Name: Hélène Vogelsinger
Occupation: Singer, composer, sound designer
Current Release: Contemplation, out now on Modularfield
Recommendations: The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
“Life is an experimental journey undertaken involuntarily. It is a journey of the spirit through the material world and, since it is the spirit that travels, it is the spirit that is experienced. That is why there exist contemplative souls who have lived more intensely, more widely, more tumultuously than others who have lived their lives purely externally.”
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
Fernando Pessoa's words and turns of phrase really impacted me during the period I created the tracks of my album. I’m taking this world composition class, and when we opened up the Hōgaku music (Traditional Japonese Music) chapter, it blew my mind. I listened to «Sakura (cherry blossoms)», which is a famous and popular classical Koto piece, in repeat, trying to project myself in a Japanese life experience, and more and more I was listening to it, more I could understand and see its beauty and poetry.
If you enjoyed this interview with Hélène Vogelsinger, visit her Instagram page, Facebook profile or bandcamp store.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started composing music as a very young child. First using my voice as an instrument, recording on tapes and later with a piano. My compositions at that time were quite basic but they were an important way to externalise emotions and feelings that I couldn’t put into words. I had a hectic childhood; with my parents and my three big brothers we moved a lot to follow my father's work transfers. And my musical journey has always been punctuated by those major life changes and all the different sounds and music I listened to.
I always had a big inner world, full of imaginary friends and everything that surrounded me could turn into anything I wanted. I loved creating stories. Animals were and still are very important for me. I think growing up with an animal really helps to maintain the natural love and compassion we have for other living beings.
When we moved to Beirut, I listened to a totally new sound palette. Beirut's soundscape is very special and recognisable. Every time I smell gardenia, I am back down there. This period really had a huge impact on my soul and creativity. I think, with hindsight, moving a lot really filled me with tons of different smells, views, sounds, melodies, energies. And even if it was quite hard to find my own identity, now I am very grateful for that part of my path.
When I came back to France at 19, I definitely had in mind to put all my energies to explore my musical capacities and possibilities. Acting was also very important to me at that time. So I started searching for castings and opportunities online and thanks to the Internet I found other musicians. I finally abandoned the acting part and focused fully on music.
I had different bands of many different genres. I really started the process of learning to produce music in 2013, when I realised that I needed to express myself fully, in every aspect of the composition and the instrumentation. It was a real need, something like a spiritual call. So I bought Ableton and read the 800 pages manual. That was magical and overwhelming at the same time, I had so many possibilities, hundred of virtual musicians under my hands! A new whole world opened up to me.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I think in the process of growing up identification is an accelerator to recognise and what I love in that process is that it never ends. Sometimes you think that you found exactly who you are and bam! you hear or see or smell something new and you suddenly want to explore more. They show you a way.
I used to make covers when I was a teenager but transformed everything, different chord progressions, different melodies, different sounds.. A whole new track! Others have always inspired me, any sound has - but maybe more in terms of energy and intention.
One day, a label contacted me to know if I could create a piece for a placement inspired by a track they sent me. Wow, I was so excited to have such a beautiful opportunity! The result was miles aways from the original one. But I was so happy to have created this piece which was very different from my other creations. And yes, my song was rejected :)
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
For years I had difficulties to chose between my voice and other sounds and instruments. My voice has always been my main instrument and it me took some time to find its place.
Also going from acoustic instruments to electronic instruments was a really intense transition phase, a really important mutation. My main production challenges were technical. Learning by yourself how to use your DAW in all its aspects can be very challenging and takes some precious creative time. There is also the lack of confidence linked to the fact that most of the time you are not sure at 100% of what you are doing. So I gradually awarded more and more time to the technical aspect, which is creative in its own way, and learned a lot online.
Going virtually back to school (Berklee online) really helped me a lot in terms of confidence, and of course I learned, and I’m still learning so much.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
The one I consider to be my real first studio is the one I built in 2013. At that time I was 100% sure that creating music was all my life and it was unimaginable for me to do anything else. So I stopped my studies and looked for small jobs with flexible hours, so I could invest and have time for gigs. It was in my small 23m2 apartment in Paris, a 2 room apartment, literally a rectangle cut in two. One of these semi-rectangles became my home studio.
I had that giant and heavy MPK88, which has a piano style key feel. 2 guitars. A small desk Akai midi controller. A condenser microphone. And, for the first time I invested in good monitor speakers which were definitely too big for my room. And of course the brain of the set up, a computer with Ableton. I had so many transitions since that day. I moved into different apartments after that, almost one rotation every year, lived with room mates and had to reconfigure everything every time.
The big change arrived 4 years ago when I decided to leave Paris to settle in the countryside near where my parents live. I re-discovered what it was to have space! And I decided to leave the computer for a more hardware oriented set up, a set up that would limit my scattered mind. So I sold everything I had and totally rotated my equipment.
