Name: Vula Viel
Members: Bex Burch, Ruth Goller, Jim Hart
Interviewee: Bex Burch
Occupation: Composer, improviser, gyilist
Current Event: Vula Viel just performed at the Bezau Beatz festival. Their album Do not be afraid is out now as well.
Recommendations: TAKIS- anything magnetic; Laurie Anderson - Big Science
If you enjoyed this interview with Vula Viel, visit their homepage or bandcamp account for more music, tour dates and background information.
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 always enjoyed writing and arranging music, I just did it secretly, very privately as a child and young adult. Only starting making my own music for other people with my most recent album, this January!
Early passions: groove based music and the lighter side of rock and punk. later this included minimalist music especially Steve Reich 18. This in turn led me to the Ghanaian roots of his rhythmic patterns, moving there and studying the Dagaare Gyil (Xylophone) under the late Thomas Sekgura. I lived as Thomas’ apprentice, making and playing Gyilli. Thomas and the Dagaare Music, from the first time I heard it to present day, hit me as one excellent example of the power of music. This music has given me both the way to composing my own music and the bench mark of what it is I’m chasing.
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?
As mentioned above, I was born with the hunger, the ideas, the need to compose even privately. But it wasn’t until I found a music which for me was everything I was searching for ... in Thomas Sekgura’s playing and the Dagaare tradition, I found one music I could never understand fully, but one I could surrender to and be part of. For 3 years I was apprentice and living in Ghana, completely subservient to Thomas and the music. I was just there to learn. The absolute in this role is very important to me. There’s time to learn and time to teach.
Moving back to U.K, my home country, I now choose not to only emulate the Dagaare tradition anymore. Barak Schmool puts this very well: just copying Music which inspires us is kinda boring. The next stage for me was/is writing music influenced by the fundamentals of my main influence. And stage 3 is to find my own voice in the gaps. I am around stage 2.5 currently. And am excited to find out what is to come.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Some tunes just have a challenge to them. Asking me to grow so I can figure them out. Each album finished is a challenge. The balance of Creative and Finishing.
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?
I don't have a studio, just a desk, a gyil, a bass, and manuscript paper.
In excellent advice I began notating my music - this is my “set-up”. The ideas can come in playing or just pop into my head, but in transcribing myself, putting onto paper, I’ve found a very humbling and creative and honest process: Black and white. What is it I’m asking. It takes the mystery and ego out of my lofty ideas. I love the graft of composition. Crafting ideas into music, stories, beginning middle end ...
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?
Through necessity, being such a quiet acoustic instrument, and playing on stage with 1 or even 2 drummers, I found I couldn't just mic up the gyil. I have developed a pick-up system, very simply with a piezo on each key, parallel soldered in groups of 4 or 5. This means my sound has developed too. I use pedals to sustain the sound, taking the gyil beyond what it could naturally do. My pedal set up is DD7, Super Ego, Hoxton Owl - which my partner has programmed a 'buzz' to add instead of taking away with distortion.
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?
I write on the gyil sometimes, just playing, and recording, then transcribing. But a lot is just away from the instrument. The main process is giving myself space to hear what's coming through.
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 play improvised gigs outside of Vula Viel. Including working with Peter Zummo, Tom Skinner, Tom Herbert, Robert Stillman, Charles Hayward, and coming up an improvised gig with Evelyn Glennie too in London. This side of the London scene massively feeds into my music. When I visit Ghana, I also enjoy improvising with musicians there, in a very different sound world but this process in both countries feed me hugely! Playing recently with Koo Nimo, Peter Zummo and Stevo Atambire - all collaborations - are three people and three experiences of my own role and music which are inspiring me at the moment.
I look forward to the next meetings with these people and others too!
Music happenings stay with me. In fact it’s hard to think of a performance which hasn’t taught me something.