Let me tell you, I was stoked when Eden put me in touch with Vivian Tylinska last week. Learning about a new Victory Over the Sun album was exciting enough, but having the chance to both premiere the album and run an interview with Vivian is just…chef’s kiss.
If you’re unfamiliar with Vivian’s music, I urge you to rectify that immediately. I first discovered Victory Over the Sun with A Tessitura of Transfiguration, an excellent display of avant-garde black metal that felt as reminiscent of Dodecahedron as it did Kayo Dot. With Nowherer, Vivian embraces microtonality in a way that fans of Jute Gyte will appreciate, while also adding unique compositional explorations throughout. This ranges from an intense, direct assault on the title track to an epic, eclectic finale on the 20-minute “Oscines.”
But enough of my blabbering — head below to listen to Nowherer in full and read my conversation with Vivian. We discuss her journey with microtonality and finding her voice as a trans woman, as well as her musical and literary influences.
As someone with limited formal musical training, the influx of microtonal projects across genres over the last several years has also been a bit of a learning exercise for me. I’ve always enjoyed dissonant metal, but microtonal projects like Jute Gyte take it to another level. Why did you decide to embrace microtonality on Nowherer, and what challenges did you encounter along the way? I’m sure refretting a guitar to fit the correct tuning was a labor of love.
I got interested in microtonality around 2017, and learned to re-fret guitars myself in 2018 (by tearing out the old frets, filling them in, and cutting slots for new ones) because I didn’t want to shell out a huge amount of money to have a professional do it (and I wasn’t really sure how much I would actually like playing a microtonal guitar). Over the course of the next few years I got progressively better at re-fretting, learned to build fretboards from scratch, and experimented with several tunings (mostly 17EDO, 15EDO, 22EDO, and some just intonation scales). I found composition in microtonal tunings much more challenging than in 12EDO, so I continued writing mostly in 12.
Around the time I released Tessitura, I had been listening to some blackened sludge and death metal and thought the qualities of 17EDO would work nicely with the conventions of those genres. So I decided I would write a short, straightforward EP that I intended to be sort of separate from the sound I had started carving out with the previous VOtS releases.
But as time went on, the songs got longer and more complex and more VOtS-esque! By the time the EP had blossomed into a full album, I decided to attempt building a neck entirely from scratch, since the one I was using had too short of a scale to accommodate the Drop A tuning I was using. That I could not write instrumental parts for clarinet/violin/etc. (to ask a casual instrumentalist to learn to play in microtonal tunings was beyond the scope of the project, I figured) was both a blessing and a curse, making it easier to stick more closely to the genre conventions of metal, though not allowing the instrumental passages that I liked so much in Tessitura.
Ultimately, I don’t think that differently when I play/write in 17 vs. 12, since so much of how I write is just pattern based rather than being based in tonal systems. So 17 felt like a way to make some metal conventions that employ dissonance (chromatic tremolo riffs, low tuned sludge progressions, tritone & minor 2nd based chords) feel more fresh, since after enough exposure to those intervals (in 12EDO) they cease to feel as dissonant.
I first discovered your music with A Tessitura of Transfiguration (which I recommend highly to anyone reading this who hasn’t heard it yet). You said the writing process involved “a great deal of soul-searching regarding the process of finding my voice as an artist as well as a trans woman.” How did that journey change or progress with Nowherer, musically and personally?
Like Nowherer, Tessitura was originally intended to be a short, straightforward, one song EP, a setting of parts of Kazmir Malevich’s essay Die Gegenstandslose Welt (“The World as Objectlessness”). As I wrote more and more ideas, I realized the text didn’t fit what I had written, nor was the text as suitable as I originally thought. After weeks of sitting with the music I had written, it hit me that I could make the album about the moment of epiphany I had where I realized I was trans. With this in mind, I rewrote a lot of the album and thought a lot about how to put into words those feelings, which artistic devices to use to frame such a tremendous moment, how to treat myself as a work of art.
