In Other Worlds, In Other Places, In Other Times: An Interview with Lieven Martens Moana
Lieven Martens Moana is of many worlds. He projects to the sea, as a two legged marine mammal, searching for the most mysterious of sounds lingering in the secret depths of Earth’s crevasse. On land, he finds the winged sounds of both flight and wind, breeze grazing gently and palpably into his microphone, casting what was and what will always thrive to be: nature. Defining composition through musical ability and native/wild inhabitants, Lieven creates the ghost of what Earth sounds like to the keenest of ears via mostly cassette releases.
Recently KRAAK popped off Lieven’s first true LP album, coincidentally entitled Music From The Guardhouse (A Play For Magnetic Tape Recorder), which is also his first release as Lieven Martens Moana (having held a variety of names and pseudonyms previously). Currently, the fella is chilling as always in Antwerp, slinging tapes, and generally feeling the love of everything in everyone everywhere. Recently, I snagged his fingers and eyes via e-mail after coming home from an island excursion. Here’s what Lieven had to say!
A lot of your art directs itself to Hawai’i, mostly its natural habitat. What fuels your interest in that environment? Is there a certain type of lore you’re personally trying to uncover?
I love Hawai’i. I mean, I’ve been to Oahu which is nice (except I guess, Honolulu. I mean, it has its charm, obviously, but what the fuck happened there?), and to The Big Island, which is super, super nice. But I won’t put it this way, that my art directs itself to Hawai’i solely. I have learned stuff there, so the isles indeed have some importance. They helped [in] opening the brain to beauty. But the real center is deeper than solely this. I use a lot of Polynesian sources in my music, so it was indeed helpful to go both to the north (Hawai’i) and south (New Zealand) of the Polynesian Triangle, Atoll Valley.
I try to stay a away a bit from the “exotic island romance” (…a big bit) and want to create something more that connects the light and darkness. Some Polynesian writer once said, “I write about the Great Darkness, the one where we come from, and the one where we all go to.” I think that sounds cooler than “I write about a beautiful white beach, lapping ocean waves and relaxing blue skies,” you know… but man, some sights of The Big Island, Hawai’i are forever imprinted in my brain. On the other hand, I remember so many indigenous Hawaiians begging on the streets in Honolulu, which reminded me of the beautiful, yet very, very angry poems by Wayne Westlake.
Interesting you find inspiration from “the Great Darkness.” On a similar note, there’s a lot of discovery within the music you make. As if you’re leading the listener to pinpoint their own personal journey. Is this the most primitive way to interpret your work?
It’s about discovery, I guess. I see all my records as “personal field reports.” Like a sort of thesis; a collection of discoveries, observatories, sketches and thoughts. I know it may sound corny, but for me it’s just like reading some ethnographer’s or traveler’s journal. More than solely creating a music album, with “correct” compositions et al., I try to create something more direct that offers new meanings, new correlations, new compositions. You might call it discovery; I call it a personal journal, which says many things about a canon of thoughts, but also it says nothing about that all. It’s still “experimental” music, you know.
You have writing in (I think) each release, which covers the background and history of what it is that the listener is hearing, and other times you use quotes or pieces of fiction or poetry as well. Why do you feel there’s a need for a literary companion with each release, considering the notion of personal journaling you’re talking about?
The liner notes are a useful guide for the sounds and images. I use them to set a stricter scene for the music, a more defined background. Sometimes they are to be taken as literal, sometimes they are to be taken as “me writing in the projected idea of the record.” It all depends. This “unclarity about literal/non-literal,” got me in trouble sometimes, though. Like for the Music Of Belief, I’ve written this very serious spiritual text to accompany the release, to give the music a religious relevance. Some people since then try to see me as some religious nutcase; as a fake “new new-ager” or whatever. This is wrong. I’ve written that text as coming from a “projected mind,” since I was full of religious information from many texts I’d read to create that album — theosophical texts, bible texts — since, yeah, I wanted to make THE Music Of Belief, you know? So I was reading only spiritual texts for a few months, to get my mind in this direction. I thought the least I could do is give a vague distillate of the texts I read, to get my brain (and the listeners’) into that belief state. While listening to the CD, I saw that album as a possible religious score. Like the gospels, etc., that was the idea in general.
