“Wake Up and Start to Dream” is the title of the first song on “Hesperia,” the wickedly weird and winning debut album from Magdalena Solis – yet it might as well be read as instructions for the listener. By the time the slithering, successive track, “Seven Boys and Seven Girls,” moves from an outrageously memorable, roaring raga toward its eventual end – sounding like both their synth and your soul is exploding – it should be clear we’ve entered a kosmiche realm, one where the dreams you’ve not seen are projected directly on the Magdalena Solis screen.
“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” – Ingmar Bergman
After repeated listens to “Hesperia” – after our body became weightless, after our pulse quickened, after uncommon imagery flickered across our tightly-shut eyelids – we found ourselves in those dark rooms. Luckily, Magdalena Solis member Drikka was nearby to shine a little bit of light within, by answering the questions posed below.
Our understanding is that Magdalena Solis holds its origin in the universe of the moving picture, as opposed to that of the musical instrument. When did your attention first become captured by film? What are the films that truly exposed you to the possibilities of the medium? Are there contemporary films or filmmakers that excite you today?
As a child I was already very much into drawing and painting, also making scenarios and creating comic strips. When I had the chance to use a camera for the first time it was a wonderful experience, and all my other artistic activities seemed like mere preparations. I started writing down scenes, turning them into prose I always found frustrating and I felt a need to visualize them. But I did not have the means. Only when I met the girl that is now the other half of Magdalena Solis, and who works as a video editor, things became more realistic. So before that I studied other people’s work and learned to watch films in many different ways. Growing up in a small village the only true cult movies I had access to were the late night sessions on the BBC. There I discovered the works of Pasolini, Borowczyk and Buñuel, those I remember being the most influential during my teens.
When it comes to Magdalena Solis, Jodorowsky’s films were the ones that lit the flame. Because he was a director AND music composer. A similarly inspiring masterpiece was no doubt “Lucifer Rising.”
Contemporary cinema, although we see many good movies they don’t make our brain glow like the sixties and seventies magic. For me, many films stay too much in postmodernist atmospheres. Things are still a bit in a transition phase. However today’s cinema is visually more and more interesting. Recent South-American movies often have brilliant photography and revolutionary camera work. “Cidade de Deus” I remember as a film that really took me away. “A Tale of Two Sisters,” and other Korean or Japanese films. “The New World” we also much enjoyed. A temporary good thing is that the big cinematic nations of the past are all in a deep crisis, so there is more room and interest for films from all over the world. These new different approaches are feeding and freshening up the minds of directors in Europe and America, and you can feel that the old countries are slowly moving towards a new bloom too. Anyway, there are many promising things going on everywhere and we look forward to the future.
Can you compare and contrast your experiences working in film to your experiences working in music? How have the two forms fed your inspiration for Magdalena Solis? Do you find one to be more immediately gratifying than the other?
The way we film and create visuals are very similar to the music creation process. For both we improvise and experiment, and then select the good stuff to work on more refined arrangements/edits. Music and visuals always feed each other. A piece of music can start with some images in my head, visuals can start with some sounds I’m humming. So we’re very much used to making visuals move with the music, and vice versa. We often put movies or footage we filmed while improvising on instruments. Our track “Pink Sock Parade” for example was recorded in a single two hour session, immediately after watching Fellini’s “Satyricon.” We hummed the basic melodies and exchanged the arrangement ideas while watching the film, and then just executed the plan. We have periods we enjoy more making music, we have periods that visuals are more gratifying. Music is a little easier to make. There are less logistic problems. For visuals we have to rely on other people, and save money to go and film on interesting locations, etc. … When we don’t feel like making music we have the visuals, and the other way around. It seems to be a cycle. But maybe it’s time to break this cycle and try to work on a new album plus visuals at the same time.
Even without the knowledge of your interest in film, the music made by Magdalena Solis could fairly be described as “cinematic.” What were your aims when you originally embarked on the Magdalena Solis journey? How have those aims evolved over time, if at all?
Although I find our music on “Hesperia” more songs than film music I can accept “cinematic.” It’s only normal because we spend more time watching movies than listening to music. In the early days we thought just making noisy delirious soundscapes for some short film plans we had. But we quickly got bored and started adding melodies. Things haven’t changed that much. One day we make unbearable noises, the next day we’re playing sweet melodies. The mix of both is what makes our sound. And also what keeps working on music fun.
We’ve read where you describe your music as “Sun Cult Rock.” What does this term mean to you? Does the word “cult” in this instance refer to having a system of religious beliefs, to showing devotion to a particular set of ideals, both, or none of the above? And by extension, what is the Magdalena Solis connection to the Sun? “The attainment of wisdom” is a common definition for the Sun in relation to Tarot Cards …what does it represent to you?
Sun Cult Rock … this was our answer to people tagging us as “Pagan.” We didn’t really like that. Made us think too much of olde European lore and that is not exactly our universe. We’re more attracted to Egyptian and South-American ancient cultures, and of course sun cults. But we have no religious attachment to the sun. We just enjoy it in a hedonistic way. Its light, its energy, to be naked in the sun. It’s a source of life, it makes us frivolous and naughty, wicked and free. The tarot card … I don’t find it important to attain wisdom in life. Wisdom can be a heavy burden and make you numb for the simple pleasures. For us wisdom is simply the ability to find joy and happiness. And as the sun plays an important role there … in the end we agree with the tarot.
