence by Skùli Sverrisson and Oskar Gudjonsson. These are the two records that I never get tired of. The third disc, I don't know, I leave it open… (laughs)
QUESTION 7 - Do you wish in the future to develop the relationship between visual and music, as it exists in Venus by Day?
This summer, I will continue to work on my new solo disc, while advancing on Venus by Day. I like it when the music is so loud that it doesn't need visuals. With Venus by Day, it is also above all a project of friendship and sharing. Everyone was at home, separated from the others. Everyone was a bit lost because no one had experienced a crisis like this. What if we found a way of being together. It is therefore a collaborative, united project. With Udo Prinsen, I come back from three days in Germany, during which we filmed my father with his telescope. I’ve known Udo since his Shapes of Time project, where he had taken photographs with cameras that had needle-sized lenses on the Norwegian islands of Spitsbergen. Some of his photos were exposed to light for a variable period ranging from a few months to a full year. We've been friends for 4 years, and I told myself that he was the perfect person to make a film with the material that my father accumulated by filming Venus every day for three months. This film also makes it possible to show a poetic image, that of Venus by day, with this music and these rather mystical and special images: very few people know that one can see Venus by day. For this project, the relationship with the visual looks good. But for the future, I don't know if I'm going to work with a visual dimension. I have several outings planned. The time of the Coronavirus made me very productive. Music is the main thing, and I prefer to leave the visual work to others.
QUESTION 8 - Can you tell us about your other musical projects and how these relate to your solo project?
Each project has a very different universe. Knalpot is a duo that started at the end of my studies, when I met this Austrian Tyrolean drummer, Gerri Jäger. He’s one of my best friends. Knalpot was our vehicle of freedom, in which we could express all our passion for rock and electronic music. We both also loved the Warp label productions. So it's a very rock universe, where the drums are amplified, and go through distortions, noise gates, etc. Both of us also play keyboards. It's a mix of rock, improv music and electronic music, made for big sound systems. Our engineer, Sandor Caron, has a very important place. Stolpernova is another universe. Gerri also plays drums in this project, and for my part I play bass. In this group there are also two wind instrumentalists, including Hilary Jeffery, and a Peul singer Omar Ka who lives in Rotterdam. It's been seven years since we played, because my other projects took me a long time. These groups are universes that I try to separate. These are different and distinct works. I like that in each project, there is a very precise aesthetic. I like that each group is defined by certain parameters, which also draw limits, instead of putting all your influences and all your knowledge in each project that you do. The good thing about solo projects is that as you decide on your own, you can move very quickly. But the problem is that loneliness can be too present. It’s good to have musical partners, and musical friendships that give a warm side to projects. When you go on tour, you spend long days in the studio, it is better to have a healthy psychology, and have a good time with our friends. Besides, friendship often lasts longer than love (laughs).
QUESTION 9 - What can we wish for you?
Good health, and that it continues ... This year I could not travel. Last year, I gave 140 concerts, so 140 days on stage. I have not missed this way of life. It suits me perfectly to produce music in the studio and to be a little more composer than performer, to be a little more producer than this musician who has to jump on stage. I would like to find a better balance between playing live concerts and making productions such as film music. This is an area I would like to invest more in, just like dance music. I wish I could create music without someone telling me what to do, being creative and following the direction of my nose.
QUESTION 10 - How to listen to Venus by Day?
Venus by Day, it's music that could be supermarket music, or background music, but it's still a project on which there are great musicians, who produce very high and poetic music, very deep. Above all, the record was super well mixed and mastered by Sandor Caron. So I would advise everyone to listen to it on headphones. Even I still discover a lot of things. As it is a 2 hour play, I haven't heard it 20 times yet, but I've heard it a dozen times. It’s a piece you can put on when you have the time, and you want to dream. Especially now, at the start of summer, it’s a room to think and meditate on the meaning of love and friendship.
My grandmother used to say to me when I was little: "Raphael, in life, there are two things that count, love and Jesus". Me, the concept of religion, I accept it when my interlocutor is religious, but I am not really any more believer, although I believe that there is something in the Universe which one does not understand yet. Love, however, I know it is very important. If we keep that as a creed, without it being kitsch, if we love the people around us, we don't get into a mode of hatred. In these days of Coronavirus, there are people who have lost the ball, following other emotions than love, such as anger, hate, fear, frustration, or the feeling of not being recognized . The emotion of love, we can always go to it, follow it to create a way of living together, not only in Europe, but on the entire planet. Have a more peaceful way of being together. Give love to the people who need it most, to the poorest people. It’s a way to make music look different, generous. What is the purpose of music we make in society? When I was doing younger free jazz, and we were playing like royalty on stage, I wondered a lot about the purpose of what I was doing. Giving something through music is something that concerns me a lot these days. Is making music just a way to occupy our days? Why do we make music and for whom?
QUESTION 11 - The last word?
So listen to Venus by Day with headphones or on a large sound system. Have a large cup of tea or a good glass of wine. Relax and try to see it like a movie. Since it lasts two hours, it's good to take the time. Patience ... This is the last word: Patience .. Patience ...
Photo Credits: Udo Prinsen