Torben Wendt (vocals, synths) from Diorama
I opened the Chinese box called ‘Tiny Missing Fragments’ and I thought… wow, that’s a puzzle… will I find the jigsaw elements, will I manage to face the demons that lurk inside, hidden in between the words and notes? Will I understand them? Will I see right through the cosmic soundscape DIORAMA prepared for us during the four-year journey they took to give the final effect in the album that will make you dance, cry, think and re-define your own sense of importance and transparency? But to be confident towards where we are heading, I decided to ask the source and the author of the jigsaw and the sky map - Torben Wendt.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Hello Torben, first of all congratulations on the new album - it’s truly exceptional. I’m thinking, many of DIORAMA fans during past days, when we were following your messages about lyrics and photos of the new release, was like “finally the wait is over”. ‘Zero Soldier Army’ was released four years ago while ‘Tiny Missing Fragments’ will be out on 23rd of October 2020. What was the reason for such a long break in-between two albums? How did Covid-19 pandemic influence the way you organized promotion and final works on the album?
Torben: A three to four-year break has been the usual pattern with the recent releases. I like to think about it that way: one year to present the current album, one to live, observe and collect ideas, one-two years to have them discharge into songs and recordings. It’s obviously true as well that we can’t focus entirely on making music and time lines have generally become prolonged by grown up stuff. And yes, we couldn’t avoid being at least indirectly impacted by Covid-19, as we had been thinking back and forth for months whether the album should be published in a period with zero chances to perform it live and with very unstable overall conditions making it hard to predict how well it would be landing or even taken notice of at all. Our decision was to go for it.
RoD: How do you personally feel about the new release? What were the biggest challenges you faced while recording it? What was the best about it?
Torben: I am completely at peace with my musical self, thankful for the vibe and tonality we were able to find. Some elements that I no longer feel a connection to were dropped, other layers and facets were supplemented instead. That went almost by itself. Like all in all, the production went smoothly and without any catastrophes. It was a fulfilling and rewarding process to push this album forward.
RoD: When you work on the album, do you re-work many things? Does it take ages to achieve the final, perfect result?
Torben: I don’t know how many nights Felix and I have spent listening, re-designing, re-arranging, listening again, making subtle adjustments to the mixes that were technically finished but kind of asked for an extra polish. We didn’t change much each cycle but the little things added up and our revolving sessions were so important and formative for the outcome. The big problem with working like this is that the songs never really arrive at a final destination where there’s nothing left to do. You have to literally force yourself to let it go at some point.
RoD: ‘TMF’ definitely presents a new, fresh vibe to what DIORAMA is renowned for. Do you think your approach to music, lyrical content and artistic overview changed through years? If yes, in what way?
Torben: Music that is linked so closely to our own personalities, experiences, viewpoints, preferences must be allowed to grow and transform over time. More so against the background of dramatic changes in society and technology. It’s also a matter of influences and the wide range of artists and genres we’ve been thrilled by over our musical careers. There is, however, a certain magic keeping it all together, some say it’s a unique mixture of melancholy and lightness. Preserving this magic has been an automatic unconscious constant from the beginning on. And that’s way more decisive than practical questions of instrumentation or tempo.
RoD: You mention numerous sources that inspire you to create your lyrics and music. I’m wondering if you recall any particular image, event, place or a person that you would say was an outstanding one for you, that added an extra trait to your overall concept of the world and thus influenced your creations? Is there such a thing at all?
Torben: As a kid, I was alone most of the time. My father died when I was three years old and not much later, I started playing the piano. Only sad songs, of course. That was the foundation, upon which my identity as an artist formed. And here I am, forty plus, still disoriented, still liking sad songs.
RoD: When I look at the cover of the album, I see DIORAMA mask with a thorny branch inside and the starry cosmic background. Graphics for the album are exceptionally beautiful and they correspond very nicely with lyrical content. The promo photos show your faces with laser star constellations reflected on them. Am I guessing right you were pointing to us all being the part of a bigger picture, a puzzle in a larger structure, a tiny, thorny, element? Or quite the contrary, that we are not? Is that the right track?
Torben: It is the right track. These small particles being projected onto our faces and pervading the whole artwork are a hint towards the structures that we both consist of and are part of. I find it quite inspiring that there are these similarities between the very small scale and the very large scale, the atomic world and the galactic world. And in-between an “intermediate” layer of human networks where we’re also building up systems, circling around each other, to give us some sort of foothold.
RoD: Who are the artists responsible for creating graphics? What did you have in mind while designing it?
