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Ashtoreth - Interview

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Interview with: Peter Verwimp
Conducted by: T.V.

Ashtoreth is a Belgian dark ambient/drone act created by artist/guitarist Peter Verwimp in 2010. The start was pretty much uncommon, since after the first performance at the Entree > Exit exhibition Ashtoreth was offered a collaboration with underground fashion label Pelican Avenue who dedicated a new collection of clothing to Ashtoreth’s music. But that is history and after that Ashtoreth released quite a lot of music that came out on several albums, live albums, as collaborations, split albums, he did also a lot of remixes, music for films and yet much more. Recently Ashtoreth got signed by the mighty cult label Cyclic Law and the first fruit of this collaboration is a two part album, Rites I & II, that was released in February. The album is an amazing work of darkened minimal, meditative ambient drones with layers of meandering guitars and voices mixing elements of doom, drone and ambient experimentation. Rites I & II take a shamanic and animistic approach to our surroundings, unveiling inner and outer visual landscapes, a journey through flesh, sound and spirit. I wanted to speak with Peter mainly about the new album, but the conversation took us deeper and deeper into the essence of Ashtoreth and Peter's musical creations in general.

T.V.: To start this interview, can you say some things about Ashtoreth to those who are not so familiar with your music?
: Ashtoreth is a guitar driven dark ambient solo project looking for a shamanic perspective. Via effects and electronics I manipulate guitar and vocal sounds into long and ritual pieces that want to transport the listener into alternate realms, much like the shamanic journey.

T.V.: Your latest release, Rites I & II, is out now through Cyclic Law. Tell me more about the album. Is there any kind of a concept behind it?
Peter: These first two rite tracks are part of a series of four tracks, of which the follow up will be released around fall 2019. In these tracks I want to establish a ceremonial approach to sound, interwoven with an emotional outlet. The album starts of quite ferocious and gradually turns inside quietly, to guide the listener to their inner emotional landscape. It`s a search for our interconnectedness with nature and the elements. It also touches on the importance of ceremony and ritual in our daily lives.

T.V.: It is as well your first release for Cyclic Law. Tell me, how did this collaboration started and how are you satisfied with the label so far?
Peter: Frederic got in touch with me after he followed my developments online. I nearly missed it because the message ended up in the mysterious void of the others folder. It`s only weeks afterwards that I saw his message and was able to reply to it. It`s been a very fruitful collaborations so far and i`m very pleased about the way he handled the design of both the CD as well as the LP and merchandise. I`m treated correctly and with respect so no complaints at all really.

T.V.: That's good to hear, afterall Cyclic Law is one of the most respected labels when it comes to dark ambient and similar music. With Ashtoreth you started in 2010, but your way is pretty different than of most of artists/bands. Everything started with a live performance and a live album if I'm not mistaken?
Peter: That`s correct, I had been playing this sort of music at home for my own enjoyment for about a year when an invitation came to play on an exhibition. I played a set on the stairs of the big staircase and was spotted by some old friends who run an alternative fashion house called Pelican Avenue. They were inspired and dedicated their collection to my music and invited me to play during their event at the Paris fashion week. That performance was recorded and released afterwards as a limited single sided LP. from there I explored further and released different stuff on different underground labels.

T.V.: You use manipulated guitar sounds as the main instrument, and this is not a such a common thing in this genre. Why have you decided to use guitar instead of varius electronic devices and synths?
Peter: The choice came very natural as I have been a guitar player for over 25 years and always saw it as the right instrument to develop my sound. I do use electronic devices and synths when in the studio from time to time, but most sounds are made using the guitar. I like the tactile approach of a guitar and it allows for many different sounds once you start to experiment with it. Effects and loops only enhance that effect I feel.

T.V.: The name Ashtoreth derives from Bible, some kind of a moon goddess, presenting female deity. How it came that you used this name and what does it mean to you?
Peter: Most of mu music is improvised, especially in a live situation. I consider this approach a more feminine one. Playing structured music is a more masculine approach, it has clear boundaries and a goal. I was tired of playing that sort of music and wanted something more free, experimental in approach and spiritual in essence. So to name it after a goddess and the Goddess feminine energies seemed only right. Hence the choice for Ashtoreth.