Along with the aspects of discovery and beliefs, I’ve been in contact with Spencer Clark, and he mentioned that y’all toured Europe musically without a map or phone or any sort of guidance one time. Are you one to believe in making your own destiny or is it fate that drives your life and art?
I remember that tour. And I remember driving with only 10 Euros of cash on hand trying to get to Lyon. On the way, Spencer decided he wanted to do all kinds of tricks with the car, which made the machine guzzle almost all the gasoline. We were close to being stranded. However, I demanded to stop at a rest stop, and out of protest, spent the whole 10 Euros on beers for me. We arrived with literality only one centiliter of gas in the car, and played a great show. We got rewarded with extra money on top of our fee, and were out again on the road the day after with a bigger budget to get lost.
I like Spencer a lot. He’s very important to me, personally and artistically. I like his style which transcends a pure musical product. It’s important these days that man has the possibility of plunging into artistic products that go further up. His visions are very personal and provoking. Modern music would be more boring without him.
“All my pieces are created in a certain state of isolation. Not that I like to be isolated in real life, but I do in my artistic life. I need this to concentrate, to dive towards the deepest depths.”
Definitely! Spencer is also way into photography, as it seems you are too. What’ve you been using to capture the cover art for your releases?
Analog disposable cameras with high ISO, an analog camera, a digital camera, found footage, overhead projector, slides, and Photoshop.
If you were to pinpoint yourself as a master artist, within art’s own right of constant discovery, would you consider yourself more a musician, writer, recorder or photographer… or something beyond that?
I feel more like “an artist” than just a musician in general. Most of my ideas come from outside the musical world anyways. Also, I am not here to heavy jam out, or to create just music as such. I feel that my intention for making music differs from many musicians. It’s not just music. I am here to articulate something, to create a personal alphabet, to specifically create new content.
Speaking of the beyond, where did the name Dolphins into the Future first splash into being?
From Joan Ocean’s writings. I’ll be forever grateful for changing me through her book, The Dolphin Connection.
Considering your name changes as an artist (Cameron Duncan, Lieven Mona, Dolphins into the Future, Cetacean Nation Institute For Environmental Sounds), why did you choose Music from the Guardhouse as your first LP listed under your given name?
The idea of the album sprung to me while visiting a dusty guardhouse on a secret, uninhabited island in the Mediterranean Sea. When I was there, a spirit told me I should create a theater play about the many manifestations of the island’s mind. It was July, 2012.
The name change came more or less natural. I still stand behind all the records I’ve put out, but I felt that the vibe from this album, as well as the vibe from the last one (Canto Crquipélago) was getting further away from the original Dolphins into the Future feeling. Like things became a bit rougher in a way, or abstract. But people were still expecting me to compose a sequel to “On Sea Faring Isolation.” Alas, I don’t think this will ever happen. I had to make that album to start my path (no criticism intended), to get closer to the formulation of my own alphabet. But I don’t think, at this point, I should make another album like that. So to not confuse people even more, I thought it was good to dump the Dolphins into the Future name. I still stand behind everything, but sometimes a little baby needs to change his pants. Also, and this is of more importance than previous reason, I feel that my music is getting more and more entangled in my everyday life, like the music is played less by an avatar, so I was like, “Okay, let’s give it my own name.”
But not only for that. I just think that the Dolphins into the Future cycle is completed. I always projected it as a three LP concept. I wanted to make On Sea Faring Isolation, On Belief and The Ke Ala Ke Kua, which for me were three key ideas I remembered from Miss Ocean and John C. Lilly. I guess I went further without noticing it, though.
“Guardhouse” was chosen since, for me, the idea of having a playwright (being “The Island’s Mind”) writing an actual play in a lighthouse in complete isolation, having all this imageries in his Own Mind — to me, this seemed like a very nice archaic setting. A very inspiring one.
