An Interview with Eric Wahlforss by Jameela Oberman
If the soul was a place it would be a black-as-night hidden alcove. If it was a time it would be the calm early hours of the morning when all are asleep, your subconscious exploring the deep avenues of its inner world.
How do you rescue the loved remains of your awoken soul from the relentless summer heat of urban sprawl and coerce it into a beguiling darkness? Eric Wahlforss, the co-founder of SoundCloud and CTO super-brain, has another side to his personality known as the artist Forss, and he has created a very personal music project; an album that creeps into the soul by creating an abstract church in the recesses of the mind and manifesting evocative electronic music.
The album, Ecclesia, which means church in Latin, is a pioneering aural space that merges choir and organ harmonies with sampling and electronica to a devastatingly sublime effect. Like Bjork and Simian’s exploration of the iPad app, Forss has included interactive album artwork, replacing the now old-fashioned physical packaging of album sleeves, culminating in an audio-visual app to exemplify the music.
Artists Marcel Schobel and Leonard Lass joined forces to make a conceptual app for Ecclesia – taking the listener through a surreal journey for each of Eric’s songs. The album is not religious in a literal sense, yet it is a computerised exploration of the spiritual, reinvented for modern times.
Swedish born Wahlforss is a towering figure, with chiseled good looks, letter-box lips and a stocial face that rarely cracks to betray his feelings. He pauses to ruminate on how to describe his new album.
“It is a conceptual album about a ‘world of sounds.’ As a producer, it was very challenging to melt the magic of church music with electronica. We live in a secular society, religious music is overlooked, but it’s some of the most powerfully emotive music we have. I wanted to connect that old power and awe to a modern audience.”
Hence the resulting style of Ecclesia is very different from Eric’s debut album Soulhack (2003). But, like his contemporaries Akufen and Jichael Mackson, the use of sampling is still a vital component. His production mixes choir, organ and strings and drops in ambient sound fragments such as angelic voices, distant coughing in the back of church pews, the sound of metal falling on a hardwood floor and even congregants whispering.
The archaic intensity of the music is complemented by the obscure visuals on the Ecclesia app for the iPad. Why these haunting images framing the sounds? “They’re ancient Christian mythical symbols, for a sense of history to match the music.” Wahlforss adds: “ Like the ladder and bed image, for the tune Somnio Somnium, it’s Jacob’s Ladder from the bible.”
The Forss Ecclesia app can make you a kind of god over your own mini Ecclesia universe, manipulating the visuals like in a lucid dream. You can feel the music flowing around the visuals, you can zoom in and out and swipe between the sculptures, creating a seductive ambience to sink into. It is a creation portentous of more artists experimenting with apps, and a future of music albums becoming experiences very much like 3D gaming.
Wahlforss reveals that his unorthodox digital experiments melting electronica, digital technology and renaissance and biblical mythology, was a fixation many years before he dreamt up the music-sharing platform SoundCloud. As a small boy he used to sit quietly in the pews of a church, watching his mother conduct a choir.
Was Eric scared of the church then? “It kinda bored me when I was a kid. But, yes, at the same time the music scared me a bit and still does. It took me until adulthood to find a connection and now it’s a really strong part of my life. I like its melancholic nostalgia.”
Eric’s grandfather, Ingmar Stoltz, was a famous priest in Sweden who helped reform the church to make it more accessible, and the discussions on philosophy they shared also made a deep impression on him. Spiritual music runs deep in Eric’s veins. Many artists have launched their music careers by singing in church choirs but Wahlforss is different because he was an observer, absorbing the music’s influence to one day engineer a melting pot of antiquated religiousity and club electronica, fusing the historically archaic to sci-fi-like digital tools.
He’s been hugely influenced by sci-fi, being a voracious reader of Peter Nilson,“I was totally obsessed, I read all his books as a teenager. He was a Swedish astronomer cataloging the galaxies, yet his sci-fi stories managed to connect science with culture and art.”
It’s as if Eric has used futuristic technology to compose requiems in tribute to the organic spiritual culture of bygone days. Many of his cited influences from classical music are requiems: known as compositions for a church mass, which are a repose for the souls of the dead.
Why the fascination with requiems? It’s just because their sheer beauty moves him; “I’m inspired by extremely emotional music, like Maurice Durufle’s Requiem – I cried listening to it. It’s about just closing your eyes and really listening. You know, requiem actually means ‘eternal light’ and that’s what I’m exploring. When listening to the music if you can think of a near-death experience, where you see yourself leave your body and fly out into the universe, it’s like that.”