More than an Album, a Ritual Piece
There are some albums that you can listen to and forget about almost immediately; easy listening music as there are easy watching movies. French band Orgöne’s “MOS/FET” 80 minutes debut album, out on Heavy Psych Sound, is not one of those. Difficult on first contact, even confusing, it slowly reveals its vastness and richness. It is an exploration into many musical landscapes, a prog-tinged doom with a wide variety of influences, so who better to talk about it than the band themselves? Olga Rostropovitch (voice) and Marlen Stahl (guitar) have agreed to answer our questions.
Mr. Momo : With a change in lineup, this album is some kind of a new beginning for Orgöne, what pushed you to go towards longer, more progressive songs?
Marlen Stahl (M.S): We began to work on long pieces short before our change in line-up, with an alternate soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s « Lucifer Rising » movie – which, in a condensed version, became the first track of our album, « Erstes Ritual ». But it’s true that the arrival of Allan on drums and Tom on keyboards was pivotal, as it allowed us to go further into long epic pieces, with odd measures, with this different kind of energy that we were looking after for many months. Also, when we played our first concert with this new line-up, we realised that a lot of our « short » songs shared some common points and lyrical themes, and we decided to put some of them together, to form other « Suites », with « Movements ». We had found it boring to play, live, a 3-4 minutes piece, them having uninteresting blah blah (which cut the energy, put it down; and does the audience really need to hear about anecdotes, jokes, clichés like « we’re happy to be here blabla… »? ) and then play another 3-4 minutes piece. So we decided that it was much more interesting, speaking of energy, to play long pieces, Suites. It allowed the energy and dynamics to gain much more power.
Mr. Momo : How would you describe this album?
Olga Rostropovitch (O.R): This album is surprising and daring from my point of view. If we look at the feedback people feel a kind of rupture while listening to our songs. Personally, I sought to surprise the listener with incongruous vocal atmospheres, by exploring the limits of the voice. I was surprised by the result! As Marlen says, I opened a Pandora’s box! It’s an approach that amazes the public, a real source of joy that we hope to share in concerts very soon.
M.S: this album is the result of a strange alchemy between us. Some riffs were composed four or five years ago, they disappeared and unexpectedly came back; some other riffs and parts were composed one year ago, very few weeks before the recording session. Orgöne is in fact a strange machine, half tight/half ragged. You don’t find so often such a chemical reaction between musicians, really. We are very proud of this first album, because we spent several years playing many different songs and musics; some people blamed us at the beginning of the band and said we played « too many different styles at the same time ». But we were right, I guess, because it allowed us to explore many musical territories, and not to be limited into a single musical landscape.
That’s why, as a result, every side of our double-LP is a little world in itself, with different aesthetics. We built this album with this idea: every side should be a specific voyage. « Erstes Ritual » is an epic voyage into ancient rites, into a pagan world rising again. Then on side 2, our « Soviet Suit » is a trip into a dystopian space age, with soviet heroes Gagarin and Laïka’s adventures turning bad; their trip rides them to a space kingdom of the dead, led by a space-alien Anubis; then the last movement of this suite, « East Song », is about rebirth into orgonic and solar energies. On side 3, « Anubis Rising » is a meditation on revolutions in Ancient Egypt and on the myth of the Ancient Astronauts. And on side 4, « Astral Fancy » is a semi-improvised trip into spatial craziness and loonies – most of the lyrics were « created » by a translation program turning mad.
We built this album with this idea: every side should be a specific voyage.
Mr. Momo : The album starts and ends with nearly 20 minutes long songs, very varied in their construction, what was your creative process for those?
O.R: We meet regularly to play together and give a very important part to improvisation. The result is a huge library of powerful atmospheres from which we build the structured songs. I take advantage of the initial phase to introduce and test vocalizations. Sometimes we already have a draft text. Otherwise we write it (Marlen and me) according to the ideas inspired by our exchanges, readings, works, films, by life! We sometimes have trouble stopping. In fact, I think it’s the media (vinyl) that imposed the duration of 20 min for these longest songs.