There’s heavy emphasis on composition in Music from the Guardhouse, and I was curious if that has anything to do with the idea of the job itself: being a lonely guard. Did you create the piece in some sort of communicable isolation, As if you were channeling a guard all alone, trying to communicate back with you? Or is it more than this?
All my pieces are created in a certain state of isolation. Not that I like to be isolated in real life, but I do in my artistic life. I need this to concentrate, to dive towards the deepest depths. This is not meant pretentiously, like “See how deep I go” style, but more just a personal observation that for me, this way of working feels the best. The isolation helps me perform “more unconsciously.”
For a few months, I had a real guard inside me, a spirit that is making me a better person. This is the real guard. This guard is called Miro Alofa Circeo, and he is with me every day of my life. And he guides me toward being a better person in general, as well as being a better artist.
What other mysteries do you believe there are in this world, or of other worlds?
That all is love and magic. That the worst thing to ever happen to that magic is that it has partially fallen into the hands of dreadlocked hippies. So many times when I walk in the beautiful nature, I see fake stone buildings and not-so-inspired “power circles.” What’s up with that?? I believe — strongly believe — in the ability of incantation powers, etc., but people, stop trying to colonize untainted beauty with your uninspired rock buildings.
My dog would chase ’em away! Sometimes I put your music on for her (my dog, that is) in the living room before I hit the hay at night. Is your music intended for being listened to by others besides humans?
My music is a human interpretation of non-human thoughts. Of nature. It is not trying to become nature itself. Because, since it’s made by a human mind, it will never be nature (in the strict sense, of course, please no definition remarks here, haha) in its whole. So it is intended for humans. Non-humans would find it pretty exoticist in style, like a missionary in the 1800s, writing in tedious terms and visions of indigenous people. Like he gets it a little bit, but not at all. I’ve seen some article somewhere where a musician says “my music wants to become nature,” and I think that is a sort of impossible wall to break through, and more important, an unnecessary one, since art is not meant to mirror reality! By the way, if I expand on this thought, I could also add that art is also not meant to mirror direct influences!
Does your companion have a heavy hand in helping and influencing you with your
music or artistic vision?
I have a girlfriend, Wietske, and she is my guide, my editor, my one-person-audience, my companion to my roaming of the natural world, my critical voice, my Love. My music is more and more rooted in romanticism I’m afraid, in the old style of the word.
I notice there’s a lot of romance of nature in your music, how have you heard this affect others?
It could indeed be a person-to-person romance, an evocation of love. But I think it’s more about “embracing.” The romance is for sure there, since, especially on my latest LP, the content is a big view inside my own romanticized path in life. It is a metaphor for my personal experiences. But it’s also about embracing, or about being touched by certain things — embracing a certain feeling you got while being on, for instance, Hawaiian ground, and recalling that in order to create text and images. Or embracing a certain communication with seabirds, and recreating that. It sounds a bit corny how I put this, but it means far more than one could read. It is the opposite of glorification, of escapism, even of “three hugging,” that’s what I need to stress.
How do you find labels to release your music and believe in your artistry? Is it something that usually seeks you out, or vice-versa?
I have never sent out a demo, but I am super grateful that labels contact me out of nowhere. And when there’s a click, stuff will happen sometime sooner or later. Same goes for venues, bars, radio stations, discogs buyers, museums, etc.
Yeah, how has been your live act been coming along?
Over the past three years, I was more and more in love with traveling, but less and less with touring. Maybe tomorrow things will change. I might join Spencer in a concert or two, but for the moment, I’m just happy to work with him on a collective LP of ours, and hang out at concerts or bar nights rather than playing live. I have always been more of a recording artist than a performing artist. Since the live performance is, for me, sometimes too reductionist in style. It was all getting a bit too far removed from my LPs. I guess I found a way to change this over the past two years, though, by adding sometimes spoken word speech, slide projections et al. to the concerts.