Torben: The underlying pictures are from an artist from the Netherlands Antilles called faizki. His “sociogram” series is a collection of wild, disrupted land- and cityscapes using all sorts of materials and techniques. I got in touch with him in 2018 and incredibly, after listening to some of our demos, he offered to deliver three exclusive DIORAMA sociograms for our album. Our longstanding graphics guy and friend user.dx from Leipzig then took these templates one level further towards an even wilder and more disrupted sphere. And it was his idea to implement the DIORAMA mask into this mess, serving almost as an anchor.
RoD: ‘Tiny Missing Fragments’ - what are actually the missing fragments and why are they missing?
Torben: The title is taken out of a longer context where it says “home again - in my patchwork of uncountable tiny missing fragments”. I love this analogy of the incomplete, incoherent, insufficient, illogical architecture we find ourselves surrounded by. There are things in our lives that seem to be shaped more significantly by those elements that are absent than by those that are actually there. And there is always something missing, isn’t it?
RoD: Why did you decide to choose ‘Dark Pitch’ as the first single? What is the concept behind the video that goes with it? It definitely features a new tone to your music that made some fans confused. Was it a signal that Diorama are moving ahead, adopting new music genres, evolving?
Torben: ‘Dark Pitch’ conveys a comforting feeling in midst of a disturbing atmosphere. I thought this would be a good match to these times of irritation and sorrow because of the pandemic - and maybe the new kind of contemplation that has shaken up the inescapable “higher, faster, further, more” (although I believe it’s not here to stay). The song is intended to be a stumbling block, an oasis of calm. And the video clip is meant to underline the contrariness and anxiety of the song. it does so in a rather psychedelic way.
RoD: Obviously ‘TMF’ is not a total revolution - there are elements DIORAMA are known for - beautiful ballads, heart-catching profundity and dancy electro tracks, still, you also employ some new solutions when it comes to musical layer of the album. I hear lots of various inspirations, also new instruments - am I right to say you were experimenting with new arrangements and sources on the album?
Torben: While arranging the songs, we try out a lot, allow dubious ideas and random results. At the same time, we feel gravitated towards certain traditions, such as the need for epic harmonies in the choruses.
RoD: Lyrics on ‘TMF’ are, as usual, very poetic, operate a lot on metaphors, word-play and, at times, hyperboles. I’m wondering who the I-speaker of your texts is: are they personal or you’re telling somebody else’s story? Poetic, ambiguous language is one of your trademarks. Why do you prefer to speak in riddles?
Torben: I would say I-speaker as well as you-addressee are derivations from a narrow personal source in a wide diversified context.
RoD: Do I understand correctly that you do not treat your lyrics as a fixed, closed form with a finite meaning? Could it be it’s rather a plastic, living matter that undergoes constant changes when facing the exchange between your intentions as an author and the interpretation from your listeners?
Torben: I’m not telling stories with a precise plot. I’m trying to describe certain impressions, reflections and states of mind. We’re meeting on a poetic and fictional level, where there is no need for things to be in any kind of reasonable order. I believe it’s not essential to understand exactly what meaning was intended by a certain phrase. It’s more important what kind of images and associations the words are triggering inside your mind.
RoD: Now, let’s move on to the particular songs for a while - ‘Avatars’, the song opening the album, is very trancy and strong. Avatar is a personification, representation, visual depiction. Does it suggest counterfeit? What do the demons you mention stand for?
Torben: Our avatars in ‘Avatars’ are the filtered and manipulated images of ourselves that we keep on perfecting and carrying to the outside world. Full of aspiration but utterly meaningless. An always busy army of fluffed-up identities marching bravely towards a downfall that they steadily and skilfully ignore.
RoD: “you incomplete my incompletion” - are you showing the world in a big and small scale as a set of puzzles with various elements in and out? In fact, jigsaw seems a bit like a “leitmotiv” for ‘TMF’. Heart touching, with fine choruses, moving vocals and electronics - what is ‘Patchwork’ about?
Torben: A malfunctioning relationship, between attraction and rejection. Pieces and substances that do not really fit together. The urge to return to an authentic place, knowing full well that there is nothing to be found there. Everything has been given up, abandoned and left behind to rot.
RoD: ‘Horizons’, ‘Counterloop’, ‘Gasoline’, and ‘Iisland’ are energetic, dancy, club hits. ZOODRAKE and ELEKTROKOWSKI took part in remixing the last two, respectively. Could you tell me a bit more about the songs and cooperation with the two artists?
