The Philosophical Sense Of Music. Interview with NOÊTA

The duo from Västra Götaland, Sweden are musically described as black ambient, the band’s multi instrumentalists Êlea and Ândris aim to create music as an accompaniment to introspection. The music of NOÊTA is fascinating and compelling. It is music as mood; poetic, dark, ambient landscapes laid out with vintage equipment and Êlea’s enticing, mesmerizing voice.

Your music is definitely the primordial element caught in our eyes. But since you look closer, you’ll notice there are some references to Greek philosophy. Who is responsible for these incomprehensible matters?

Both members share a keen appreciation for philosophy, though we have our separate niches and approaches to its study. NOÊTA essentially sprung from philosophical conversations amongst the two of us. Much philosophy, regardless of affiliation, touch on similar questions; empiricism, thought, consciousness etc. Even if the idea of a Greek interpretation initially stemmed from one of us, it was merely one of many ways to put into words what we had already agreed on.

At what point should your music interconnect to philosophy? Is this an artistic manifestation, a wanna-be revelation?

It’s interesting that you call it “should”. To us it has never been an artistic manifestation in a necessary sense. NOÊTA is the meeting between our emotionally driven life experience, and a seeking to understand through philosophy. The music stems from our lives and when one sings about the corners of the psykhe, using philosophy feels like a natural extension.

Compared to your previous “psykhē” album which had folk influences, “Beyond life and death” seems to have a darker appearance, an anguishing sound, but more complex and catchy. What led to this change of attitude?

Since we started playing together, we have always had a great range of musical expression in need of exploration. “Beyond Life and Death” stemmed from a different experience, in a different time, and that dictated a different sound. It’s a conscious choice not to limit our music  to a genre. However, that does not mean that we will not return to what we did on “psykhē”.

Photo by (c) Christopher Zibell

How would a world where your music fits perfectly as a soundtrack look like?

We identify with Baudelaire and other early modernist writers, who saw their creations as projections of the inner landscape. It prompts the listener to recreate that world for themselves. To us, there’s simply no clear distinction between our physical sources of inspiration and what landscape we inevitably end up creating.

I think we are still caught in the storm that started it all.

Can one speak of moments of inspiration, where there is no time for reflection and we’re all in a hurry? It may seem to me that the artistic act has become more like a job you upgrade over time.

I think I understand what you mean, however it is not so easy to describe in absolutes.
Generally, there will always be artists who have no heart in what they do, they do what sounds cool or fits into their pre existing mold of what that genre expects of them etc. Success breeds a sudden motivation to please the listeners. Listeners themselves tend to be less critical towards “known” artists, people they already look up to or respect. This jolts the same phenomena as when movie companies do thirteen sequels to a movie because the first one did well. Whenever money drives a product (which it rarely does for artists at first), the results tend to be different. On a fully personal note, our work has never been either or. Something is often sprung from inspiration, but then one needs persistence to finish what the inspiration started. Inspiration comes and goes as it pleases, and you can start something in a mist of inspiration, just to find it gone half way through your piece. There are moments when you can’t “force” a song to finish itself and you have to wait for the inspiration to return. We have 30 or so songs that lost their fire as we wrote them, we are still waiting for an inspiration to return.. Even on our current album this was the case, “Darkest Desires” we wrote quickly, and we then rewrote it twenty or so times, it never seemed to grow into itself fully. A year later it just did, as the inspiration came back. In Thunder and Urkaos rested since 2013, one day we opened them up and finished what seemed like an impossible task, in ten minutes.

If you’ve lost a part of you (memories, feelings, inspiration) and you’ll meet it by chance in a pub how would you regain it?

That would depend on how I lost it in the first place.

Music, in our case dark/ambiental, starts to sound more professional. I refer here about the sound quality at the production level, but also the artwork, the artist’s look and the like. Aren’t all these details disfiguring these genres of music?

I’d be weary when something  is expected to confine to any given set of rules.. One thing must not exclude the other. Better production does not necessarily mean that the music will be neither better nor worse. If one always had to confine to certain defined rules of a genre, in risk of “disfiguring it”, there would be little room for new artistic expression to evolve.