M.S: The first piece on the album, « Erstes Ritual », as I said, was originally planned to be an alternate soundtrack for Kenneth Anger’s movie. Nick, our bass player, came one day with the idea of a long, powerful piece. By chance, I had plenty of heavy riffs, I had kept them in my head for many years, and also I had some more “traditional” riffs, inspired by ancient greek music and folk musics from around the world. Nick added some heavy riffage, then Allan added odd measures and full-time energy, Tom helped having a thicker harmonic quality, Olga morphed into an Ancient High Priestess of Love and Energy; and finally we left some improvised moments in it, so this « monster track » could breathe more easily while creeping out of our wall of tube amps… It was all constructed in fact, patiently built stone by stone, riff by riff, shriek by shriek, with a cinematic feel.
For the last track, « Astral Fancy », it was almost the opposite process: we had planned to record a total impro on the last side of the double LP, but we began to play a « semi-impro » piece, with 1-2 riffs as compositional frame… and then, impro after impro, riff after riff, part after part, it also became a « constructed » piece, even if there is still a lot of impro in it.
We don’t try to sound and look like a 70’s band, we’re no fucking actors, we play what comes out of our brains and guts, it’s authentic, and fed with a lot of the musics that we like.
Mr. Momo : What would you say are the main musical influences for this album? From what I gather there’s a lot owing to doom, Canterbury, early 70s English prog, but I’m sure I’m missing quite a lot!
O.R: Shortly before the recording of Mos/Fet I immersed myself in the atmospheres of a group of minimalist ethno-psychedelic musicians, Księżyc. They totally impressed me with the fluidity of the female voices. I worked a little with those voices and definitely integrated this aesthetic into my projects. It gives some air to the song by contrasting with my tendency towards growling.
M.S: I wouldn’t talk about « influences », but, say, « musical background ». We all listen to many kinds of music. As a teenager, during the 80’s, I was already listening to Black Sabbath, Hendrix, prog-rock and punk (at the same time!), american hardcore, Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground, MC5, Stooges, Magma, Coltrane etc. and even early Candlemass (I was also a huge Grand Funk Railroad fan – I was the only kid listening to this band!). Then I listened to Krautrock, Canterbury, Rock In Opposition, musique concrète, stuff from Harry Partch or Stockhausen, post-punk, no wave, sludge, a lot of free jazz… I listen to everything indeed, from free impro to lebanese or ethiopian music. Everything except this shitty french muzak called « variété française » and that awful mainstream international pop muzak. I guess this is the same for most of us in the band, we love almost every music in the world and are very curious about discovering new sounds. I like for example a lot the french rock music from, say, 1968-75 (Red Noise, Komintern, Moving Gelatine Plates, Heldon etc.). Those guys took the rock idiomatics and managed to create something new, something very specific, like the germans did with so-called “Krautrock” – which gave birth to such different bands, as Amon Düül II, Kraftwerk, Can, Faust, Neu!, Guru Guru, Ash Ra Tempel…
In a way that’s what we try to do with Orgöne, maybe: to invent our own specific worlds, using rock idiomatics as a useful basis. Some people think that we play « 70’s music », but I disagree, we’re not some kind of « 70’s tribute band ». I began to play guitar as a child, in 1986, and I play and compose sabbathian and stoogian monolithic riffs since 1987 or 1988: this is my « own private musical library », then I use this « library » to create and compose new music. We don’t try to sound and look like a 70’s band, we’re no fucking actors, we play what comes out of our brains and guts, it’s authentic, and fed with a lot of the musics that we like.
Mr. Momo : You’ve signed with Heavy Psych Sounds, quite a prestigious label in the genre, despite a somewhat unconventional album. How were the negotiations?
