Elend

 •  Posted in: Kogaionon Interviews

After five years of silence and... peace, the return of Austrian-French band, ELEND, with an album rather experimental than orchestral, had practically simply shaken down the actual scene so that the ideas of these two talented musicians were over-interpreted and twisted in any possible and spicy manner throughout dozens of interviews. My guest, today, is Renaud Tschirner and I am sure he would actually experience the required patience to trespass again through Kogaionon's "ring of fire"-meaning a huge amount of questions!

   Hi Renaud and welcome on Kogaionon realm after almost 7 years of absence. Tell me, how does Renaud look like today? Is he that much different from whom I've met in 1996?

   "There is really not much to tell. I don't have the feeling that much is changed."

   There are rumours leading to an imminent leaving, moving perhaps...at least until the spring. Are you leaving Austria ?

   "I am spending a few months in France for work matters; ELEND among them".

   It is rather odd that you've chosen the name almost 10 years ago as it was in a complete concordance with Officium Tenebrarum trilogy. Well, the first trilogy completed itself in 1998 and for the moment you've entered another trilogy... Tell me, is there any connection this time as well? Isn't it somehow rather an anachronistic term for your new musical orientation? Or is it just a matter of image and marketing and nothing more or less?

   "We chose the name in accordance with what we intended to set up in this area of our common work. We wouldn't release albums under the same name if we didn't believe that the music was still one with the original idea."

   In 1994, Holy Records had announced signing with an avant-garde band dedicated to Gothic Dark Symphonic, remember? Well, your debut quite shocked the entire Metal scene even if you never entered the Metal sphere (to be perfectly sincere I actually can't see any connection with Gothic either...but this is another discussion...). Tell me, why do you think you were assimilated by this scene? Could it be that you were promoted by a Metallic label?

   "Well, this is very likely. Certain aspects of the music we write for ELEND seem to appeal to the audiences you just mentioned."

   The first chapter of the trilogy gathered an amazing success and "leçons de ténèbres" had become in reality a sample of "unexpected" and so far unknown music. I am so curious, how do you see the album now, after so many years?

   "The first album, as you know, was not intended for release; we didn't even have a record label. But Holy Records visited us while we were mixing it, decided they were interested, paid us back the studio costs and released the recording soon afterwards. There was no risk involved for them; the production costs were very low, so even if the album hadn't sold much, they wouldn't have lost money with it. We sometimes believe it really should not have been released in this state, there are too many imperfections. But there is some kind of freshness to it, which makes it quite charming."

   It is no mystery that "Les tenebres du dehors" had indeed outstandingly impressed the Metal scene and I sometimes think that the reason might be associated to the sound of the strings, which perfectly reproduce the guitar riffs. Why do you think this album stroke in such incredible manner? In your eyes, was this album better than the first? It is true... this album brought you a great chance like signing with MFN... right?

   "I am still not sure what made Music for Nations interested in ELEND... This was the time when they started to turn to bands not only rooted in Metal. Maybe the name of our musical project was spreading and beginning to sound familiar, and our image probably carried some cachet, too. The intended affinity to metal in some passages may have been another reason, as you have suggested. This type of transposing Metal riffs to a classical instrumentation was so obvious and overdue in my opinion. Many bands flirting with Metal and Symphonic elements have attempted to do a similar thing since then; I am neither saying that we influenced them, nor that our result was more successful: this potential just had to be realized sooner or later. It has probably been dealt more thoroughly since then; we just happened to do this before everybody else. But this album is certainly not 'better' than the first; the production is the perfect definition of a catastrophe. The pieces of music are imperfect, although I am still impressed with their exuberance of ideas."

   I must confess, at the beginning I found extremely peculiar and indeed awkward, if not cheap as well, the idea of releasing a material in lack of aggressive male voices. Re-mixing and re-mastering of the tracks saved and promoted, in the long run, a convenient image. It was so close to have been considered as a purely financial strategy but so it came "weeping nights". It wasn't a part of the trilogy and I would risk myself by telling it actually was a nice farewell "gift" that you've granted Holy Records with, probably in the name of an elegant goodbye. What was it actually supposed or intended to be this album? Looking back over the years, tell me, did this album reach its initial purpose?