T.V.: Your music has a shamanic and ritualistic feel, yet it has depth and a lot of dark matter in it. Tell me what are the main inspirations for you?
Peter: I think my music is a way to depict some of the inner landscapes that form when going inside. Whether that is through the act playing music, walks in nature, meditation or a shamanic journey, that isn`t of much importance, the imagination is. Nature is an enormous and continuous source of inspiration to me. The rhythms of nature perfectly translate into the pace of ambient/drone music. Also in shamanism I find ongoing inspiration for the creation of music and art. Also a form of reverence and ceremony are inspirational as well. It`s the culmination of all these facets... Anything can be inspiring, a good movie, a philosophical concept, a book, an image... It depends on the moment and the project as well of course.

T.V.: You did some music also for the movies and documentaries...
Peter: Yes, I contributed to the 'Doubleplusungood' movie by La Muerte`s singer Marco Laguna. He saw me play live and asked to record a similar piece for a mind altering scene in his film. I also worked on the soundtrack of a film called 'Mono', that conceptually draws heavily on pagan myths, as drone music is so strongly connected to ancient Ursounds, folk myths, black metal etc. There is something religious about this music... or rather, something spiritual. I like to diversify as much as possible, I do sound work for artists videos as well as remix work for befriended musicians and others.

T.V.: Back to the new release of yours... Rites I & II. I was pretty amazed by the cover artwork of the album. I guess that like most of dark ambient releases it has some deeper meaning and a connection with music. Can you give me some insight into this?
Peter: Thanks Tomaz! The photo was taken by photographer and video maker Tim van der Schraelen, with whom I`ve been collaborating over the years. The image of the moth is symbolic in the fact that the creature is attracted to the light and will keep flying towards it. That relates very well to the atmosphere and evolution of the album. It starts off very harsh, heavy and doomy and slowly works towards a ligther mood... just to extinguish like the flame of a candle.

T.V.: There are some vocals used in the "Rite II". What exactly are the words about?
Peter: I don`t use any words in my vocals. I just use sounds that work best with the melody I have in mind. There are however four short poems or spells for each rite track. Each spell highlights and personifies another element. I deliberately don`t use words to allow the listener to fully immerse in pure sound without the distraction of words and meaning. I feel that works best for me.

T.V.: You already mentioned that later this year there will be released the second part, Rites III & IV. What can you tell me about it? Will it follow the same sonic structures like the Rites I & II?
Peter: In some way they follow a similar path as they are also two long, plus 20 minute pieces. But the mood is different I think. "Rite III" is mysterious and brooding and has percussive elements to it along with a guest spot for violinist, artist and ritual theatre maker Orryelle Defenestra. "Rite IV" has a classical feel to it and is quite melodic in nature, it leans very much on the textures provided by another guest, gong player Atma Kripa, with who I will release another collaborative album later this year via Unexplained Sounds Group. Each track will also have a video to accompany it that will later on be transformed into a full movie.

T.V.: Like most of dark ambient artists also you were involved in many collaborations, released some split albums, did some remixes and so on. How much do you enjoy working together with or for other artists? Which collaboration was the best for you and can we expect any new one in the near future?
Peter: I enjoy doing collaborations as much as working on my own. Every collaboration is different in approach and brings new points of view to the table. With some musicians I worked in the flesh (Stratosphere, Misantronics, Orryelle Defenestra, Atma Kripa,...) and we got together physically to improvise, record and mix. With others everything happens over the internet. We send tracks and ideas to each other and build tracks in an organic ping pong sort of way. Some collabs  had a different approach, like the Redemption album (Consouling Sounds) I did with No One. He send me a base track on which I improvised with voice and guitar. After I had send him my parts he threw away the base track and started manipulating my recorded improvisation and build the whole album from that, adding in his own parts and blending them with mine. I can`t really say any of them were better than the others, but some collaborations just grew into something more. Like the Pilgrim album I did with Grey Malkin (The Hare And The Moon). That started with us working on one track, which grew into an album and will now sees us do a triptych with a follow up album entitled Hermit (out in May via Reverb Worship), that will later be followed by the final of these three albums and will be called Heretic. I also enjoy doing collaborations over the edges of the arts. I`m currently working with poet Lois P. Jones and film maker Jutta Pryor on a video poem that will be released later this year. I`m composing music to go along with a book by writer Serge Timmers, a new album with gong player Atma Kripa and there will most probably pop up other things this year too.

