Brace yourselves because Viken Arman is starting the new season with his debut album, Alone Together. Set to release September 29, the DJ and producer’s new work blends the unique sound he’s been cultivating throughout his career. Though he is fresh to producing full-length albums, this is not the first time he has compiled original content for production – he has released five EPs over the past decade. Today we speak with him about his new project, nostalgia, and creativity in the immediacy culture era.
Hi, Viken! Thank you for spending some time with me today to speak about your debut album, Alone Together. How are you feeling leading up to its release?
Hey Zach! It's a pleasure to be here. I'm honestly buzzing with excitement, stepping into this new chapter in my career.
Though this is your first full album, you are no stranger to recording, producing, and releasing music. You’ve released five EPs throughout your career. What lessons did you learn while compiling them that you implemented in your approach to putting together an album?
It's all about the intention. What story you want to tell. Short formats like EPs have taught me that the heart of it all is the narrative. So over time, I've got the hang of building an honest relationship between the music I create and the person I am at the moment. As I evolve as a human, my music naturally evolves too. I'm constantly striving to be in sync with myself, keeping a touch of naivety intact, so the story remains authentic, original, and away from fleeting trends. Always moving forward has been a sort of motto. I guess that’s what keeps the audience – and myself – excited. After all these years people get to experience this colourful journey with me. They are part of it.
What were the biggest differences between putting together an EP versus an album?
It's an interesting twist, but funnily enough, this album was originally meant to be an EP. I'd say that, in theory, albums offer a broader canvas to explore new musical territories. They provide room for experimenting with ambient sounds or even delving into beatless tracks – things that don't quite fit the EP format, which tends to be more direct. An album, being a more extensive format, often leans towards a richer musical experience that's meant to be enjoyed at leisure, perhaps at home. It's why you often see electronic music artists inviting collaborators to enhance their album's flavour and explore new directions. Additionally, track lengths on an album don't necessarily have to adhere to a specific DJ structure with beats at the beginning and so on.
Now, this album turned that idea around. When I moved to Berlin, I was swept up in the city's unique club scene, leading to an outpour of creativity. I'd hit the studio after a night out, and the inspiration was flowing like crazy. This resulted in numerous tracks that took my debut album in an unexpected direction. It's quite the opposite of what I'd have imagined. If I rewind a few years, I'd have pictured my album featuring collaborations with jazz musicians, singers, and such. But here we are, with beats reigning supreme on every track. They're all quite lengthy, and there are no guest appearances. But as I said before, at the end of the day, what matters most is staying aligned with the present moment. Sometimes you don’t need to think too much. When it feels right, then it is. So, I've embraced this philosophy, and I'm looking at the album format in a completely fresh light.
I noticed that the majority of tracks in the upcoming album are over five minutes long, the longest being about nine. It’s funny how most artists are going for shorter and shorter songs due to the impact of TikTok and immediacy culture. How do you view your own art practice in such a fast-paced, short-term-obsessed environment?
Glad you picked up on that detail. It's important for me to not approach music in that way. I just don't vibe with that music-making mindset. I firmly believe that music should be created without being confined by any specific structure, and that means putting algorithms and social media trends out of my mind. If a track requires nine minutes to fully express itself, then it's going to be nine minutes long. It's kinda like my teenage free jazz rebellion. John Coltrane would play My Favourite Things for an hour, and that's perfectly alright! No rules! Even in the minimal techno scene, I've always been fascinated by certain artists like Ricardo Villalobos, who wouldn't hesitate to release a forty-minute track as it is.
Music is continually influenced by technological advancements: tools, formats, distribution, diffusion, marketing, and more. Sometimes it can damage creativity. Our brain works differently when there are restrictions. One of my favourite books, Records Ruin The Landscape by David Grubbs, always sits in my studio. It digs into why John Cage was sort of against reducing music to the format of records, and it dives into how time limits in music cramp creativity. Fascinating read. I'm not going to the same extremes though, I do believe that structure can be useful. However, it should always serve the music, not marketing strategies. Freedom is the key. I think of it like cooking – some dishes need time to marinate, while others are more spontaneous. But, generally, the best things take time.
You focus a lot on exploring nostalgic sounds and melodies that call back to older music. Could you speak more about this and how you implement your own style, while keeping the music fresh?
For me, understanding the past is crucial to shaping the future. By immersing myself in music from years, decades, and even centuries ago, I've educated my ears and absorbed a wide range of influences. Once I've pinpointed the cultural threads that resonate with me, I found my creative process to include them into my music. It's a way of honouring those influences while staying true to my own voice. However, it's a delicate balance as you need to manipulate these old ideas and materials with care.
I've developed a personal approach that allows me to infuse my music with my own style. Essentially, everything has roots, and it's about using that inspiration to create something entirely fresh and original. It's like crafting a constantly evolving collage, where the canvas is always shifting.
These callbacks to old music, specifically old Armenian music, showcase a piece of yourself within the tracks. How much of your identity is prevalent in this record? Could you tell us more about your personal connection with these songs and the process you took?
My Armenian heritage is deeply ingrained in who I am. It's a part of me that I can't escape, and I embrace it wholeheartedly. But, over time, it became a bit of a trap, almost like a formula. So, compared to my previous releases, I wanted to flip the script. Instead of having Armenian influences take centre stage, I decided to put them subtly into the background to allow other aspects of my artistic personality to shine through: mostly my house/minimal influences. So in every track, there's a hint of Armenian musicality, but it might not be immediately obvious unless you're really paying attention. I grew up with all these sonorities so at some point I wanted to honour them in a more humble way. Take Lonely Raver as an example – there's an old Armenian choir tucked in the middle of the track, but you hear it only if you listen carefully. It’s less cliché.
I have thousands of old records at home. As I was a hip hop producer before, I have this innate ability to sample records straight on my MPC, which is in my living room, and then I take those samples to the studio and manipulate them in my modular system until magic happens.
As a producer, you create music without words. There’s a lack of vocals, but you maintain a melody and certain cadence throughout the rhythms of the tracks. What is your approach to creating a cohesion of sound among the tracks of your record?
I guess it's a craft signature. I create music using vintage analogue equipment. There is not much digital processing. This approach lends a distinctive texture to my music that glues everything together. It's like painting with sonic colours. And when you're dealing with instrumental music, you really have to pay attention to details. When there are no vocals, it’s actually an opportunity to say so much more. But then the groove and the melody become essential. It has to make you move, feel, cry…
How do you view the relationship between instrumentation and vocals?
Harmonic dance. How frequencies will match perfectly in order to serve the emotion.
Alone Together releases at the end of September. Are you enjoying the calm before the storm, or are you somehow nervous about it?
It's a mixed feeling. I don't dwell on it too much as I’m touring a lot. So, I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps a part of me is slightly nervous, but I don't listen to that voice. I'm just immensely thrilled to finally give birth to this record. It's done! Also, to be honest, my excitement has already started to shift elsewhere. I'm involved in several wonderful projects, so my mind and heart are truly fulfilled.
I hope we’ll see you tour Alone Together! How do you prepare for live acts? Are there any rituals you perform beforehand?
Not really a ritual… More like a method. As I improvise during most of my live sets, I often experience anxiety before the show, regardless of the venue. There is so much risk and uncertainty. Before I hit the stage, I find a quiet spot to gather myself for a few minutes, focusing on deep breaths. And I always have a blend of essential oils that I create myself—these oils serve as my go-to remedy to centre and relax me before I step under those lights. But the important thing is a good laugh! There is nothing less grounding!
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