The NULLL Collective interview (02/2010)
|With:||E.M. Hearst, Stijn Van Cauter|
|Conducted by:||Lucas (e-mail)|
The NULLL Collective consists of E.M. Hearst (Wraith Of The Ropes, Torture Wheel among others), Stijn Van Cauter (Until Death Overtakes Me, The Ethereal, Wijlen Wij among others) and S.P. White (Uncertainty Principle), three hotshots in today's (Drone and Noise influenced) Funeral Doom scene. The three of them have now teamed up and dubbed their collaboration "The NULLL Collective", named after Stijn Van Cauter's own "NULLL Records" online digital label company. Quite an unholy trinity, one might say. The purpose of the collaboration is... well, maybe I shouldn't be the one speculating on that, let's give the word to E.M. Hearst and Stijn Van Cauter...
Alright, so what exactly is the purpose of The NULLL Collective?
EMH: 'The NULLL Collective' can be seen as a band, but not in the traditional sense. It is a grouping of several artists from around the world who have come together, under one banner, to collaborate and release uncompromising Funeral Doom online.
We've created a monthly digital-download series, called the "NULLL INFRA" series, in which we will release a new track online on the final Friday of every month. This monthly "digital single" will usually be a collaborative song credited to "The NULLL Collective", but the song could also come from any individual band within the Collective's ranks (i.e.: Wraith Of The Ropes, Uncertainty Principle, Until Death Overtakes Me, The Ethereal, Beyond Black Void, Synaptic Fracture, on and on...). Basically, any song that we release through 'NULLL Infra' that has more than one member playing on it will be credited to The NULLL Collective, but every member doesn't necessarily have to play on every track; any combination of two or more members working together on the same track will be called "TNC".
SVC: In short, it's my vision that music should be free and easily obtainable. People should have total freedom when it comes to experiencing music, without being limited by copyrights, availability and pricing. Since this is a bit experimental, not all our bands and projects will fully function under this point of view, but TNC will, which sets it apart a bit.
EMH: I feel our purpose is to promote the evolution of the Funeral Doom underground. It will evolve through embracing technology and digital music, and by abandoning the old way. The old underground is dead and rotting. Very few people buy albums today, and especially younger fans have turned towards digital downloads and mp3-players as their main means of receiving and enjoying music. This is the future, like it or not, and I believe it should be embraced.
It's very obvious that digital-music-players and downloading are the future of ALL music production and distribution, in both the "new underground" and in more mainstream circles. Even big-name bands (who could easily attain a record deal if they wished to) are turning away from the idea of releasing physical copies of their music: bands like Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead all have released albums without the aid of physical record labels, strictly as digital downloads. This practice will only become more common in the future and I applaud it.
TNC's objective is to promote this way of thinking within the extreme Doom underground; the idea that we can do it all by ourselves; without third parties, without physical CD's, without anything other than mp3's, iPods and the internet.
Technology is levelling everything and making it easier for artists to connect directly with their fans, and now it is possible to completely bypass third party music distributors and "physical record labels". Physical CD's are going extinct quickly. I predict that in ten years releasing music solely online (like we are doing) will be the norm for almost every band, and CD's/records will become a quaint but antiquated novelty.
The down side to this technology is that sub-par, mediocre musicians can proliferate online as well. Any fool with a MySpace account can upload his lo-fi Bedroom Doom drone project. It is increasingly hard to find the truly good original music out there today in the sea of lesser bands promoting their inferior music online. Therefore, The NULLL Collective was also created as a "brand"... a mark of quality that all members will wear to distinguish them from the rest of the pack. You can trust that any band affiliated with The Collective will produce high quality music.
It would be silly to deny that the digital download scene is growing. Either through paid-for downloads, name-your-price (á la Radiohead) or completely free of charge, more and more bands are putting their own music online for download. Still, many people buy albums and the number of (online) distros and shops is huge. One of the main reasons for the collectors is that the physical version, whether it is a cd or a tape or vinyl, enhances the 'experience'. The cover art, lyrics, liner notes and the often overlooked good feeling of knowing that 'I paid for this, it's mine now' etcetera. Digital downloads barely have anything that compensates for this. What is your plan, if you have one, to counter this? Or do you disagree with me that downloads need some form of compensation, but can thrive on cheap availability and easy storage etc.?
SVC: we're not getting rid of CDs completely. In the case of my music, I will firstly release all (or nearly all) tracks for an album through Infra, one by one. Afterwards, I might release the same tracks on CD. At the same time there will be compilations with all the tracks released through Infra, we might release two such CDs per year.