Preferably, energy would be focused on creating something genuine.

I will however agree that there is a certain kind of mood that comes with “less refined” production techniques like analogue tape or analogue photography. Its slightly uncontrollable nature makes it random and organic in a way digital production do not.

Photo by (c) Christopher Zibell

Do you consider your project underground?

We don’t put any black and white labels on NOÊTA, it is probably to us, something very different than it is to others. We always try to push ourselves not to confine to anything, whatever result that may render.

Where are the boundaries between underground and mainstream, after all? I’ve always wondered: is it really about the number of fans or the music interpreted? I consider there are some undiscovered pop artists, but which can not be named underground. What do you think?

Since this is likely to be defined by the individual, what is gained from defining those boundaries at all? As long as it does not change the artistic expression it should not matter. It’s likely the majority would define it based on the number of fans. Personally I’d base it on however you aim to defy or please the norms of your chosen genre. For example: a small black metal band with no fans, that straight off copies another artist sound, I’d consider more mainstream – than someone that has a lot of fans, but a unique musical expression.

“We build this world together/but I am not really here/I am here to watch you/ conquer or fall”. These lyrics seem broken from the world’s literature. Does literature passionate you at all, because you sound like some fine lyrical art connoisseurs?

We both take great interest in literature of different kinds. It is a form of expression that is so difficult to capture in a way that moves the heart.

Kierkegaard said in ‘Either/Or’: “What is a poet? An unhappy man who conceals profound anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sighs and cries pass through them, they sound like beautiful music. And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ – that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful”.

To use only worlds is to be barren. It can be as trivial as it can be piercing.

I feel some influences that make me think about Chelsea Wolfe or Bjork. Do you find inspiration in other artists? And if so, can this reduce the originality of the product itself?

We are not different than most, we obviously come with our own set of conscious and unconscious influences that to some extent inspire us. If you are ever exposed to any kind of music throughout your life, it will end up defining your view of music in the first place. For us, one of our great assets is that we come from very different musical backgrounds. Êlea from a variety of soul/blues/folk and black metal, and Ândris from traditional swedish folk and early electronic music. We consider ourselves opposites, our dynamic is very black and white. Because of that we run less of a risk to lose ourselves in the inspiration of others.

The “Beyond Life” video is extremely attractive, I must admit however that it has something scary in its background. What’s the story behind it?

Thank you for that. It was decided early on to use the lyrical theme to drive the video. The lyrics themselves were meant to touch on epistemology, especially empiricism, rendered through abstract words. The world in which the girl wanders is weird, like it’s slightly uneven, and something feels off. We wanted to portray that feeling of not really knowing if one’s reality hold empirical value. This interconnects with ideas from neurobiology and how our sensory inputs don’t always equal truth, as many disorders or traumas to the brain have taught us.

I always correlated that world with one I had in a dream, where everybody was trapped in an alternate reality and I knew the empirical world, but could not convince them. The short outtakes with the two of us  in the video, those parts are meant to be the reality, where we hold the knowledge of what is real and not. It’s sung to her “We built this world together, but I’m not really here – I’m here to watch you conquer or fall”. That notion of a commonly built world which is false is clearly inspired by the philosophical idea of a “Brain in a jar” that both Plato and Descartes wrote about.

Since we’re here and talking about scary elements, did something of this nature happened during filming?

It’s not very obvious that the girl in the video is not Êlea. The video was actually filmed in Nashville by a good friend of Ês from film school. So neither of us were there for the majority of it, we only shot small outtakes of us when Ândris visited Bergen.

The director told us the forests of Nashville are less friendly than what we have in Scandinavia. There was an incident where they were incredibly close to stepping on a very poisonous snake. At the time they were too far away from a hospital, and had they been bit, it would have been lethal. In addition to that, a tree, around ten meters in height, fell on Caressa (the girl) and Simon (director). But they did not get seriously hurt.

Tell us one reason you’d visit Romania!

Transylvania, naturally. It has been called the last medieval landscape in Europe, along with the Castles, Sighișoara, the nature and much else.

Thank you for your granted time. Cheers!

Thank you!

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