- Zilka Grogan
A chat with Wanderwelle
Amsterdam-based Wanderwelle’s unique brand of invigorating, meditative deep electronica has quickly spread internationally. Their creative output is intricate and well-considered, with each release featuring field recordings and deep-lying concepts which draw inspiration from folklore and natural environments.
Following on from their recent mix for Patterns of Perception, the duo agreed to share some insights into their musical partnership. Below, they explain how they seek inspiration in the mixing of reality and fantasy, and why the most beautiful sounds are the ones that come straight from nature.
At what point did you guys start making music together? How did you discover your creative connection?
We grew up in the same coastal town, went to the same high school and had a lot of mutual friends, but we didn’t have that much contact. That changed when we visited Kenya for a school project. There we discovered that we had the same weird interests, like mysterious phenomena, ancient cultures, films by Von Trier, Lynch, Van Warmerdam, Cronenberg. That sort of stuff.
Your latest album for Silent Season, Gathering of the Ancient Spirits, was inspired by the post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, who spent his last years on the islands of French Polynesia searching for land untouched by modern life. What drew you to Gauguin’s story?
First of all, the extraordinary beauty of the paintings, but also the way he searched for a connection with nature and how he let that inspire him. Besides that, he managed to express the ancient cultures in his own way, by mixing his own fantasy with reality. For example, the natives of French Polynesia have an amazing collection of tales and legends. One of these stories describes the tupapau, a malevolent spirit, which plays a subtle and ominous role in some of Gauguin’s work. There isn’t any depiction of these beings in the islanders’ culture, but Gauguin included these spectres in his paintings after he envisioned them himself. In a way, that’s the same as we do. We envisioned an alternative world where Gauguin searched for the remnants of a forgotten people, whilst encountering beings that are not of this world. So, it is the combination between his beautiful art, his life, and the way we could adapt them into a story of our own, mixing reality with fantasy: the best of both worlds.
The album is described as “an ode to one of the greatest artists that ever lived”. Looking back on the release, do you feel you’ve done Gauguin justice?
We’ve tried to approach this album the same way Gauguin approached his art. It’s very interesting that Gauguin expressed his view on music in combination with art. For instance, he described his paintings as calculated; he made arrangements of lines and colours on the pretext of some subjects he borrowed from life and nature. Gauguin stated that works of art are like polyphony, a symphony. He associated the musical quality of painting with the mysterious, evocative poetry of nature and art. In a way, we tried to incorporate his vision into our work. We used field recordings that emit the same mysterious atmospheres, which one can experience in Gauguin’s work. In addition, we tried to fit these with the right melodies and sounds to create an organic track that resembles the character of his work. It’s a very personal album, much more than our first album. Time will learn if we’ll stay pleased with this tribute. We’re not entirely sure if this chapter stays closed. But for now, it will.
Meanwhile, your first album, Lost in a Sea of Trees, took the rich Slavic folklore and the ancient pagan tribes that once roamed Europe as its main source of inspiration. How does having a strong concept for your albums fuel your creative process?
We couldn’t make anything without a concept to be honest. It makes finding sounds far more interesting, as sounds have to fit together both sonically and thematically. Also, it’s fun to dive into themes and subjects and do some research. Small details in our tracks are often inspired by interesting findings in stories or anecdotes. Using a concept can elevate the music to storytelling instead of providing a collection of cool tracks.
Albums are a perfect way to tell high-concept stories. An hour of music provides us with the big canvas we need. For projects such as the Gauguin album, we like it much more than making an EP.
For this album, you collected field recordings in forests in Russia, Czech Republic and your native the Netherlands. What role do field recordings have in your work?
Field recordings are a great way to set moods and themes instantly. The most beautiful sounds come straight from nature. There isn’t a synth or program that can beat the sounds of thunder, crunching snow or the howling of the wind. Starting a jam with field recordings instead of a synth or a drum machine works best for us when we want to work on tracks with shared themes. For our recent albums, we keep adding layers and layers of synths and percussion, but the sound of nature is still recognisable at any moment.
Lots of people have lost their connection with nature and folklore. It’s quite sad that, instead, we’re causing destruction on a biblical scale as a species, while we’re more interested in which extensions Kylie or Kendall are wearing. But, of course, there’s more than just nature. At the moment, we’re working on some projects where we’ve abandoned almost every natural sound and use more ambiguous field recordings to set the tone and mood.
Being based in Amsterdam, do you find there is a strong appetite for ambient and more experimental techno in the local scene? Are there other cities in Europe that are particularly receptive to your sound?
