INTERVIURI

Interviu Stefan Otto (NEBELUNG)

« The overall mood of Nebelung is calm and somber, evoking images of autumnal or wintry forest landscapes »

We had approached Stefan Otto for an interview around the time Palingenesis was being released, but I have to admit that receiving now the answers to our questions couldn't have been timed any better: Nebelung was just announced as part of the DBE lineup for this summer’s edition. What a perfect way to remind ourselves why we love their music and talk about last year’s incredibly emotional release.

There are plenty of stories here, some related to the music, both present and past, others to the musicians themselves and their experiences making that music. You might find in here little hints on how to prepare yourselves for seeing Nebelung live in August.

~ NEBELUNG ~

Stefan Otto | Katharina Hoffmann | Thomas List

Greetings, Stefan! First of all thank you for taking the time to answer MUZAHOLIC’s questions, and our most heartfelt congratulations on your release, Palingenesis truly is a gorgeous, emotional album.

Thank you very much for the kind words! We’re pretty stoked about the good reactions we got for Palingenesis. In fact we have never put so much time and effort into an album. Also Palingenesis is the first album, where every little step, from writing to recording, mixing and mastering has been done by ourselves. Looking at it now, it's exactly how we wanted it to be.

How would you describe the music on Palingenesis to someone who’s never listened to Nebelung before? And also, how does it relate to your previously released records?

Nebelung create purely acoustic music mainly based on picked guitars and Cello. Older releases, which are also the basis for our live performances, saw the addition of a clear voice, putting nature-related poems – some self-written, some taken from the fin de siècle – into music. Our latest release saw Nebelung embracing more complex and subtle arrangements, with multiple layers of guitar and Cello, and an extension of the instrumentation with instruments like hammered dulcimer and Indian harmonium.  The overall mood of Nebelung is calm and somber, evoking images of autumnal or wintry forest landscapes.

What's the best way for a listener to approach this new album, and your music in general, so that nothing is missed?

While older releases came with a clear and song-oriented arrangement, many aspects of Palingenesis may at first be hidden for the listener, and require a calm and open mind to be fully revealed. The wish for entertainment would definitely not be the right approach, and you would find yourself asking for more effects and events in that case. The thing is, the music doesn’t entertain in the meaning that it distracts. Rather I would describe this album as a guide for an inner spiritual journey, and many people experienced in shamanic journeying will find familiar aspects in its musical development and imagery.

You often talk about Nebelung’s albums describing them as musical compositions that started out as simple improvisations, a moment’s inspiration. How long did it take to fully develop the ideas behind Palingenesis and turn them into recordable pieces of music?

From the first notes of what would late become Palingenesis to its release it was more than four years. The first ideas were born out of an acoustic guitar improvisation I did with my bandmate Thomas, though by that time it wasn’t set yet if these ideas would be taken for the composition of a new album, for a new acoustic project or would just remain a one-time expression of our long suppressed musical creativity. We hadn’t met doing music in a long time, and also Nebelung had somehow come to a point, where we didn’t know how or if we should go on with the project. The ideas I had in mind for the music I wanted to do were quite far from what I had initially connected with Nebelung, and I just didn’t know where to go from where we stood. So the ideas born out of the session were laid to rest, and it wasn’t before two years after that I unburied them again to compose the acoustic guitar fundament for six instrumental tracks, still not knowing, however they could musically be accompanied. From there to the finalization of Palingenesis it was slow and careful process, always in fear we could destroy the underlying and soft emotions caught in the tracks I had composed. Somehow with these compositions we had started something, that was completely new to us, more subtle and much deeper than what we had ever created before, and it took us quite some time to open ourselves to the newly discovered territory, adding little things here and there, and putting them again to rest to let them time to ripen like good wine.

I think the sequence of the songs on any album is very important, it has to create a certain atmosphere for its listeners. Palingenesis’ progression is somehow harmonious, building a mystical aura around the entire album. Was it difficult to decide the order in which the songs will eventually feature on the album?

