The majesty of the natural world has always been integral to Sebastian Mullaert’s music. His approach to art, as well as to life, is centred around meditating on nature’s primordial cycles and forces, things he has been fortunate to experience in abundance in his adopted village of Röstånga, in the south of Sweden. Situated on the edge of the Söderåsen National Park, it’s an area of outstanding beauty; primeval forests, deep ravines, and huge boulders left over from the last ice age give the area an enchanted, otherworld air.
One particular spot provided the inspiration for Mullaert’s latest project and forthcoming album. Sitting atop a 50m ridge, Natthall is a small, rocky bluff with majestic views east over the Rönne river, fields, and acres of trees. It’s a place he returns to often; to meditate, to think, or just to stare serenely out over the changing landscape. It’s that spontaneous transformation in the natural world that forms the emotional core of Natthall, a project that’s so much more than a mere album or series of concerts. These songs – this music – is alive, constantly morphing and evolving in a way that’s reflective of nature.
Sebastian was kind enough to speak to Bunker ahead of his upcoming album – during which he spoke candidly about his journey as an artist, the link between music and meditation, and the underlying intention of his music.
Sebastian, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us ahead of the release of ‘Natthall’ on April 3rd.
Sebastian: And I thank you for your interest and curiosity.
Looking into your origins, it’s quite evident that your earlier years have helped shape your direction within music, having played a number of instruments as well as performing in orchestras as a child. If possible, are you able to elaborate on some of the primary influences you had growing up in Sweden? Perhaps some that weren’t directly related to music but have been important in getting you to where you are today?
Sebastian: I believe that every situation we end up in is somehow a result of what has happened to us before. Everything we do, everything/everyone we meet and all that we experience have shaped this specific now. Some of the things we experience have a stronger and longer-lasting footprint on our life and of course our childhood is an example of this. I’m extremely thankful for my upbringing and the life that I was given as a child. My parents were academics and working with theater, religion, psychology and art. When I was born they bought a small farm in the middle of the forest where they also arranged creative retreats for their students at the university. My father created a two week course that he called ”creative psychology” with the aim to awaken one’s own creative flow. I spent a lot of time in nature as a child, we had some animals and as both my parents love music, they encouraged all my artistic ambitions at an early age.
My father loved electronic and psychedelic music and was an early fan of Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dreams etc, he also had the ambition to make psychedelic electronic music for the courses he arranged. He never really got the time to do this but old analog synths were a part of our home for as long as I can remember. Funnily enough, I never really took them seriously and felt that the real instruments were the violin, piano etc. Later, the 808, the Juno-60 and the Roland m100 system started to bloom in my own studio and the acoustic instruments were left untouched. Now I have the chance to embrace all of this again and let these different musical expressions blend and express something fresh and new.
Meditation and mindfulness is a concept that, if more people knew the power of, could be of immeasurable help to our society. Evidently this is a phenomenon you have discovered and found to be beneficial – how would you sum up the importance and value of meditation to a newcomer? Have you always embedded elements of this practice into your music as something you wish to communicate to your audience?
Sebastian: What a wonderful and important question. Meditation, mindfulness and yoga are amazing tools for connecting with the essence of our being enabling a true and full life. Of course there are also other tools such as; improvised music, dance and wild nature. Natthall (as well as many of the other music projects I work with) is all about this and I’ve tried to create the project in a way to reach out and inspire people with these values.
Improvisation is a way to embrace life, allow change to flow freely and celebrate the expression and experience that takes place. To improvise is to let out without judgement, to listen to all inner and outer processes and accept what is happening right now. To play and express music in this way is very healing, and I also strongly believe that listening to music that is improvised also has a healing effect on the listener, as it reminds us about the organic and always changing nature of life, universe and ourselves. For me this is the essence of music and art, and to find ways to keep this alive and true through your musical life is one of the most important reasons for being a musician. The expression of nature is also improvisation. All the different patterns in nature express themselves in an ever changing flow and interconnection. I feel the same is happening within each of us and also in the universe as a whole. To feel the simple yet magnificent beauty of this reminds us of the same essence in ourselves, when this happens we also automatically reconnect with everything around us and allow the interconnection between everything, the unity, the non-separation.
I wish to create a space where this happens naturally for the audience. I don’t want to talk too much about it or say what should or shouldn’t happen. I don’t have the answers and I don’t know the truth, but I feel I can create a space where answers appear and truth is felt for everyone, in their own way. In this experience understanding and balance grow naturally. We don’t need to tell people what is the right thing to do but we can help people to remember and feel strength in their own journey.
Prior to the impending release of ‘Natthall’, you’ve been producing music for a number of years, with meticulously constructed tracks to your name such as ‘Every Moment, I Am’ and ‘Dilemma’. Your productions carry with them a sense of individuality, in world awash with quick imitations – has this dedication to going above & beyond always been important to you as a producer? Do you feel like the current fast-paced musical environment has somewhat detracted from the genuineness of musical production as a whole?
Sebastian: Yes, it’s been quite a long journey since the moment I quit architecture school 23 years ago to try out this adventure focusing only on electronic music. Over these 23 years I’ve slowly moved more and more to an improvisational approach; music created with the intention of expressing, and no other reason apart from that … expression, experience, reflections and vibrations in the now. Both ‘Every moment, I am’ and ‘Dilemma’ are recorded improvisations, recordings of a L/R signal with no post production and no fixing. There have always been different intentions behind temporary musical and artistic reflections; some artists want to please the audience and capitalize on the current state of society and humanity, others express what they feel and want to share that honest expression without a second thought about why. I feel more inspired and touched by the latter.
‘Natthall’ is of course named after an area within Röstånga, in the south of your native country of Sweden. I’ve not been there personally, but I’ve seen an abundance of glowing attestments to its beauty and tranquility; how one can simply sit and observe nature in its ever changing glory.
Did you always draw influence from this particular area of Sweden? Was your decision to enlist the services (not for the first time) of the Tonhalle Zurich Orchestra made to ensure an authentic level of sound?
Sebastian: Röstånga is the village where I live with my family and also where my studio is located. The amazing national park “Söderåsen” and the many nature reserves around, such as Natthall, are so full of energy, so alive and perfect exactly how they are. I’ve spent a lot of time in these areas the last 12 years (that’s when I moved here) and it has of course influenced me and the sounds of the music I play. It’s not the exact part of Sweden I’m from, but also not so far from it. I was born and raised around a one-hour drive from this area.
Throughout the album, the variety of sounds encased within each tune is perhaps what’s most appealing. Each track plays out like it’s own individual story, a calming guide for the listener as their mind formulates peaceful images of nature. ‘No Words For A Beautiful World’ I found to be the most impactful for me personally – it’s a wonderful, cinematic audible journey. Have you managed to reflect your favourite natural aspect of Natthall in any particular song on the album, or is it a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts? Is there a particular thing you want someone to experience by listening to this album?
Sebastian: Thanks for these beautiful words ;). I see the album as a journey from morning to evening, different phases of the day corresponding to different emotions that circle within me while spending time in nature. Sometimes I feel it’s so peaceful and still, sometimes it becomes big and epic and full of emotions, and at other times it becomes mystical and dark. I feel that all these different expressions took form naturally in the Natthall album. And as you suggest, I also feel that the most special thing is not any of these separated emotions in particular but rather, it’s the journey between them that is the most fascinating. To be the witness “seeing” the journey taking form; allowing the dance to dance.
Thanks for your time Sebastian, wishing you all the best with the album’s release!
By Jeremy McCarthy