Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Complete R&A Interview is on the Blog

Thanks very much to Corentin for the complete translation.


At first glance, there are some very surprising opinions by CV in this interview, opinions which are new to me. I will read it over a few more times, and perhaps I will give some of my own opinions on this blog.

One thing that has NOT surprised me is the amount of viciousness I have received from the ardent supporters of Magma and Christian Vander. Nevertheless, this blog shall continue. It is the only blog that is left that covers Magma and related music. If there is interesting news about Magma, it will appear here. I am thankful to the French fans who sent me the notice about the interview in R&A. Without them, the interview might have remained virtually unknown. Not even Stella Vander knew about this.

I am grateful for the people who contributed thoughtful and considered opinion in reaction to this interview, both supporting and opposing the interview and some of its content. As several people have pointed out, it's not so much what Vander said ... it's where he said it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

English Translation of Vander Interview in Reflechir & Agir

Thanks to a talented bassist, whose playing we have featured here before, we have the translation of the Christian Vander interview that was done in Reflechir & Agir No. 41.

Christian Vander

A Journey into Zheul

Magma’s shaman sorcerer Christian Vander welcomed R&A [name of the magazine] inside his home in Haut Marnes [somewhere in france] . Time to have a look back on a career like no other and on an authentic European and euro-pagan music.

Caption : “When I was a kid, I was an Indian, dancing and swinging my tomahawk while listening to Bach !”

Q : Did you hesitate answering such a controversial magazine as ours ?

A : Not a second, because you actually make the effort of interesting yourselves in Magma’s music, and you have a genuine curiosity which a lot of media lost. I think that’s a very good thing.

Q : How did you get started into music ?

A : I’ve been bathed in jazz by my mother Irene, who was a music lover as well as a accomplished be-bop dancer. You should know that at the time, people still danced on jazz. I owe my stepfather as well (famous piano player Maurice Vander, who played with Claude Nougaro). At a very young age, I was 3 or 4 y.o. I went to clubs and saw the greatest drummers : Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Kelly Clarke.

We also listened to a lot of classical music at home. I discovered the “concertos brandebourgeois” when I was 4. I used to dance along and call it “savage music” (laughs). When I was a kid, I was an Indian, dancing and swinging my tomahawk while listening to Bach ! I knew from a very young age I wanted to be a musician, I felt it. Then I was lucky enough to meet John Coltrane’s future drummer Elvin Jones thanks to my mum’s best friend, Belgian sax and flute player Bobby Gaspard, who told us “one day this guy is going to be famous” . Elvin’s style was widely disliked and underrated. Then six months later he joined John Coltrane’s quartet. He’s one of the greatest drummers ever. Elvin always asked for news of me. They are very loyal and beautiful people. Coltrane was lucky enough to meet three “geniuses” . Although I don’t really like the word, let’s say these people were more than gifted, they were magical : Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrisson, McCoy Tyner, these guys revolutionized jazz. Each could free themselves thanks to John and vice-versa.
(page 2)
Q : How did Magma begin ?

A : So as I said I had the chance to meet such talented people, that when I started Magma I had a conception of rhythm which “rock” drummers had not, I was ahead of most musicians, and not only the French ones. When Magma came about in 1969 it was completely modern, hard to compare with anything at the time. Magma was a shock. People were shocked. I remember our first concert in England, at the Marquee’s in 1973 with Jannick. People hated us because we were French and as it was often the case we were mistaken (and rightly so as French bands were stammering) for plagiarists. We got a stream of abuse up until we got on stage, “frogs” etc, and we began playing with Klaus shouting “Hamataï !” … Köhntarkösz… and from the beginning to the end there was silence. The attitude changed and they liked it immediately. We got them with fear. Just like in Cocteau’s L’Eternel Retour : “they came to fear the Morholt.” (laughs) . People came to see us afterwards, they said “you guys are demons !” They were terrorized and they loved it. That was exactly our idea.

Caption : “If Coltrane’s music was just music, I would have stopped listening to it a long time ago.”

Q : What happened after the culminating worldwide fame around 1976 ? What about all these changes in the line up ?