It wasn’t easy in the beginning, and only the order of the first two tracks, “Mittwinter” and “Polaris”, was clear from the start. Experimenting with the track orders different emotions of the whole album revealed themselves, and so the question of how to order the tracks became a question of what we wanted to say with the album. The same holds true for the naming of the songs and the whole album, which was a much harder decision, as all tracks on the album are purely instrumental, except for a few spoken word passages that came into the album at a rather late stage. In the end the order and the naming was chosen to depict the spiritual inner journey that accompanied the creation and development of the album, and found its reflection in the music.

The title of the album comes from Greek, and it is a concept often used in philosophy, theology, and also biology. Was it also some sort of spiritual and creative awakening or rebirth that you were going through, as a band and also as individuals, at the time you were working on these new compositions?

The term Palingenesis and its various meanings all have a strong connection to the album, what it means to us as persons and to us as a band. Starting with the latter, the term refers to the long process in which the album came into being. After the release of its predecessor Vigil, it got more and more quiet around the band. The inmost flame that had always inspirited Nebelung seemed to enter a state of transformation, without revealing its final shape. Somehow the impetus behind Nebelung seemed to dwindle away on our paths to personal and spiritual maturity, and, as stated above, the first notes to what would later become Palingenesis were written in a time, where it was all but clear where they would lead us, and if they were a part of Nebelung at all. Looking back at it from now, I think this situation has been extremely fruitful for us, for it allowed us to work on the album without any self-imposed constraints or expectations, and finally led to a reincarnation of Nebelung into a new musical body. On a personal level, the years in which the album was written and recorded met a time in which I was running through a long period of transformation myself, facing the ghosts of my past, that had haunted me since my earliest childhood. Somehow the shadows I got confronted with in these recent years, and the attempt to accept and reintegrate them into my own self, led to a new paradigm, a kind of spiritual renewal. Of course this paradigmatic change also led to a different view on our own music, and, as a result, to a different musical approach.

There are no lyrics on Palingenesis, just spoken words that appear rather occasionally, and even when they do, they bear a resemblance to whispers. This gives your music infinite meanings and possibilities. Will this be a direction for future Nebelung albums?

The decision to go without lyrics was not so much a conscious thing as a natural consequence of how the album developed. In a nutshell, the music just didn’t demand for any lyrics, and so we felt no desire or need to add something to the music, that apparently wasn’t a part of it. In the few lyrical parts the album involves now, the spoken words merely serve as additional instrumentation, which was also the reason for the decision to put them into another language (Norwegian). Therefore I can’t really tell, if future releases will see us taking a similar approach.

I can imagine though, that the lyrics - if there will be any – from our future releases will be more and more disconnected from their initial role of carrying meaning, unchaining the music from its initial cultural background and imagery and making it a unique and individual experience for every listener.

Also, the cover art for the album is incredible. Who is behind it and how did you come to choose this particular artist?

The pictures for the cover art of Palingenesis were provided to us by Sphæra Satvrni Art. The artist has been recommended to us by our friend and label colleague from Fyrnask, who had also worked with her for the interior cover design of his album Eldir Nótt. The photographer specializes in nature photography, experimenting with light, color and focus. The nature in her images is different than the one we know, and it still carries its original awes and wonders, before they were pulled under by word and reason. It’s the degree of abstraction in her work, while picturing a complete natural motive, the change in the viewing angle, composed with macro shots with only little depth of focus, that give her motives this new appearance. In a direct comparison to the wide-angle photographs in the artwork of our former releases it is this change of perspective, which is pictorial for the inner transformation reflected in the music. What initially seemed to be old and known, a plant by the wayside, suddenly, under the influence of the transformed paradigm, looks unknown and new.

Nebelung started out as an improvisation duo, among other musical projects you were a part of at that moment. When did you realize it was going to be a band actually recording music?

