‘In our minds, listening to contrasting music creates freedom and tools to produce without the boundaries of genre.’
As part of #PointBlankTalent, which is a collaboration feature with Point Blank Music School, Listen to Discover interviewed Vienna based ANIMA. And as you will see, there is a phenomenal amount to learn about the fascinating journey to their debut release, Naima.
Who are involved in ANIMA? There are two teams of people involved with ANIMA. In the music team there’s ANIMA (concept & vocal artist), Oszillator (Max McManus and Benedikt Meschik – main music producers), Elf11 (advisory co-producer), HighDee (vocal engineer), Franz Hautzinger (solo trumpet). The creative team includes: Soleil Jean-Marain (choreography & dance), Shyam Jones (camera & editing), Mael Blau (costume design), Ariana McManus: (artistic CI & art props) and Marion Kunst (ANIMA‘s homepage).
What influences the music you create? Oszillator: The most important influence in creating our music is our emotional state in every moment of the process and the emotions we want to bring forth. This precedes the influences through various musical genres and musical periods. In our view, listening to contrasting music creates freedom and tools to produce without the boundaries of genre. Collaborating with and realising someone elses vision gave us the experience of artistic freedom within a musical frame.
Elf11: My music often sources in a vision, a sudden inner space opening. Images surface, accompanied by connected emotions which turn into internal sounds. Technically, my music is influenced by different époques and styles. One of my favorite approaches is using drones and ostinati as a foundation for my melodic motifs and not voicing the melody until later. In my creative process I’m influenced by alchemistic ideas such as melting, blending and diluting substances. This leads to experimenting with electronic and analog elements until an organic merging is achieved.
As I am not an expert in programming beats, I collaborated with producer duo Oszillator, who ended up creating all soundscapes within the framework of my vision and using an earlier version of Naima as a compass. It was a rare experience for another creative source to translate my vision in such an accurate way without compromising their unique style.
There is something incredibly spiritual about your debut – particularly the intro track ‘Ancestress.’ Was this always the intention or did this evolve over time? ANIMA: The original intention of the project – under the working title JazzPeriments – was to create modern versions of jazz standards as a personal tribute to Afro-American women in music, and honour African culture per se. Naima, in a very headstrong way, became what I wanted it to be: a deeply spiritual and alchemistic journey back to the roots of the feminine Goddess in ancestral Africa, to a transformative and bridging moment in our present (reflected in Coltrane’s track), all the way to the resurrected Goddess in a future world. The spiritual aspect apparently was embraided in Coltrane’s track all along. Like musical archeologists, we excavated the sacred secret from in between his notes and translated it into visibility.
So what led to you choosing Coltrane’s track as a starting point? ANIMA: Naima is one of my favorite ballads in which the love for and the honoring of the Divine Feminine is so exquisitely voiced by John Coltrane. Jon Hendricks’ lyrics translate Coltrane’s melody through simple, yet picturesque poetry. Honouring the Goddess in African women seemed like the best starting point for this tribute and it ended up honoring the Goddess in all women and in all of us.
“The process of producing for ANIMA was positively impacted by studying with Point Blank Music School.” [Benedikt Meschik]
I love the multi-layered/soundscape approach to the track. What was the process behind these and how did you go about deciding what to use? Oszillator: When creating the musical layers, our intention was to set Coltrane’s composition in a modern context, without compromising the harmonic and melodic structure, and without neglecting its original feeling. We did a lot of sound design experimentation – fusing real instruments (trumpet/voice) and synths. Creating these different layers from scratch involved a lot of trial and error to see what blended naturally with this modern version. Ultimately, we worked towards expanding the original jazz flavour into a contemporary musical language.
And on the vocal material, what inspired this and what is the story behind these lyrics?ANIMA:Naima transpires the African Goddess with every note, with every word. Therefore the journey to the ancient sites was inevitable and called for lyrics and vocals emotionally depicting the reminiscence of these archetypal energies and archaic landscapes. These set the stage for Naima (Ancestress – prologue“). As we were creating, composing, recording, I literally saw the desert, felt the wind, heard the giggles of phantom-like women leaving their footprints in the desert sands. I felt catapulted, like I’d dropped into another time and space and wanted the lyrics to trigger the sensory perception of the audience.