A : I had been on the road since 1969, it had been 7 years, we were exhausted, playing 25 concerts per month, for free or 30 francs [That would be what, 5 bucks ?] (our beloved producer, Giorgio Golmesky had been accused a fraud and fired by the Stones) , travelling –why not - from Nice to Calais in an uncomfortable puny truck, and considering there were no highways at the time… you get the idea.

And then in 1976 we had a huge european tour all planned out, three big trucks, the entire Europe, Germany, Scandinavia… I was just skin and bones. And most of all I was disillusioned, all I saw before us was ghosts. I believed… I loved a music, and that to me was something definitive… Faithfulness… The response was dull, empty, the applause was flawed. What’s more the band was falling down, and the lower it fell the more success we met, each and every time, as if it was a certainty, as if Magma on stage was a fully established thing. I couldn’t stand the fact that people didn’t realize… Patrick Gauthier joined the band to play keyboards and he wasn’t ready, it was a little unbalanced, something unusual for Magma. I tried compensating by intensifying the energy and the tempi, faster and faster so as to avoid accepting things that were too tense and too slow, and get the thing to move on. It was thunder, but thunder that time… It seems the gods weren’t on our side… and so I ditched the tour. It was going to be our reckoning day. Everybody was crying, “you can’t do that.” Nobody understood obviously. And we had to pay the price, for a very very long time. I needed to recharge.

Photo caption : Magma on stage in the 70s .
(page 3)
Caption : “In fact, we trained a lot of artists who now serve the music we hate !”

Q : Tell us about Kobaïan…

A : It’s not (dis-)Esperanto. Kobaïan wasn’t created in an intellectual process, it is a language which imposed itself naturally onto the music and sounds. The music makes the demands. Sometimes the piano dictated series of vocal movements that I would not have found otherwise. You have to gather all ideas at the same time and speak them.

Q : Were you often bothered with rumors of Magma being a nazi band ?

A: Wow, very quickly actually. Many rumors… There are a lot of festivals in which we never play. We’ve been banned from Strasbourg for 10 years… I remember a concert in Bordeaux, before 7000 people. That asshole Jérome Savary had come with a whole protesting crowd shouting “Fascists !” and… giving us the finger [I think that’s what he means, not 100% sure though] ! They were throwing bottles of wine on the stage. I didn’t move and continued playing thinking that wouldn’t reach me. Our roadie Loulou threw away people that were trying to get on stage. There were dudes flying over my drumset ! (laughs) It was very violent. What was funny though was that inbetween two songs, I went to speak with a guy holding his arm up before me on the front row. And I said “What’s up with you, what do you want ?” and the guy answered “No, nothing, I’m on your side !” (laughs)

Q : Where does the aesthetic aspect of the group come from ?

A : I’ve always liked black, even as a child. It teaches silence and concentration.

Q : How do you record your discs ?

A : We almost always recorded in live conditions, as much as we could, all together in one take.

Q : How do you compose ?

A : I wanted something else, I composed what I missed, all musics were there we might say, and what I didn’t hear, I tried to compose. I don’t compose music for the people, I compose for myself before all. I don’t cheat with that. If I don’t want to hear it, then who will ? … That is also why I accept criticism. That is my way of proposing things, without making concessions. There are no concessions in this music and never have I been imposed anything. Music arrives when it is due to arrive, I don’t actually seek the music, I’m more of a receiver.

Q : What do you think of today’s music ?

A : What surprises me, or actually what in the end surprises me not, is hearing many repetitions of things that have already be done, and done greatly. I never get surprised listening to these music. That is never a good sign. I’m just like anybody else, I wouldn’t listen to Magma exclusively, however aside from things I’ve listened to a long time ago and to which I still listen, because they’re the ones I get the most out of, I discover nothing new. The rhythms are as poor as ever, no risks taken… I can’t get surprised and that’s what I’m looking for, I want to be drowned in an ocean of notes, discover new things, learn things…

Q : Jannick Top, genius ?

