Nam-Khar and Vortex reveal secrets of their auditory approach to the Gnostic scriptures of Nag-Hammadi represented by their latest collective work.
Nam-Khar and Vortex have teamed up to produce the recently released Nag-Hammadi album via the Winter-Light label; is it the first collaboration, if not, how did this alliance form?
Nam-Khar: First of all, thanks a lot for giving us the opportunity to talk about our new Album. I would like to clarify in the beginning that Nam-Khar is a collective – for Nag-Hammadi, Nam-Khar was Peter Prochir and me.
Well, I am following Marcus’s art since the release of the first Golgatha album. Therefore, it was a nice surprise and a great honour when Marcus asked me to collaborate on his fantastic Helioz Album. I asked Peter Prochir to be part of it and we enjoyed working together a lot…so the idea of a full-length release together arose.
Vortex: I have been following Nam-Khar since I became aware of this ritual project. I knew Marc from concerts and post-industrial events and after I heard them live, I was sure they could add some substantial sounds and rhythms to the Helioz album on Cyclic Law. Vortex has a tradition to collaborate with like-minded artists, and it went absolutely smoothly here.
And working on mythical concepts mainly, I was happy to accept the return invitation to deal with the ‘Nag Hammadi’ scriptures. I had come across them before but started reading them in preparation. Also, I had long planned to create a middle-east-themed album anyway, as I visited the Sinai desert in 2009 and used some of the field recordings from there.
Can you clarify how Nam-Khar and Vortex got to know about the Nag-Hammadi scriptures? And what triggered you to produce an art piece to represent the scriptures’ message in sound?
Nam-Khar: Well, I read several books about Gnosticism and Osho’s comment on the Gospel of Thomas. These words touched me deeply and reminded me of some Dzogchen or Zen Texts. For me, the idea arose to translate the beauty and depth of these scriptures into sound.
Vortex: From the third album onwards, Vortex has been working on a huge aural mythology project; reviving and interpreting ancient mythology via sound and rhythm. This album fits perfectly in this row of albums and pairs up with Helioz which touches upon pantheistic world reception as well.
How did Nam-Khar and Vortex auditorily translate the Nag-Hammadi text?
Nam-Khar: Well, we used analogue and digital Synths, programmed, sampled and even played several kinds of Percussion. By using lots of different delays and reverbs we create very deep, sometimes even Dub-like effects (everyone in this Project is pretty much into Dub by the way).
Marcus added Field Recordings for a more organic sound, and for the maximal result, I would recommend the use of headphones with medium volume.
Vortex: I also had the urge to include some vocals here, from far reminiscent of certain Current 93 albums. I also teamed up with my old friend Bergemann who contributed to analogue electronics.
How does the musical approach and experience in composing to Nag-Hammadi differ from other releases by Nam-Khar and Vortex, regardless of the album concept?
Nam-Khar: It is very different if one works for a release of the main project or for collaboration. In that case, one should always leave space for collaboration; it is a more open process in my opinion.
Vortex: Our process of working went along in harmony and total acceptance of the others’ ideas. I have had different experiences before where there were huge egos involved. Here it was like we just send our material to and from with new layers added and nothing substantially changed, which seems perfect for me.
Some words are spoken out on some of the Nag-Hammadi album tracks, does that text come from the scripts, and if so, why was that specific text chosen?
Nam-Khar: Marcus chose the parts from the Nag-Hammadi Scriptures, so the question is mainly addressed to Marcus.
Vortex: Yes, I chose two segments partly from the Gospel of Thomas and Thunder. The Perfect Mind to place some hints toward the content and philosophy of the texts.
I tried to be very careful in using those texts, close to an ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) reading. The whole album can be seen as a meditation on these scriptures anyway.
The Nag-Hammadi album was mastered by the British audio-visual artist Rapoon (Robin Storey); what is behind choosing Robin to master this specific release?
Nam-Khar: Well, we worked with Robin on our previous release Sur Chöd and we were very happy with the result. Some of his releases are a big influence on my music, especially for this release.
We wanted a very clear and transparent production so that these already mentioned effects could reach their maximal potential.
Vortex: Nam-Khar came up with this idea and was full of trust that this will work out. The final sound reminds me of Muslimgauze albums by Extreme Records which totally fits the concept.
What was the graphical brief given to the artwork designer Patricia Schoonenberg, and how does the artwork embody the concept and the sound behind the Nag-Hammadi album?
Nam-Khar: Winter-Light gained an excellent reputation- not only for the music but also for the artwork. We had a very little briefing, just suggested a few things.
The artwork and the sounds fit together in a perfect way: the colours are of the original scriptures, and so are the letters…letters have a very deep inherent power, as they are potentially able to form words and meaning.
Vortex: Patricia Schoonenberg did an amazing job here carefully combining atmosphere, symbolism and true documents. The artwork adds another layer to the album which is very important.
If you are familiar with Vortex’s artworks from the past you will know how important that is for me and I am really happy how it turned out here in the end.
As mentioned in the brief written about the album on your Bandcamp page, “the Nag-Hammadi album is dedicated to the spiritual seeker”; in your opinion, what is the message here, and how do you see that fulfilled?
Nam-Khar: Well, I wouldn’t use the term message, it is at first an expression of our own experiences and meditations with these unbelievable deep and powerful scripts.
I don’t want to convince someone to work with these texts, but maybe someone who likes the recordings will read the Scriptures and hopefully, it will be beneficial.
Vortex: Nam-Khar and Vortex create spiritual music in their own ways, and I can totally identify with this dedication.
I have been a spiritual seeker myself for decades now, dealing with all kinds of traditions, mythologies and concepts.
Ritual music has always been a great inspiration for me. Test Dept.’s Gododdin, Vasilisk, some SPK and Lustmord albums, Sepiroth, Wardruna – all of them pointed me in certain directions. I see the Nag-Hammadi album in this tradition of music as a spiritual ritual.
Do you think Nam-Khar and Vortex have added value to the Nag-Hammadi scrolls in an auditory way, if so, how do you see that?
Nam-Khar: Let’s be realistic; this is a very small scene and our album will mainly be anticipated just within that scene…but who knows. It would be wonderful if some people from this scene would start to study these Gnostic texts.
Vortex: I agree, our art is mainly preaching to the converted. Most people into our stuff have been following those paths for years. I am happy about any feedback from people who draw inspiration from what we do.
What impact on the personal level did working on the Nag-Hammadi album have on Nam-Khar and Vortex?
Nam-Khar: On an outer level it meant re-reading certain passages and contemplating them. On a deeper level, it is about integrating that profound knowledge into one’s own spiritual practice.
Vortex: I have been meditating in different surroundings from the middle eastern desert to our own domestic woods. Our artistic and ritualistic work on this album resonated within me for a long time after actually dealing with it. I have learned that all traditions are connected on a very deep level – even if they move in opposite directions from there.
The goal is to find the roots that connect it. I dearly hope our audience is inspired to open themselves to the energies of the universe.