Mar 2024 12

It’s been a long road for Alexander Julien to realize his musical and artistic inclinations with Vision Eternel, as he speaks with ReGen about the history of the project and the depths of his creative process.
 

 

An InterView with Alexander Julien of Vision Eternel

By Stitch Mayo (StitchM)

In 2007, Alexander Julien formed Vision Eternel, a mesmerizing atmospheric project that straddles countless genres. With a passion for crafting ethereal soundscapes over the course of a decade-and-a-half, Vision Eternel has released a series of singles, EPs, and albums, each one showcasing Julien’s dedication to creating a truly immersive musical experience. From the haunting Abondance de Périls to the introspective depth of Seul Dans L’obsession, Vision Eternel’s discography is a testament to Julien’s unique vision. In this InterView, he takes us on a deep dive into the luscious and introspective world that the project inhabits, ahead of the exciting release of the deluxe edition of Echoes From Forgotten Hearts.

 

Can you tell us about the origin of Vision Eternel and what inspired you to start this musical project?

Julien: Vision Eternel was formed in January of 2007. I was going through an especially dark and depressive phase, which stemmed from my inability to recover from a failed relationship. I have spent most of my life in a depressive state, but the added heartache at the time made it difficult to get through each day. I was also working on a short film treatment titled A Perfect Suicide. The theme of loss became the driving force behind Vision Eternel and all of the music that I compose and record for this band continues to revolve around it.
Though I was struggling with depression, I somehow remained creative and prolific during that period, in part due to the artistic support that I received from members of Triskalyon, a black metal and dark ambient circle, which I had co-founded in August 2006. Triskalyon encouraged its members to start side-projects, so many were often experimenting with different styles of music, though never veering too far from the general black metal/dark ambient fields.
Another factor that made Vision Eternel possible was that I had just established my first proper recording studio, Mortified Studio, in my parents’ house in Edison, New Jersey, which gave me the freedom to record music on a whim and allowed me to be more meticulous during studio sessions. All solo projects affiliated with Triskalyon were named Vision Something, and since this new band was formed out of my obsession with an ex-girlfriend, I named it Vision Éternel (the accent was later dropped). I came up with the idea of recording a concept EP that documented this past relationship and heartbreak; I deepened the concept by having a common prefix for all the song titles and spelling the girl’s name with the proper titles, and I decided to release the EP on Valentine’s Day, which tied the concept of love and loneliness together.
Although I did plan to release the music to the public, the emotions I dealt with were very private; I was making this music for myself. As such, I made no compromises and handled every aspect of the release, from composing, arranging, performing, engineering, and mixing to music, then taking pictures and designing the artwork, filming and editing the music video for ‘Love Within Narcosis,’ burning the CDs, printing and cutting the artwork, and assembling the jewel cases, releasing it on my record label, Mortification Records, and promoting it myself. I needed that control because it was so dear to my heart.
In the process, it helped me move on from those emotions because I could be nostalgic about them while listening to the music. It is instrumental music, but what was so special was that I was not trying to play any specific genre or style; I was simply playing what came naturally, what in basic terms would be ‘Alexander Julien music’ – this is the music that I was meant to play.

Your discography includes various EPs. Could you highlight any particular release that holds significant personal or artistic importance to you?

Julien: The second EP, Un Automne En Solitude has always been my favorite. It still sounds sincere and beautiful to me, and slightly more hopeful than the others. What I find ironic about that is that it was such a difficult release to complete. I remember that it felt a little forced, as if I was trying to put together a release that was not emotionally ready. Whereas Seul Dans L’obsession came very quickly and naturally within less than a month, Un Automne En Solitude took two-to-three months. Plus, Seul Dans L’obsession was recorded while I was between jobs, and during wintertime, when the nights are longer – I am a night person, and most of my recordings have taken place during the evening or night.
By the time I started work on Un Automne En Solitude, I was working a full-time overnight job. I would come home at 7:00am and try to record the songs while battling fatigue and sunrise. I couldn’t wait to finish the recording sessions each day just so that I could get to bed. It was a miserable period, but it was far from rushed. I recall doing many, many takes of the same songs before being satisfied. The music itself is also some of my favorite Vision Eternel material, and three songs from that release have been given new arrangements and were re-recorded.
Un Automne En Solitude was also the last Vision Eternel release in which I kept complete control and handled every aspect myself. Following that EP, I began working with other mastering engineers, artwork designers, and occasional guests on recordings to pull the releases together. I reached out to a German named Daniela Dahlems (sometimes credited as Levia Draconia), who was a fan of the band. She created an artwork that I could not use, but she later did some beautiful nature videos using Vision Eternel songs, with visuals of raindrops falling on flowers and such. I wish that those videos were still on YouTube.
I deliberately held Un Automne En Solitude back from release until 2008 because I did not want Vision Eternel to be one of those bands that saturates its discography with dozens of pointless releases every year – I believe in quality over quantity. It also wound up being the final release on Mortification Records, as I had by that time already formed Abridged Pause Recordings, which is one of the reasons why it wasn’t promoted. Another release that I love is my second favorite, For Farewell of Nostalgia. I spent a long time working on that EP, so I have very few regrets about that one. I only wish that I could have secured a record deal to release it on vinyl!

