The Canadian label Cyclic Law definitely belongs to the leading ships of the dark-ambient scene. Set up in 2002 by Frederic Arbour, the label has released an impressive number of essential productions. But behind the label owner also hides a musician. Frederic Arbour has been involved with numerous projects, but it’s the latest album from his Visions project that caught my attention. The full lengths “Lapse” (2005) and “Summoning The Void” were released a while ago, but Visions stroke back in 2018 releasing the “Monad”-opus together with the Russian Phurpa project. And by the end of 2019 Frederic Arbour unleashed the album “Temples”, which is an overwhelming piece of dark-ambient music. This is a truly master piece, which can be the best described as cold, scary and poignant! I talked about it with Frederic Arbour.
(Picture credits by Sebastien Roy / Interview courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: We all know you as Cyclic Law label owner, but we sometimes forget you’ve been involved with several music projects. Can you briefly remind us all these projects and what makes Visions different from the rest?
Frederic: Well I’m a musician first and foremost and been an active musician for the past 30 years, this is what lead me to start a label in the first place. Projects of interest here, without going back to my teens as a drummer in various grindcore and D-Beat bands, would be Instincts (Cyclic Law), with one album released in 2002, Visions came about in 2004 as a way to work with sounds in a less structured way; an assemblage of drones and soundscapes with a deep expansive spiritual backbone, away from the more loop based and orchestral approach I had with Instincts, and my previous drummer frame of mind.
Through the years I’ve also played guitar and atmospherics in Longing For Dawn (Grau), a doom-metal band I formed back in 2004 also. Since then I’ve had a few collaborative projects, Havan (Cyclic Law) with Harlow McFarlane of Funerary Call and Sarah Brady of Amber Asylum (a new album is in the works) as well as Skorneg (Malignant Records), joint project with Skinwell. I’m also currently in the duo Stärker (Hospital Productions, Zhark, Total Black) with Martin Dumais of Aun and have a solo-project named Purgate (Aufnahme + Wiedergabe, Total Black). these last 2 projects are more inclined to rhythmic structures, analog circuitry, merging techno and ambient-industrial sonorities, so I am always working on a few projects at a time.
Q: It all feels a bit like in 2018 you reactivated “Visions” with the “Monad” album, which was a collaborative work with Phurpa while last year you unleashed the “Temples” album. What incited you to get back to composition and what did you try to accomplish on both releases?
Frederic: I actually had been sitting on both the “Temples” recordings and pieces of “Monad” for a few years before releasing them. It seems I tend to put my material aside and focus more on promoting others… trying to remedy this now… But all things come in due time and the past years were ripe for some new Visions I felt, and I’ll also be keeping this project alive as my main ambient output.
“Monad” was on my mind for quite some time, I’ve had huge interest and respect for Alexey Tegin’s work and Phurpa for many years and after meeting him and being invited to his home in Moscow some years back it felt natural to cement this special meeting into a musical output, and so “Monad” finally came to be. I’m very satisfied with how this album turned out and the great response it received.
“Temples” was a slight step away from my previous sound and an attempt to re-integrate what I’d first wanted to leave behind, being melodies and some structural elements. It also has a more earthy approach conceptually compared to the previous cosmologically focused themes I investigated earlier.
Q: The album has been introduced as ‘an hymn to lost civilizations, and a gratitude for what can still be found and discovered from our predecessors. As societies fall, most of their temples and shrines seem to remain, perhaps, as a reflection of the materiality of spirit.’ How did you get interested by this subject and what does it say about yourself and your perception about the current life and their civilizations?
Frederic: Human history and our place and origin within the universe is one of my main interest of research. Our origins have yet to be truly understood, theories abound, but the real truth has yet to be revealed. Many civilizations have been lost in time, cataclysms of all sorts have wiped a many, some of which all traces have gone, while some glimpses of others still remain to be found and investigated. We’ve lost so much of our ancestral knowledge it feels we are still in infancy, trying to relearn or remembering it seems, what has been lost.
The industrial age we’ve experienced is, but a fragment of human civilizations, before and after, and it does seem we’re at the end of a cycle, as it’s long been mentioned in various texts, be it the Kali Yuga or the Mayan calendar etc… yet endings foretell new beginnings.
“Temples” focuses on the spiritual and human quest of figuring out just this, where do we come from and how did we get to this point. Our psyche, through all races and on all continents, seeks this higher link or knowledge though various rites, shrines and temples, but we are all linked by this deep human need to know THE truth. As Madame Blavatsky so rightfully phrased it ‘There is no religion higher than truth’, and to me this sums it all up in one phrase. So “Temples” is an hymn to these sites devoted to spiritual quest, the research within to comprehend what is without.
Q: How did you prepare such an album (regarding the theme) and how did you transpose the ideas/concept into sounds, noises and finally tracks?
Frederic: Hard to explain how everything ‘fits’ in the end, but it’s a continuous process, I’ve also changed most of my equipment in favor of analog machines so this accounted for a different sound and approach to composing. “Monad” as well as “Temples” or any other works are simply chapters in a long observational, experimental and spiritual quest, and at the right time, elements merge to create a whole, everything has its place and time.
Q: I noticed Visions is also performing live. How do you as a visual artist transpose your music from the studio till the stage?
Frederic: I’ve recently collaborated with long-time friend Karl Lemieux, film maker and 16mm experimentalist well known for being the live projectionist for God Speed You Black Emperor. For the new live set, which focuses on the “Temples” themes and sound, we’ve reworked one of his early short films for the occasion. Filmed in the desert of Arizona it depicts what could be seen as an abandoned church, house or temple, decrepit and in ruins with a few walls still standing after who knows how many years, it was the perfect film to make the album’s concept come to life, and a still frame from it also became the album’s artwork.
Q: You’re now based in Berlin (Germany), which is often considered as ‘the place to be’ when it comes to (visionary) music and artists. What’s the real impact of this town and its activities on your artistic creation(s) and what’s the difference with your homeland Canada?
Frederic: I’m actually relocating to Southern France, in a completely rural and different environment. I’ve met great people in my 4 years in Berlin and it was to me a perfect landing spot within Europe after years of wanting to move on the continent. Yet Berlin is about its night life, there’s really great venues, always something to do or see/hear, but there’s so much I can take of entertainment… I need to work and focus and this city will always pull you in different ways, and mostly pull you down. And I knew from the start Berlin was only temporary. Back in Canada I lived out in a cabin a few hours from the city for some years, but had planned to eventually move to Europe and so in 2015 I put that plan into motion. So I sold the cabin, moved back to Montreal and then through friends and connections living in Berlin I focused on trying to get the proper paperwork to move there, which as a foreign artist is quite welcoming in terms of visas etc…
So this is how I ended up there, but the second part of the plan, which I’ve now set into motion, was to relocate again in a rural area within Europe. I wasn’t sure where, but the mountains we’re a definite draw and French being my native language the Pyreenes and its surrounding counties is where I decided to put my attention. Also the history of the Cathars and the ensuing dark period of the Inquisition had long been of interest and so on a few occasions I came to the Pyrenees to visit key sites and villages part of that historic period and the more I visited I came to the realization that this is where I actually belong, as if a had found my true home. And life made it so that me and my girlfriend, who is French, found this house in what is part of the original so called Cathar ‘country’. A key sector filled with UNESCO heritages site of fortified villages from the period of the Inquisition and beyond, a very unique and historically rich region.
So Berlin, although very close friends of mine are there and the music scene, especially electronic music, is quite present and there’s much, too much… to do, the city itself is not for me and I’m glad to now finally have the quiet rural life I wanted.