Name: VISIONIST a.k.a. Louis Carnell
Current Release: A Call To Arms - new album out on march, 5th, 2021 via Mute, purchase here.
Painting - Frank Bowling, Mirror
Painting - Tesuya Ishida – Cargo
If you enjoyed this interview with VISIONIST and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Facebook, Soundcloud or Instagram.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I grew up surrounded by music.
I enjoyed singing to myself as a child and tried out several musical instruments. I actually wanted to do something in football when I was young but a music teacher recognised I had talent. The school gave me the opportunity to record at a music studio and after that I was super intrigued in how to make music with a computer.
I also used to draw and paint but I was such a perfectionist that the process was too slow. I found myself satisfied with my creations a lot sooner with music.
For most artists, originality is 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?
As a teenager, I was heavily influenced at the beginning and would try re-create music from those I looked up to - there was no problem with this as it helped me improve my skill set, understanding of melody, rhythm and sound design. As my musical taste has always been varied, I’d take sounds or rhythms from other genres and start to experiment.
Early on in my career I went through a bit of a struggle where I was making music that I thought a particular label would want. When I started to personalise my work and really seek for a sound of my own I achieved most enjoyment and personal comfort.
I’m an introspective artist and I like to push the boundaries of what I can do, and what people know me for. I see this as evolution, and I don’t ever want to be complacent.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
My sense of identity has expanded and progressed over the years and it will continue to do so - my approach to creativity and music-making is reflective of this.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The main challenges I’ve faced are the ones I have little control of and that’s perception. I don’t create or think the way some would prefer. My work has continuously been urbanised by sections of the press even though I’ve been on some of the most left-field labels there are. It’s almost as there are some who feel I’m creating above my station. This is unfortunate.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My first studio setup doesn’t differ from the one I have now. I use the same software, I have a pair of monitors, sound card and a midi keyboard. The quality of my speakers and sound card have improved. I’ve had a couple effect units in the past but found using them slowed me down and I like to have a good tempo to my work practice. I’m a big believer in exploring the tools you have until you feel you’re unable to achieve what you want.
Saying this, for ‘A Call To Arms’ it was important I had the chance to step out of my home studio and deal with more live elements.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
As I mentioned haven’t really had external equipment like synths, effects units, and have always used the same music production software. Though on ‘A Call to Arms’ I was able to use some effects units at Mute’s studio, this was in sessions that I guess could be called creative mixing. External equipment adds an element of live processing to music so programmed automation is how I try re-produce this.
I suppose there is further consideration to music-making when I write for commissioned visuals, but not so much in a technological sense.
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?
It’s important that I never ask an artist to do something that doesn’t resonate with their own personal work. I have strong ideas but like to allow interoperation/ improvisation when necessary. Conversation is key.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
A pre-covid routine would start with me going to the gym in the morning. I struggled with setting routines and this got me in one, and it’s also very beneficial to my mental health. I don’t attempt to make music every day, only when I have a strong idea that I want to explore, then I really dedicate my time to realising these ideas. I’m useless at night so I clock off around 6pm, as after this I feel that my ears are closed.
All my music comes from personal experience & thoughts on the world as I see it etc I’ve always been very analytic in social environments and I’ve done this more so on the long walks I now like to take. It’s important to not always seek escapism.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My first album was very important for me as I felt I was very brave in many ways, revealing intimate aspects of my life. I also took my sound further than it had been explored, at the risk of losing fans. I just felt I’d done everything musically with where I was, and wanted to take a journey that would satisfy me when a lot easier offers were there.
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?
Everything is a distraction apart from making music for me. I didn’t have internet on my work computer for a long time. I was talking with Leila Arab a little while ago about my frustration with writers block, to which she replied ‘the computer owes you nothing.’ and it’s true. It’s given me so much cathartic expression that both the computer and I are allowed a day off, so don’t force creation. It takes a good state of mind to take on all the reflection that I morph into sound.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
What does music need to do that it isn’t already doing?
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I’m not sure the line between cultural exchange and appropriation is that fine. Appropriation comes from a lack of research and imbalance of power. Pay homage to the artists and cultures that have influenced you.
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?
Hearing is a great source of visual imagination and nostalgia. The sound of a wood pigeon will always bring me back to being in my Granny’s house.
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?
I feel like artists show you the world as they see it, rather than holding a mirror to the world. My music has always centred around personal experiences. It’s a form of catharsis and bravery for me, and a way to break down the privacy barrier.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music allows for more individual interoperation. You chose the place it takes you, to one of memories or one of a future unknown.