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Interview: Eric Wahlforss and Marcel Schobe (of Forss)

on June 13, 2012, 12:00pm

Consequence of Sound caught up with SoundCloud founder and mix-meister Eric Wahlforss, together with visual artists Leonhard Lass and Marcel Schobe, as the trio (performing as Forss) prepared for the launch of Ecclesia, an ambitious project combining traditional church music reinvented for a modern age and visionary graphics, the combination delivered as an expansive app for the iPad.

Unseasonably cold, wet London weather scarcely readies for the balmy, mid-20º C temperatures in the German capital of Berlin. It was past eight in the evening, yet warm enough to sit in the small beer garden behind Berghain, a cavernous church of Techno widely rumored to be the world’s best nightclub. A former power station with its machinery ripped out and replaced by an industrial size hi-fi, Berghain formed a imposing backdrop as Eric Wahlforss (aka Forss) flanked by his two cohorts, discussed the origins of the project.

You are unlikely to have encountered anything quite like Ecclesia before, the music created from a collage of church organ, string and choral pieces, and ambient noise recorded during services mixed in. Samples of wooden, stone, and metal percussion then provide the essential rhythm that creates a bridge from traditional sacred music to modern day electronica. This improbable combination is finally delivered alongside stunning 3D visuals, developed as a groundbreaking app for the iPad.

Wahlforss admitted that his love of ecclesiastical music stemmed from childhood and the influence of his mother who conducts a church choir in Sweden. “The inspiration for Ecclesia comes from the Latin liturgy,” he explained. “It was a personal challenge for me to work with choral instrumentation and recreate the essence of what a church is via electronic music.”

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While considering church choral music “magical” and the “highest form of music,” his agnostic views mean he is driven by a keen desire to preserve it as an art form and repackage it for a modern audience, rather than driving religious fervor. As to his own role as a musician, technician, or composer, he is deliberately understated: “My main instrument is the sampler.” He went on to laud the help he got with mixing and mastering.

As the project developed (Wahlforss refers to Ecclesia as “the project” rather than an album), the iPad emerged as the natural medium for it. “It’s a very magical, intuitive thing,” he explained. “Traditional album artwork has been supplanted in the shift to digital music delivery, so apps provide a logical new platform for visual content.” Marcel Schobe described the idea behind the hexagonal frame around the app’s content. “The intention is to create a sort of window that let’s you look ‘into’ the screen and not simply at it.” The user can traverse a series of installations in which shape, color, and illustration have audio reactive connections.

“The music ‘creates’ the visuals and transforms them over time,” Schobe added. “Interaction allows the user to change their perspective on the graphics and discover new ones. There are subtle connections between certain visual elements and sound as well.” The sense is that this visual world enhances the listening experience and deepens the emotional connection between the user and Ecclesia.

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As the opening playback performance beckoned, the challenge for the trio was next in how to replicate this intimacy of experience inside the stained and pockmarked concrete palace of Berghain. Wahlforss and his two collaborators took the stage unannounced to the sound of peeling bells via “Introitus”, an entry so stealthy that it was only obvious to those at the front. The sound played through the imposing Berghain speakers was much fuller and bass heavy than the previously released samples. While the vocal incantations and swirling keyboard phrases gave the music its unique power, purposeful electronic beats and rich bass anchored it in reality. With the artists in shadow, the graphics took center stage and provided continual fascination. 3D shapes evolved as a tangible extension of the aural experience, each piece accompanied by a different device, from simple boxy shapes to sacred symbols and artifacts.

Once on screen, these devices took on their own life, expanding, contracting and reaching heavenward. Lass and Schobel cleverly signposted the app’s interactive possibilities, delivering constantly shifting angles of objects that grew as living sculptures. It became increasingly clear that while the three technicians were controlling the playback, the app itself was the live performance. Musically, the piece retained interest throughout its ten-track tenure, alternating from the contemplative to the dynamic with the pulsing “Me Apparo” and melodic overdrive of “In Paradisum”, together with the beautiful closer, “Lux Aeterna”, being particular stand-outs.

Wahlforss summed up the evening thus: “It was a fantastic feeling finally being able to perform Ecclesia live in front of an audience having worked so hard on the project for over three years. And we felt honored being able to do it at a mythical venue like the Berghain in Berlin, with its amazing sound, history and atmosphere.” The artist’s use of the word “magical” in acknowledging his influences and the tools of his trade ultimately provided the perfect description of the evening.

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