Phil van Dulm and Alexander Bartels, musically known as Wanderwelle, produce electronic music that balances between the genres of ambient and experimental techno. Last year, their debut album ‘Lost in a Sea of Trees’ was released by the Canadian label Silent Season.
The album’s main sources of inspiration were the rich Slavic folklore and the ancient pagan tribes that once roamed the European woodlands. The artists collected field recordings in Russian, Czech and Dutch forests. Throughout the album the ominous howling of the winds and other natural sounds play a prolific role. Within 48 hours the double LP was sold out worldwide, the repress just in a day. Wanderwelle closed their year with a 2.5 hour live set at the legendary Tresor, Berlin.
This year a new album will be released on Silent Season, which is inspired by the last years of the life of Paul Gauguin that he spent on the island of Tahiti. ‘Gathering of the Ancient Spirits’ tells the alternative history of his search for a land which is untouched by modern society and whose inhabitants were still dependent on the gifts of nature and connected to their ancestors.
Now, please press play and read on as we’ve asked a few questions to these two inspiring producers:
First of all, thank you for participating in the Memoir series and congratulations on the success of your debut album. We appreciated this record a lot and we’re looking forward to grab your coming album that was announced recently.
When did you start enjoying electronic music?
We both enjoyed electronic music from a very age young age. Soundtracks by Vangelis for Blade Runner and Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for The Thing are vivid memories for the both of us. Queen was another band we remember from our youth as we both liked the tracks were they used synthesizers extensively. It were unknown sounds at the time. When you are a kid, you recognize a guitar or a piano but a synthesizer was just something from another planet. The thought of making your own distinctive sounds on a synthesizer and combining these with field recordings of the elements around sounded like a dream come true.
Do you recall any early influences and is there any producers in particular today who inspire you to explore new sounds?
Films, art and literature are always a big source of inspiration. Especially if they are about mysterious phenomena or have some kind of supernatural influences. We are big fans of Lovecraft, Borges, Lynch and the art of Franics Bacon for example. They all share the same specific type of weirdness, it’s that ominous feeling we really like. Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is another vivid memory from our childhood that has that elusive type of strangeness. The album retells the brilliant story of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, using narration and melodies that are so well executed that you can feel the emotions of the characters. As of today, we really love the work of musicians like Ryuichi Sakamoto. His ambient tracks sound futuristic and melancholic, which reminds us of the old sci-fi soundtracks combined with the elements of nature that inspires us.
How did you guys meet and how did you come about making music together?
We grew up in the same coastal village, went to the same high school and had some mutual friends but we didn’t had any real contact. That changed when we both visited Kenya for a school project in 2009. We we’re 15 or 16 years at the time and during a trip on the Indian Ocean we discovered that we listened to the same extremely shitty electro house. We became friends and after a while we thought about the idea to make our own music as we both shared a passion for (electronic) music. At the moment we’re living and studying in Amsterdam. Phil studies Medicine and Alexander studies History and Art History.
What can you say about the Wanderwelle project? You’ve mentioned that your album ‘Lost in a Sea of Trees’ was inspired by folklore and paganism, do you find the artistic intentions and ideas to be important when listening to and/or creating music?
Concepts and ideas are not necessary. Good music is good music. However, we definitely love to incorporate concepts in our work. Honestly, we don’t think we are able to work without some sort of inspiration or concept in mind. The use of field recordings is something that plays a prolific role in that as well. These recordings are very important to create the specific type of moods we like. You can say that they serve as a skeleton and therefore pave the way for other sounds, melodies and percussion. Another important factor of a concept album is the cover art, as we believe it can give away a lot of the underlying ideas. We really like the work of the Amsterdam-based illustrator Floor van het Nederend, because he captures that strangeness we like so much in his drawings. So we decided to meet and almost instantly had a great connection, as we shared our love for the comics of Tintin, Blake and Mortimer and the work of graphic novelist Charles Burns. After all, the devil is in details. As Lost in a Sea of Trees was about pagan tribes, we got inspired by the work of Ivan Bilibin, a Russian artist that illustrated many tales and created the looks of the beings of Slavic Folklore. As our upcoming album is inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin, we collected a lot of material and information about his work. The cover refers to one of the last tracks of the album. We’re sure there will be other collaborations in the future.
