HÉLÈNE VOGELSINGER, an spiritual journey through modular synthesis
In electronic music, there is room for movement and stillness, machine and organism, continuity and detention. Immersing into the world of music made between machines leads to understanding a network of sonic agents that goes through the devices, such as the creativity of those who design and assemble them, the ones performing them, and up to the listener, who is ultimately responsible for the experience.
Such a diversity of possibilities enriches electronic musical creation, often full of serendipity and surprise, where whoever plays the instrument transcends the mere control to take a more esoteric role, the one of a channel of sensations. Therefore, more than just playing, it is about becoming intimate with the machine, thereby going beyond the mere search for technical skills and creative methods to give prominence to listening skills and spiritual disposition: the inner journey, something that Hélène Vogelsinger, a French artist, singer, songwriter and sound designer whose sonic work expresses a deep search and spiritual adventure.
Vogelsinger began creating music as a child, first with her voice, tapes and the piano. After working with Ableton Live, she later finds her favourite means of expression in modular synthesisers without abandoning her voice, which often sneaks between the sequences of her machines. Her synthesisers are generally located on the ground, in natural spaces and abandoned places where she performs the pieces published in the prestigious modular house Modularfield.
Vogelsinger’s sound work is immersive and hypnotic. Inspired by a profound connection filled with a vast sonic palette in which his voice, field recordings and tons of harmonics are present, structured in complex loop sequences, where fascinating progressions, melodies and rhythmic patterns are developed. Often characterised by an absence of percussion and a network of pulses, notes and melodic lines that, between absorption and catharsis, take listening to unexpected places, full of contemplation and reminiscence. She presents her pieces as part of an inner journey reflected by sonic exploration. She says her ideal state of mind is when she is at peace, connected to her inner child, and completely grateful. Her music is woven with reiki, walks in nature, and contemplative processes. As she expresses in her album Contemplation (Modularfield, 2020), music is presented as a personal diary of sound waves created as a description of the internal worlds of the artist.
In Reminiscence (Modularfield, 2021), a similar exploration continues, focused on creating music with the intention of mental and spiritual well-being; they generate their own space for inner deepening, tranquillity, concentration and health both in mental terms, as well as bodily and spiritual, making Vogelsinger’s music a channel to other dimensions, a way to dissolve ego barriers and listening blockages, to access the vast places of universal vibration, a place where spirits and voltages meet in a single ritual.
Interview by Miguel Isaza
I would like to start talking about the place where you live nowadays. I know you are in the countryside, and I wonder how this influences your way of listening, connecting to sound and composing with it.
I’ve been living in the southwest of France, not very far from the mountains, not very far from the sea, for five years. I decided very suddenly to leave Paris. I packed my micro Parisian home studio, which was my bedroom in the flat-share I was living in, gave away 90% of all the rest, and the week after, I was gone.
Being far away from the unstoppable sounds and energies of a big city such as Paris, away from too many electromagnetic waves, and all it implies to maintain a decent life, improved a lot of things in my life. Paris is beautiful and has many things to offer, but it ultimately became an overwhelming experience for me. I’m susceptible to my environment and quickly connect with the emotions of places, energy, people and animals. It has been challenging to manage, particularly as a teenager and young adult, when you don’t understand where all these emotions, feelings, and images are coming from.
But it also offers intense and authentic interactions and experiences. Living in a human-sized city gave me much physical, mental, and spiritual space. Being that close to wild nature is also a significant gift. Mother Nature is the Healer. All the Magic is in it. It allowed me to calm the agitation I had inside me and to have a clearer mind, soul and spirit. It opened up new doors. This significantly impacted my way of listening, connecting and composing.
In other interviews, you have told the story of selling all your previous instruments to fully modular, although you preserve certain sounds from flutes, clarinets and your voice. What is the reason for keeping those timbres? Are there other instruments you would like to sample into your modular, or are you more interested in a purist perspective?
Yes, absolutely. I sold everything except my grandfather’s Musette II accordion, which we can hear in many of my pieces. Pure emotional reasons. My grandfather, Jean, was a professional violinist in the french army but was also playing accordion and saxophone in the evenings during crazy parties in the 50s (bal musette). He finally quit and became an engineer when he married my grandmother. I never knew him as a musician. He strictly renounced it. But he always talked about it with stars in his eyes and with a certain melancholy. And I have his recordings, which will indeed be used one day.
