Cinematic Soundwaves: An Interview with Voynich

Though he only has a handful of singles, Voynich has proven that quality most certainly trumps quantity. His work is atmospheric, emotion-filled, and brilliantly paced. In other words, he’s one talented composer. I’m thrilled to be able to shine a light on an artist that’s been featured on the mega synthwave compilation, In Synth We Wave, with a who’s who list of talent. He also kicks off the new RetroSynth Records Vol 1 collection. Both of these are must own releases and Voynich is a big part of why they’re so listenable. You can find all of the Voynich singles over at Bandcamp! Now that I’ve introduced him, let’s talk to the man behind the music!

For new listeners, what can you tell us about Voynich?

Well, I write music for film, and have been doing it for about 7 or 8 years now. I used to compose for mainly orchestral instruments. On my last project though, which was a feature-length film, I wrote quite a long score (just under an hour) of electronic music for it. In the film’s dialogue, the Voynich manuscript is mentioned at one point. There was one track in the soundtrack (which I named after the film, Night People) which didn’t really sound like the rest of my stuff, it had more of an EDM vibe to it, so I decided to release it as a single on the suggestion of the film’s director Gerard Lough, under the name Voynich, instead of my real name. Anyway Gerard then ended up making a music video for it too, bringing characters from the film back into extra scenes. Then I thought, why don’t I release more music under that name, which would free me from the constraints of composing specifically for film. So Voynich is what I do when between
films. But of course I love scoring film, and that’s what got me into the electronic side of music too.

Your latest single, Flux, leads off the RetroSynth Records Vol. 1 compilation. How happy are you with the track?

Very happy. I’ve got a lot of praise for it and I really love the sound of it and it was an honour to be the first track on the album. It’s not as “Synthwave” sounding as some of the other Voynich singles but I like mixing genres. I think I finished the music side of FLUX this time last year and it took me nearly 10 months to figure out how to just mix it properly. Thank God for limiters. Also I tried making my own music video for it which was meant to really tie in with the music. Having written so much music for film makes me sort of want to see something as I hear the music. Also it’s nice to have it up on Youtube as a ‘music video’ and not just music. I’m going to try to come up with videos for all my tracks, we’ll see how that goes…

Your music has such a rich and layered sound. What is your writing process like?

I think my music used to be too layered. I’m cutting layers away all the time these days. I’m learning how to make a bit of space. I used to be obsessed with John Murphy and Underworld’s soundtrack to Sunshine. I think one piece on that album really influenced my sound; I’ve had many a late night with wine, headphones on and “The Surface of the Sun” playing at full blast. It’s a builder, if you get me. Large climax near the end. I’d say it’s physically imprinted onto my brain by now and probably has added to my urge to keep building my music up and up, and I have to resist doing that a lot of the time. I’m looking at a single in my sequencer here that I haven’t released yet, and it has about 20 tracks on it. So that’s an example of me trying to keep layers down.

I have another single on a RetroSynth compilation called TimeSlave (yes I know, my subconscious must have picked it up some stage..) and I started writing that by just playing around on a MicroKorg with some very classical Bach sounding chords. Added an arpeggiator and then I had the main sequence of the song. That one came really quick. Reminds me of the Scarface theme a bit. Anyway after I have a nice chord progression down I usually try to come up with a catchy melody, then add bass and a beat. Then I usually finish by adding the higher instruments. But it’s different for every piece, and always depends on what mood I’m in. Working on Night People really changed how I write music, for the better. I’m still working on more complex beats though, I hear some of these electronic (and especially Synthwave) composers who really put my beats to shame.

What do you use to record?

Okay, well my music is completely synthetic as Voynich (so far anyway, although I am playing with a Vocoder at the moment) and so is all recorded on the PC. I use MuLab as my sequencer, which is a great tool. It comes with a lot of it’s own tools, synths and samplers and can handle a hell of a lot of VST’s running at the same time. My PC is not high spec by any means. I haven’t got completely into recording straight off my synths as of yet so am depending on free synth plugins, old synth plugins (usually also free online), and whatever sample sets I have already. I used Linux Ubuntu for a while when I lived in Australia, so I learned a good bit about free synthesis tools, like ZynAddSubFX (which is still brilliant). Then I use EastWest sample sets which are like 10 years old now but they work for what I am trying to do.

Any plans to release a full length record in the future?

My idea was to make lots of singles, try to make them all good, so there’s no filler, and then just release them as an album.  I only have 5 at the moment (with one music video in production) Although if someone buys all my singles, why would they bother buying the album? New artwork, that’s why! Okay now I get why albums have extra non-single tracks on them…I’ll have a think about that one…

What do you listen to when you aren’t recording?

Let’s have a look at what I’ve been listening to here… Bob Dylan, Prince, Moby, The Cure, Johnny Cash… That’s a weird mix. My girlfriend has been getting me into weirder contemporary stuff in the last year or two. I like FKA Twigs for instance. And that remix of I Follow Rivers by Lykke Li is great. I love soundtracks too, I’m pretty sure I have every note of the Jurassic Park soundtrack imprinted on my brain too. I have been into nearly everything at one stage or another, besides today’s pop music. It’s not very inspiring at all.

Any records in your collection that you hide when company comes over?

I don’t think I do, I only ever bought CD’s when I really wanted them, and since the dawn of internet shopping I’ve just bought the albums online. My CD’s are mostly Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, stuff that probably has nothing to do with Synthwave. And if you’re talking about actual records, there’s about 8 in my collection. Oh wait, just checked, there’s 12. And I can answer your question now: ‘Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms’.

What got you started writing and why did you settle on synthwave?

Well it was composing for film that got me started. I studied Musicology in college, but it involved a minimal amount of composing and practical lessons, so while in college, I started looking for films to score, or audiovisual art projects, and that kind of thing. I ended up doing a lot of different jobs from animation, to video games, theatre and all sorts of films. Once I had made some connections in the film end of it, I scored a couple of feature films, and then Voynich appeared. I was unaware synthwave existed (I had heard some examples of it, not realising the genre had it’s own name) and got in contact with the owner of RetroSynth records, Scott Forte. I knew my sound had an 80’s vibe to it, especially the soundtrack I had just made, after many Vangelis and John Carpenter comments, and so he agreed to let me join the RetroSynth family. I do only have 5 singles at the moment so it’s still quite new for me but it’s been great so far, and the synthwave community online are very supportive and responsive.

What does the future hold for Voynich?

An album hopefully, more videos, and more kickass music. And maybe some vocals… People like vocals. My plan is to keep doing what I’ve been doing until I drop.

Any parting words?

“I’ll be back”

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