Hearing the mystery – Mark Van Hoen talks about his colorful soundworld
Mark Van Hoen is one of the mergers of two different sides of electronica – surreal, pastoral compositions and colder architectural sound experimentation. He has recorded as Mark Van Hoen, Locust and is a founding member of the band Seefeel. He has releases on R&S Records, Apollo and Editions Mego. Recent albums “The Warmth Inside You” and “The Revenant Diary” clearly reflect his ideology and technical progress. His sound is extremely hard to define as it incorporates diverse elements from different genres, including trip-hop, ambient, techno, experimental, abstract. All this makes a great trip into the world full of emotions, dreams, subconscious thoughts and just pure electronic music beauty.
In the exclusive interview Mark talks about the love for Tarkovsky and Kubrick, the impact of first listening to Stockhausen, the lack of mystery in modern times, his weird childhood dreams and of course his rich and unique sonic world. Take a glimpse behind the stage, while waiting for forthcoming Locust mix for Secret Thirteen journal.
There is an announcement about your forthcoming new album under the Locust project. It comes over the decade from the last album under this alias. How did you decide to return? Could you tell us what we should expect in it: completely new sound or more sentimental sound? Also, maybe there are some important details about it to share with our audience?
I was asked to do a set on a radio station that broadcasts to NYC, called WFMU. I asked my friend and fellow musician Louis Sherman to write and perform some new material with me for the show, and as we started to put it together, it became clear that the music we were making fitted in with the ‘Locust’ cannon of works. So we thought of resurrecting the name and using it for an album. We used a few tracks that we’d composed for the WFMU set, and some more in addition. That became ‘You’ll Be Safe Forever‘. I’d say that the record by it’s own nature is reminiscent of the Locust material in the 90’s, but hopefully there is something new to offer, too.
What is more important to you in sound – abstraction, melody or rhythm? What do you think relates them? What are their roles in creating atmosphere, mood? Do you more rely on melodies, rhythms or abstractions? What places do they occupy in your music?
I think they are all interrelated and at best interchangeable. The whole concept of electronic music (at least for me) was that timbre itself could be as expressive as the conventions of rhythm, melody & harmony. I’ve always found it hard to accept the fact that the majority define the term electronic music not as an indication to expect something new sonically, but quite the opposite. To use a random but very common example – something that must feature a Roland TR909 drum machine in order to be valid within a certain genre of ‘electronic music’
Brian Eno once said “I always use the same guitar; I got this guitar years and years ago for nine pounds. It’s still got the same strings on it”. What is your musical equipment and do you often change it? Maybe you have some main synthesizer or live instrument without which you could not do? Being in the scene so many years, could you share your thoughts about hardware and software differences, advantages and disadvantages, also about your own methods of creating?
I never knew that about Eno’s guitar. I always though that he was an advocate for the past being something he did not care to revisit (which I believe is to the detriment of his music). I don’t really have a specific instrument that I am attached to, but I am a great believer in a massive and fundamental difference between hardware and software. The problem with software is that it’s so easy to conform to a genre (and very authentically). This means that people are making mistakes less and less, and therefore not being creative. I also think that there is something unmusical about making music while looking at a screen. I’m not necessarily against making music with a with a computer (or micro-processor based device) but the fact that virtually all music these days is made with our eyes and not our ears.
Nowadays we see emerging concept of hauntology in electronic music scene. The music of such artists as The Caretaker or Belbury Poly is haunted by past, evokes hidden memories, forgotten sounds, lost time, even some subconscious reminiscences. What memories, past, subconsciousness mean to your music and life? How do you see it from psychoanalytical, post modern or other perspectives? Is it a form of inspiration?
Yes, but perhaps not so deliberate and knowingly as the artists you mention. I don’t come at it in quite the same way. The likes of The Caretaker and Demdike Stare willfully reference to musics of the past in order to improve upon them, making a more consistent experience. I find it hard to to, but it’s an admirable skill. I don’t perform any analysis on the way memory informs my music. It’s an inevitable part of making music, whether you are young or old, and whatever life experience you may have, and it’s also intrinsic to the inspiration of music making.
Post modernism is a king of rewriting of the past. What do you think of this concept from the nowadays perspective? What do you think about the future? Are there some revolutions coming or we will rely on the rewriting and reinterpreting of the past?
Yes, I think it’s basically over from a revolutionary point of view, I’m sorry to say, but again that’s down to technology overwhelming any secretive and natural growth of any new development in style of music. But I do think that there can be minor revolutions. The problem is that most young people are satisfied – or even aspire to – referencing the past and conforming in some way. There seems to be no shame in that for most. The currency of the new is not a very strong one it seems. I also would say that the concept of post-modernism is lost on most. It’s ideals have become endemic in the way music and art is made.