Torben: We had planned to go on tour with our colleagues from ZOODRAKE in October / November 2020. I have been following Hilton Theissen and his work for quite a while and with the current albums of both bands this would have been an unbeatable package. We all know things turned out differently. But we’ve made the best of the situation and supported each other with mutual remixes before hopefully being allowed to share the stage soon. ELEKTROKOWSKI are our hometown buddies from Reutlingen. Cooperation started when we joined their livestream campaign in April 2020 for one show and figured out there was common musical ground. Both ZOODRAKE and ELEKTROKOWSKI are brilliant in what they’re doing. I’d also like to give credit to Alex from MENTAL DISCIPLINE who has made a lovely remix of ‘Gasoline’.
RoD: In ‘Horizons’ the lyrics go: “history is not repeating at least not in the life we’re leading”. Are you referring to the idea by Santayana that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”?
Torben: That’s a rather blunt reference in the direction of missed opportunities - and the unwaveringly continued missing of opportunities.
RoD: What is ‘Charles de Gaulle’ about?
Torben: The moment - even after countless battles and deception manoeuvres triumphantly won - you ask yourself this very simple question “why doesn't all this make me happier?”.
RoD: In ‘Sensation’ you duo with Felix Marc in a nice, intertwined electronic punch. What is the story behind the song?
Torben: Felix came up with the layout for ‘Sensation’ and I was an instant fan of its strength and coolness. I would say, it’s the song on the album that we probably tinkered with the least and the first ever real duet of Felix and myself.
RoD: ‘Irreversible’ and ‘The minimum’ feature the most touching lyrics and melody, especially in choruses. What are the things that cannot be reversed and what was it that you wanted to say by “reduce me to the minimum”?
Torben: Irreversible: regret basically. Inerasable actions and words. Guilt and shame. Unforgettable memories. The desire to get rid of these things once and for all by being sucked up and dissolve into a giant void. An infinitely great and wide open. Enjoying the benefits of being dead without actually having to die. The minimum: naive and wishful thinking. Emigrate, wander around, lake LaBerge, wish you were here. No money, but a moment that is all yours. How easily the abolition of dreams is accepted and how cement-like reality turns out to be. Regards from the rat race. I am tired.
RoD: I must say it really sounds heart-rending and melancholic. I mean, you have never been too optimistic in your lyrics, but I’m wondering if this mental limbo you describe is one of the reactions to what surrounds us? In opposition to anger and fight against reality? Why do you think people abandon their dreams so easily?
Torben: This escapism is a reaction to what surrounds and overstrains us in the absence of a better shield. but I don’t presume everybody is dragging around such unresolved conflicts. Without doubt and obscure romanticism, life is certainly also very good.
RoD: ‘Orbitalia’, the ballad closing the album, features poignant text and extremely dramatic piano line. I must say it left me extremely moved and speechless. It carries the tone of sadness and massive emotional load. What is it about?
Torben: A conciliatory farewell. Everything is relative. When the day has come to leave, I will safely claim that I found the time in which I was allowed to live in particularly strange and questionable. And I believe this is a good thing and a good last thought.
RoD: To close our discussion on the ‘Tiny Missing Fragments’ content - how would you summarize what’s on it? What ideas, emotions, views it carries?
Torben: Serenity, peace, half-tamed rage, half-comforted desperation, the importance of details.
RoD: Moving on to live shows - during Covid-19 pandemic you decided to play an online concert. What was it like? Are you planning such undertakings in the future or was it rather an exception?
Torben: We’re working on a “recorded rehearsal room concert” concept at the moment to make up for the shows that weren’t allowed to take place and the ongoing shortage of concerts that we’ll have to struggle with for a while. Yes, the livestream in April. What a blast! How strange it was to perform so alone in this narrow studio corner and then all of a sudden get bombarded by all these digital reactions from around the globe. A very special night for us.
RoD: Is there any live videos to be released?
Torben: Yes, like mentioned above we’re currently pursuing the idea of recording a sophisticated live production. Keep your fingers crossed that everything will work out.
RoD: With ‘TMF’ promotion on, do you have any concert plans in your agenda or is everything uncertain due to the circumstances? Are you planning any surprises for your fans?
Torben: I wish we’d be in the driving seat. At the moment we’re really not and everything we had prepared had to be cancelled. So, we really have to come up with wonders and surprises now, I guess.
RoD: Last question: Do you think your sky map is complete or still in the making?
Torben: The sky map is already infinite and my view is this: we know about the giant rip that keeps on accelerating further and further as we speak. Everything will be nothing and nothing will be everything. Just wait a while. What we do is ridiculously obsolete and any map is outdated the moment you’re drawing it. Which still means you should be drawing it. With love.
RoD: Thank you very much for your time!
Pictures by Thomas Wuhrer