With resonances both rising and falling Leon Helland of 語り部 constructs dialogues between tonal structures which call across to one-another over the expansive space crafted by the aural architecture. Halos is a practice in restraint, touching only the frequencies necessary for the emergence of a non-objective landscape. The thoughtful and well placed overtones give additional holds for which to grasp the larger shaping of the pieces where a seamless and unpretentious blend of field recordings ground the compositions in reality.
The phrase 語り部 which roughly translates to ‘Storyteller’ serves as a nod towards the process which Leon uses to compose his music: writings and personal observations. Taking his influence for Halos from the novel Solaris, Leon provides the listener with a sample of emotions this novel provided him. Thus building a sonorous world transcribed to his point-of-view.
Corresponding from Perm, Russia, Leon talks about Halos, the Altai Mountains, and loneliness.
Merigold Independent: I see the album is inspired by the novel, Solaris. Could you give us your interpretation of the novel and how it inspired Halos?
Leon Helland: In youth, I’d read a lot of sci-fi literature dedicated to space. Most of those novels and stories try to immortalize a human as a great conqueror of the Universe, while Lem suggests to take a look at the human expansion from a completely different side. In “Solaris” he artfully takes down a peg from romantically inclined readers, facing a man, tormented by attempts to figure out what he is, with an incognizable ocean’s intelligence, while showing the impossibility of the contact, inconceivability of the extraterrestrial intelligence and powerlessness of classical methods of cognition in front of the loneliness of stars and humans.
In fact, “Halos” is sui generis OST. I can’t say it accurately reflects events of the book since both volume and quantity of the material don’t meet the book’s, and after all, this’s just my interpretation, my feelings. Nevertheless, even in the titles of the tracks I’ve tried to leave references to one or the other themes, to the mood of the novel. I would call this album “OST based on the novel”.
MI: What did your writing process for this album look like? Did you map out the songs before recording, or do you let the work unfold organically?
LH: I never map out the songs before recording. The process is completely spontaneous yet it’s necessarily caused by a certain mood, inspiration, that accumulate over time and events. That’s why it’s difficult for me to write voluminous albums and release them each month. I started to work on “Halos” right after I’d completed reading the novel, while I was full of impressions and inspiration. It still took me a month to finish and polish all those rough drafts.
MI: If you don’t mind sharing, may I ask where some of your field recordings were collected and how you go about finding them?
LH: Last summer I traveled through the Altai Mountains almost for a month, where I recorded most of these fields recordings. I’ve never looked for the place to record field recordings advisedly though, I just tried to catch the sounding of the environment at the moment.
MI: In comparison to your previous works, the melodies in Halos are given a more highlighted position. Are there any techniques you used on this album that differ from your last albums?
LH: In “Halos” I’ve decided to abandon usual layering of textures. It seemed to me that restrained variability and gentle melody will fit perfectly and will help to reflect correctly the mood of the novel. Of course I had to do a way more work with processing, in particular, I began to actively use the resampling and get rid of the “synthetical” sound of the synthesizers.
MI: Do you feel where you live (Perm, Russia) has had an influence upon your music?
LH: Frankly speaking, this influence is insignificant. Of course, the environment and the place, its atmosphere, affect me, but Perm isn’t that city which can turn anything inside, you know. The greatest influence on me; had Moscow, nature of the Altai Mountains and the summer nights there—I completely fell in love with those celestial landscapes covered with shining and shooting stars… The contemplation of these scenes and reading “Solaris” have led me to writing the album. Also I was hitchhiking for a while, and this experience has influenced me too. I’m a wanderer at heart, just have no possibility to travel, to wander as much as I want. I hope someday it’ll change.
MI: What inspires you most to write and record music?
LH: Observation of the world around me, reading books, listening to music, overcoming difficulties of life… And solitude. Sometimes solitude is bliss. People are underestimating the value of being alone with themselves. They can’t bear these silence and emptiness which suddenly appear and smite them, when they’re alone. They can’t enjoy and take an advantage of it anymore because of the high tempo of life and deep socialization, that is partially caused by the rapid development of the Internet, its integration into our life. The communication is way easier now, you’re in constant contact with someone. It doesn’t really matter if this contact is real life or in messengers—your thoughts are occupied with external problems, everyday troubles, other people. Constantly.
I believe we don’t need to be afraid of solitude, yet we’ve to avoid loneliness. Social life is good and all, but sometimes we need to sit back alone, relax and lend an ear to the silence. You’ll notice that even silence has sound, same as your thoughts and the mood have their own sounding.
MI: Are there any events that took place in your life (joyous moments or hardships) that you find still materialize themselves in your compositions?
LH: Perhaps, this is loneliness, which has evolved to solitude. All my childhood I was alone and I think most of my works have a touch of this feeling. And that’s why I don’t want to perform live in front of a large audience—I believe my music is focused on the individual listening. This is an experience that you should pass through alone.
MI: What do you think may have lead you to creating the type of music you make?
LH: Well, it’s quite difficult to determine what exactly have led me to creating ambient music. I’m a calm, relaxed person by nature, but still there were many of things and events that could influence me and my musical taste. I really loved games with atmospheric soundtracks, such as Portal, Limbo and Machinarium. Also back then I was into psychill, chillout, and sometimes post-rock, and most of my friends were sending me ambient-ish stuff, so no wonder I ended up writing and listening to something like that.