What music made the strongest impression on you during your adolescent years? How do you relate to that music today? Are there particular things that you look for in the music you listen to today, or do you resist setting parameters for yourself in that way?
Ennio Morricone. The spaghetti western pieces. I loved those more than any of the alternative music of the mid-nineties. Classical music already impressed me a lot too, mostly Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. I actually learned to read music because of them, so I could study their harmonies, and what I learned from them is still very useful today. And The Doors, for they were also hybrid and funneling different styles into one sound. Because of Robby Krieger I took Flamenco schooling for a year. Hispano-Arabic scales are very present in our music. We definitely look for particular things in music we listen to today. We have been on for months now about an “Electric Bach.” What would Bach have sounded like if he would have had electric guitars, synths, effects, etc. … It’s an interesting phantasy. The music we listen to is chosen to guide us to new/future sonic adventures. There is always a mysterious pattern, something that finally comes together when we start working on a new album.
What music have you been listening to lately?
Next to Bach, mainly Popol Vuh. Lately I’m also crazy about slow transcendental religious music. Vivaldi’s “Et in terra pax” for example – absolutely divine piece. And this obscure late seventies gem: “Symptome Dei” by Flamen Dialis. A total masterpiece, sure one of the best krautrock albums we ever heard. More recent artists we very much enjoyed over the last months are also people who combine music and visuals: Mademoiselle Marquee and Asian Women On The Telephone (AWOTT). And not to forget: Fiorella 16 and Jab Lemur, two wonderful Peruvian projects.
What are the advantages and disadvantages to living and working on your art in Belgium? Despite being blessed enough to experience the duo Black Box Revelation here in the States recently, we remain almost entirely ignorant of anything resembling a Belgian “scene.” Are there bands or artists around currently that you feel a kinship with?
For us the good things are always happening abroad. In Belgium it’s more difficult. We feel a little isolated here. A project we do feel kinship with is Prairie, also from Brussels. Musically Belgium is a very interesting and rich country. There are lots and lots of talented people but the infrastructure and indie media are too limited to support this richness. It’s an old story…
With all due respect – in fact, this is meant only as a compliment – we find “Hesperia” to be a rather unnerving listening experience, and certainly one without many readily identifiable reference points. What atmosphere were you trying to capture on “Hesperia” overall? What is the inspiration for the album’s longest track, “Sisters of the Twilight Mansions”? What can you tell us about the spoken words that accompany the drone and haze of “Prophetic Dreams,” until near the end, when we hear the unmistakable voice of Allen Ginsberg?
Yes, we were a little surprised with people calling it “unsettling” sometimes. We didn’t see it that way. It’s simply – like all art we love – a battle between light and darkness. To me, our music is about ecstasy. It sometimes goes into delirium and scary things, but then comes down again, finds peace and harmony, to go off and find new ecstasy. It may be unnerving and create confusion but we see those as positive things, as doors. One of the first reviewers said: ‘This is not music to calm or reassure you, but rather to remind you who you really are.” I couldn’t put it better.
The atmosphere we were trying to capture on the album was the result of natural psychedelic experiences. Of very strong and long lasting closed-eye-visuals and at times full-blown out-of-body. Visuals that were very beautiful but sometimes also very eerie and nightmarish. Some kind of a treacherous wonderland. So “Hesperia” is just the soundtrack to those.
“Sisters of the Twilight Mansions” was inspired by nothing but its title. I had some visions and vague ideas for that. But we started with practically nothing, tried out all sorts of things and completely let go. Experimented and improvised like maniacs for a couple of days without much pauses or sleep, until it was finished. Fantastic sessions, full of never-done-before stuff and genuine creativity. We felt very confident afterwards and the song often helped us through difficult moments further along the way.
As for “Prophetic Dreams,” while working on further arrangements I spontaneously started talking like Ginsberg. Then we selected a bunch of his recitations and started cutting and pasting, slowing down or speeding up his voice, etc., etc. … whatever was needed to achieve a perfect flow and make him fly united with our music. It was like an endless jigsaw puzzle, but great great fun and still very happy about the result.
Speaking of “Awesome” Allen Ginsberg, he is quoted as saying the following:
“Fortunately art is a community effort—a small but select community living in a spiritualized world endeavoring to interpret the wars and the solitudes of the flesh.”
I hate to see myself as an “artist,” or being called “an artist.” We are people who make things that other people might dig, people who are like us, who have to deal with the same inner and outer demons. So we pretty much concur with Ginsberg’s phrase. What I like about Ginsberg is that he always leaves room for spiritual space and makes your mind work. He was not a master, not a keeper-of-wisdom. He was a “figure it out yourself and find your self in my words” poet. A guiding man. Guiding men give good revolutions, preaching men give very very bad revolutions.
What’s next for Magdalena Solis?
There are lots of things going on, too many things to realize in fact. Absolute priority is a third album, hope to release it next Summer. Some more clips for “Hesperia” tracks are in progress. And meanwhile we work on a film/projection to use for next year’s live shows. Music and visuals are joining more than ever. They were already in love with each other but lately they are definitely craving permanent sex together.