A : Consider Bernard Paganotti, he had a gift and lost everything ! He came back in Magma when Jannick Top left, Top being more than gifted since he indeed comes close to a genius. I had to teach Bernard again how to rearticulate things, because he wasn’t involved anymore, he played in balls with variety singers such as Cheval Cabrel [I don’t know if that’s an actual singer or if it’s a sort of insult to Francis Cabrel] … This is a serious problem… We actually trained a lot of artists who now serve the music we hate ! Even Jannick ! Everytime he tells me he’s going to quit and come back. I have been waiting for 20 years now, he’s welcome whenever he wants to, but I’m not waiting for him anymore because we’re wasting time… Plus he relies too much on the “clic” (headphone metronome) which restrains freedom. When you rely too much on clicks and accessories [“clics et cliques”, the pun there is kinda hard to translate], if you have to play something that moves a little – for music is something alive, it has to be moving, shifting, and I play around that a lot - , well he gets lost, I make him uncomfortable, and so in order to avoid the difficulty : clic clic in the headset… That is really too bad, Jannick has such powerful and deep music… Music that remains unknown…

Caption : “ I want to be surprised, to be drowned in an ocean of notes, discover new things. But that doesn’t happen.”

Q : Do you plan on recording a studio version of Zëss ?

... A : I regularly get that question, however Zëss is a song that is outside of Time... It tells the Day of Nothingness. Should I record it, then it’s all over, there is nothing afterwards... It is the day Eternity lost its name.

Q : Three beautiful live versions have already been released...

A : Yes, but that is not the full song, that is nothing, the whole thing should be 5 hours long. My few minutes of speech on stage should have lasted 30 minutes... Madness... All was said ! One person spoke in a nonsensical Kobaïan while another one did the translation in French simultaneously, the transe builds up to the point of obsession, and after a while... No more translation, it is impossible and probably better that way... And then the brass section starts to build up...

Q : In 1983 you recorded “Merci” , is that more of a “soul” album ?

A : I had to say thanks to some people at that time [actually, “remercier” in french can mean “say thanks” as well as “say goodbye” like an employer would someone he doesn’t deem useful anymore. Hard to translate but I think Christian fully plays on the double meaning there]... When I started doing music, I played in rhythm and blues bands with Bernard Paganotti. I learned a lot from that, about holding a rhythm. There are codes and a certain spirit to it. Same thing with the Tamla Motown. It taught me discipline, regularity, at a time when I was still a young savage. Then when I reached that point, I could go the other direction and try to distend the rhythm, almost even bend it.

Q : What did you think of “Zheul” bands (movement inspired by Magma, although Vander refuses the term as for him Zheul music has yet to be proposed) , such as Univers Zero, Art Zoid, Présent ?

A : It is Zheul sub-music. That being said I hold nothing against these people, they are trying to do something. However they have drawn too much inspiration from Magma, and actually from our clothes. They played dressed in black, in a martial, yet too stiff, way. This is not what we are, we can exchange smiles in the euphoria of music, wearing a certain type of clothes, but never in a robotic way. They only understood one aspect of things. Same thing for their music, they want to do strange, mysterious music. That is very simple, you just have to play notes that are outside the chord... That isn’t melody to me. I’m a melody lover. You have to create some harmonic atmosphere out of which the melody comes, not torture something useless. Sadly that has always been done, and especially here.

Q : What about the first Pink Floyd albums, what do you think of them ?

A : Well, at the time some used to work with 2-3 chords and add reverberation [you know, that guitar effect which produces a sort of “echo”] … I can understand that when you know nothing else, it can have an impact, and create good memories, however I was never moved by this. At that time I listened such lively, fast and expressive music… When you think of John Coltrane, you can say each bar is a small symphony in itself, it was excessively fast, strong and mad… And what happened on that level since he left in 1967 ? … So all these bands we could almost all quote, they all seemed kind of slow in their expression, kind of poor. I have nothing to do with these bands, I always thought they lacked something. That’s why I made Magma. Not only as a reaction, but also simply in order to say a lot of things quickly. That is why from the start of Magma you get a profusion of melodies, each of which you could develop for a long time. However that corresponded my desire not to linger on a dream… All these people used to get high a lot, their minds was filled with smoke. I remember our concerts in Holland in the early 70s, people literally slept in front of the stage. They were completely stoned.