   "Holy Records had released the first two albums and thought that the music and the female vocals on the second one disappeared underneath too many layers of screams. So they insisted on re-releasing a kind of softer version of that album, i.e., without male vocals. There was not much we could do. But we did one thing: since we believed that this was a big joke on the audience, we decided to write new pieces of music, deliberately in a softer vein than those of the Officium, to match the new 'light' versions of 'Les tenebres du dehors', and to provide a kind of calm before the storm that was to come with 'The Umbersun'. We did not have much time, since we were already at work on 'The Umbersun', so there is actually only one composition entirely written by us among the three new tracks, namely 'Weeping Night'. 'The Embrace' is an adaptation of a Purcell song (as far as the music is concerned), the lyrics are ours. And 'O Solitude' is a famous Purcell piece. 'Weeping Nights' is a full length album, but we like to call it a mini-album, to emphasize that it should not really count as a long player."

   Having a contract with a big label does not necessarily mean one can be the master of all advantages. Your case is pretty often and unfortunately the case of many small bands who don't take benefit of a similar promotion as big famous bands do even if they "share" the same label/services. Do you think I am wrong if I say that your experience with MFN was a complete failure?

   "It was certainly not a 'complete' failure. We wouldn't have been able to record 'The Umbersun' if we hadn't been signed to Music for Nations."

   I've noticed you actually reached a period of tremendous focalization on lots of interviews right after the release of trilogy's last opus, "The Umbersun". Well, despite such, the album did not sell that good and then the MFN severance followed, even if you had a contract for at least four albums. There was a good attitude and a quite supportive appreciation coming from mass-media for this album as it was very highly quoted yet...there was "something rotten in Denmark"...can you make light in this chapter?

   "We should respect the fact that big companies have obligations and needs the single artist cannot always agree with. The problem with the sales is linked to Music for Nations' distribution partners rather than to Music for Nations themselves. And I think that the CD market was already beginning to fall apart at that time."

   On the other hand, I believe this album was perceived rather too vaguely and perhaps there were notes of confusion, deep darkness, maybe violence and complexity in the sound, which finally turned out as a great disadvantage. At least, this is my personal analysis. I found extremely awkward to have heard that lots of fans of extreme music, actually pretty well acquainted with various and exaggerated musical experiences, accused this album as being too violent. Wouldn't be rather a conspicuous paradox?

   "Probably. This would show rather nicely how 'extreme' the fans of self-termed 'extreme' music really are. But I am not taking any remarks coming from such an audience seriously. Among the people who are willing to listen to The Umbersun, I assume that even if many will find it difficult and suffocating, they will be able to appreciate it for what it's worth."

   After such album, I wondered if there was something to be conceived and done in the same manner...as I had the feeling the climax was attained. Any continuance might have led you to repeating yourselves and few chances of survival would have marked your way. You've announced ELEND's "retirement" and everybody seemed to have accepted as a fact (moreover, the trilogy had been accomplished!). After 4 years of deep silence, here comes the bomb: the band is reunited! What happened? That was a real renewal!

   "It is possible to go much further than 'The Umbersun', but not with the same kind of orchestration, or means of expression. The work on the project subsequent to this album is still not completed; this is why there have not been any releases for quite some time. While we pursued our common work without publishing it, we began splitting it up into distinct entities, and ELEND emerged again."

   And how did you come to sign with Prophecy? I know you have always kept a good and cordial relationship with Holy, the label who firstly promoted and supported you, why didn't you sign with Holy again? Philippe did intensely promote you during this year, in France, yet your official label is the German one.

   "Wrong, Prophecy Productions are not our official label. They are only one of our three license partners on the European territory. Holy are our licensees on the French market. If you are a CD collector you can try to get all the different editions of the album available."

   You've always said that your main sources of inspiration were: extreme Metal music and the serious music. What is the meaning of "serious music" in your acceptance: classical, symphonic? And there was something about "re-evaluating the musical violence", which quite intrigued me, could you be more specific?