And when you open that door, it never ends. I fell in that spiral and landed in the modular world. It was love at first sight. It is really weird to explain, there is something spiritual about it. At his moment you understand that all you have been through was to bring you to that place. It really brought me peace.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
What I love about technology is that you can have access to infinite numbers of possibilities. You can divide yourself in an infinite number of roles jumping from singer to pianist, to synthesist, to technician and so on. You can learn and apprehend music in all its aspects and express your creativity through a lot of different channels.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
They are present everywhere in my setup. Every morning, when I enter my studio I’m like «Hello There!» They are the continuum of the imaginary friends from my childhood! I have a spiritual attachment to these machines and instruments for what they let me express and transmit.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I think collaborations are great opportunities to share, learn and elevate yourself. It can sometimes be difficult to find a perfect match. We all have our own way to understand things and communication is key.
I did this blind collaboration with Johno Wells, for his podcast «Dotwave». He is navigating the modular world, too. The concept: We both had to prepare a 6 minute, 1 layer track without knowing what the other one was going to create. We had a 3 hours talk before doing it. And it absolutely matched, humanly speaking.A few weeks after, we met online and listened together for the first time the 2 layers together. And it worked so well! I really really loved that experience. It makes you learn a lot about a person in an artistic and pure way.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I generally wake up early, and the first thing I do is to remember what I experienced during my sleep. I know there are important informations and messages. When I started learning modular synthesis, my brain processed information during the night and things I did not understand the day before became crystal clear in the morning.
Then, I have this Gratitude Ritual. I make a list in my head of everything I’m grateful for and thank the Universe. I can start my day.
A big part of my days is focused on studying and sound design projects. I am also studying Reiki and practise it everyday, alongside meditation. My cats are always around me. They are definitely my life and creative partners. I go for a walk, take pictures, breathe. And I spend time on Instagram checking the new beautiful tracks of the modular community and the friends I made there. A very positive and supportive network and community. My day ends and I have this Gratitude Ritual again.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
A few months ago I decided to challenge my creative process and try something new. I started to explore abandoned places and linked them to the creation. For the track «Astral Projection» I first chose a place here the international train station of Canfranc in Spain. It is a really impressive ghost space in the middle of the Pyrenees, really beautiful, poetic and full of history. I created all the musical foundations based on the videos, photos, documentaries, anything that I could find about it. It became quite an obsession for a few weeks.
The next step was to record the track in the place it was created for. 90 km on national roads through the mountains and in our old Volvo break. This road trip was absolutely wonderful. We were alone on the road for a big part of the trip. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Canfranc, we realised that it was impossible to access the site. They were renovating the Gare and everything was on lockdown. So we decided to search for an another place. And only a few kilometres away, following the rails of a train track, in the middle of nowhere, we discovered a stunning building, surrounded by mountains and near a small river.
At this precise moment, I knew that everything was supposed to be this way, as if my «astral body» had already been to that place, maybe during my sleep! The installation and the recording session are always a process and take a few hours. This session was very magical and this space full of good energies. The light was also incredible.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
My ideal state of mind is definitely when I am peaceful, connected to my inner child, full of gratitude. There are many ways to access this state; a walk in nature, looking at the sky, a meditation break, playing the piano, singing or drawing and sometimes, gratitude rituals, something as simple as burning incense or sage, can bring you to a higher perspective.
It took me quite a while to access this state of mind. I love when you simply sing or play an instrument, and suddenly something beautiful falls on you, as if someone, something has been given it to you.
Keeping an abundance mindset opens up a lot of things in terms of creativity.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
In my modular project, writing music and playing live are intimately connected. I first compose my main sequences, it can be by using my voice, my piano or directly on my modular synth. All those sequences are then programmed into my sequencers. I also record a lot of things which are part of the piece; vocals, instruments, field recordings.
And then there is the live moment when all those patterns and samples come to life together and interweave. They take their place, come and fade away. The improvisation is more in the interpretation and its impact on timbre, space, patterns appearance. It is a sonic improvisation of a composition.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I bought my first hardware synth a few years ago, it was a Minilogue. I directly knew that sound will became an obsession. Focusing on sound really helped me in my compositional process. It helped me to take final decisions concerning the orchestration.
I have melodies in my head, and hearing them interpreted by those deep and penetrating sounds give them a totally different meaning. It unlocked something in my brain. Sound and composition work hand in hand.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I love the idea of immersive experiences where all senses are used and work together to transport you into another reality. When we know the power just sound alone has on the brain, imagine using all senses! A mind and spirit teleportation. I would love to participate in creating such an experience.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art is so many things. A soul and spirit photography of what someone is experiencing, by living it or witnessing it, at a precise moment. A communicator between invisible things, energies and our world. Extrasensory perception. Art has its own universal language and knows no boundaries.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Music, frequencies, have a huge impact on our brain, body and spirit. Just exploring sounds really helps you to learn from yourself. It definitely has a healing virtue that everyone should experience.
I think more and more frequencies and their impact on our environment will be researched and explored, and more sound and music will extend their possibilities in different realms. The one that is dear to me is the healing facet and potential, that will help to end suffering.