Through The Lens; Dissecting the Visuals of Vaagner

Through The Lens; Dissecting the Visuals of Vaagner

We at The Haus have longtime been fans of the black and white photography and experimental curation of Vaagner. As we proudly unveil our 'Fallen Angels' collaboration, we discuss his work, past, present and future.

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Rachel: First of all I was curious about the archival nature of your project and the fact that is sometimes referenced in the name. The music and imagery seem so entwined, do you have a large archive of photographs that you draw upon? And then you then fit these together with your new releases as you listen to the music? 

O.R.: Coming to understand someone through their body of work, and then translating a response into a visual appearance, can be a very intimate process that demands attentive listening and communication. Thus, from the very first collaborative endeavors, that went on to form the initial releases on the label, a visual response took shape naturally, which happened to be in the form of recontextualized archival photography, and thus became the aesthetic foundation of Vaagner.

Yet as time has moved on, my design practice has changed, because subsequently I have changed. And Thus I've begun challenging the labels core aesthetic, as while it is satisfying to have a key visual narrative that is referenced across various releases, it is important to never impose too many limitations on your own style, or you risk ending up repeating yourself over time.

Rachel: Could you elaborate slightly on what draws you to certain images or places? Do you think the dissection is more connected to your own personal experience of the space, a literal memory, or is it something more ephemeral that you think the landscape evokes? Ambient music and nature seem so connected to me, the textures, the meditations, the mystery, both dare I say, feel quite spiritual. But I find there's also something quite architectural about your photography. Is this something you've explored in the past at all or have an interest in? 

O.R.: With each year, technological advancements have enabled us to produce evermore elaborately detailed Images. However, through this evolution, print media, moving images and photography have become so defined, that to me, they have lost more than they have gained, trading in warmth, grain and impermanence for a sense of hyperrealism. 

Thus, what draws me to employing certain photographic images, is not the pursuit of replicating reality, rather, I am interested in exploring imperfection through expressing a personal response. I think a lot of parallels can be drawn between this approach and tape culture overall. One can find a profound sense of frayed beauty and depth in a degraded tape loop, yet it’s something you must open yourself up to over time, learning to embrace imperfection as a personal and natural byproduct of human expression.

Rachel: It's interesting that it's described as hyperrealism when often the outcome of such endeavours seem more superficial than anything. The very act of trying to achieve this state, be it with art or music, to reach a degree of perfection seems in and of itself quite unnatural to me. It's the opposite of what I deem reality to be; where we're all existing in a world of chaos and entropy and now more than ever, uncertainty. A tape, destined to decay, seems a fitting contribution. I think the cassette culture is a really interesting reaction to the digital age, as you say, as we saw with vinyl becoming more and more popular. Tapes seem like the punk rock little brother or sister, the d.i.y spirit combined with analogue appreciation and what is a much more accessible realm, albeit niche, than the prohibitively expensive world of pressing your own vinyl. What music did you listen to that preceded your love of experimental and ambient music? Was punk or black metal on your radar at all? I can draw a lot of parallels with both the artwork and musical releases you put out, aesthetically and sonically with black metal - the scale, the atmosphere and the reverence to nature. 

O.R.: We live in a time where unfathomable volumes of music are digitally regurgitated every second, on platforms that employ algorithms which feed us a complicated mess of whatever the system thinks we might want to hear, showcased in whatever chance order it has allocated these works in. Thus, in a sense, our personal consumer habits towards music have in fact, become very impersonal. Hence, the unceasing interest in vinyl and cassette that has gained traction in the least years, can be perceived as a natural response towards the current digital era of music. Young listeners are trying to connect with the music they love in more personal and direct ways, and the tactility of a record or cassette can enable them to engage with a music in a literal sense, playing these mediums becomes a ritualistic procedure which involves a thought process, as listeners regain a sense of the autonomy towards deciding what to play, and then proceed to engaging with a certain set of devices such as amplifiers, record players and cassette decks that require a sense of attentiveness and direct action.

While there are parallels between earlier punk, noise or metal scenes, where it was commonplace to distribute tapes at live shows, the medium originally presented itself more as an economical means to directly connect with fans and supporters, while it’s DIY aesthetic and unique sound further imbued it with a certain unique appeal that matched the unconventional and non-conformist nature of these scenes.

Labels today, including Vaagner, exist within a digital vacuum where they are bound to an online presence in able to effectively represent artists and offer tangible goods. Thus, while a certain ethos and aesthetic is still engrained in tapes as these relics of pre-internet subcultures, their current place in music is more complicated. And while currently operating tape labels such as Vaagner may perceivable align with, and pay homage to, old values and aesthetics from these earlier tape scenes, I wouldn’t say that there is a direct translation, and more so a multifaceted, convoluted and redefining revolution, with a worldwide, digitally aligned and materially involved community at its core.