But if you look at the sheer amount of 'illegal' downloads on the net and the number of people only listening to music they got 'illegally' it's clear that fewer and fewer are preferring CDs over digital files, which can be put on PCs, MP3-players, car radios etc. The flexibility of a bunch of mp3s on a usb-stick is increasing, where as CDs are stuck with their limits.
Personally, I never cared about the physical part of an album, with a few exceptions perhaps. It's the music that matters. But there's another thing that plays a role here. Look at the average release on NULLL: it's 7 Euros, p&p for one CD is 6 Euro (thank you, Belgian rip-off postal system), in the end there's around 2 Euro of this total that are royalties, everything else goes into physical costs, be it the CD, case, booklets, postage, packaging. So where as the music is obviously the most important facet of this entire package, you end up paying a lot more for all these things that don't really matter. It gets even more expensive for countries whose currency is linked to the US dollar, which has gone down a lot in past years compared to the Euro.
You can extend this idea to the entire music scene these days, where music matters not - it's about looks, images, icons, fake rockstars, etc. It's an empty product just like any other mass-produced item. By stripping the music of all these extra things, I hope that the overall focus goes back to the music itself and not the looks of the bandmembers, the name of a label, or whatever.
Our music is not available in big stores all over the world and probably never will be. I want to assure a maximum number of people get this music, without money being an issue, so I have no other choice than to provide it for free. I don't do charity so I'm not going to give away free CDs, as then I'll only attract vultures. So the only option left is to provide digital files.
EMH: The NULLL Collective is an experiment. We are trying to find out if it's possible to thrive as a spectral digital entity (without a physical body) in the extreme metal underground. 'TNC' still will release CD's occasionally, but mainly just to promote our digital download project. Some of our solo projects, however, will still pursue physical CD releases. As you said, the physical CD is not totally dead yet, the myriad underground Metal labels and distros prove that. The CD format will inevitably die though... just like vinyl, cassette, and wax phonographic cylinders before it.
Philosophically, I don't believe anyone can buy or "own" music itself. When you buy a physical CD, all that you are really paying for (and all that you really own) is the packaging. A CD is a lifeless vessel to house the music (which should be the only thing that matters). Therefore, I personally don't feel music needs to be burned into a cheap plastic disc and dressed up with shiny paper sleeves to be considered valid. I can derive just as much joy from listening to mp3's on my ipod as I could from playing a band's CD, but that's just me.
The older generation, who grew up in a time before the internet and have listened to albums on their turntables (or in their CD player) for their entire lives will probably find this way of distributing and consuming music quite hard to swallow. I don't think the next generation of extreme metal fans (the teenage kids who are just coming up) will have the same kind of desire to collect physical albums; they have mostly already turned towards downloading digital files. Most people in the future will simply store their entire collections on hard-drives and ipods and never think twice about it... there will be a huge generation gap in the underground.
As for the absence of physical artwork you can hold in your hands: I believe this magic already died a long time ago when vinyl albums with large artwork were replaced by tiny CD covers and booklets. CD's have never had that kind of mystical impact on me... the impact that large vinyl album covers used to have when I was a kid. Was there anything more awesome than listening to the first Black Sabbath album on a turntable while staring transfixed at that chilling album cover? All that is long dead in this era.
Our plan to counter the lack of cover art and booklets is to simply use the internet to distribute original artwork and music videos of our songs. We will always post our lyrics online as well. An enterprising fan could print his own DIY booklets and have a much closer connection with the band, music, and artwork than he ever could by buying a sterile factory-printed CD.
TNC is quite the international project, with members from the USA, the UK and Belgium. How on earth did you guys meet?! Have you ever met at all?
EMH: We have never met in person. It makes sense that 'The Collective' should release all it's music online, because that is the only sort of relationship the members themselves share.
SVC: I met SPW through mp3.com some 8 years ago, after discovering Uncertainty Principle. On the doom-metal.com forum I met EMH not much later. I don't see it as being a problem that we have not met outside of the digital realm.
EMH: We are three minds from across distant points on the planet who have harnessed technology to bridge space and time to create his singular unified sound and energy. We are a virtual band in that sense; a band for the new world that could not have existed a little over a decade ago.
Continuing on that theme, how does TNC write and record its music?
SVC: We haven't written that much music yet to see any trends, so this is from my experiences with Wijlen Wij and The Sad Sun, whose material was largely written over the internet. Someone has to come up with a basic idea for a track and either records it or makes a midi version of it, which is sent to the rest of the band. The rest of the band then adds to this idea until a complete track is made. Everyone records their own instruments and sends it to one place (usually me) and I mix a first version, which is then sent to everyone again for critiques and eventually approval.