However, I started to back away from the touring plan, to decline concert offers, to even cancel shows, etc. These days, I’ve been doing live shows where I think, “This is it,” again. It is getting very close to my LPs. And it needed three years of work, but it’s getting there. All is turning more into a sort of “strange lecture” vibe. It took me a while to expand on this. I had to overcome certain things, like “What’s a live show?” but also overcome my “shy stage nature” a bit. The last few live shows I did felt really good, yet this new setting is ruling me out a bit of the more “regular concert circuit” I guess. But if that’s the case, that’s how it is.
Next to this, I’m also involved in a dance performance, based on my latest album, created by this very talented dancer Siet Raymaekers. She completely got the archaic view of the last album, and I feel great, though somehow completely out of place with performing a sort of choreography to my latest music. At first we had the idea of me creating live music while she was dancing. But this seemed like another corny example of “the artist creating a palette to some talented girl who moves.” Hence, I thought, “Siet, why don’t we perform together, and you tell me what to do.” Very refreshing.
“I feel that my intention for making music differs from many musicians. It’s not just music. I am here to articulate something, to create a personal alphabet, to specifically create new content.”
I’m also indebted to both Manuel Padding (City Hands) and Floris Vanhoof. We played a bunch of shows together on the same bill, and they’re also constantly on the lookout to find a new performance mode, trial and error style, to create new content or the definition of “what’s a live show.” One that goes deeper than the very, very silly “Wow, that’s some energy on stage” one! Very inspiring. I think the trial and error mode gets you deeper somehow. There’s been a lot of legit head scratching from crowds though.
Like for instance I saw a video of me playing in Lisboa a year and a half ago. I was trying to do a first version of the lecture shows. I played about eight different pieces, one more abstract and minimal than the other, and giving very, very simple metaphorical speeches in between, like really too simple. I thought, “What the fuck was I thinking about?” because it didn’t really go anywhere! Like, nowhere. However, I guess this deliberate jump in the “nowhere” got me where I am today, hence again, no regrets at all. You could say, “It’s heavy that the audience is sitting there for nothing,” but in the long run, everyone wins! Not to mention the many new ideas you get for creating music on record while you’re hitting depths like this.
You really get all over in that aspect, which seems derivative of your influence. Like last year you made a mix for Underwater Peoples using choral tracks from around the world. Where the heck did you find these tracks? What kind of studies of other cultures do you do?
I have studied Polynesian literature and poetry heavily, so I developed a love, bordering on obsession, for poly/mela/micro-nesian chorals. Although on that mix tape, I guess there were other regions involved as well, huh? I’ve collected the records while touring many big cities of Earth. Some I found by myself, others are found through other heads.
What’s your favorite part of living in Belgium and why have you stationed yourself there for so long? When are you planning on touring America or coming to New York?
I have many friends here, but the climate gets rougher every year. A bit Tundra style… And oh boy, alas Belgium is becoming a hotspot for lunatic views on art/music/people in general. When you look trough a satellite to Earth by night, you’ll notice Belgium is one giant dot of light, since we built almost all our land, installed orange lamps exactly everywhere, and demolished about every green acre one could find. And destructed all the Darkness. Instead of Darkness, there is now gray, orange and black. Yet man needs darkness!
So our whole country has a variety of people. And since we are all living so tight on each other’s lips, both our mutual and personal minds get more and more bent and troubled. It is sad. Very sad. There is a general feeling of “losing the Way.” I guess it’s a global thing, but I notice more and more things about Belgians, and especially in Flanders, that are getting too heavy to take. Like I feel a dangerous disconnection is going on. A very dangerous one. It is happening both in people’s minds individually, but also especially in group minds. It is a pretty evil process.
Having said all that, I completely love this country, and get inspired by many friendships and good artists, and nice places within its borders. I like it here, pal, for sure. But I don’t think Wietske and me will be still living here in ten years. As for coming back to the States, I’m for sure considering it, and want to have that materialize sooner rather than later. I get a lot of inquiries, so that’s a start.
Where do you believe you’ll find happiness?
On top of Pico Mountain, gazing at the horizon, looking at the shadows of the islands, at the many mirages in the sky. Looking Wietske in her eyes and saying, “but all that beauty we see now, it is in there as well.” And this goes on forever, in other worlds, in other places, in other times.