Where the Old Rules Don’t Apply – Meet Oneirogen

Interviews By

Musical genius Oneirogen has just released his new album „Convivium“. We met him at Donaufestival to talk about Satanism, transgression and his experimental approach to music.

Oneirogen, we’re really excited to see you play at a church later!

Yeah, I didn’t know that they were going to put me here. I just found out yesterday and I was like “playing in a church is the best thing ever!” It’s so nice that they set it up for performances, it’s really incredible.

The space seems to suit your music really well! Is this your first performance in a church?

No, it’s my second time! It feels so, yeah. If I could, I’d play every show in a church.

Did you perform at any other off-site venues before?

No, not really. There’s just something about a church: the atmosphere, the ritualistic aspect, the special acoustics and everything else about it.

There’s this one Tangerine Dream performance, where they performed in a church and it’s just so special.

Yeah, exactly. You feel like you can see the sound bouncing off the walls and it’s really atmospheric.

Your sounds are a little more rough than that. In this context they could be perceived as kind of satanic. Is there any connection to that?

To Satanism? I have my ideas about Satanism, but they’re more connected to the general aesthetics of transgression than believing in Satan as an actual spiritual entity. And I certainly don’t believe in promoting and embodying any type of human evil in what I do. But what I am interested in is transgression.

Could you explain what transgression means to you?

Well, in order to have a stable society and culture you need a certain amount of order, right? And transgression is kind of like a festival. If you think of a festival, where old rules don’t apply, where women become men and people have both sexes and the usual rules of society don’t apply – that becomes a space where people can feel particularly connected to something greater than themselves. And what Satan does in the context of a highly Christianized culture, allows for a very healthy, liberating type of rebellion that affirms a will to live and reacts against things that keep people from being fully alive. From experiencing love and drugs and all those things – so that’s what Satan is for. Satan is a vehement, aggressive, primal power that battles against all kinds of inhibitions that hold you back – that hold you from being the person you want to be. Let’s say you have a problem, imagine you had a very strict upbringing with your parents or in your culture. Or you have a problem with depression and you always feel like you want to quit everything. What can be powerful about a demonic, darker force is the power you gain through your aggression. I could go on and on about this, but have you seen the Tibetan Buddhist paintings that depict demons?

No, I haven’t.

Well they’re wonderful. I’m sure you’ve seen Tibetan Buddhist thangkas, where you have the great, seated Buddha. It’s this picture of transcendent, eternal bliss and honoring Buddha, the great teacher. And you also have ones that depict consorts of demons. So we say: “What’s that? Is it like human evil or satanic worship?” No, these demons are there to wake you up out of the cloud of whatever holds you back in your life you know? They function as a vehement, liberating force.


Coming back to your music – do you intend to achieve exactly this kind of liberating feeling for yourself and your audience while playing live? That everyone can do whatever they want to and just be themselves?

I don’t know, I’m talking more about my motivations for creating. But in terms of how other people experience it – that is really out of my control. I suppose with this project I want to create an expansive ritualistic type of feeling. And that’s the reason why the music tends to be more slowly and saturated with the use of a lot of distortion. The music is still song-oriented. I don’t just go up and play a drone for an hour – which some people do and actually can be amazing. But that’s not what I do, my pieces are very structured. I try to take people on a journey with this set. And in the midst of it it’s like me doing every aspect of what I do – except for arranging string quartets, which is something else. But as a performer I pretty much get to do everything I want to do.

So you do have a structure in your set, but do you also sometimes feel like improvising or navigating the set to another direction?

Well, sometimes I get to a venue and then decide that I want to play a certain song that could sound great in that particular setting. There are spaces in between the songs where I improvise a little bit. And in the course of a song, there’s always a certain amount of improvisation involved. I’m always mixing different things and sometimes I’m working with very unstable sounds and I have to react against them or whatever. But generally I try to rehearse to have a very specific kind of product at the end.

How do you create the sounds live on stage? I found some live footage of you and you only had a synth, microphone, a mixer, 2 or 3 other things and nothing else. Even though you don’t have a lot of equipment on stage, it sounds like a huge noisy orchestra!

I don’t know if I really want to talk about gear. But basically, I use synthesizers, drum machines and all types of different sounds and noises. Most of the time I have 8 audio tracks in my mixer and you could say that they work as an ensemble. And I’m basically shaping the sound by changing the tone color and adjusting the volume.

We also heard some guitars earlier, do you play live on stage?

Yeah, I play live. One thing I like about the set that I’m playing at Donaufestival is that I play songs from all three of my albums. I have a new album coming up next month. The set is divided up into three parts. The first part I play from the second album, the middle part from the new album and the last from the first album. It’s the first time I’ve done it like that and I’m really enjoying it. It puts me in touch with my five years of producing music.


And what’s your journey been like from the beginning of when you started doing music up until now? You’re a very diverse musician and this project seems to have a rather experimental approach.

I guess, yeah. That was something I started doing when I was a teenager. I was focused on playing Hardcore Punk and Metal all through high school. And when I was around 15, I got my first recording interface and I would try things that weren’t just recordings of songs. I had a synthesizer and a drum machine. From very early on, I listened to artists like Throbbing Gristle and Aphex Twin and they inspired me to try all kinds of different things. So that’s always been there from a very young age. It just took on different forms in different parts of my life. But you mean when I first started doing this specific project? Throughout my 20s I had really worked on establishing a path for myself as a classical composer, which is still a big part of what I do. I write a lot of classical music – I write string quartets, I write for orchestras and things like that. But I had focused so much on that – I lost a bit of identity, in terms of who I was as a performer. So for a long time, I was focused on free improvisation, but having that as my only performance outline, was something I wasn’t satisfied with. I tried a lot of different approaches. I put different bands together, I tried different approaches to solo performances and out of a 4 or 5 years of starting and stopping different things, this is what came out. Being able to combine all those different influences really made sense to me. And now I’ve gone all the way back and I have a death metal band apart from that called Luminous Vault. I’m a songwriter, vocalists and guitarist for that band.

We were thinking about visuals and if you could imagine working with visual artists. Is that interesting to you at all? It would be exciting to hear your music in an audiovisual context.

Absolutely. It’s something I’ve done. But for the moment, I’ve decided not to have visuals while I do my show. I’m happy with the way it is. I’m actually directing a music video for a song on the new album, for which I have already created a concept. So I guess that’s not so much cooperating. But I’ll definitely be working with people who know how to film and edit and all those types of things. I have all the ideas myself, though. I’ve definitely reached the point where I’m listening to my songs and I can see some images – and I’m excited about starting doing that for all my projects. I’ve always been very visual and I do all the art direction and graphic design for my projects. I don’t draw or take photographs, but I commission fellow artists. There’s a Lithuanian photographer called Rimantas Bikulčius, whom I like to work with. He’s done the photographs for four of my five releases and they have a very specific look to them. The visual aspect is very important to me. When I write, I see images. I see colors.

Text and photos by Amar Priganica and Marie-Claire Gagnon

New York based musician Oneirogen pays homage to his socialisation in dark underground genres, projecting apocalyptic visions onto the inner eye. His sets are like bleak hypnosis sessions. He recently released his new album „Convivium“.