Nicolas van Meirhaeghe (Empusae, Tzolk’in) and Christel Morvan (Nesisart)
One the most creative artists I know, engaged in a number of projects, sensitive, combining the world of imaginary with the world of deeply humanistic topics. I’ve been following Nicolas van Meirhaeghe’s artistic way for quite a while and I must say he is fantastic at reinventing himself, engaged not only in exploring the world of his mind, of the darkest sides of human nature but also the sphere of current world situation actively providing his comments as an artist and human being. Teaming up with amazing artist Christel Morvan, they lead their listeners into the world of darkness and yet of extreme, rare beauty… This interview is about current world, inspirations, fading sight and how it impacts music creation, about demons and hopes... with Nicolas and Christel.
Reflections of Darkness RoD:: Nico, last time we spoke in 2018 you mentioned you look into the past for inspiration - has it changed since then?
Nicolas: No, actually I’m afraid it didn’t. The reason why I said it was because the future was to depressing. It is even more so now. On a personal level as well as globally. I’m a very nostalgic person so I look into the past in search of emotions and inspiration.
RoD: You and Christel both share life and art - how do you inspire each other?
Christel: I’m always getting inspired mainly by music… But EMPUSAE especially always could instill vivid fantastic images in my head. This is why I fell in love with Nicolas’ music in the first place… So getting ideas for EMPUSAE is pretty easy for me. I listen, close my eyes, and the inspiration is coming to me.
Nicolas: We are fan of each other for many years as well as being each other soulmate. So we inspire each other willingly and unwillingly. We discuss, interact, influence, stimulate, criticize, support and respect each other, in life and art. For EMPUSAE (and beyond), we are our respective muse.
RoD: Christel, in what way your art reflects Nicolas’ music?
Christel: Usually, Nico gives me free hands on the visual process. So I just let my imagination go and then validate the idea with him. What’s crazy is that very often I’m getting the images that Nico had in his mind when making the music.
RoD: If you were to define your work’s aesthetics - how would you say your inspirations are reflected in your art?
Christel: I guess I could define my work as dark surrealism. My main inspiration is my own nightmares and fantasy. But largely influenced by mythology, horror, surrealism and science fiction. Nico and I are also digging into the same passion those days: cosmic horror…
RoD: In what way senses interact while creating music? Is music actually a plastic form of art and in what way do you think visual arts complement the audio ones?
Christel: For ‘Iter In Tenebris’ I created a new live projection, and the goal is to put the spectator in another state of mind. So this is becoming a full experiment, and deeply marking the minds. For me the visuals are an extension to the music.
Nicolas: For EMPUSAE, the visual part has become an indispensable element. The live shows are an audiovisual experience (like in a movie theatre). The artwork should be seen as a visual reflexion of the music (and vice versa). Both elements coexist, just like our relation in life.
RoD: Nicolas, what is your experience as an artist and human being with the fact that your eyes are more friends with the dark than with the light these days? You post about it a lot and I must say it enriches my sensitivity to a great extent!
Nicolas: My experience of slowly getting blind is obviously a very tough one. As an artist, it’s a constant struggle with mental and practical challenges and obstacles. It definitely makes me a different person, it changes my vision towards life in general, towards other humans and society. More and more everyday actions, which I used to take for granted, are becoming very difficult or impossible to execute. So it’s a lot mourning on a regular basis. As an artist, this handicap became my main inspiration and influence. Composing music became more then ever my main therapy. Art never had that primordial goal before as it has now.
RoD: ‘Iter in tenebris’, the release from last year, is the darkest and the most disturbing of all your albums. Could you tell me more about it?
Nicolas: The album was created to confront my primordial inner demons. Each song linked with a demon from various cultures / mythologies. The album illustrates exactly what I said about looking into the past for inspiration. All four songs are based on and composed around really 1900’ 78rpm recordings, which I inherited from my deceased father. I mainly interpret the songs as ghost music.
RoD: In what way your artistic approach to composing changed through the years and with the experience you gain? I mean not only artistically, but also as a private person - Nico, I know you worked as a teacher and Christel as a motion designer?
Christel: My daily job is illustrator and motion designer and I am also working as V-Jay for some events, and for ORDO ROSARIUS EQUILIBRIO.
Nicolas: My approach to composing didn’t really change that much since the early beginning. The main goal still remains to create atmospheric soundtracks for the imaginary. On a technical level, I experiment more with electro-acoustic and real instruments compared to the mainly electronics and software I used in the past. I also started to use my voice as an instrument. I never thought I would do that 20 years ago. On a personal level of course, as I mentioned earlier, it became more therapeutic. Yes, I used to work with children, had to quit it due to my disease, but I’m very close to find a way to restart this activity, in a more adapted environment as benevolent (I am blessed to be surrounded by a school principal, colleagues, parents and children who believe in me and give me 100% support). For me, my main job never really influenced my artistic creations. Both are from two different dimensions.