M.S: it was really surprising. Last December, as we finally had the album mixed, I sent messages and links to, say, 10 labels. I hesitated to send a message to Heavy Psych Sounds, as it was the « biggest » label of all those I planned to contact. I thought that, maybe, HPS was « too big » for us. But, strangely enough, Gabe Fiori of HPS was the first and only one to answer us, very quickly (2 or 3 hours after my message! we couldn’t believe it!). At first Gabe was ok for a single LP, 40 minutes album. And then, listening to the last mix and master, he agreed to release a double-LP album – HPS never released a double-LP before ! We have a deep respect for the guys at Heavy Psych Sounds, really. They don’t have such boundaries : Gabe listened to our album and just liked it. It was that simple. Gabe is not only worshipping the stoner rock church, he’s an open guy. We’re very happy to have signed with Heavy Psych Sounds.
Mr. Momo : The theme mix between space and ancient Egypt, as featured in the album art and songs, is quite uncommon, is it a tribute to Alien Theory, Sun Ra, or both?
M.S: ah ah ! Both maybe ? It’s our own imaginary landscape. As I said, we listen to all kinds of musics. I love records by Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, early Art Ensemble of Chicago. I like and pay respect to their idea of creating a new space-age/ancient times mythology. This mix between space and ancient times is here, in our lyrics and artworks, since the beginning of the band. This theme, in a way, guided us and helped us to define our music. Doctor Freud would call all this strange mix a sort of « Unheimlich » stuff maybe – or he would talk about an « oceanisches Gefühl » (oceanic feel) – that’s the power of orgone energy. Remember that extra-terrestrial beings, as Wilhelm Reich said, use orgone as fuel for their spaceships…
How is the sound?
The album is split into 4 suites, each of them about 20 minutes long. The intro of the first one, 19 minutes long “Erstes Ritual”, makes you think you’ll be in the comfort zone. The raw voice, the doom riff, it all feels natural. But it all changes right after this intro, which introduces some oriental psychedelic rhythms, still on the dark side of music, and then back to more traditional doom, with an incantatory feminine voice, the soundtrack to an ineffable ritual. The song then escalates this ritual and then takes you by surprise with a much more krautrock, fast paced rhythm and ends with a saturated downpour. So you never get what you expect. And that’s how I would describe the whole album, Orgöne is at a stylistic crossroads, going where you don’t expect them, like a good progressive rock album! Even when they’re close to early Hawkwind or King Crimson, particularly in tracks 2 to 4 – the “Soviet Suite” – they cannot be reduced to just doing “70’s prog rock”. The third suite, “Anubis Rising” is once again three tracks long and takes us through yet another approach, slower, spacier. The closing piece, “Astral Fancy”, has been partially improvised, and that can be heard. It’s the freest song of the album.
In the end, MOS / FET cannot be summarized to a simple album, it’s more of a symphony, with movements, and should be considered as such. Unfortunately, I’m no music scholar, so the only thing I can really talk about is my gut feeling. And after having listened to this album almost compulsively, I can tell you what I felt: I felt being taken through some kind of magic ritual. The voice is definitely that of a priestess, the rhythms are hypnotic even when they vary widely, and after a few trips through the album you realize it may have changed your psyché ever so slightly, which after all is the purpose of a good ritual. It has guided you through an inner journey of your own, like good music does. What else is there to ask? “Orgone” is a term created to describe vital energy. Let it flow through you, worst case, you will emerge unscathed.
Why is this album worth listening ?
- A very surprising album that will make you travel through various landscape without compromising its unity
- Requires a little effort, but will eventually take you to the other side
- Olga Rostropovitch’s singing is otherworldly
In what situation you should listen to this album ?
- This album requires a very active listening to reveal its full potential. Don’t let yourself be distracted by the menialities of life. Be at peace, and concentrate. Listen to the full album at once. If you didn’t get a revelation, try again later, but not too soon.
Something Particular to note?
The album features lyrics in English of course, but also in Russian, German and Polish, though not in French…
For Fans Of
Early Hawkwind, King Crimson, Ryte, good music
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