T.V.: Oh, that's pretty a lot of things that you do! Since dark ambient became quite popular lately, there are also more options for artists to play live, and Ashtoreth plays live quite often... How would you describe your live performance, and are there scheduled any upcoming shows that you would like to invite our readers?
Peter: I set out to make each live performance a unique experience, both for myself as well as for the audience. I always improvise and try to play off the energies I get from the people in attendance. And I usually only play one long piece that will last for a good 40 to 50 minutes unless I play an alternative soundtrack to a movie, then it could be up to two hours. I take the audience on a trip that can go in many different directions, sometimes meditative and quiet, sometimes a catharsis of doom and noise, a more folky approach is possible too... it all depends on the atmosphere and mood.

T.V.: So you actually don't play live a set of tracks from albums or releases?
Peter: No, because it`s what I set out for since the beginning. It might happen that I use a theme or a riff from a record and elaborate on that, but I`m not into reproducing the exact same thing live as in the studio. Only the atmosphere is something that is essential to me. Oh, and there will be one very important gig I would like to invite people to. On 24th May I will perform in the famous Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo, Norway, along with Sysselmann and Orryelle Defenestra. That is promising to be something quite special!

T.V.: Very interesting! What brought you into dark ambient music? Which were the acts and artists that influenced or inspired you in the very beginning?
Peter: Well, I`ve always listened to different kinds of music but I`m firmly rooted in guitar based music. As a kid I heard Vangelis, Klaus Schultze, Tangerine Dream and later on I got interested in electronic music too. I guess the first real ambient project that touched me was Tribes Of Neurot, since I`ve always been a big admirer of Neurosis I was surprised that they could translate their message into more quiet music and be as heavy as with their guitar based stuff. But there are also Hybryds, Lustmord, Brian Eno,... the list could go on and on. I got into field recordings, modern classical music... all different approaches to what ambient can be.

T.V.: And how much of a field recordings do you use in your music? Where do you prefer to record those sounds?
Peter: It depends a bit on the project or album I`m working on. For the Pilgrim album for example we started off with layers of field recordings from different places. One layer would have thunder and rain, another barking dogs or church bells. By layering them all together you get a very cinematic atmosphere, an imaginary landscape. That landscape was the perfect background to start building music on top off. I record a lot of sounds around my house, in the garden or when I go on walks in nature. I prefer to record in places where there is an absence of human influence, which can be hard sometimes because even in nature a plane can fly overhead or a highway can be in the background... so the further away from civilization the better. In the past we had the unique chance to record at the NSA disguised weather station on the Teufelsberg in Berlin. Those recordings resulted in a sound exhibition.

T.V.: Beside Ashtoreth are you or were you involved in any other musical projects?
Peter: Yes, i`m also the guitar player for Brussels avant-garde metal band Emptiness. And I`ll be involved in a new band project this year as well, but it`s still in a conceptual stage, so can`t say very much about that right now.

T.V.: Beside music and movies, what are other things that enthuse you in life?
Peter: All forms of art and human creativity, history, myth and folklore, philosophy, science, spirituality, esoteric teachings and nature.

T.V.: Thank you for your very detailed and interesting answers! Is there anything else that you would like to add at the end of this interview?
Peter: Thank you very much as well Tomaz, it was pleasure talking to you. If we don`t stand up for something we`ll kneel down for anything!

Ashtoreth links: Official website, Facebook, Bandcamp