There’s a lot of the regular techno, which is quite boring. You know, the same black and white portraits of serious looking guys whilst wearing the same boring black shirts. These genres should be in a constant state of experimentation instead of making the same sounds as someone else that could be best described as functional. But luckily, there’re a lot of very interesting festivals and clubs as well in Amsterdam. De School, Strange Sounds From Beyond, the Redlight Radio gang, Dekmantel to name a few. It’s a great city and we feel blessed to live here.
Is there an environment or situation that you consider ideal for listening to your music?
When Lost in Sea of Trees was released, we saw a lot of pictures on Twitter of people who placed the vinyl against a tree or in some other place in the woods. That was really amazing and indeed it’s the most ideal place to listen to it; in the environment where the album story is situated.
Unfortunately, we have to wait a little longer to visit French Polynesia for some rain forest and beach listening sessions. As the albums are meant to tell one coherent story, we think the best experience for a first listening session is to listen to it as a whole and to let yourself disappear into the tale.
Are there any ambient artists that you can highlight as having a strong impact on you both individually and as a duo?
We really adore the work of Ryuichi Sakamoto. Not only his electronic stuff. He’s a brilliant composer of classical music and was a pioneer for pop, techno and house. So yeah, he is and will be one of our all time favourites. A few years ago, we discovered the work of Isorinne when he released a melancholic gem on Field Records. He incorporated field recordings, ambient and piano in a way we had never heard before and we were blown away. We started an online conservation and became friends after a while. Michel visited our studio in Amsterdam and we decided to make some tracks together with Martin (Hypnobirds). Michel and Martin together are known as Bandhagens Musikförening and have released some astonishing music on Northern Electronics. We visited them in Stockholm for a few days and recorded enough material for a Bandhagens Musikförening & Wanderwelle album, which we’re working on as well at the moment.
You’ve recently contributed a track to the first release on One Instrument, a new label from Grand River where artists produce tracks using a single instrument of their choice. Can you tell us a little about your track, made on the Roland Juno-106? What does this instrument mean to you?
The experiment was a great way to pay tribute to one of our favourite synths. It’s simple and intuitive and it never disappoints us. Many tracks of Lost in a Sea of Trees feature the Juno in some way or another. Most people know the Juno for its magnificent pads and strings, but the thin, more subtle sounds are equally interesting. For this track we wanted to see if the Juno could reproduce field recordings and percussion in some way or another, instead of just making an ambient track drowned in reverb.
We actually made two tracks with the Juno, the second one can be heard on the One Instrument Soundcloud. It combines a quite simple, lush arpeggio with pulsating, wave-like pads and is quite different in comparison to the track on the vinyl compilation.
Tell us about your recent mix for Patterns of Perception. What was it like recording it? Is there a concept or particular inspiration behind it?
This mix started off as an ambient mix but later on, we decided to reduce this to an ambient introduction that finishes with a beautiful track from Kareem Lofty released on one of our favorite compilations Mono No Aware. After that, more pulsating techno sounds come in for a significant change from the peaceful ambient tracks. Further on, a breakbeat section, featuring tracks from Rune Bagge and Skee Mask is probably the most dynamic part and provides a nice contrast to the more subdued tracks. The mix spirals down to a melancholic electro piece by DJ Richard. The track shifts between a melancholic synth and an almost ironic arpeggio while a firm electro beat accompanies it all the way through. After this heaviness, a beautiful track from our friend Michel lets the listener calm down for a little moment and finishes off our mix. We think the overall melancholic mood gives the mix coherence and justifies the swift changing of genres in just over one hour; we hope the listeners enjoy the mix as much as we do. Making a mix likes this that does not have to fit a club environment or restrict us to using only ambient tracks gives us the best opportunity to select really interesting combinations of tracks.
Lastly, we’d love to hear what you’ve been listening to lately. Which ambient and experimental tracks do you have on high rotation?
async by Ryuichi Sakamoto is spinning 24/7. At the moment we’re in love with Dies Iræ Xerox by DJ Richard, it features dark, melancholic ambient music, alternated by electro tracks. As a whole, it’s probably even more impressive than his previous LPs. Empire by Markus Guentner, released on the magnificent A Strangely Isolated Place, is an immersive journey and we recommend it to everyone who is not just enjoying ambient but great music. The new LP by Abul Mogard, Above All Dreams features long, cinematic ambient tracks that immerse us in a world where time seems to stand still: highly recommended.
We also want to mention the amazing soundtrack by Colin Stetson to the recent film Hereditary. A truly brilliant film that tells a dark story that will haunt us for quite some time. The movie ends with the amazing piece “Reborn” that features unexpected, uplifting sounds, which fit the bleak story very well. On our first viewing, we didn’t even notice the track that much, because we were in awe, as we watched the haunting images on the screen. When listening to the soundtrack at home, we were both really impressed that such a distinctive track accompanied the movie so well and that it didn’t take all the attention for itself.
All photos by Wanderwelle.