The clarinet was quickly added to my sound palette. I fell in love with it again during the orchestration classes I took a few years ago. Its timber touches my soul so much. But in the end, they all do. The smallest sound does if you search for it. If you sit down comfortably and close your eyes, in a park, for instance, you will start to hear its melody, and its harmonies layer by layer, creating an endless metamorphosing loop. It’s pretty similar to an Om circle experience in a way. In the beginning, you only hear different voices or noises from the park, but a few minutes later, it already sounds like an ethereal, angelic incantation. And 20 minutes later, you start to hear an entire, coherent sonic world; And it’s beautiful that each pair of ears is also unique; the journey is fantastic for each of us.
Thanks to work, I could quickly reinvest in other instruments (violin, piano, trumpet, percussion), which are essential for my film/image composer activity and expand my modular synth. Now it’s like having a strange but powerful electro-acoustic orchestra. There are so many instruments and sounds I’d love to incorporate into my modular compositions. I already have a lot of personal sound banks; I record almost everything, every soundscape, and each recording is associated with a special feeling, emotion, location, person, an experience.
I only need to use unique sounds that have a deeper meaning. I don’t put any boundaries to creation, to sounds. I’m more of a creative purist than a modular synth purist. My modular synth works as a small orchestra, which can grow outside of the pure electronic world. I am currently renovating my future studio after spending years in my 12m2 and 3.50m high room, a unique space. So much happened in this little one. But it’s now becoming difficult to progress in a saturated space. There’s a lot of work, but I’m excited and grateful for that idea. I will be able to surround myself with all my instruments, installed and ready to be played. To pursue even more profound, the exploration, the journey, without any boundaries,
The way you integrate your voice into the modular pieces is mesmerising and delicate, processed in a way that gets a mystical and celestial mood. Is this something you thought about using in the first place, or have you been integrating it over time? What do you find special about your voice in a modular environment, and what do you look for when using your voice?
My voice has always been my first instrument and was my first access to composition when I was a few years old. I never really thought of using it, as it is a very intuitive way of communicating, connecting, processing, and creating. It has been present in such a way in my previous projects, but I was also doing the lead vocals, which needed to leave more space for the sonic world that was burning inside of me. Also, words carry a unique energy and can be interpreted differently depending on the listener’s culture and traditions. So it became a barrier for what I needed to translate and express, something more universal that gathers.
I understood that most of these pieces were made for others. I still have many texts, compositions and finished productions. In different genres. It’s not for now, but that’s definitely in my plans to write, compose & produce other artists. I mainly compose the first ideas on my piano with my voice. So I’d say that the voice becomes the essence of each composition and is, in a way, fundamental to it. It is our oldest instrument, and there is something about it, I think, that triggers a deep, instinctive belonging if that makes sense. Mixing vocals and instruments with modular synths is like keeping the connection between our world and «invisible» ones.
The idea of sound healing and ritualistic sound seems ubiquitous in your work and even your bio. What do you conceive as “sound healing”? Is it just implicit in your music, or do you also practice it in a healing art kind of way? Also, I‘m curious about your take on modular synths as healing instruments, similar to common ones such as singing bowls or ancient instruments.
I took some sound healing classes in the last few years, which is a very personal interpretation. It is part of my research about the creative process and the role & impact of the environment on it. Sound healing is any use of sound and frequency for a healing purpose. The intention is fundamental here, especially regarding the creation and the creative process. So it transcends the classical instruments category (singing bowls, ancient instruments, and binaural beats..) used in Sound Healing therapy. I also use some of them (singing bowls & Tingsha) in some of my pieces. Everything can be used; there is no limitation; the sound of the wind in the trees, the rain, pure vocals. And it even sounds that could first seem unpleasant; a dissonant violin line.
Sound not only has the power to modify our brainwaves to immerse us in different states of consciousness but also can trigger memories, and emotions, hiding deep inside that needs to go to the surface to be healed and elevated. I think every human, if not every living being, on this planet has its trauma and wounds; whatever their situation, suffering can be found in many physical, psychological, psychological, spiritual and even more. It is essential and impossible to escape part of the loop pattern in this terrestrial life. But this pain needs to be processed to elevate and project us into a higher state of consciousness and compassion. I don’t pretend to be a healer, but my intentions are pure, and my «creative source», which I’m «attached to» since I arrived here, comes from a place full of light, full of hope, but also has a kind of message to deliver.
Regarding modular synths, from a musician’s perspective: building a modular synthesiser is a special journey. It feels like a rebirth. It would help if you rebooted your mind & spirit to understand this new concept and to be fully immersed in its universe. It requires a lot of research, learning, effort, openness and tenacity before you can honestly communicate with it, but once it opens, once you’re delivered from the technical chains, it is absolute freedom; you can do everything. When I started my modular journey, it was a burning passion; I was dreaming about patches during the night and patching during the day. It also forces you to ask yourself the right questions, as a «builder» first, and then as an explorer; where should I start, the foundations, where do I want to go, what is the intention and so on.
Many trials and errors remind us how important it is to «fail». That’s a natural, organic way to make progress and move forward. That’s how we all learned how to walk. And since everything works as a mirror of our existence, this journey is already healing. From a novice perspective, you can also give a pre-patched modular synth to someone who does not know anything about it and tell them to turn the knobs. I’ve seen it many times, the sparkles in the eyes when they discover that a tiny action can trigger huge events. A little tweak, a wall of sound.
Related to that, I wonder how you conceive machines in terms of esoteric devices which you not simply ‘use’ but ‘connect with’. For example, in your conversation with Robin Vincent, you speak about requiring a sensation of energy, connection to invisible things and accessing certain mental states to compose. How is this process? How do you develop this creative connection, and what differentiates it from a mere use of a tool?
The passage from the pure composition to the electronic orchestration is a profound experience. It transports what could be called «simple» ideas into a new level of propagation. It could be seen as an amplifier sometimes, a ship that goes very deep in the emotion, the feeling, the reminiscent memory. It’s hard to explain in words. It’s like having an extension of our body, brain, and even soul. Imagine being able to express something by playing all the instruments of an orchestra simultaneously and with only two hands. How deep and magic is that. Direct plane to the Flow State.
Do you follow any particular spiritual tradition or practice? For example, is there a specific kind of yoga and meditation you do, and how is it related to your musical practice?
My spiritual journey has been long and very diversified. My parents wanted us to be as free as possible regarding faith and religion, to discover who we are and what we feel connected to. We were raised, with my three big brothers, with solid values of compassion and respect, and our mother nourished our conscience a lot and made us understand the interconnection between all things. So I feel like a traveller, an explorer. I found many answers in different sacred texts. I lived incredible experiences I will one day talk about, but it would take many pages here.
The most challenging thing in the creative process is to be in a particular state of focus; for the very first step, which then triggers all the rest. This state only possible is to find a deep purpose in what I’m doing. So always looking for deeper meanings is important in my artistic practice and everyday life. Both are linked and glued together. And then, singing, playing any instrument, or improvised instrument opens a deeper door in that direction.
If you don’t mind, could you tell us your connection, contemplation and meditation routine?
It is quite a way of life, and it implies every area. A clear mind and soul, but also a clear body. Each day is a ritual itself. I always start with Gratitude. Being grateful for what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have already projects us in a different vibrational state. Whatever our situation, there is always something to be grateful for; loved ones, good health, food on the table, a beautiful moment, anything, everything, when we look with eyes of Gratitude. Singing & chanting are also part of my daily routine. To sing is to pray twice. It’s, for me, one of the most powerful ways to connect. There is nothing else around—just a perfect fusion. I’m an early bird. Well, I’m awake before the birds. These two hours, when everybody is still asleep, in almost total silence, is my favourite time of connection & contemplation.
I can go to the forest with my bike to refresh all my senses and have a little «talk» with the old spirits or to the Gave, a river near where I live, for a different type of recharge & connection. My routine has changed a little these last weeks as I decided to include a reconnection to a child’s passions in my process. So at the moment, astronomy and astrophotography are part of my life. As with the modular synth, I had to learn a lot in a short time. I’m not forced to, but it is how I learn the best when it’s intense when the passion burns. So every morning at 5, you will find me contemplating the sky with my telescope until the sun rises. A true privilege. It puts things in perspective. And it has its music, different & unique for each one of us.
Dance has also been back in my life. As with music, it works as a connector and a translator but also as a healing therapy, reconnecting the mind – body – spirit. This routine fluctuates over time. And I have many different practices, depending on the season, the project I’m working on, the new people I meet, the new experiences I have. I allow myself to change it at any moment, and sometimes drastically, as long as I follow my heart & intuition.
Do you plan to perform live more often besides your works with empty/abandoned spaces? What is your ideal way of performing, and how is your process of relating to your listeners?
I performed in all types of venues and under all kinds of conditions for ten years. When I performed with other musicians, the traditional configuration of a concert venue worked perfectly. A necessary connection, a fusion between the members, generates high energy, received, mirrored, and amplified by the listeners. However, when I started to produce more electronic music & was alone on stage, the connection needed to be done directly with the listeners. While this can happen on a traditional concert scene when every listener is here to listen to you, it is not necessarily the case. And having a loud crowd can disturb the experience for the listeners and the artist on stage.
This type of music requires an adapted environment. Recently, I saw amazing scenography and VJ works, recreating unique environments inside the black box, which are some big venues. That might be how to make it work when you have the resources. Between different waves of covid, I was booked in interesting venues that could allow a particular type of immersion. Unfortunately, I had to cancel everything last minute due to the restrictions.
I took it as a sign to step back and rethink the entire concept of the concert. I’d love the listeners to come to my sessions, almost like last-minute, secret gigs. Something intimate that allows everyone to live the experience fully. I would want people to be comfortable, have space and security, and as a mirror.
Sunrises and sunsets are special and unique moments, which would be ideal times. While the situation is still unstable, I focus on my film composition activity. I’m an independent worker, so it’s time-consuming and full of things that have nothing to do with the artistic realm. The reality principle applies. So, I don’t know when I’ll be back at it. I hope to experience the first intimate/secret sessions in 2023.
What is our idea of silence? How is it present in your life and/or music?
My idea of silence is the world without human presence and everything we created, from cars to instruments, to even a simple whisper. Life goes on organically, without any other attempt. A pre, and post-human soundscape. And it has its music too. That’s where living close to deep Nature shows its face. And also, my fascination for abandoned places is one of the sources. The human presence is here, but we can’t hear it. It’s visually present, but it is silent. And when suddenly its presence becomes loud for organic reasons, the wind in an old door, the sensation is very profound; you jump from one deep state to another. So in all my pieces, the original soundscape of the environment for which the music has been created is present.
Do you have an ideal way of listening to your music? How is it related to the way you listen? Then, please tell us about the way that process happens to you and how you would like to be listened to by others.
I don’t usually listen to my music after it’s released. As I’m always translating new emotions and experiences. Connecting – Creating – Releasing. But I do when another artist uses it for a dance, film, exhibition, or any other artistic project; it touches me a lot. Because it has an additional meaning and serves other noble purposes. I have never been comfortable working for a long time on a personal release and waiting months, sometimes years, before releasing it. It ended up in multiple versions, with its essence diminishing more each time. Blocked in an endless loop. I think releasing things quickly before they hold me in the past has been very liberating in terms of creativity. It is not a linear journey, it’s full of forms, and I need to hold space for these changes and modulations to evolve as an artist and as a human being.
When I listen to music that proposes an «experience», I like to feel the sound physically. So my best way will always be on good monitor speakers. And I want to feel it from different perspectives and rooms, feel how it propagates. So it is generally quite loud in my studio, closed eyes, hands in hands, to complete the energetic circle and be ready to take the journey, but also in the terrace opened windows, the hallway, and the bathroom. In the garden, barefoot in the grass, with a portable speaker.
I prepare everything for my session, rehearse with my speakers at the beginning, and slowly crossfade to the headphones to get used to the session. One day, I would love to change the process and have the sound resonate in the natural environment. We would need a bigger team, as we’re only 2. For now, it’s important to perform in places, in silence. It becomes a form of active meditation, entirely focusing on the sound. Intense experiences. We can have different experiences while listening to the same music, depending on; our vibration of the moment, the environment we surround ourselves with, the events happening around us, and so on. In terms of setting, it can be a good soundtrack for a walk in nature along the seafront, with all the senses being filled. Air is an essential element. Many people told me it accompanies active, creative meditation through art, such as painting, photographing, and writing, but also passive meditation.
What is your chief enemy of creativity?
I would say not finding deep meanings and purposes in what I’m doing. Music and sound have real power, impact & role. I’m cautious of what I associate my music with; I need to know which «egregore » it’s nourishing. Everything we look at, smell, and listen to carries conscious or/and unconscious messages, intentions and energies. And also not having the necessary amount of freedom or enough space to create. When there is too much rigidity in a project.
You couldn’t live without…
The presence of animals. They elevate the frequency wherever they are. Pure beings of Light. Every person who connects with an animal knows how deep their soul is and how big their intelligence and heart are. How intense this connection can be. That’s how I feel connected to them. Every one of them. We have a micro shelter at home and take care of many birds, especially pigeons, some cats, turtles, and dogs. A lot of happy endings. Full of meanings and purposeful experiences.