Hélène Vogelsinger, the spirit of the place

Spotlights 22.02.2024

Since the release of her debut album Contemplation in 2020, Hélène Vogelsinger has carved out a place for herself among the new generation of composers adept at using modular synthesizers. Her music, which also features piano, voice, flute and clarinet, takes the form of albums, but even more so of poetic and striking live videos filmed in the wilderness or in abandoned places, where she performs, alone, her dense and powerful electronic compositions tinged with spiritualist impulses.

Like tens of thousands of Internet users, I discovered Hélène Vogelsinger's music through her live performances posted on Youtube, in which she performs her new pieces most often seated on the ground, in natural or abandoned locations, imbued with mystery, memory or poetry. She may appear in the middle of a clearing at the foot of the Pyrenees, herself and her instrument protected by a circle of candles, as if in ritual. Or, on the Spanish side of the same massif, on the outskirts of ruins and an artificial lake, hinting at the presence of a sunken village. Or at the heart of a villa, whose construction was never completed and is now surrounded by vegetation. You can also see her playing at sunrise, facing the magnificent Plateau du Bénou, behind which the peaks of the Pyrenees stand out in the distance. In a former sanatorium. Or why not in the carcass of an old imperial bus, lost in the middle of the forest.

Her gaze both gentle and impassive, focused on her modular synthesizer with its multiple colored cables, she performs live electronic pieces with a complex weave of held notes and soaring melodies, mixed with loops and arpeggios, whose timbres, by turns ethereal, dense or crunchy, blend with a wide variety of acoustic sources filtered through her machines and sample modules. In the most beautiful pieces on his first two albums, Contemplation (2020) and Reminiscence (2021), we can hear his own voice, treated like an ethereal choir, as well as notes of piano (the instrument with which the artist composes the basis of all his pieces) or the sparser, mutating tones of clarinet, transverse flute, accordion or violin.

From a historical point of view, the artist's compositions could be part of a traditional history of electronic music, continuing the experiments of German composers of so-called "cosmic" music of the 1970s, including Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream or Manuel Göttsching, and also ambient music figures such as Steve Roach, while her profile would bring her closer to an unclassifiable figure such as Alice Coltrane. But whatever these references may be, Vogelsinger declares that she only discovered them late in life, long after she had begun her first experiments, which seem to have obeyed nothing more than pure instinct, unless they are the result of a rich musical journey whose influences and foundations she still struggles to recognize.

Her pieces, composed in the studio but also designed to be performed in situ, are enriched by ambiences recorded during location scouting, a way for the spiritually-inclined artist to explore the idea of a possible connection with her environment, the forces of nature, or wildlife (not surprising when you consider that her surname could be translated from German as "bird singer"). In her home in Pau, the artist lives surrounded by animals and free-ranging birds, and during our interview with her, our conversation was punctuated by the song of a Calopsitte parakeet, which seemed to approve of each of her lines.

When Hélène Vogelsinger talks about her fascination with ruined architecture, emblematic of today's Urbex culture, she explains it through her life's journey. The daughter of a soldier, she traveled constantly during her childhood, leaving one house for another, before spending her teenage years in Lebanon, a country populated by ruins, whose buildings bore the scars of war, but also a country which, as in the Orient and elsewhere, had many abandoned building sites.

Between the ages of five and nine, she completed her first cycle of music theory and musical education. During this period in Lebanon, she pursued her training on her own, drawing on American song, soul, hip-hop, oriental music and the many cultures that intersect in the country.
On her return to Europe, she took part in several young bands (Serendipity, Wovoka, Planetoid), practicing soul, jazz, trip hop and then electro-pop, a genre that introduced her to the use of software and synthesizers.
But it wasn't until 2018 that she resumed her studies, this time at the prestigious Berklee School of Music, where she trained (online) in music to image and sound design, particularly in the field of video games. With a passion for knowledge and a desire to achieve a certain independence, the composer has never ceased to perfect her skills. In less than two years, she became a reference in the world of modular synthesizers, an approach and technology that enable artists to design and customize their own instruments. This mastery led to training in mastering (the final production phase before a record is burned or a file released) and, more recently, to a university diploma in church music at the Protestant University of Strasbourg, an education that blends theory, history and practice, and which seems to respond to a form of spiritual questioning, a curiosity for different dogmas and an empathy for questions relating to faith.

But it's mainly through her music that she gives shape to this quest. "When I play and compose," she tells us, "I sometimes feel this force of connection, the instrument masters me more than I master it, as if I were the instrument myself. It's hard to explain. It's probably most obvious in my voice work, which can be reminiscent of sacred music. You let yourself pass through, like a channel, while connecting with a luminous force ".

Jean-Yves Leloup

The first of four videos from her new live session, Anamnesis, is already available on her Youtube page.
(2020) and Reminiscence (2021) are available on her new label, Microsmose. Three new albums, already ready, will be released on the same label in the coming months.
Hélène Vogelsinger now has a new live act, which she is starting to play on the European scene.

Photos © Roel Thewessen
Photos © ChaliskPito
Photos © De la puente foto espacio


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