Interview with Juan Barrenescea Herrera from Subterranea, Chile, 1999
How do you feel to answer an interview from this recondite place called Chile?
It´s great to have response from prog fans at such distant places. I also have some contacts to other south-american countries like Brazil and Argentina. The internet is such a great medium for progressive music, since the approach of progressive music is really universal, but it´s fans are widely scattered all over the globe.
I have heard that there will be some interconnected large telescopes build on a chilenian mountain. I saw a film about this. I am very interested in astronomy, you know, you can tell by reading my lyrics. In the TV news I occasionally get information about the past and present political situation in Chile. One title on the Magellan album Impending Ascension, a favourite record of mine, deals with the situation in Chile in the seventies. But I must admit that I could not tell much details about Chile.
versus X is definitely a band project in which uses the input from all musicians, especially from Ekkehard Nahm (keyboards) and me (guitar and vocals). The both of us are doing the basic compositions in close co-operation. I would say that, musically, Ekkehard is my alter ego. Almost everything he comes up with I think is fantastic, it just needs sometimes to be put into the right order.
On the forthcoming album (we hope it will be released next year) Ekkehard has even more input than me. After finishing the basic structure of the compositions we present it to Uwe Völlmar, our new excellent drummer, and the three of us are working together on the arrangements.
After the arrangement is fixed I write the lyrics tailor-made to the music for perfect fit. The incorporation of everybody´s ideas takes a lot of time and discussions but it enables us to crystallise the very best ingredients out of a large pool of available ideas. Presently we are looking for a new bass player, but we are still able to play live because of the great abilities of Ekkehard, who has 12 years classical training experience and even learned how to play church organ equipped with bass pedals.
With versus X he now uses a vintage Moog Taurus bass pedal set which sounds absolutely great. Therefore we are looking for a (hard to find) bass player who is also able to play guitar and to sing, so we would have extended arrangement possibilities, allowing performances as featured in prog classics like Genesis (double guitar arpeggios) and Gentle Giant (counterpoint vocal arrangements).
On the other hand, Apogee is a pure solo project in which I play all instruments myself, supported by some computer and software facilities. With Apogee I have the opportunity to express my very individual musical soul without having to make any compromises regarding composition, sound and arrangement. This is a great freedom. Historically, this technique evolved in 25 years in which I always used to produce music by multi-playback techniques besides my band activities. In the beginning I used very simple equipment (two track tape machine, ping pong recording), by which I learned a lot in terms of arrangement, mixing, and recording, having to adjust to the restrictions of this recording technique.
Thank you for your appreciation. A high complexity in composition, using unusual harmonies, scales and rhythmic structures, but still maintaining a certain overall accessibility, this is what we are after. It´s really funny, my voice has very often been compared with the singer of Anyones Daughter. It is definitely unusual and obviously not for everyones taste. I also use unusual intervals in my vocal melodies, which adds to the individual character of my music and might let the music of versus X and Apogee sound similar at the first listening.
Yeah, this strong contrast in moods is another thing we are after. Building up tension by complicated patterns and strange harmonies, which eventually will be released into very beautiful and lyrical arpeggios. However we always take care not to slip into the mainstream, if you know what I mean...
It´s not a conceptual album although my lyrics style might be called conceptual in general. There is a certain approach, very poetic, abstract, associative, but also sort of scientific, analytical, similar to the early works of Peter Hammill, by whom I am influenced a lot. It´s a pity that his recent work misses the great imaginary power which it used to have until about 1986.
About the tracks on Disturbance:
Curtain Call deals with the relation of the artist to the industry potentially promoting and selling his products. The different kind of approach to the work of art sometimes gives rise to strong tension between the two parties which depend on each other.
In Silent Age is sort of an apocalyptic vision from the viewpoint of an artist, whose visions take him to strange places where it is hard to follow him on his way, until the accumulated spirit is released into eternity for those who might come to receive it sometime.
The Mirror of Division is a lyrical reflection on recent theories about the origin of the universe and the everlasting and never ending search for cognition which is the key to our mental existence. Unable to really see and feel the nature of things we want to explore, we are left with a world of formulas approaching but never reaching the core. But just this prevailing complexity and uncertainty is what fuels or imagination and gives rise to artistic creation.
Definitely ! It´s a lot of hard work to do a whole production all alone. But it´s also great to have everything under control. However, I tend to let things grow, rather than planning everything from the beginning. Usually I collect ideas for a while, filter out the best ones and define the main themes to be included in a track. Then I crystallise around those basic ideas, creating extensions or links between them, sometimes fit another piece in, throw one out, maybe turn the beginning to the end or vice versa...I would call it an iterative interactive process with myself. But in any case I first compose a basic chain of themes, a basic arrangement and a red line to follow, before I work out the instrumentation and bridges between the themes and do the final arrangement. This red line may be modified as required during the process of composition, because the instrumentation and linking of musical themes usually leads to a whole bunch of new ideas how to extend or rearrange them. But in any case there is a basic bow of tension which I envisage from the beginning. In case there are no additional ideas to fit in I am following that red line. Otherwise I run the risk to end up nowhere and loose the defined direction within the track.
Sisyphos was originally intended to contain only three long tracks, but Musea wanted to add some shorter tunes as a contrast. The two short songs on the album are older than the long ones. Sisyphos is surely a very personal album which was created almost without any direct participation from outside, not even by my band-mate Ekkehard.