As we worked on Part B of Naima, I felt the track needed newly written vocals and lyrics in order to bring the journey full cycle, so we took the Ancient Goddess (Ancesstress) through a resurrection in the present, (Naima), and projected her into the future (last part of Naima). The lyrics in what I call the “Naima epilogue“, reflect the aspect of her eternal motherly love combined with her newly found fierce Warrior Goddess Energy. This past, present, future emergence in our version, turned Naima into a musical triptych: prologue, Naima, epilogue which marks the beginning of ANIMA’s journey into the world. Looking at these heavy challenges we all currently face and all the despair, it feels like ANIMA is being born into the right time and place.
How much of the original track was included in the release? Oszillator: It was not in our interest to create a simple mainstream remix by taking samples from the original track, in fact we ended up not sampling anything from it. Like in common jazz interpretations, we built on the given parameters of form, harmony and melody to deliver our own unique interpretation of the tune.
Elf11: I found myself particularly happy with Oszillator’s translation of my vision of this track in a contemporary setting. It was never my intention to work with sampling of original material and my main request was not to compromise the artistic value of the piece.
How did you go about merging the source material with what you created? Oszillator: We maintained the original jazz form of ABAB, yet played with it freely with our version feeling more like ABCD. Every part has its own feel but the underlying harmonies of the A and B parts are the same as in Coltrane’s composition. We also used the original harmonies, but voiced them differently to fit with our modern style, while we stayed true to the beautiful original melody and incorporated other signature motifs such as the main bass motif in the first part of our track.
The biggest challenge was to merge all these contrasting sections in an organic way. We aimed to create more climactic versions of the B sections, which in the original tune remain unchanged in their ballad feel. Using double time – 125bpm of the original tune 62bpm – was key to making the vocals work over the top.
You are currently studying at Point Blank Music School, what are the advantages to this? Benedikt (from Oszillator): I am doing the online Music Production Master Diploma program 2-years part time but I also study Music Theory at the University of Vienna, work as a DJ Trainer at DJ Sound Austria. This is the only way I can study with Point Blank. I honestly mean it, when I say they have the best online learning platform I know!
So how has this education helped your musical development? Benedikt: Through learning and practicing music since my childhood, I had lots of previous theory and composition knowledge. I also started working with Ableton five years ago, developing my skills as a producer. With a mindset of one can never learn enough, I started at Point Blank University to expand on all my knowledge. We were in the midst of producing Naima when I started and even though I had been working with Ableton, I learnt so many new things in the first few weeks of their ‘Introduction to..’ course. In fact, the process of producing Naima was impacted by it.
Point Blank’s tutor tailored the learning experience upon my level of skills and knowledge, and made me feel confident enough to record Naima’s vocal in a big studio. Even better equipped to produce, I felt well prepared and grounded in my expertise. I was very comfortable being part of the amazing team around ANIMA and could sense where the musical skill sets of different members needed to breathe and shine! I‘m really excited to continue my journey with Point Blank because it can only get better!
“We worked towards expanding the original jazz flavour into a contemporary musical language.” [Oszillator on debut release Naima]
Are there any plans for follow up releases to this track? ANIMA: I always intended my debut to be an EP produced by Oszillator and Elf11. Looking at this first release, everybody in the team is happy with the outcome, as well as with the perfect teamwork behind it. This EP will definitely be completed within 2021. There are big releases planned and we can‘t wait to show you more! We’ve recently also released the music video to my debut and there will be more by the end of the year. This new track in our incubator is nearly done and will take a very different musical direction than Naima. Ancestress and Naima are only the beginning of the journey into my world of sound and poetry.
And finally, what impact has music had on your life to date? Benedikt (from Oszillator): Music has always played a big part in my life since I first started playing the piano in my early childhood. Over time, I developed an understanding for music, how it works and why it has the ability to affect my emotional states and have a transformative effect on my life. It’s taught me how to articulate my own emotions in an artistic way and extend the meaning of topics I want to articulate beyond words. Being free to express myself through music, without limitations really keeps me sane, especially in these critical times!