RoD: Could you please tell me a bit more about the new release ‘Sounds from Beyond’? You mention it’s an “audio film inspired by H.P. Lovecraft´s universe”? Are you fans of his stories?
Nicolas: The music was initially created for personal purpose. I wanted the create our personal soundtrack to accompany us when playing a Lovecraft inspired board game. During the process of composing the music, it became more intense and I realized I was telling an imaginary, very Lovecraftian story, directed by the Elder Ones. I thought the music needed a very special illustration. I wanted to put together the most ideal artists imaginable for me, Christel as illustrator and Lionel Arlen (LE 7E OEIL) for printing the illustration on old fashioned made silk screen. The result is a very limited art print of black and copper ink on quality cardboard paper with download code on the back. I’m extremely proud the result and their collaboration surpassed my expectations. Music-wise, it is one of my most prominent piece, since I managed to create a soundtrack for a movie (which is my aim since EMPUSAE was created). The movie is imaginary, cerebral, auditive... which, to me, makes so much sense, since I can’t really see movies anymore in the way they are supposed to be seen. I am actually more fan of the universe created by others who came after him, such as novelists, film makers, graphical artists, game developers, musicians and so on. With his imagination, the triggers more and more people, so create what they felt or saw while reading his stories. His mythology is not linked to any particular culture or civilization, his cosmic horror is universal... and beyond!
RoD: The graphic that go with the release depict the turn from sanity to madness very well. Do you think it is even possible to draw the line in between the two, to distinguish when insanity begins? What does it mean to be sane these days?
Christel: The insanity starts when your experiment goes beyond your comprehension. In my artwork anyway… I think sanity is just a point of view. Maybe the world IS insane but insanity became the normal…
Nicolas: I can only speak for myself. The line in between is fading away, within me and around me. That’s my impression.
RoD: Your music was featured on the release ‘Retrieving Beirut’ .It is a fundraising compilation to support the people of Beirut after the explosions that happened at the beginning of August. Beirut is just an example, but what are your thoughts regarding the times we are living in?
Christel: I think the changes we are experimenting in our developed countries are just at the beginning. The way we are living is not sustainable, and most of us don’t seem to care. We are running towards a wall and we keep on going despite the numerous warnings we got from the scientific community. And the consequences will be dramatic. Some people aren’t empathetic to Beiruti people. They should. Because the next disaster could occur anywhere.
Nicolas: I think each generation has been complaining about the time they live in. That’s just plain human. On the other hand, personally, I have the impression it’s getting worse each day. It’s also a trend I hear from different generations (the kids I worked with, as well as the young generation of colleagues and parents for instance). A global trend, which is amplified by social media, is the polarization. I hate this behavior so much, and I notice myself doing the same thing more often, with everything what is happening. It costs a lot of energy not to fall into the trap of trolls, not to judge while being judged. There’s to much of black or white. A lot of us seem to forget all the grey areas in between. For me it’s crucial to remain human (in the sense of having empathy and respect towards each other).
RoD: In your view - should we try to escape the cruelties of modern times or rather stand up and fight against them?
Christel: A lot of things are happening now that should not be tolerated in 2020. And yet for every fair fight, you’ll find hate or denial. Some people are so focused on their own comfort and point of view they don’t think about others. I feel that sometimes fighting is only resulting in even more resistance and stubbornness. I believe that art, on the other hand, is a great eye-opener… A great way to fight peacefully and make yourself heard.
Nicolas: It’s not possible to evade them really. We are living them, so escape would be an illusion. In my opinion, escapism can be healthy for certain brief moments of time, just not to lose your sanity. If I would stop doing that, I’d become mad.
RoD: Your plans, hopes, dreams? Is planning the future still natural for you? What can we expect?
Christel: Personally? Continue to grow up, create, improve, work, making exhibitions, experiment, and have fun. I would love to see Empusae getting the recognition it deserves and ending as the original soundtrack in a movie. This music has so much potential and would definitely have a big impact if used in a cinematographic work. In general, I hope the technology will reach a point where we can help diseases such as the one Nico has. Maybe transhumanism is the answer.
Nicolas: No real plans. Hopes are fading. Dreams remain the same as before. Planning the future doesn’t feel like a good idea. I have no idea nor opinion of what to expect for humanity. As for my creative side, I will continue to create and to work with people around me which I admire, respect and who inspire me. I filter the toxic ones, so only the essential remains. I need this to be able to exist, so I will never abandon it. So you can expect more music in an undefined future.
Live picture by Luc Luyten, graphic by Christel Morbvan