Yes, with Apogee I have even more freedom to include every facet of my musical background which reaches from folk to jazz to heavy rock to baroque to contemporary classics. For me the overall sound of a musical piece is secondary. I am looking mainly for compositorical content. Therefore I like such different music such as Gentle Giant, Rush, Allan Holdsworth, Bach, Magellan, The Cardiacs, Thinking Plague, The Beatles, Anglagaard, Allan Pettersson and Dimitri Shostacovich (my favourite contemporary composers), XTC, Univers Zero, Anekdoten, Traffic, Zappa, as well as (of course) Jethro Tull, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, UK, ELP, PFM, etc.
With versus X I am a little bit restricted in a way that Ekkehard is not a big fan of oriental influences and jazz. But on the other hand he contributes many classical influences which I do not have to this degree. Moreover Ekkehard has a deep theoretical understanding of harmonics which is far superior than mine, which relies almost purely on feeling.
Interference deals with the long-term social effects of colonialism in Asian and African Countries. I have been in some of these Countries due to my work as an international consultant and I always felt this tension which exists coming from the contrary influences of the different cultures involved. Musically there are many oriental influences and strong contrasts representing the struggle the song is dealing with. In the end there is the request for mutual understanding to overcome such relics and look into a brighter future. This is also expressed musically by using major scale harmonics and several counterpoint string melodies producing a hopeful atmosphere in the final.
Sisyphos again deals with the struggle of science to come up with the ultimate answers to our existence, which is exemplified by Sisyphos who is permanently approaching his goal but will never really get there because every problem solved will create a bunch of new ones to challenge our imagination. This is also related to our musical approach to the emotional intensity we are always after. This intensity is what fascinated me from the beginning in tunes like Close to the Edge by Yes or Get em out by Friday by Genesis. This is what I also try to achieve with my own music, however with a different and individual mix of styles.
Very good. The post production and design of the CDs and their booklets is very fine, Alain Robert does a great job on this. Musically we have almost complete freedom to do what we want to do, and the contracts are only for one individual CD respectively. Commercially, however one could go for more percent of the sales. But we are not interested in that. We just want our music to be available all over the world. Fortunately none of us has to rely on the income from our musical efforts which, by the way, is just enough to buy some new equipment from time to time. Uwe and me are performing regular jobs and Ekkehard is just making his PhD (information technology and economics), like I did some years ago (atmospheric chemistry). I am very grateful to Musea to let me publish my solo work and get international promotion for it, although the sales presently just cover their production cost. But as it seems, our popularity is increasing slowly but steadily with every album that comes out. When Sisyphos was released in May 1998 it even reached No. 1 of the Musea sales chart in this month, indicating that there are some very enthusiastic fans out there. Such music takes time to spread out because you have to listen to it very carefully several times to let it reveal it´s mysteries (like every good prog music).
Times got much better for prog in the last years, mainly because of the internet, although with most of the new prog bands I am missing the emotional depth and the stunning complexity which were essential in the music of the prog classics. But as Hammill said, the spirit survives. Really good compositions will stand the test of time and separate the fractions in quality, let us look again in ten years. The German scene is slowly emerging from the darkness and some new young bands are coming up. We recently played with a German prog band called AmonRa who make a somewhat more accessible kind of prog than us, but nevertheless very good composed and produced. They even managed to play now as opening act for Saga. That´s a promising development. There are still a lot of old and new prog fans out there who just don´t know about newer bands, thinking the time of prog is gone forever. I think many of them could be re-activated when there would be more support for new bands by the record companies. If you look at today´s mega-sellers, you will still find some of the old prog bands like Genesis and Pink Floyd. So it should be worth the effort for the record business. Of course with prog music no economist will be able to calculate the outcome from such investment, the public reaction in terms of CD sales of prog music is quite unpredictable.
I know them all by a few samples I have heard of their music, but I must say that none of the German 70ies bands you mentioned did, for my taste, really achieve this intensity of emotion, quality of composition and excellence of performance, which I am looking for. But this of course is felt very differently by every individual. If I had to refer to other German bands I would name Kraan (an influence in my jazzrock phase) and the early Udo Lindenberg (very nice moody ballads, good arrangements and guitar solos and eventually even a little proggy e.g. on the album Ballhaus Pompös).
I´m sorry, I do not know about this. Is it a reunited band ?
Well, versus X has the higher priority because there are three musicians plus our mixer Andreas Tofahrn to be co-ordinated which makes the proceedings much more difficult and slower than in my Apogee project, even though I have to do everything myself as a solo artist. I always want things to speed up, while Ekkehard tends to slow them down until the very high level of perfection he demands is nearly reached (of course in the real world you have to stop somewhere, otherwise you´ll get nowhere in time, just as Sisyphos). In these cases my Apogee Project acts as a release valve for my creative ideas, and when versus X is on hold I am free to proceed with an Apogee track, for which I do not really have to rehearse, since I´m not going to play the material live. On the other hand each of the versus X albums took about three years to compose and produce and the same applies to the Apogee CDs. Therefore I will keep releasing CDs of the two projects alternately as I did in the past. However, I have to slow down now somewhat, being father of two small children which demand a lot of my free time.
We still feel we are getting better with every new record me make. Consequently, the best album will be the new versus X album for which we have just completed the compositions and arrangements and are just beginning with the recordings. Its compositions will be even more concise as those on Disturbance and it definitely contains the best musical ideas we have ever realised. Moreover our excellent new Drummer Uwe Völlmar provides a lot to make it the best of our musical efforts yet.
Yes. Take some more time to listen carefully to really progressive music, even if it might seem a little confusing and inaccessible in the first place. If it is really good it can reveal a whole new dimension to the listener who is willing to get deeper into the matter. If in doubt begin with the list of bands under question no. 9 or try versus X and Apogee. You can find more information about our music, as well as some sound samples in MP3 format in the internet under