Photo by Fritz Enzo Kargl
Photo by Fritz Enzo Kargl
Photo by Fritz Enzo Kargl
Photo by Fritz Enzo Kargl
Photo by Fritz Enzo Kargl

Subletvis: Longing for the Unfamiliar

July 14, 2022
Text by Simon Popp

Sound artist and composer Mo Nahold returns to Vienna avant-garde label Ventil Records with the second album under his moniker Subletvis. »NOT THE WHOLE TRUTH« investigates the familiar behind the new and behind the deconstructed.

Photo by Fritz Enzo Kargl

Seductive harmonic lines, dance progressions, generic synthesizer presets and familiar pop elements. Subletivs is aware of and plays with the common and the popular. His new LP NOT THE WHOLE TRUTH discovers the known, the already existing, while actually consisting of eight singular tracks that can only vaguely be associated with a certain genre or tradition. Although Nahold did not aim to create a conceptual work, the album comes across as not just a collection of but also a commentary on contemporary music.

Your new album comes, like albums do, with a title. Before hearing the first sound, we already know that we are not about to see the whole truth, we cannot expect to get behind what will happen, we should be aware of misdirections. And what happens during these eight tracks is that, behind abstract forms, very familiar music seems to appear or gleam. Dance anthems, pop melodies, generic synthesizer presets and progressive structures that are kind of familiar as well. Having this and the title in mind: What makes this not the whole truth?

In short: I would call it a snapshot in time. Having worked on this record, I’ve encountered multiple versions of different tracks, emotions, states of being and a drastic change in how I create music and how I perform live. Like a lot of people do when they work on music, it changes over time. Also, very long periods of not touching anything. So the music just sits there. I struggle a lot with this everyday-a-song-mentality or everyday-practice, whatever you wanna call it. I need a lot of time to finish something and I gain energy from procrastination. Nowadays, everything seems to be thought through to the last detail and it often gets presented as the »truth« or as being real. I rarely encounter something »real« in that sense. So maybe the title and music also hint at that. I enjoy playing with familiarities, because you immediately create a common ground to build on, distract, change or give in to. But it’s not something I force myself to do. It comes very naturally. I can be extremely perfectionistic, but it often just doesn’t work out the way I want it to. So, you also have to accept your own defeat sometimes.

So, is »Not The Whole Truth« a conceptual album?

No, I don’t see it like that. Even though, towards the end, when the audio recording was finished and I brainstormed for PR and a visual identity, it started to feel more and more conceptual. The initial idea was way more loose. For it to be conceptual, I think you need to start with this idea or theme and build everything around it. Here, it happened more like the other way around.

Photo by Fritz Enzo Kargl

Okay, because when I listened to the album – also with that strong title in mind – I was asking myself this: Am I listening to dance and pop music or am I listening to something about it?

Hmm, I never thought about it like that. It’s definitely not dance and pop music in the general sense though. I’m an advocate for unexpected changes and shifts when listening to music at concerts or by myself. I easily get bored when there isn’t anything that surprises me, which also applies to my own music. I often try to »destroy« what I’ve recorded, because it might remind me too much of already existing sounds. But I am not claiming to reinvent the wheel. It’s just an inner urge. I also have to fight it sometimes. So, in that sense: yes, you could say it is something »about« it.

With the use of familiar sounds and textures, with melodic hooks, you provoke a collective, a »pop« experience or memory. Do you position your moniker Subletvis in a certain place in music culture?

Yes and no. I do feel strongly connected to certain scenes or aesthetics, and I consider myself part of it somehow. And, of course, you want to find a place there. But it’s more like trying to close some gaps rather than focusing on a specific genre, niche or music culture. All this comes back to the idea of creating something I would like to experience myself and getting surprised. I think if you position yourself too strongly in the first place, it gets more difficult to follow a different path later. I want to keep that open and slowly navigate these approaches.

Photo by Fritz Enzo Kargl

In general, it seems you work with everything, at least, with many different possibilities of sound. From the classical album format, that we see here, to multi-channel compositions and visual installations. You have also produced soundtracks for performances and theater pieces. What’s the relationship between the moniker and your other practice?