EMH: We just continue to pass the songs around online and edit and add new layers until we all agree that the song is finished.
SVC: The internet has made it easy to work this way and I prefer this way of work over having to attend rehearsals at a fixed date.
Coming back on the "brand" The Nulll Collective, the mark of high quality as you called it, how do you ensure the high quality? Are you all three allowed to 'veto' a certain song, part or 'layer of music' if you will? What if you are working on a track between the three of you and one of you feels the need to add, say, a trumpet part and the others don't want that?
SVC: Quality is relative of course, I don't want it to sound like everything we touch turns into 'extreme doom gold'. The thing we know of our music is that it's not shallow crap made only to belong to whatever genre is flavour of the month on some zine or forum. I've seen a short period in which tons and tons of new funeral doom 'bands' appeared, released a few tracks and disappeared again as soon as people started talking about another doom subgenre. Then came a wave of drone projects and there probably will be other waves. Not all of these bands are bad, but it's clear that most are only in it to be part of the hype, often that shows in the lack of quality and originality of the music they bring. Each of us in The Collective have been doing this for 10 years minimum; we're indifferent to hype, fashions, etc., I think that is clear if you look at the stuff we all have released so far.
EMH: Yes, "quality" is subjective and you can't please everyone. What I can promise is that we will never release a song that fails to meet our own high standards of what is "quality" music to our tastes. Some people will not see all of our experiments as "quality" or "progression", and that's fine, but I think a large percentage of Extreme Doom fans will see merit in our songs and will enjoy what we're doing. We will never release a song that doesn't in some way push the boundaries of Funeral Doom further.
We already have a lot of material written and ready to be recorded for the NULLL INFRA, and much of it is some of the highest quality Funeral Doom I've personally ever heard. We seem to be one of the few "bands" really trying to progress and push this so-called "Funeral Doom" genre into new areas. We're never content repeating ourselves and I believe discerning listeners will recognize and appreciate this.
SVC: I doubt there will be vetoes, we are actually fairly intelligent people who can work together without having our egos get in the way of what we are trying to achieve. If the work EMH and myself have done for the The Sad Sun in the past is any reference, then there will be different opinions, but these things can be worked on, talked about etc.
Things I might be fundamentally against are lyrics which are obviously pro-political or pro-religious, or in bad taste for the sake of being bad taste. I doubt that'll ever happen with the current members of TNC, however.
Will these uploaded tracks appear on TNC full-lengths or on releases of the individual member's projects?
EMH: We will periodically release full-length compilation CD's, perhaps with extended or re-worked versions of our best songs. We will never release a song on CD that hasn't previously appeared online in the NULLL Infra series, because the digital releases take priority for us. Non-TNC songs that are released as INFRA NULLL tracks can possibly be used later on CD releases by whatever band created the track.
Are you open to other members of the Funeral Doom scene that may want to join or collaborate with any, or all, of you? Can we expect other bands to join the TNC initiative?
SVC: I have worked together with or played as session musician on a few projects, not just Funeral Doom, and generally I'm always interested in that. Regarding TNC, personally I can't think of any other people who would fit both the kind of music we bring and who would be able to fully honour our philosophy. As for Infra, over time we might invite other bands (if there's interest) to release a track through the Infra series.
EMH: I personally would like to enlist more members into the Collective eventually. We would not accept just anyone though, we have very strict quality control standards. For someone to be included they would need to display both great musical talent and vision, along with a deep understanding of Funeral Doom, as well as ideological compatibility with all the other members.
Anyone who thinks they belong with us could contact us about it; just don't expect immediate induction into the fold, you must past rigorous initiation rites.
The first track uploaded by TCN is a Funeral Doom rendition of the Christmas carol "Silent Night". (Check it here). A very good song, much better than I initially expected since it is after all a Christmas carol. What's TNC's religious/political stance?
SVC: Religion is a necessary evil in a developing race that only just started to become aware of the world around it. Sadly, the human race is not willing to get rid of that. I guess too many people are exploiting it for their own personal agendas and refuse to let it die. Any form of religion within a self-proclaimed intelligent species is a sign of ignorance and lack of insight and will hinder mental evolution. While politics might have served it's purpose, it is now mostly in the hands of people who only want to control others. If either politics or religion is mentioned in my music, it's to denounce it.