   "The term 'serious music' is not our invention. It is what the French would call 'musique savante' ('learned' music), or what the Germans call 'ernste Musik', in opposition to 'Unterhaltungsmusik' (entertainment music). 'Classical' is not the right term; I know it is commonly being used for what we mean, but this is simply wrong: it denotes a specific period and style within serious music. As to the matter of musical violence, I believe it has been commented upon often enough."

   If for the first trilogy these sources of inspiration were pretty credible, I believe now we can put on your line some influences coming from Dark/Industrial/Ambient. Are you fond of CMI bands? Projekt, Fluttering? Have you found a new path or direction to explore?

   "We had already started to experiment extensively with noises at the time of 'The Umbersun', but since that album was still set in the context of the Officium and its musical survey of the Western symphonic tradition, we had to keep to certain instrumental norms; we had to restrain ourselves and didn't violate them too much. We have been aware of Cold Meat Industry and other Industrial labels of course, but I can't say that the bands they feature are anything like an influence for us. CMI is a cult label; it has to be respected for that. But except for a few bits and pieces here and there I don't find their releases very interesting. Most of them are boring, and far from inventive or violent. What we integrate into our sound is more related to noise, or anti-music, than to the ambience sounds and unsurprising compositions of this scene, which also involves a dimension we vehemently refuse to subscribe to ideologically. I can understand the comparison between the Industrial elements of ELEND and those of the CMI kind, however, because their use is not really common in popular music. But our affinities really lie in the domain of contemporary serious music; Henry or Xenakis for example."

   I do admit that "Winds devouring men" did strike me! I was expecting you to come in forth with something... new, changed...but this was a completely new dimension and it left me speechless and, no kidding, mute! Moreover, I found that the symphonic dimension took an underground place, the aggressive voices completely disappeared, the classical music touch faded away in a pale aura while the whole sound entered the realm of a bizarre soundtrack! Do you think I am wrong?

   "I have never liked the comparison between ELEND and film soundtracks; I understand it, of course, as much as I understand the comparison with the Industrial scene, but this apparent similitude is only connected to matters of instrumentation, and this is really not enough. There are fundamental differences, and they are rather simple to comprehend: first of all, music for film is intended as a sonic accompaniment for the film's visual dimension; although it can be listened to independently, its goal is to submit to the film; it is supposed to emphasise the audience's emotional reaction to the scenes on the screen, whereas the music of ELEND has a narrative function and creates inner images without the help of other, external, images. Even from a purely technical point of view there are other obvious differences: soundtracks mainly focus on themes, leitmotifs and variations, which have to stay fragmentary through their assimilation to the film; the music of ELEND is structurally different: each ELEND album, and each composition within it, is an independent piece of music, with a specific structure, a dramatic development. And what do you make of the lyrics? Show me a feature film (not a music video) with continuous lead vocals..."

   From the very beginning, the first time I "met" ELEND, I had the feeling that orchestral amplitude was of a great importance in the sound. Up to me, ELEND is or was the perfect balance between violence and beauty and definitely not necessarily in a contradictory shape! Do you think that we can speak of a concept related to contrast as a main characteristic of your music?

   "Yes; contrast, tension."

   A friend of mine (Lus), really fond of your music, in a deep manner, has some specific questions for you, let's make some light for him: " Almost each and single reviews I managed to read via internet, regarding your last material, makes a straight reference to the sound of DEAD CAN DANCE. For a simple resemblance of voices as it is, I found absolutely unjustified this comparison! ELEND never sounded in DEAD CAN DANCE style and moreover, if ever compared, the great difference is the complexity of ELEND sound and concept structure. Is there any deliberate connection between the actual sound of ELEND and the sound of the band (if I am not wrong you actually mentioned something about it in some interviews!)?"

   "I can understand why people keep comparing both bands, but I don't think that it does justice to any of us: the state of the popular music scene is such that all the parts that drop out of it are immediately thrown together, especially when there are apparent similarities in their musical approach. But as a matter of fact, you already mentioned the main difference yourself: the intention, the style, the sound are simply not the same, the pieces of music are not structured in the same way at all; Dead Can Dance have concerned themselves with other matters than we have; they are not interested in dramatic tension or violence, for instance."

