Soundscapes in abstract colour

Soundscapes in abstract colour

Vincent Villuis (Aes Dana). Photo: Ragazzon Alessandro

Vincent Villuis (Aes Dana). Photo: Ragazzon Alessandro

DJ, composer and sound designer are three separate, but closely inter-linked roles that Frenchman Vincent Villuis successfully carries out under the alias of Aes Dana.

Composing is a natural process… everything around me becomes an inspiration, background noises, blurry perceptions, fragments of life

If that wasn’t enough, he also runs his own record label, Ultimae Records.

Interested in electronic music since his teens, Villuis was also a founding member of leading ambient/trance project Asura, following which he played bass and sang with a number of Coldwave and Industrial bands.

It was after shifting his focus to sound composition, particularly that involving the use of machines, that he seems to have found his true calling. His vested interest in the sampling and layering of acoustic sounds then, comes as no surprise.

In fact, “a mixture of meditative moments, kaleidoscopic, dreamy choirs and soft and deep pulses” is how he describes the music he performed alongside Maltese sound artist Cygna at rubberbodies’ cutting-edge sound-and-art presentation Oracle, at Ħaġar Qim last Friday.

“Our performance was all about underlining the story of this mystical megalithic architecture and to offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience to the audience,” he says.

“I’ve known Mario (Sammut aka Cygna) for several years now and have a huge respect for his creations. Working with him in this beautiful place was an honour for me.”

Was electronic music always your calling or were you drawn to it after having experienced other music styles?

I grew up with music. When I was around five, I listened to anything from traditional Andes music, Beethoven and Mendelssohn to Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen, The Police, The Stranglers and Jean-Michel Jarre.

By 10, I had got into more extreme music like metal and Thrash, later discovering the ‘dark side’ of Industrial and EBM thanks to bands like Nine Inch Nails, The Klinik and Front 242 and Coldwave via the likes of Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, Fields of Nephilim and Dead Can Dance. The electronic feeling has often been involved in the background of the music I listened to, so it was kind of a natural attraction really.

Who were the key inspirations to draw you towards ambient and its related genres?

Albums such as Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Irllicht and Totem Music from Klaus Schulze are certainly the more tangible albums defining my wish to work on cinematic and hypnotic music. It was, however, a normal evolution. I consider Ambient like a filter, a way to perceive and write music more than a music gender in itself.

The music you make projects an otherworldly ambience that effectively doubles as both a warm-up and an after-hours ‘comedown’. How difficult is it to balance this setting without tipping over into more upbeat tempos?

I do sometimes tend to ‘tip over’ into upbeat tempos. I find it interesting to mix rhythms with dreamy pads, give an ethereal feeling, a certain texture to dance-floor and body-orientated music. I don’t consider the balance between uptempo and beatless a difficulty; to me it makes the music and the journey richer. At the end of the day people listen to my music at a time that’s good and right for them.

Working in an environment that focuses largely on instrumental soundscapes, what influences you the most when composing?

To me, composing is a natural process; everything around me becomes an inspiration, background noises, blurry perceptions, fragments of life. The composition process is to catch and structure the feelings I get from this environment.

It’s not uncommon in electronic music that the term sound designer is used more often than composer or musician. The major difference between these terms is…

You’re right. Sound designer is a word I use more for the technical side, composer more for the storyteller work. These two notions are completely linked in ambient music.

Sound design is the way to create the impulses and sculpt the sonic grains, the composition is the way to develop and sanctify these soundscapes, colours and audio matters. I consider myself more like a painter of dreams than a musician.

In the past I was really into performing with instruments but step by step I deconstructed my acoustic practice with computers and samplers, focusing on the grain instead of real-time phrases.

Despite the fact that ambient music is by and large detached from the mainstream, it has nonetheless managed to cross over and attract an audience that reaches beyond its niche following…

I think the idea of opposing mainstream music and going underground is one of the biggest acts of propaganda the music industry has taken part in these past 20 years.

Mass media has the ability to open up and broadcast every genre of music. It’s as though there is a general ‘fear’ that people can’t like any genre of music other than dance music or Britpop.

The day the media focus on every type of music and form of art expression, the international cultural scene will shine and I’m optimistic it will happen.

We can see big video games with only ambient soundtracks, passages in TV advertisements and huge movie productions are adopting this music too.

Ambient music is mainstream. It is not unimaginable that ambient music is played on international radio stations.

When I create something, I never think whether it will appeal to a big audience or the niche following. I simply produce the best sounds possible, taking judgment from my feelings and emotions, and hope they can touch a wider audience.

Ambient music often evokes a great deal of cinematic characteristics and you’ve personally also ventured into this territory. How fine is the line dividing ambient from film score, and how does your approach to composition differ in each case?

Ambient music is by definition a cinematic music for minds: the music evokes inner movies and becomes a personal creation for each listener.

To work on movies just involves a little switch. When you work on soundtracks, you need to follow and underline the visions and emotions created by the movie producer, find the intelligent and emotive link between his perception and yours. There is a big exchange of upfront dialogue that I really enjoy.

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