The reason we made "Silent Night" (and UDOM's cover of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" the year before) was because it was fun to do in the first place, but also to provide a more common sense alternative to all those who take religion and music genre names way too serious.
EMH: I think the Funeral Doom Christmas carol will be an annual tradition for the Collective. We are already taking requests for next December's release.
Politically, I am unaligned and tend to stay away from such matters. I think every political party is full of self-righteous scoundrels and liars. If I had to choose, though, I would probably be some kind of Communistic-Utopian. I would love to see both the lower and upper classes levelled. The humane way to proceed with society would be to give everyone an equal share, and give no one more than they need to survive, function, and live happily and comfortably. Communism in practice will never work though, because human nature is wicked... so whoever "leads" will eventually become power-mad, seize control and attempt to brainwash all his people into blindly following his words and attempt to oppress the voiceless. What I believe is that NO ONE should be in control, and no one should have more or less than anyone else. All humanity is flawed and sick in some way, we should just live our lives as free as possible and do the best we can with the personal hells we all live in.
One thing I do believe strongly in is that global population-control should be put into effect. There are too many people with too few resources, and we'd be better off with a billion or so fewer idiots on the planet. There should be a cap of 2 children per household; I see these couples on TV who have 8, 10, or even 18 children. This is repulsive... these people should be dragged into the street and shot for their avarice and egotism.
As far as religion goes: I've moved from being a staunch Atheist earlier in my life to a sceptical Agnostic now. Perhaps there is an intelligent creational force within the universe (or perhaps not); if God does exist, though, it is unworthy of praise or worship for creating such lowly, scum-sucking, loathsome creatures as human beings. God does not know you, or hear your thoughts, and he cares not for anyone's pain or suffering. If God exists, he is a cruel repugnant sadist.
How does this reflect in your lyrics? The lyrics of "Silent Night" obviously aren't anti-christian/anti-religious (or did you morph them, perhaps? ). But what about the other The Nulll Collective songs? Will they feature actual lyrics or will the vocal-lines be done "Obituary-style", where they are regarded as an extra instrument and mostly improvised? What will the themes of the lyrics be?
EMH: We thought about changing the lyrics to something like "Silent Blight", but I thought it would be more funny (and blasphemous) for us to use the original lyrics intact. Godless heathens like us singing about the holy baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary is hilarious to me. That doesn't mean that our cover is a joke; I honestly love the sombre mood and melody of Silent Night, and I believe our Funeral Doom arrangement did justice to this piece of music, in a mostly respectful way.
SVC: In the end, the contrast with the original is probably better with the original lyrics in guttural grunts, instead of trying to come up with something that is so obviously anti that would end up being silly instead of being something provocative. Imagine a typical church choir where everyone is doing grunts.
I haven't really written any anti-religious lyrics, there might be hints to such concepts, but no complete tracks for the sake of being anti religion/politics exists, I'm more talking about the fundamental flaws in humans that result in religion existing in the first place.
EMH: There is no set agenda for the original lyrics that we write for The NULLL Collective, or our solo projects. In general, though, I'd say we tend to deal with misanthropy and hatred for the dumb sheep that make up the largest percentage of the human populace. There may be recurring themes of cosmic nature and space: suns, planets, black holes; expressing the idea that mankind is very small and insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe. Abstract and surrealistic imagery is often laced throughout my lyrics as well.
And sometimes I write no lyrics at all; I just hit 'record' and utilize a spontaneous stream-of-consciousness approach; which often yields better results than actually writing words down first.
SVC: Lyrics differ between projects, some are very personal (UDOM), others are stories and science-fiction (Beyond Black Void), sometimes they're very minimal, but usually what ends up on the track might differ since the voice is another instrument. Vocals don't exist to tell the listener what the song is about, the music will do that, it doesn't have any more value than any other instrument and if the track sounds better with certain words that might differ from the lyrics, then so be it. In the end, lyrics are just another extra to the music, they're more part of the booklet of the CD than part of the music, so I have no problem leaving them behind. It helps in writing them down when I'm working on the rhythm or feel of the track, but they end up becoming a part of the track, so there's no real need to repeat them either in vocals or in booklets in their entirety.
The closer you get to popular mainstream, the more the vocals gain importance over the music and as such, the more the singer gains in importance as well. There are plenty of examples of so-called rockstars who can't write music or play instruments but somehow are the most important part of music that is being released where they only do the vocals.
A personal question for E.M. Hearst: there's a lot of conflicting information on the net concerning your second full-length Demonic Influence. Some sources state that it has been released but I have never seen a physical copy of it. Could you shed some much-desired light on this album? Has it been released or will it ever be released and if so, what can we expect from it?