One striking aspect of your music is the seamless flow from track-to-track, creating a sense of audible storytelling within each release. Can you delve into your approach to crafting this balance between individual tracks and the overall narrative cohesion within each release?

Julien: One thing that I decided long ago is that Vision Eternel will always and solely release EPs. There have been compilation albums and boxed sets grouping multiple EPs, but a standard LP is out of the question as it’s not a format that would work well for Vision Eternel, and it would clash with some of the concepts that I have implemented over the years. EPs are not granted enough merit by the music industry, and I believe that is because so many bands have used the format as a filler between albums, often allocating B-sides and leftover tracks to those releases. That is not the case with Vision Eternel. EPs are my format of choice and great care is taken to construct them just like a full-length album.
Vision Eternel’s track listings are usually predetermined; I know how many songs the release will include (based on the girl’s first name), and what will be the first letter of each song title. While I compose, arrange, record, and mix the material, I take notes of words and titles that I feel represent both the emotions of the music and the phases that are depicted in the story. This also has to fit within the greater story, as Vision Eternel releases are all connected within an overarching concept and narrative.
I also try to incorporate visual and sonic bridges. Seul Dans L’obsession, Un Automne En Solitude, Abondance De P​é​rils, The Last Great Torch Song, and For Farewell of Nostalgia are direct sequels that follow that greater narrative. Echoes From Forgotten Hearts was somewhat of a detour, which may or may not be explored in the future. The cover artworks are also symbolic bridges with similar visual elements. Accordingly, Vision Eternel has multi-layered concepts that are pieced together like a puzzle, and once (or if ever) completed, that greater picture should give a better understanding of the many heartbreaks in my life.

How would you describe the evolution of the project since you started? Have there been specific external factors that have shaped the sound along the way, perhaps in surprising ways?

Julien: I think that Vision Eternel has a distinct sound and style, although I have eased up on my limitations and rules over the years. When I was recording Seul Dans L’obsession, because it was a conceptual release, I made it a point to use the same guitar, tuning, audio effects, and mix across all songs. The individual songs were also very short and to the point, which was an aspect of the music that I kept as a strict rule for many years. When I recorded Un Automne En Solitude, I again used the same guitar, tuning, effects, and mix, because I not only wanted unity within that release, but also for the global sound. There was a bridge between the two releases, and I wanted it to be obvious. Those first two releases have a very black metal-type of production – a little bright and focused on the treble.
By the time I began recording Abondance De P​é​rils, I opted to tune my guitar lower, aiming for a warmer sound. I also sent the EP to ex-Vision Eternel bandmate Adam Kennedy for mastering. He further improved the warmth and unity of the release, which was a big change in the band’s sound. He also gave me the idea to use my eBow on ‘Thoughts as Affection.’ I have since made it a point to use it on nearly all songs. It’s become part of the band’s signature sound. The material that makes up The Last Great Torch Song was recorded during various sessions over the years, and so I used different guitars and basses for the first time in various tunings, the eBow on all but one song, and some guests providing keyboard, guitar, and spoken word vocals – that was another leap for Vision Eternel. Although those collaborations were meaningful, I do not think that I would go that route again, as Vision Eternel should remain instrumental. I wanted The Last Great Torch Song to be mastered by Kennedy again, but he was unavailable, so I approached Garry Brents to do the job. In hindsight, I think that was a mistake. Brents is a good and prolific musician and producer, but his studio wasn’t set up for mastering, so it sounds a little thin, especially compared to Abondance De P​é​rils. I would have been happier if The Last Great Torch Song had a warmer and more unified sound.
The Last Great Torch Song further broke down my strict rules of how Vision Eternel songs should sound, with an example being ‘Sometimes in Absolute Togetherness.’ It had originally been composed and recorded for my black ambient band, Soufferance, but it had a very melodic and beautiful element, so it never quite felt at home with Soufferance. At the same time, it was a little too dark and lengthy to be a Vision Eternel song, so it was stuck in the middle of the two bands. While working on Echoes From Forgotten Hearts, elements from Soufferance further seeped in. By the time I was working on For Farewell of Nostalgia in 2017, I had put Soufferance to rest, so all of the best songwriting elements from that band were carried over to Vision Eternel, and I no longer felt restricted to keep Vision Eternel songs short. I began using the repetitive segues and codas on all Vision Eternel songs, which brought a darker element to the band.
I had also ended my electronic ambient band Citadel Swamp, quit the dark ambient band Éphémère, and put my atmospheric/cosmic black metal band Vision Lunar on hold. Since I was now free to use all of my playing styles in a single band (as opposed to trying to keep each band sounding different), and this added a whole new level of emotions, sentiments, beauty, and presence to Vision Eternel songs. I feel that the songs that appear on For Farewell of Nostalgia are the best that I have ever composed, and I plan to continue in that direction for Vision Eternel’s seventh conceptual EP.