Over years my bandmate Thomas and I had been playing acoustic music together, mostly improvising, with only a few themes being repeated now and then, but without committing ourselves to what would happen next. This changed, when we were asked to play some music on an art exhibition, accompanying the reading of poetry. We saw that this would definitely demand a lot more focus than our often hour-long improvisations, and we decided to take some of the themes and structures we had, and built them to a handful of few-minute songs. Still this wasn’t Nebelung yet, which is of course far more than a duo of two guitarists playing music together, but also an idea, a feeling, and an accompanying imagery. The idea to create Neofolk – or dark folk or whatever – arose when an acquaintance I had by that time asked me if I would set up a Neofolk project with him (I didn’t want to), and I realized, that somehow I already had one, that only needed this distinctive dedication.

The name “Nebelung” refers to the nature and its discreet harmonies, conveying somehow the idea of life cycles. Is making such spiritual music your way of trying to reestablish a long lost connection of the modern man with nature?

For me it definitely is. Like most people nowadays I’m always in danger of being completely consumed by daily routine. Some years ago I made the commitment towards financial stability, and I chose to work in a field that I’m not feeling familiar with, and that doesn’t give me any true emotional feedback. I still think it has been the right decision though, reasonably speaking, giving me the ability not to fear what I should subsist on tomorrow. On the other hand, since that time, I sometimes feel my soul is drying up, and I’m losing the connection to my inner self. Knowing to be a part of Nebelung, and even when there are several months without any musical activity, helps me to reestablish that connection, and get in contact again with myself, nature, and what really counts in life.

I would imagine your shows as very intimate with an audience hypnotized by your performance, truly connected to the music. How do you feel that the atmospheric nature in the band’s recorded work carries over into the live setting?

In fact it’s quite hard to transport the quiet atmospheres of our music to an audience. The best concert experiences we had were always those, where we played in small, sacral or private places, without the need to amplify our otherwise acoustic instrumentation, be it, because the room was small enough or the acoustic of the place made an amplification unnecessary. We never feel too comfortable on big stages, and often enough the noise of the chatting audience is louder than our own music, making it impossible to cherish our music even for those, who want to and can’t get a place in the first few rows. Our music doesn’t obtrude itself upon the listener, and always requires a careful listen so one would be really able to cherish what lies within, a condition rarely met at bigger venues.

Some nice memories from past Nebelung concerts? Stories to share with our readers, perhaps…

One nice episode that I’m sometimes asked to tell was a small concert in Leipzig, when I suddenly came up with the idea of asking the audience of showing their support for the music by rubbing their hands instead of clapping. The idea was born from a very intimate experience I had made in a bar in Lisbon, where a songwriter had approached his audience with the same request. The result was a tremendously touching concert experience, as the impact of the single songs was not suppressed or altered by the noise of the applause, but was carried over into the next song, and forth and forth, which finally resulted in an increasing musical meditation, that sensitized for all kinds of subtleties buried below the notes. Since our calm and decent music demands a similar attention, I came to the idea myself to ask our audience to show their appreciation in this rather unconventional way. As I was told by some of the listeners later, the effect of this approach led to a completely unique concert experience. Since then rubbing hands instead of clapping them to applaud seems to be some kind of symbol of recognition for our inaugurated listeners, as on some concerts we sometimes see single listeners knowingly rubbing their hands, while everyone else is clapping.

Are there any other instruments you wish you could write for or could be included in the band's line-up or at least for a live setting?

Yes, I definitely do. Sometimes I’m getting a little tired of the guitar dominance in our music, or let’s say, the limits of expression that I have with the instrument and my own limited instrumental skills. Palingenesis already saw the involvement of a wider instrumentation, using Indian harmonium, hammered Dulcimer and glass harp among others, though they were only used as an addition and only at very few places. More in line with my own interests in music, I want to experiment more with acoustic soundscapes, making drone and experimental music a bigger influence than it already was for a few of the songs on Palingenesis. Future Nebelung music will thus probably see a stronger involvement of reed organ, strung bells, and other droning instruments, and a reduced guitar domination, which on the other hand will make it even harder for us to portray our music in a live setting.

Are there any bands or musicians today you feel are exploring the sounds and harmonies of nature as much as you are?