EMH: Demonic Influence is my single greatest source of frustration. That album has sat on a shelf, almost-finished, for the past three years. The music is 100% complete and recorded. I've had to sit patiently and wait for the vocals from my bandmate to be completed. Wraith of the Ropes has become a malfunctioning machine... hijacked by unproductivity. Our second album may never see the light of day, and there's nothing I can do about it. The perpetual stasis of Wraith Of The Ropes is what has led me to join The NULLL Collective and also to form my own new band called Synaptic Fracture, which I now consider to be my "main band".
I truly hope Demonic Influence will be finished and released because it contains some excellent music, and some of my very best songwriting.
I've thought about finishing all the vocals myself and releasing the album that way, in effect turning WOTR into my solo project, but I do not want to completely alienate my band-mate... he did put a lot of work into the songwriting early on and I would not feel right putting the album out on my own. Perhaps I will simply write all new "Horror Doom" music and use the WOTR name myself in the future? For now, I will just continue to wait and work on my Synaptic Fracture project and music for 'NULLL Infra'.
Pardon my ignorance, but what exactly is Synaptic Fracture? Is it "Wraith Of The Ropes without Scarecrow Rottinghouse" or is it a project with a completely new vision, direction, sound and style? Do you have any music finished or out already?
EMH: Synaptic Fracture is my own project; and currently my only active solo project since Torture Wheel is on hold. I took an extremely different direction with this project than anything I've released before; I would call it "Industrial Death Metal". 'SYN-FRA' attempts to combine late-1980's style 'Electronic-Industrial' music (think Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly) and Death Metal: mostly 1990's-style American Death Metal like Morbid Angel, Immolation, Nile, Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse.
Wraith Of The Ropes is already close to 10 years old, and we've only managed 1-and-a-half albums in all that time. This lack of productivity drives me absolutely insane. I started 'SYN-FRA' for exactly the same reason Torture Wheel first began: it was a violent reaction against the painfully slow recording process of Wraith Of The Ropes. After waiting around for literally years on the 'WOTR' album to be completed, I got extremely frustrated and angry, which gave me the creative spark to unleash a much more savage, raging, and forceful form of music with Synaptic Fracture.
The other reason I founded this project is because the Industrial Metal scene is, in general, very lacking in both quality and quantity. There are very few great bands within this genre, I could only name the brilliant Aborym and Dødheimsgard as direct influences. Beyond that, there is very little substance in that genre, and NO bands seem to mix brutal old-school Death Metal with electronics... they usually mix their Industrial influences with Black Metal for instance. I grew up with these two styles of music in the 90's, and I feel that I have enough understanding of both Industrial and Death Metal to create a very good and original new form of music by extracting the best parts of both.
I have an entire album recorded, which is called The Lunatic Transmissions. I am in talks with some labels about possibly releasing it later in 2010; I realize this conflicts with the 'NULLL Collective' agenda of digital music releases, but Synaptic Fracture will also contribute online-exclusive tracks to the NULLL INFRA series in the future. For now, several songs from the forthcoming album can be heard on our MySpace.
A personal question for Stijn Van Cauter: you're known as 'the man with many bands' within the Doom scene. You also run your own record label, NULLL Records. What were your latest signings and what should new acts/releases should the scene know about?
SVC: The most recent bands were all in the ambient/drone genre : _Algol_ which brings beautiful and epic space ambient. Wheel Of Knowledge which is a more experimental drone/industrial/ambient project and The No-Tone Project, which has been around for a while now and is mainly ambient/drone.
I have been in touch with S.L.O.W. which is very impressive ambient funeral doom from Belgium, probably one of the very few bands that claim to be ambient funeral who actually manage to bring something original, atmospheric and plain good. There might be a release of this project on NULLL in the future.
And that brings us to the end of this e-mail interview. Thank you very much for answering these questions and the best of luck with this project. Let's hope it brings the Funeral Doom genre some new creative impulses. Traditionally, the last words are for the interviewee(s) so the stage is all yours...
EMH: Thanks for the interview, and thanks for helping spread the word on The NULLL Collective!
Our second digital single is out now, it's called "Exocation"... you can expect an epic Funeral Doom track with a twisted cosmic hallucinatory edge. You can visit our website for info on downloading the song, as well as it's video.
||Posted on 03.02.2010 by If you're interested in extreme, often emotional and underground music, check out my reviews. I retired from reviewing, but I really used to be into that stuff.|
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| Marcel Hubregtse
Grumpy Old Fuck
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