   "I've read in a recent interview (available on Prophecy site) about you declared orientation to the musical violence and even more I sensed a deep and indeed profound relationship with this concept. "Violence" word obsessively runs all over this interview and I believe I understand the connection you made with Officium Tenebrarum theme but where from this promotion of a perpetual violence, especially in "Winds devouring men" or in the 2 future chapters? As a simple listener, there was no shade of violence or aggression in this material, none that I could accept in the usual acceptance of the word/concept. Is there a promise? Or simply a different approach?"

   "To get this straight: do you think that 'Les tenebres du dehors' is a violent album? Do you think that any of the Officium CDs are violent albums? If yes, why? The screams? The pseudo-metal-riffs? The brass explosions? What about the Industrial outbursts on 'Winds Devouring Men'?
I have said this before: I personally think that some passages with layers of dissonant strings, rhythmical elements and distorted noises are the most violent ones we have ever made. But the point is that they are merely outbursts: they are unexpected and surprising, but will not trouble the listener too long. I think this is the main change compared to the previous work: nothing on 'The Umbersun' was really 'surprising'. Once you entered the flux with the first piece it brought you to utter destruction like in a programmed ride; very brutal of course, but very predictable.
There are many ways to deal with musical violence, and they don't always have to be the most obvious. You should never forget that the main concern of both ELEND composers is the idea of musical tension. The next album, maybe the next two, will be faster and a lot more violent than 'Winds Devouring Men'. But you have to keep in mind that this new cycle does not work according to the rules of the Officium; we are not employing the same method. The Officium was intended as a torrent that flows towards utmost darkness with rising speed. The structure of the new cycle will only become more obvious when all its parts will have been released."

   Yes, these were pretty pertinent questions. Let's enter again the ring of fire! Can you still follow me? Ok! Although the album is completely different in regard of the previous ones, I still find there is similitude. The tracks' structure embraces a more "digestible" approach, the percussion is more active and there is even a change in rhythm section but overall the essence seems to be the same. What else would you add to my sayings regarding this album sound?

   "I don't know. I could talk a great deal about technical details, the choices we made in recording and mixing, but this will probably not interest the readers a lot. I am glad that you seem to notice, after all, that the essence of the project is still there, despite the obvious changes. This will hopefully make your doubts about the term 'ELEND' redundant."

   Iskandar Hasnawi has written the lyrics for this album and it seems like there is a change in lyrics as well. Lucifer has been replaced with inner search/quest, while personal issues were harmoniously entwined with Ancient Greek lyric poetry (Homer) and in addition there are some sidereal journeys and visions, death, time and oblivion. Will you land me the inner significance of such (perhaps making direct reference to the 11 tracks)? Does Milton still preserve the same importance for you? At the beginning of ELEND, "paradise lost" was a leading point...

   "It's not quite correct to say that Milton was of such an importance to ELEND. There were references to Paradise Lost on the first album, as a sort of exposition for our cycle, that's all. What you can say, I guess, is that ELEND has always contained many references to the Western literary tradition, and, specifically in the Officium, to Christian theology and philosophy. The lyrics were interwoven with many images and personal references that are alien to this tradition. Our cycle was a personal interpretation of one of the founding myths of the Western cultural imagination. We took many liberties with biblical or theological texts. You could even call it a dreamt mythology; and thus, there is not such a great distance to what we are doing on 'Winds Devouring Men'."

   Your first trilogy had as basis the catholic ceremony and here from... people associated, partially or not, ELEND with religion and its manifestation. Your fundamental concept might be interpreted in many different ways, but I would be thrilled to know if it was a genuine belief that moved you or it simply marked a purely theoretical modus operandi? Or... let's put it in a different view... do you find yourselves as religious persons?

   "You could read the lyrics of the Officium as Iskandar Hasnawi's logbook of his struggles against the Christian religion, if you wish."

   As it was proven during the centuries, religion has played a great part (and it will as well!) in all centres of influence of our quotidian life and the consequence to such was horrible: major conflicts, wars, victims....What do you think of what is happening now in the world (Jews against Palestinians, Americans against Iraqis...and so on...)? Do you find near or imminent a third world war?

   "I don't think this is of any relevance for this interview."