At the moment you are living in Brooklyn. Could you share your thoughts on the tendencies of alternative music in your city.
There is a good deal of electronic music being made in Brooklyn, it’s a hard and urban environment, and I think that it’s exactly that kind of situation that creates the backdrop for that kind of music. It’s difficult to imagine electronic music being rural or even sub-urban, I know there are a few examples, but for me not many successful ones.
What does always makes you feel nostalgic? What do you miss in modern world in general? Maybe something makes you feel anxious or, on the contrary, happy?
I don’t think there is any particular event or trigger that always makes me nostalgic, it’s just random and incidental. The triggers for nostalgia increase as we get older of course, but I think it’s a natural thing to long for certain aspects of the past for people of all ages. I’ve even noticed my children doing it from time to time. That’s comforting in a way, that it’s simply part of the human condition, to long for the familiar. The biggest thing I miss in contemporary times is mystery. The time when I had to find out about something by going to the library, or asking a friend, or traveling somewhere. Not simply typing it into Google. So much is over exposed and lacking in magic, potency and mystery. It makes me feel anxious to wonder if anyone post internet-age can ever really experience anything culturally with the same depth that was possible last century.
What are your landmarks in music history? What are the defining moments for you, that influenced, inspired you? What are the landmarks in your personal music history?
I would say most of the inspirational landmarks for me would have been when I was 12/13 years old in 1979. I think that many others are defined at about this age, too. This has something to do with the transition into adulthood, and being the first time when a person can be very affected by music & art. For me personally this was being played Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ‘Kontakte’ in my music class at school, and at the same time hearing UK electronic music like Brian Eno, The Human League, OMD, Gary Numan & Cabaret Voltaire as well as German groups like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. For my own music history, I suppose that getting a recording and publishing contract was a milestone, because I could then make music my main occupation, I could really immerse myself into it. After that, my decision to switch from analogue to digital instruments in 1995 was a big turning point, and that is evident in the music.
Are you interested in cinema? What kind of cinema occupies the most part of your life? Maybe you have your favourite movies, directors? Could you name some best movies you have recently seen? Could you elaborate on what particular things inspire you in cinema? Maybe it is the lifelikeness of the scenes, unexpected denouements or maybe special effects, philosophical dialogues, aesthetic in general?
I am very interested in cinema, and in fact when I was younger, I would see at least one film a week at the cinema. In the fullness of time, I would have to say that Kubrick & Tarkovsky are my favorite directors. There is such depth and wealth of quality in their films, on a number of levels. You asked what particularly inspires, but I would say that directors like these are able to operate utilizing all of the aspects you mention, and more. That’s what makes them great.
Do you experience insomnia? What do you think at that moment, maybe you had some strange thoughts that caused it?
I don’t really experience insomnia, but I do have very vivid and disturbing dreams frequently. The one clear example is one dream I have had since childhood. A female, witch-like character shows me a house that has no walls. In one of the rooms is a boy that has been cooked in an oven, and is lying on a bed. She shows me the boy, and asks if I would also like to be cooked, and tries to persuade me in a very passive way, that it would be a good thing for me. In the dream I want to be outraged and repulsed, but in reality it is all very calm and matter-of-fact. I’ve never understood what it means. I wonder if it might be an future prediction that when I die, it might be from a fire. I think they are caused by anxiety in general, but I think we all have that to some degree.
Would you agree to modify your body and install some devices in it for improving your life (e.g. expand your memory)? Would you like to prolong your life, make it more convenient by using such measures?
I would not rule it out, but I would have to know the specifics of course. I think some kind of organic or genetic modification could be possible, but I don’t think I could ever consider having any electronic or mechanical enhancement.
What is the most memorable event in your career?
The first time a stranger told me that they bought my record. I think it was my first EP ‘Skysplit’. I don’t play my own music myself, but do occasionally have cause to listen back again. For example, last week a man from Holland requested some original versions of early vinyl-only releases of mine. He was very specific about what he wanted. A definitive digital copy of all of the tracks from 3 vinyl releases from my own personal DAT mixdowns of those tracks. It was interesting to go through the old tapes, and I discovered a few things that I’d forgotten about, a few mixes of old tracks that were very different to the released versions. Another was hearing John Peel play my music on the radio. It’s always great to know that people listen, and I always feel humbled to hear when someone likes my music for no other reason than….they do!