Nowherer was a similar story, intended as a very brutal, dissonant setting of Khlebnikov texts. But I ended up writing the songs without any of his poems in mind, and I felt it was artistically dishonest to just slap on a poem that was unrelated to the music I had written. So again, I had to ask myself, “What do these songs I wrote mean to me?” By that time I was also barely listening to metal and feeling like I wanted my music to be fun and poppy and make people happy, while sitting on these extremely angular and dissonant and more conventionally metal songs. So I added some synths and vocoder and a shoegaze-pop ending to the 21 minute long song “Oscines.”
In a sense, I would say this album is less directly personal, at least lyrically; I think that it was written during quarantine in isolation contributed to the dissonance and aggressiveness of the sound. “Nowherer” is sort of a prayer about life under capitalism. “Alveromancy” is more abstractly about trying to create beauty from chaos, permuting sounds and words and images trying to find meaning. “Oscines” achieves a lot of what I tried to set out to do with Tessitura, as a longer and more unified piece, sort of a love story about birds and dreams and filling abstract longing with art.
In the last few months, when the album has been mostly set in stone, I’ve been asking myself where I want my sound to go next – I’d like to say this album has been my way of clearing the metal I want to write out of my system so I can move on to a more diverse sound, but I’m sure I’ll return to it since it’s what’s always felt most natural for me to write? The music has always been influenced by my limited musical capabilities. If I could sing I would be making pop music.
You thanked a number of people on the Bandcamp page for Nowherer, namely Hunter Hunt-Hendrix from Liturgy. How did they contribute to the album? Are you used to having such a collaborative process with your music?
I actually did not collaborate with anyone on this album! The people listed in my special thanks were friends who listened and offered feedback/support. But I would love to collaborate with Hunter, as she has been my main musical inspiration for many years! I have never before collaborated with anyone on any musical projects.
You’re based in Oregon, and I can’t help but reflect on the fact the type of black metal I gravitate to now is vastly different from the cascadian black metal that first drew me to the genre. From your vantage point, how has American black metal changed for the better (or worse) over the last several years – musically, politically, etc.?
Admittedly, I don’t listen to very much metal nowadays or keep up with the scene! But it seems like the last few years have seen an uptick in vocally antifascist and queer metal bands, which is a joy given how much of the metal scene has historically been hyper-masculine and fash-adjacent.
For those unaware (including me, before I Googled it), Victory Over the Sun is a “Russian Futurist opera” by Mikhail Matyushin. Why did you name this project after it?
In 2015, I started VOtS under the moniker Cichy Duch, with the intention of writing a very straightforward melancholic black metal album (do you see a trend yet?). After releasing that album, I realized I could have the project be my main musical effort, so I decided to find a more fitting (and pronounceable) name for the more experimental sound I wanted to pursue.
In the last few years, I had been very interested in the Russian avant-garde movement of the early 20th century, so when studying Kazimir Malevich, I came upon the futurist designs he did for Victory Over the Sun – which at face value I thought was just a very cool name. When I watched it for the first time I was blown away – it was truly like nothing that had ever been made before – angular figures with names like “Nero and Caligula in One Person” and “A Malevolent” and “A Willbeite Machine Gun” going around speaking in “zaum” – trans-sense language – about the downfall of old decadent art and the rise of a new art for the people. It’s an absolutely bewildering sight, and ultimately a bit overambitious, which is how I like to think of my music.
Favorite album of the year so far?
Oh goodness! Looking back, I don’t think I’ve listened to almost any new albums that have come out this year! But Naxos World Music recently released a great collection in their Folk Music of China series, Folk Music of the Uzbeks and Tatars of China, that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. And Dreamwell put out a phenomenal album, Modern Grotesque!
Favorite album of all-time?
Another incredibly challenging question! I might have to say Liturgy‘s Aesthethica or Kayo Dot‘s Choirs of the Eye.
Artist/album that most influenced Victory Over the Sun and/or Nowherer?
For VOtS overall, I would say the two albums above. For the original sound concept behind Nowherer, I had in mind Hissing‘s Permanent Destitution and Celeste‘s Infidele(s).