Can you tell us about the instrumentation and production techniques you use? Are there specific instruments or gear that play a crucial role in shaping the project’s signature sound?

Julien: I am rather secretive about the exact gear and instruments that I use for Vision Eternel. One thing that I do like pointing out, however, is that all of Vision Eternel’s music is created by using only guitars and bass – there are no digital instruments in my music (with the notable exception of a single song, ‘Sometimes in Longing Narcosis,’ which features a guest appearance by Garry Brents performing keyboards). I come from a rock and metal background and have never played a digital or electronic instrument. That is a world foreign to me.
My two favorite bands are Faith No More and The Smashing Pumpkins, and both have used keyboards and electronics extensively. I think that that is why Vision Eternel’s music sounds different from other guitar-based ambient music because my influences are different. I do not listen to ambient or electronic music. Most bands that identify as post-rock utilize a great deal of effect pedals and synthesizers to achieve their sound, but my setup is quite minimal. A lot of that distinct sound is achieved by layering multiple tracks of guitar, rather than saturating it with effects.
I do not consider myself a producer. A lot of it was picked up on my own because I had to be self-sufficient. I was listening almost exclusively to black metal, a genre known to have a deliberate lo-fi production, so my ears were developed to perceive and accept lower-quality recordings. I was used to that sound; it sounded normal to me.
In the summer of 2007, I applied for admission into Recording Arts Canada in Montreal. As part of my application, I was required to send samples of my recorded work, so I submitted Vision Eternel’s first two EPs. The engineer who reviewed my application and eventually accepted my enrollment (I wish I still knew his name), called me on the telephone to tell me how impressed he was with those recordings. He said that it reminded him of Brian Eno’s work, whose music I had never heard at that point. I was only vaguely familiar with Eno’s name because he had a song on the Dune soundtrack, of which I was an avid fan. This teacher suggested that I listen to Eno’s The Shutov Assembly, and then I checked out other highly rated Eno works as well, but found them boring.

Could you elaborate on specific elements or aspects from these influences that you find particularly inspiring or that have left a lasting mark on your creative approach? Are there specific influences or sources of inspiration that guide your work?

Julien: I think that sadness is my biggest influence, and sometimes that sadness can be brought on by certain music or movies. I am a very nostalgic person, and also very sensitive. The pain and sadness of events can stay with me for a long time. This unhappiness seeps into Vision Eternel’s music. I do not want to make happy or uplifting music. Nor do I listen to ambient, shoegaze, dream pop, new age, darkwave, drone, space rock, ethereal, dark ambient, or minimal, and those are just a few of the many genres that have been affixed to Vision Eternel over the years.
On the other hand, there are bands that I listen to a great deal, and although they may sound stylistically different from Vision Eternel, they have nevertheless influenced aspects of my music. For example, Faith No More is my favorite band, and has been for over 20 years. I know that I am highly influenced by Billy Gould’s bass playing style. Limp Bizkit is also among my top three favorite bands, particularly Wes Borland’s guitars – his sound and style have saturated my subconscious and somehow come out when I compose music. Out of my three favorite bands, I suppose that The Smashing Pumpkins is the one most easily comparable to Vision Eternel. Billy Corgan and James Iha’s music is very melodic, emotional, and romantic, and I listened to them constantly during my relationships with the two girls about whom Seul Dans L’obsession and Un Automne En Solitude are based. It evokes memories of those events and my teenage years.
Deadsy is another important influence. There is a detriment to being between genres and having your own style, as Deadsy had; record labels do not know how to market your music, and many are afraid to take a chance. Their debut album was recorded in 1996, but released in 2002 after numerous record labels refused to put it out. That perseverance was important to me as Vision Eternel faced similar situations with record companies. Harmonium, Pink Floyd, and Fantômas are three bands that I can think back on as influential concerning Vision Eternel’s concept EPs.
I am an avid film buff and typically watch two-to-four films every day. My favorite director is Alfred Hitchcock and he has been highly influential in various aspects of the band, notably with Vertigo, which is my favorite movie. I also adore the works of Douglas Sirk, Billy Wilder, John Frankenheimer, Orson Welles, F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Jean-Pierre Melville, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jacques Deray, Henri Verneuil, Alan J. Pakula, Woody Allen, and Cameron Crowe. I do not analyze films for their technical aspects; I let the movie tell its story. I often watch films, then immediately begin composing or recording music to capture my emotions.