Q : Is it true that Mike Oldfield stole Tubular Bells from you ? (famous song which became the theme of The Exorcist)

A : Yes. And as he stole that, he stole Magma’s spirit. That song, “La” Dawotsin, is typically Magma’s music at the time. Oldfield was in the English studio where we were recording that theme for Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh. He stole a few bars and it became worldwide famous. I was at the premiere of The Exorcist and I thought “Hey, that music is great, and that’s funny, it reminds me of something…” (laughs) And indeed, something very close, it was a composition to my grand-father… And so I didn’t record the song, I waited for years because I thought as it became so famous, people were going to say I stole it… The irony ! In Oldfield music, there is nothing announcing Tubular Bells, it’s quite common until that thing comes out of nowhere, and then afterwards there is nothing reminding it. He lacks the starting point. It’s not his and it shows… And then hundreds of horror films drew inspiration from that theme.

Q : What do you think of identitary rock ? [again, a difficult notion to translate, that would be rock bands defending local, possibly nationalistic values, or re-asserting a culture…]

A : They lack an European music.

Q : Could Magma get the job done ?

A : There is a problem in musical culture. Even when they cover European chants or marches, very often they don’t have what it takes. Unfortunately that is a people and a country which has been hurt in a way, not very gifted with rhythms, and which hasn’t sung for a while. You hear that especially tune-wise.

Photo caption : The Deer Hunter, by Michel Cimino.

Q : Céline said that music is above everything else. That in the beginning was emotion, not words…
A : Yes, as Stefan George said, in the beginning was action. In France, music is considered a lesser art. Literature and painting are put forward. In Germany, music comes first. In England, you have to wait until the mid-20th century to find Britten. Then compare that to the amount of German composers in the last 300 years…

Q : By the way, what’s your opinion on rap ?
A : If that was really a dangerous music, it wouldn’t air on radio. It’s a music that wouldn’t scare a fly. Magma must be dangerous since it doesn’t air on radio.

Q : Have you read Philippe Gonin’s book on Magma ?
A : Well, what a pile of mud. A complete and utter lie. We were willing to intervene, correct some things, give a helping hand, and he didn’t even want to meet us. A guy noticed at least 50 mistakes in there, not to mention his personal opinions. He’s a crook. Better forget him.

Q : Have you been influenced by Druillet ?
A : Quite the opposite actually, Druillet drew inspiration from Magma. He was a fan, not the other way around. There was also Hubert Reeves who followed us a lot, that’s better isn’t it ? As for BD [ = Bandes Dessinées, that would be our “comic books” ] , I’m more a fan of the clear line, especially Edgar P. Jacobs. That’s expressive, it says everything, there is text in there, it’s a blast. And then of course Hergé.

Q : What about literature, what left a mark on you ?
A : I like Andersen very much. Grimm too, but you might say Andersen is closest to situations I experienced during my childhood. I recognized myself in all these things… Ib and Christine, Sous le saule [titles from Andersen]. I was living so much of that… Andersen, that’s dry and tough.
Q : And in cinema ?
A : The Deer Hunter. If that was only cinema, I’d have forgotten it a long time ago… Also a few others such as l’Eternel Retour (1942), that is pure magic.

Photo caption : Christian Vander wears a solar symbol which serves as a symbol for Magma.

[The rest of the text in the frame is entitled “discover Magma”, and sums up Vander’s career in Magma as well as in Offering, which I don’t think is useful to translate since if you’re reading this either on the FB page or on Marc’s blog, I would guess you already know all this. ]

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Here is the Vander Interview in R&A

Thanks to a very kind Magma fan, here are images of the interview in Reflechir & Agir No. 41.

Since these a images, I cannot put this into Google Translator. Perhaps some kind fan can translate this interview into English.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

New Vander Interview - Can Anyone Repost It Here?

A Magma fan wrote to me to tell me that there is a new interview with Vander in a magazine called Reflechir & Agir. The interview is in Issue 41, and a link to the contents is here.

I don't think that this is a magazine related to music, so it may be interesting to see what Vander has to say in a non-musical context.

If anyone can tell us what was in this interview (preferably in English!), it would be appreciated. Thanks.