   In Austria, the right direction imposes a strong impact over the population and nostalgic extremist people (Hitler's fans) are more and more active. Where do you place yourself? Do you have any specific political beliefs? Do you believe in elitism?

   "The problem in Austria is that there is no real 'Left' left. But once again, I don't see the point in talking about politics in an interview about the music I happen to produce with a couple of other people."

   ELEND had always had a certain status of composition: you and Iskandar but starting with 1997, Sébastien Roland joined you as a sound engineer. How do you get along in this "trinity"? Where do the symbiosis end and the compromise begin? I assume you have different strong personalities, probably dissimilar musical visions or simply different perceptions and thinking... there must be someone to have the last word, the final decision in his hands regarding the band. Or is it otherwise? Moreover, you are hundreds km away from each other and you live in different countries...

   "Sébastien Roland is not involved in the process of composition, so the situation has been the same for us since the very beginning: everything is decided between both founders of the project. The distance is no hindrance for our work, we have always collaborated like this; we are used to it."

   Have you tried a tiny feeling of panic that your fans might take this new album with some reticence? ELEND was never a band to follow any sort of musical trend or fashion and, no matter how flattering and awesome it sounds, this might cause some prejudices... Gothic is a fashion and so is melodious Rock, brutal materials have lost their fans and interest but there is something amazing about Dark enthusiasts: they will always be open minded towards NEW and QUALITY, don't you think?

   "I don't know. The very notion of a 'dark community', whatever that may be, seems like a restriction to me."

   Eve Gabrielle Siskind has left after the first release, but Nathalie Barbary has always been supportive and right besides you and she is gifted with such an adorable voice...it seems like her place in the ELEND alchemy is sealed forever, either you frankly agree or not. Tell me, why don't you consider her as an equal part of ELEND structure? Do I sense a sort of misogynist attitude?

   "Are you serious? There is a fundamental difference between a composer, or author, and an interpreter. You can be both of course, such as in ELEND, but as long as you participate as a mere instrumentalist or vocalist your role is limited to that precisely. Nathalie is not interested at all in the process of creation. If she was, we would not necessarily ignore her contributions, but she would definitely not have any of the final decisions. Anyway, we have never had any tense situation where she disagreed with our work. This is also one of the reasons why she has stayed with us since 1995: she knows she can expect music she will appreciate. This particular situation is the same with all our musicians; it is agreed upon by all participants in the project, male or female."

   A new soprano, Esteri Rémond, stands out in the secondary plan, besides a talented violinist, David Kempf, and Klaus Amann (trumpet, horn, and trombone). This secondary plan was a specific element of the organic sound of ELEND and actually always played a huge role. Should I understand this is a formula to keep for the future as well?

   "Yes. These are musicians we have known for quite some time now, and some of them are involved in one or another of our various musical projects, depending on the specific needs of the instrumentation. You should think of them as a pool of musicians we can contact whenever we need them. They are not exclusively linked to us of course, so sometimes they are not available; thus, slight changes in the usual recording personnel can take place."

   Tell me, where from did the idea of Industrial landscapes and noises come? I am sure the "guilty" ones are you and Simon Eberl...

   "We are constantly searching for unconventional modes of expression. Industrial noises per se don't count as a 'new' device, but their combination with symphonic elements has not satisfactorily been achieved so far, in our opinion. We are much concerned with the blending of opposites, as you have justly remarked, and noises were one possibility of extending our domain of work to areas we hadn't touched before. At the time of The Umbersun we couldn't really explore this path, as I have indicated above.
The major part of the Industrial samples on Winds Devouring Men was recorded in a Metal embossing factory in Austria. We recorded workers on their machines and also used some of the machinery available there in unconventional ways; some of the sounds thus recorded were later re-designed on the computer. Apart from that, we record whatever we believe to be interesting; ambience sounds we happen to come across or unconventional noises we produce on our own with devices we construct for this specific purpose."

   I didn't "hear" you so far intending to bring guitars in ELEND sound. Why not? Do they sound that disorientated and distorted? I know you used to appreciate Extreme Death Metal bands and in such... guitars were in power of quite a significant importance...