Can you share more about the decision to create a deluxe edition of Echoes From Forgotten Hearts?

Julien: Great care was given to the presentation of this material. These songs were composed and recorded in 2014, but were never given a publicized release until now. The release was canceled by several record companies along the way, which led to its 10-year delay. It was to be the soundtrack to a short film that an acquaintance named Bradley James Palko (who previously operated Dedicated Records) wanted to make, but that was canceled. I did not want my music left unreleased, so I brought the material back into the studio to partly rerecord it, track a couple of new songs, drop a pair that no longer fit, and fully remix everything to turn it into a concept EP.
On February 14, 2015, I released Echoes From Forgotten Hearts quietly via my record label, Abridged Pause Recordings, but it was a digital release, restricted to Bandcamp only, and I chose deliberately not to promote it because my goal was to secure a record deal for a physical edition. The release was then picked up by Abandonment, which offered to release it on compact cassette, but that was canceled. Following that, Community Tree Music came along and told me that filmmakers were interested in using my music for their soundtracks, but that never materialized. A month later, Feather Witch (which has since been renamed Fiadh Productions) signed Vision Eternel and offered to release it on compact cassette, but that was canceled. By then, I opted to shift my efforts to other projects.
In early 2017, Vision Eternel’s entire back catalog was added to major streaming platforms, but I again held back on promoting these digital reissues because I wanted it to be supported by the tenth anniversary boxed set, An Anthology of Past Misfortunes. The boxed set (which includes a very limited CDR pressing of Echoes From Forgotten Hearts) was originally scheduled for release on February 14, 2017, but it had numerous mishaps at the pressing and printing plants. Because of those errors, the number of copies was reduced drastically, and it was only released a year-and-two-months later, on April 14, 2018, by which time the anniversary was long over and the set had little impact.
Once For Farewell of Nostalgia was out, Somewherecold Records offered to release Echoes From Forgotten Hearts on double-CD, but that was canceled – the first disc was to use the EP version, while the second was for the unreleased soundtrack version. I began thinking about ways to present the release differently. Simultaneously with Somewherecold’s offer was one from Geertruida to release the cassette edition, but that was put on hold while I struggled to secure a CD edition. Next came Frozen Light, and then Beverina Productions and Casus Belli Musica, and those were canceled too.
As you can imagine, I felt hopeless. Explaining all of this was not nearly as exhausting as going through it, believe me! I have not been very lucky. I cried a lot over this project.
About half-a-year later, I revisited the release with Geertruida, and we agreed that far too much work had been put into this project for it not to be released. We pooled our resources and worked very hard to get the release out digitally and in a boxed double-cassette edition. The physical edition comes with a numbered postcard, stickers, a download code, and an 80-page novella. The novella originated from the 52-page booklet in Beverina Productions and Casus Belli Musica’s digibook version. I needed enough content to fill those pages, so I consulted my band journals and studio logs and began writing the history of this release. I was able to expand this story further into 80 pages, and I also added around 70 images from the band archives, most of which had never been seen. The booklet is designed beautifully and artistically, more like a magazine or art book than a novel. It has been a long journey bringing Echoes From Forgotten Hearts to the public. Although I have many regrets that those earlier editions did not come to life, this deluxe boxed set edition by Geertruida encompasses everything that I have worked to accomplish over the past decade. The packaging is quite impressive, and I know that every Vision Eternel fan will enjoy the novella.

 

Vision Eternel
Website, Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram
Geertruida
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Photography by Jeremy Roux – provided courtesy of Vision Eternel

 

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