Working on many different fronts, I often found myself being split into multiple convictions, and sometimes it gets tricky to unite everything under one name. Somehow, this Subletvis moniker felt like taking myself out of the equation mentally, which I really needed. At least for that release. In the future, I will differentiate between my outputs. Also, if you use more than one name, you can take musical ideas a lot further. I’ve done music for theater plays, which I would never perform in a concert or include in a release, but in that specific context it just works.

On the album, you worked both with voices by specific artists, persons and with choral synthesizer presets. Why so many human voices?

I’ve been working with human voices for quite some time now. I do enjoy the sonic character, and it immediately points you to something concrete, something you can relate to. Hearing people sing, especially in a choral context, always gives me the most physical reaction. But maybe it’s also a coping mechanism, because I don’t »properly« sing myself. I am very happy I was able to collaborate with Tony Renaissance on »Core«. I’ve been an admirer of their work for some time. And there is this spoken word sample in the beginning by Aaron Nora Scherer, which was initially a guiding track we then decided to keep. It originates from an ASMR session with Aaron and Eva Sommer, whose voice effects also feature on »Blue Line«.

Photo by Fritz Enzo Kargl

What place does collaboration in general take in your practice?

Even though I don’t collaborate that often musically, I find it extremely liberating. Keeping the inspiration factor aside, the feeling of not being solely responsible for what you put out there is very much underestimated. Because you put a lot of pressure on yourself when you work ‘alone’, and this can be exhausting. For instance, this was the first time I ever let someone else mix and also master my record. Dino Spiluttini did a fantastic job by encouraging me and helping me to let go of certain mix/sound decisions. That was scary and liberating at the same time. When it comes to visual collaborations, it’s a different thing. I very much depend on them, because I just don’t have the skills. Also, I don’t want to create my own visual representation. I do have ideas, they just get realized in collaboration with others. Especially for this release. I’ve never collaborated with so many people on a solo effort, and I think it shows. You just can’t achieve that level of quality if you are doing everything on your own. There will always be some overlooked factor due to lack of time, lack of skill or your own hubris. And it’s nice to let someone else take over.

»Not The Whole Truth« comes in many formats with individual visual solutions: limited vinyl, tape, but also three digital single releases, each with its own artwork. Why the decision to have so many different versions? And can you tell us something about the visual side of the project?

I wanted to explore different output options because all of them have different pros and cons you can play around with. Making something special for each felt necessary. Vinyl just for my myself – basically, to be able to hold it in my hand, and it always feels the most finished. A tape is simply convenient, as I personally like to buy tapes at concerts to support the artist, even though I don’t own a tape player. It’s affordable and it’s something you can just put in your pocket. And streaming, because images are capable of moving or can change over time. Since I had the idea of making this record, I wanted to work with different visual artists, to give in to their strong suits and because I was also curious to see their interpretations of my ideas. So the first person I asked was Rebecca Merlic, who I found on Instagram. From there on, pretty much everything evolved, setting the tone for the visual side of the record. For »Raveon«, I collaborated with a machine learning algorithm – and I use the term »collaborate« deliberately. It was a back and forth: you get output and change the input depending on the direction you wanna go. The artwork for »Core« was done by Lena Kalleitner, based on Tony and Aaron’s lyrics as well as on the idea of having a literal core hovering over a bed. The artwork for the third single, »Entity« originates from a photo I took while visiting a botanical garden in Copenhagen for a project and how I felt all sentimental and lost back then. In these artificial gardens, some sort of entity always seems to be present. And this feeling was translated by visual artist Klimentina Li, who also helped me make a few other things look nice.

Photo by Fritz Enzo Kargl

We talked about the album title earlier and how it influences the perception of your music. What role does language, titles, text information play in your music and its representation?

It sets a theme, an emotion, or a train of thought. When choosing track titles, it’s mostly connected to a feeling during recording. So, again, its part of »the truth«. You might want to reveal something or set the listener onto a path with this little information. During the promo phase of the record, I did a little GPT3 experiment and fed it all different kinds of truth related questions, which turned into this short clip of distorted phone videos of mine. And, there again, parts are left out or blurred, so you can only see fragments. It’s funny sometimes how you can build this whole train of thought around just a short sentence. It’s interesting to see how these AI text generators work and often try to make sense of something. It gets a bit tricky if you are seeking more abstract solutions though. But, in general, text is something I read or listen to only afterwards. It’s all about the vibe and feeling when I listen to music. Any additional text is only a neat extra. 

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