   "You will probably be surprised to hear this, but we did use distorted guitars on this album; not in the way a Metal band would use them, though. There is no subtlety in the Metal guitar. Its use would be out of place in ELEND's sound."

   You can be proud of your own studio, The Fall. I assume it is much comfortable psychically and physically to produce and release an album under these terms..., right? Was it a huge investment as I assume it meant quite a big effort for you?

   "It certainly was an important investment, but hardly noticeable, since we really took our time. We started purchasing equipment at the time of the first album, approximately."

   There is a dream inside each musician's heart: to reach the day when he can play besides an orchestra and choruses on various voices but this is rather a utopia for these times (financial reasons!). Well, there is magic around you...since for "The Umbersun" you actually had such great opportunity... can you tell me about it?

   "We are not unfamiliar with working with orchestral ensembles, you know. We spent much time in our youth doing that. The difference is that for your own recordings you have to convince the ensemble to participate, and pay the performers. As an accredited composer you could get state subventions. But our situation is far too unorthodox.
The budget we got from Music for Nations was calculated to include the performance of a renowned professional British choir. They specialise in modern composers and are quite open-minded, so they accepted to collaborate without any trouble. The producer we worked with on the recording of 'The Umbersun' had worked with them before, that is why we managed to get in touch with them in the first place."

   I understood that your next 2 albums, which shall complete the new trilogy, are supposed to be released in a couple of years and you spoke about more violence and more expressiveness. How do you intend to bring these two together? Can you tell me about these two materials...about sound, lyrics or line up... everything that you presume to happen....

   "No; I would prefer not to talk too much about things that are still under way."

   People talk already about the three projects of yours. Trip hop (A POISON TREE), Dark Industrial (Statues) or Avantgarde Orchestral (ENSEMBLE ORPHIQUE). I would like to know more about them! I actually understood there are some musicians who feature both in these projects and in ELEND on secondary plan....

   "These related projects have not yet been released. Two of those are collaborations of both ELEND composers which have crystallized during the last years and which will maybe be issued in the near future: Ensemble Orphique was to be our common project subsequent to the completion of the 'Officium Tenebrarum'. In contrast to ELEND this music involves a more ambitious kind of writing music. It means a lot of work and really should be seen against the background of contemporary serious music or sound research. The music goes far beyond what we initiated on 'The Umbersun' and thus might not please the average listener very much. 'Statues' is a very violent matter, it allows us to deal with musical violence per se. Apart from that, we also work independently from each other, in diverse styles. The musicians we collaborate with include those that played on 'Winds Devouring Men'."

   You have two web sites but none is available...

   "Technical problems; the server was down. We are currently setting them up again."

   I want you to try to recommend me some good music that you recently listened to. Do you still enjoy Metal? Should I expect other collaborations with Austrian bands as you had with KOROVAKILL? There are some talented musicians there such as Richard Lederer (DVKE); could you name others who gained your respect and appreciation?

   "I am sorry, I don't know this scene well. Korova was another matter: the band leader is a long time friend and a great inventor, regarding both music and text. He seems to have retired from music altogether now. I can understand him: it may be really depressing to come up with original ideas, not have them recognized in their own time and witness them being shamelessly stolen by others later; others who get the credit for them."

   You've performed only once live during the ten years of musical activity, do you think there are any chances we might see/hear you next year at Treffen Leipzig? Could we speak about an ELEND show (lights, pyrotechnical effects, dramatic plays or ballet)?

   "Although we have been thinking about it, this will very probably not happen. I don't see how we could finance a live performance in a concert hall that would please us."

   You are rather obsessed with red and black...I may say from a first glance. The last two albums "exploded" in expressing this combination. Is it solely a coincidence or do these colours mean something in particular?

   "That's a coincidence. Every album has its own logic, its own needs."

   How does Romania look like seen from a Europe corner? Did you know that Vienna's Philharmonic was conducted by a Romanian?

   "I've never had the opportunity to visit the country, unfortunately. Cioran is well known, of course, but I fear that most Western Europeans have only really been aware of Romania since the fall of Ceausescu."

   Do winds really devour men?

   "That depends on your poetic sense."

December 2003.