Painted Girl - Familiar Trees of the North West
Familiar Trees of the North West
May 22, 2022
The relationship between music and nature has always been one of formidable power. A relationship of symbiosis, where the cadences of a forest inspire the most beautiful symphonies, and the blossoming of a song emulates the thriving movement of a lush green landscape.
However, a common misinterpretation exists about this relationship. Nature is more often associated with organic instruments, whether they be electronically amplified or acoustic. When celebrating nature through music, one may more readily think of psychedelic guitars, warm acoustic tones or the sonic excursions into nature made by Vivaldi or Beethoven. Though these examples can provide an effective honouring of the natural world, the scope or potential of their delivery is limited. The capability of organic instrumentation is restricted in many different ways. And there is a growing opinion among music makers that it is fairly restrictive to associate the undulations and vibrancy of nature with organic instrumentation. You could say that this music retains such a relationship with nature simply due to the relative infancy of synthesised sound.
As far as the western world goes, movements like the progressive rock of Canterbury’s Caravan or the acid folk of These Trails held nature close in their musical stylings and image. Soft harmonies trickle like streams, non-offensive vocal melodies dance like wood nymphs in the hazy sun, acoustic guitars sound like the tall oaks of the countryside. This music is celebratory of nature and its incredible aura. But, the examples of organic music that perfectly illustrate the beauty and power of nature are by no means endless.
On the other hand, it can feel intuitive to celebrate nature using synthesised sound. Genres such as Ambient and New Age are indebted to this practice. Within these genres, artists utilise electronic sounds to both commemorate and create a vision of an unspoiled landscape. At least, that is what Voyage Futur have done. The second project by the duo, entitled Inner Sphere explores an eco-system bursting with valleys, rivers and brooks. All is green; human beings and the callous affect that they so often have on nature is nowhere to be found.
As the scene begins to bloom with the introductory track Immersion, the mix becomes awash with dulcet keys. There is something in the reverberation of these keys; the way their body wavers ever so slightly, their collective heat as the beautifully calming melody unfurls, that is so natural. The ebb and flow of water in the background places us in the scene, but the keys in this particular instance, and the other synthesised parts throughout Inner Sphere enable the listener to float above. We are spectre and spectator all at once, watching the physical scene, as well as absorbing the essence and spirit of it.
The flexible and malleable quality of synthesised sounds is one reason why they are so effective. Whereas the act of strumming a chord on a guitar can feel borrowed or even banal, engineering a tone or sound using synthesis feels much more similar to the act of creation. Almost every aspect is alterable, allowing for the artist to create an original sound with its own aura. Wolfgang, one half of Voyage Futur likens it to ‘recreating a fading memory’. A beautiful concept, and one tied into a feeling of fragmented nostalgia. There certainly is this sense of longing throughout the album that is no doubt enhanced by synthesis.
The forests that inspired Inner Sphere
Emerald Dunes, for example, is an extremely thoughtful and meditative track. As the track progresses, string-like pads seem to represent paths through overgrown wilderness that breach our perception only very slightly, floating at around the same level as the song’s sonic floor. The pads can be forthright in their tone and pitch, but they also split off into dissonant, complex sounds joining with the chimes at other points. This breathtaking experience is multi-faceted; there are arpeggiated chords every so often that have a completely different form. They seem to drift away instantly like a caressing breeze. These notes begin to flow continuously, a breeze blowing past us that seems to last forever. It becomes more dominant than the guiding strings, and it feels as if we are lifted out of this moment. Voyage Futur pull each aspect away slowly, softly leading us away.
Both of these synthesised elements combine to celebrate nature in its endless motion. There is no way that this sort of immersive sensation could be achieved through acoustic instrumentation. Though Voyage Futur do integrate field recordings into the layering to help transport the listener, it is the synthesised sound that takes us that extra step. How the sounds communicate with each other, and how they blend in with the natural noise make the track unforgettable.
The story of Inner Sphere’s conception is a testament to its warm, celebratory essence. The couple that Voyage Futur is comprised of moved from central Vienna (where Wolfgang plays in various bands and works as a recording engineer) to a more scenic location nearby where he and his partner Beate (who is the other half of the musical duo) grew up. Holed up in a 500-year-old house surrounded by woods and wilderness, this seemingly never-ending forest provided a much-needed change of pace and became the main source of inspiration for Inner Sphere. The daily process Wolfgang undertook, as the member of the duo that created the lion’s share of the album, started by waking up at around 5am. At this early hour he would venture out into the woods that encircled his house. This allowed for peaceful tranquillity to absorb the life that was blooming around him. In doing this he found frequencies and sounds emitted from the lush landscape that resonated with him. From there he would set about recording ideas, the first few brushstrokes of what would be a masterpiece. This process was carried out very much as a stream of consciousness exercise, as the artist tried to draw out what the mystic energy of the Viennese scenery had placed in his subconscious earlier that morning. He would do this until the couples’ newly born baby would awake.
The forests that inspired Inner Sphere
This exploration of the subconscious mind is indebted to the aforementioned genre of New Age. The idea of exploring the subconscious and traversing a spiritual plane is one of the main features of the musical category enjoying a resurgence off the back of experimental electronic music. The sonic influence of this genre is easily audible in the melodious bells on Moss Landscape or the panpipes on the back end of Sunken Forest, as both these instruments very much tied to New Age music. But it goes deeper than merely how Inner Sphere sounds. The album regularly drags beautifully rich waves of sound out for a hypnotic length of time. Synth tones blend seamlessly with the sound of birds and nature. There is a general feeling of relaxation, abstract melodies and textures allowing for the creation of a soothing atmosphere. Wolfgang explained that him and Beate became interested in musical meditation when recording the album. The music that they listened to instilled a strange sense of nostalgia in them. New Age music can often have this effect of transporting the listener to a place that is simultaneously familiar and alien. This feeling undoubtedly made its way onto Inner Sphere.
And this convergence of hugely inspirational themes and situations that went into Inner Sphere’s conception is what makes it so special. The location that Wolfgang pulled influence from was near to where he grew up, but was completely new to him and demanded investigation. This accounts for the dual feeling of homecoming nostalgia and new-fangled exploration evident in the six tracks. Furthermore, the integration of New Age themes and instrumentation helps to lift the scope to an abstract and spiritual plane. So, what we hear on the album is pulled from new, old and imagined spaces. The landscape that Voyage Futur explore is fictitious. Wolfgang has spoken of the liberation that creating these imaginary landscapes brought. But a beautiful sense of homeliness and adventure are instilled through the affect the Viennese setting had on the duo.
On Loom, the conclusive track, we can hear the singing of whales at the very start. It weaves its way toward the listener. The creatures cavort and caper leagues below us, enjoying an unfathomably deep body of water situated within this imagined land. There is no way that anyone could have this experience walking through a park of forest anywhere on this earth. But Voyage Futur create this adventure, utilising a beautifully engineered synth pad to conjure notes and movements around the listener. These synths ground us in the album’s breath-taking conclusion. The climax of a journey through a natural landscape, not our own, but inevitably tied to our own experiences.
Inner Sphere is so incredible because it came to be through the incredible circumstances of the creators. Blessed with new life, they traversed out into a wilderness both fertile and familiar. Through exploring their own minds, they were able to perfectly paint an imaginary landscape, teeming with spiritually invigorating sounds and sonic practices. The album is a unique and fascinating experience. Its subject exists only in the listener’s mind, appearing clear as day, but imbued with the gleam of the imagined and empyrean.
Purchase and listen to Inner Sphere here: