#108 - NEL aka Cristian Vogel
His idiosyncratic production style has both challenged and delighted at every turn. Whether in dark sweaty boxes, smoke-filled bars, pristine art galleries or world class theatres, Cristian’s ability to adapt, mould, create and collaborate whilst retaining his unique vision and sound has put him in a truly unique artistic position. From sound designing to scoring for theatre and dance, writing software to film soundtracks or producing punk bands to pulverizing the worlds techno clubs, Cristian has remained both open to change and resolutely dedicated to his artistic endeavours.
Vogel first came to prominence on the techno scene when he issued two EPs on Dave Clarke's Magnetic North Records label in 1994. After further solo EPs and collaborations with emerging UK techno artists such as Neil Landstrumm and Dave Tarrida, Vogel released his debut full-length, Beginning to Understand, in 1994 on Mille Plateaux, and subsequently became the first UK techno artist to be signed to Berlin's Tresor Records. He also started the vinyl only label Mosquito with Si Begg, on which he released both his own music and other artists', and is considered to be one of the main founders of the No-Future collective that was active in Brighton during the mid-nineties. Alongside Jamie Lidell, he formed the group Super Collider, who released two albums and Cristian also sang and played guitar in his band project Night of the Brain, whilst continuing to maintain a presence on the underground techno scene.
From 2003 to 2010, he composed electronic music scores for 6 contemporary dance pieces whilst last year he performed a piece for spatial sound with a team of international collaborators for the official programme of the Aarhus European Capital of Culture, producing ‘The Ballad of Agnete and The Merman’ (a narrative of a well-known Danish folk ballad, a story of love, loss and impossible migrations).
Over a 20-year career, Vogel has been sought after as a remixer and album producer, having worked with artists such as Radiohead, Maxïmo Park, Chicks on Speed, and Thom Yorke. Cristian is also passionate about Kyma™ and has been studying the system since 2005. With further studio albums released on Novamute in the late noughties and albums for Sub Rosa, his most recent run of ‘techno’ productions culminated in a trilogy of long-players for Shitkatapult, ending with ‘The Assistenz’ in 2016.
His NEL project (NeverEngine Labs™) was launched at the beginning of 2018 on EPMMusic, which has seen Cristian develop a different studio process to his album work and recent sound design compositions. While work under his own name will continue to explore new stylistic and experimental territories, the NEL tracks bear a closer resemblance to his earlier production style. The new pen name will be used for studio sessions created in a hands on, live-to-tape process primarily using Modular synths. “The sound is characterized by analog rhythms, textures and beats with an improvised flow.” To say we are delighted to have Cristian perform his first ever NEL podcast is an under-statement. It is indeed a rare treat to hear any Vogel podcast these days. As NEL he delivers 45 minutes of improvised unreleased sound design, wrapped around his recent, original NEL compositions. EPM Podcast 108 is a unique experience from a visionary talent.
GlobSeq b24 n6 (Limited Edition) is available now via Cristian’s Bandcamp page.
‘Jelly Vision’ by NEL is released 07 September on EPMMusic.
Q&A with Cristian Vogel
- Let’s start with the NEL mix. How did you approach this mix as opposed to say, a normal DJ club set?
Well, I haven’t been playing other people’s material as a DJ selector for quitesome time now. My archive of original material grew so large that I have beenable to explore it in a DJ kind of way, selecting only from my own recordings dating back to the early nineties. To do this, I designed my own kind of audio file playing tool in Kyma with live special effects like spectral blurring and freezing. There are some restrictions which I put in there, for example I can’t cue up and prelisten what I’m going to play next, and I can’t drop into a track from half way through or something. Once I’ve chosen what’s going to play next, I’m committed to making the transition work with a variety of mixing techniques and effects, none of which use any kind of beat matching.
- What was the inspiration for the NEL project? And how would you compare it to productions under your own name?
The inspiration definitely comes from working more with modular synthesis and a hands-on patching approach to sound design and composition. This is how I used to work back when I started in the early 90s and it’s great to get back to working this way. I design my patch and then record direct to tape on a couple of takes using the modular and my analog mixer. There’s very little editing in the NEL tracks, just getting the best mix and best performance in the moment of recording. This is different to my other compositional work which is often precisely specified, edited and structured - not always created in real time.
- Can you remember when you first became aware of ‘electronic’ music?
Acid house, first summer of love UK 1988, was the first time I became aware of powerful technologically based music forms supported by an attractive subculture. Later I learned about the more historical and scientific aspects of music made with electronics.
- At what age did you start learning to play instruments and discover music production? What do you play now?
I was making music on home computers since my early teens, I was a bit of a computer geek already at the age of 12. I learned everything for myself in studios that I put together using whatever resources I could get along the way. Certain inspirational people have guided me along that path of creative discovery. I design and play synthesizers, software and the studio as instruments now.
- Can you recall making your earliest productions? What equipment were you using and were you able to transcribe the ideas in your head into sound?
Amiga 500, DX100, TR626, TR707, SH101, DSS1.... usually the sounds I heard in the studio were the basis of musical ideas. There was a lot of experimenting.
- Obviously most people know you from clubbing and your techno releases. But what were your first experiences of going to clubs like?
It was different to how it is now, but also kind of the same. I loved hearing the sound systems more than anything else, and experiencing bass at loud volumes.
- For a while you were at the helm of the unique ‘Mosquito’ Record label. How did you hook up with people like Si Begg, Dave Tarrida, Jamie Lidell and Neil Landstrumm? Was there some kind of ‘outsider’ kinship?
We all just kind of gathered around a sound and a sense of humor. Ambitions turned out to be different in the long run. Emma Sola was someone who was important in that group too, even though she didn’t make music herself. She keptus in good communication and helped organize our happenings where we could blast out our sonic group identity.
- You have been a keen user and exponent of sound design work station, Kyma for many years now. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Symbolic Sound Kyma is a powerful and sophisticated custom made sound computer with its own elegant programming environment. It’s been around since 1991, and is used by a wide range of practitioners, like award winning Hollywood sound designers, audio research laboratories, video game companies and some pretty influential music minds. It’s an expert system so a lot of people haven’t come across it yet, even though it was the most powerful DSP platform for decades.
- Last year you worked on a piece for spatial sound for the official programme of the Aarhus European Capital of Culture, producing ‘The Ballad of Agnete and The Merman’. How was that collaborative experience?
It was a great opportunity to stage one of my most ambitious projects. I really enjoyed it, and learned so much more about the technical and aesthetic challenges of composing sound in space using multichannel speaker systems. It now exists as a feature film with a full surround sound score, which I produced in collaboration with The Automic Message from Vancouver. Spatial sound for music is an exciting frontier and is highly suited to technological music. I love the technical challenges involved and - when executed correctly - can be a totally life changing music experience for an audience... which reminds me of my formativeexperiences in rave culture and the electronic studio.
- If you could only save one of your productions from a burning building, which one would it be, and why?
I would be totally ok and excited about doing it all over again from scratch, so no stress. The signal is the message.