You’ve just released some teasers of your coming album ‘Gathering of the Ancient Spirits’ which will be released on Silent Season sometime this year. How do you think it compares musically/conceptually to ‘Lost in a Sea of Trees’?
It’s definitely a sequel, but more in a spiritual way. Both albums tell the story of a lonesome traveler who eventually gets lost in a remote area due to maleficent supernatural beings. Though there are a lot of differences music-wise. Lost in a Sea of Trees was more a kind of techno album with a lot of ambient and dub techno influences, whereas the new album that is inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin is a lot more experimental in every way. We are not sure in which genre we could categorize Gathering of the Ancient Spirits. But that’s a good thing, as we believe genres aren’t important. For our debut album we collected field samples in European forests. However, a visit to French Polynesia was a bit more difficult. Therefore, we recorded a lot of bird sounds at the local zoo at daytime and at nighttime. The tracks that are set at night contain the chirps of night birds.
When you create your music, do you have in mind for the tracks to be ready for a live performance or do you make the adaptations/experimentation afterwards?
When we built our Tresor live set we mainly started from scratch and fitted in a few tracks that we felt were suited for live use. Improvisation is a big component in our live set, so we don’t want to restrict ourselves too much by using tracks that are already finished. Sometimes, when producing new material, the thought of playing the track live comes immediately and we make a stripped down version and see if it could work. Some tracks that we only played live are currently being developed to full tracks for an upcoming project in collaboration with another duo.
Do you work a lot with outboard gear or in the box? What are your thoughts of the different two tools in relationship to your own creative process and live performance?
A combination of hardware and software is in our opinion the best of both worlds. We don’t prefer one to an other as they both play different important parts in our workflow. Hardware mostly gets used in our live set and jamming sessions; the feeling of turning knobs and playing keys can’t be beaten by a computer screen. Working in the box on the other hand gives us the polished finish that suited Lost in a Sea of Trees and Gathering of the Ancient Spirits so well. We do record pads from our Juno and interesting modular sounds when we work in the box and this combination works very well for us.
How was the experience of recording your Memoir? Do you have any thoughts about it
that you would like to share?
Of course a mix that contains only work of the artist could be a reflection of the past. However, we mainly felt that this was a great opportunity to preview tracks and tease upcoming projects to our listeners. Some of those tracks might never find a home and others might undergo further transformations, but we think all of them are interesting enough for this cohesive project. We felt one of the tracks from our EP Ocean Stories was a nice closer for the mix as the track evokes a strong nostalgic and emotional response. Also, the transition fitted perfectly with an excerpt from our live set, that couldn’t be a coincidence.
Lastly, which is your favorite…
… effects plugin: The ValhallaDSP reverb series are some of our favorite plugins, versatile and with an exceptional sound. Reaktor and Max for live, both filled with endless possibilities play a huge part in our sound as well.
… instrument: Our favorite instruments are the Roland Juno series, retro and modern at the same time. It is impossible not to get lost in the pads and strings and we are sure that we’ll use it for many releases yet to come in some way or another.
Wanderwelle – The Seed of the Areoi [Upcoming Silent Season]
Wanderwelle – Fractured Memories [Upcoming Unrush]
Wanderwelle – Mechanical Days of the Long Ago [Unreleased]
Wanderwelle – Guna Guna [Unreleased]
Wanderwelle – Grapes, Snow, Tobacco [Unreleased]
Wanderwelle – Ancestral Guidance [Upcoming Silent Season]
Purl – Slow Poem (Wanderwelle Remix) [Upcoming RoHS!]*
Wanderwelle – Martijn Graafstal [Unreleased]
Wanderwelle & Primal Code – Untitled [Unreleased]
Wanderwelle – Live @Tresor Excerpt (22.12.17)
Wanderwelle – A Watery Grave [Silent Season]