The ways to approach nature are multifold and dependent on each persons’ biographical and cultural background, and of course, when it comes to music, on the influences on the music you create. Take Espers or Hexvessel for example, whose approach to nature can be described as an alchemical one, where nature is also a substance to work with, and helper to unlock and open the doors of perception. Consequently their music involves strong psychedelic influences. With Nebelung on the other hand we don’t want to create something new with the nature we refer to, but want to amplify and enhance what is already there, capturing single moments of unity in music. This is also reflected in the way our songs are created: by attentive listening to the silence, within ourselves, and within nature, and by unearthing and amplifying what is usually buried below the noise of thought and attachment. Of course, and sadly, our expression of what we found in this emptiness is again limited by interpretation, abilities, and influences. Actually I haven’t found yet another project that might follow the same approach, but I somehow feel a spiritual kinship to bands like Musk Ox, Sangre de Muerdago or Quellenthal.

What is your favorite music right now?

Currently the possibilities for me to devote myself to music have become quite rare due to lack of time. Nevertheless I’m continuously taking care of expanding my record collection, just in case there should be a moment spare to be spent for one of my greatest passions [I’m not listening to albums on MP3, and if, just to decide if I want to own an album on physical format or not]. I have been listening to all kinds of music since music became my passion in teenager time due to the need to find an adequate expression for my suppressed feelings, and while I grew, mentally and spiritually, also the music I listened to grew, and changed. Now I’m basically interested in analogue and acoustic minimal, experimental and drone music, coupled with a lesser marked interest in Folk, Doom Metal and Neo Classic.

I presume you will tour to introduce the fans to the new album. Will the compositions from previous albums be presented in a “new” form, different from what the audience is used to?

Transporting the subtleties of the new album into a live setting is a hard task. While each instrument, taken separated from the others, might sound monotonous and repetitive at times, it is the complete whole, which makes for the special and quite complex atmosphere of the album. Many tracks involve layers of five guitars or even more, and the same holds true for the Cello. Despite what seems to be a symphonic or megalomaniacal approach, we are still true minimalists, and only, what seemed indispensably necessary, was taken into the music. As a consequence taking away one or more components or layers, immediately leads to a lack in atmosphere. To overcome this issue we involved two more musicians in our last concerts, but still it was only three of the new tracks that could be presented in a way, that didn’t appear to us as an underwhelming compromise. The use of playback is no option for us, as it would totally contradict our natural approach and atmosphere. We now, for live situations, tend to concentrate again on our older material, partly recomposed, and with more love to detail than in the original versions.

Will we get the chance to see you in Romania sometime in the future? What do you know about our country?

Yes, in fact you will. The only concert planned so far for this year will be our participation on the Dark Bombastic Festival in August this year, where we are going to share the stage with quite a number of other fantastic acts such as Agalloch, Skepticism, Esben and the Witch and others.

I’m really looking forward to play on that festival, and I’m no less looking forward for my first visit in Romania. I plan to combine our appearance at the DBE with a small trip through Siebenbürgen and long walks through Romania’s nature, which I expect to be no less than overwhelming.

One last thing: is there a famous quote that speaks to you?

My famous quote is taken from the book La vallée des avallés by Réjean Ducharme, and is cited in the film Léolo – which happens to be one of my favourite movies – by Franco-Canadian filmmaker Jean-Claude Lauzon. The film is about a highly gifted boy, ununderstood by the people surrounding him, and growing up in a family full with psychotics. To escape this hell, he starts to write – in a very poetic language – about his life, and more and more about his dreams, which become his new refuge.

“Je trouve mes seules vraies joies dans la solitude. Ma solitude est mon palais. C'est là que j'ai ma chaise, ma table, mon lit, mon vent et mon soleil. Quand je suis en exil, je suis assise en pays trompeur.”

(I find my only real joys in solitude. My solitude is my palace. It is where I have my chair, my table, my bed, my breeze and my sun. When sitting elsewhere than in my solitude, I sit in exile, I sit in fake land.)

::: Facebook :::

 

* Band photo credits: Winter Schatten

* All the other images and artwork by Sphæra Satvrni Art used with permission. Please do not distribute without first contacting the artist.

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