Velvoir: The Machine
The dust of the festive season was hardly settled and a new year begun when I received a text message with a date, time and address.
“We’ll be recording this Saturday starting at 6pm”.
Recording at Neat Acoustics — the breeding ground of high-end sound in rural Teesdale — was an act of time defiance. Especially if the band was Velvoir and the track, Pulse of the Earth, something closer to a breathing entity, that unfolds and grows in the heat of the moment and in otherworldly synchronicity between the band members. In recording, which is usually done by separating the different instrumental voices, it appears near impossible to truly capture the power of the piece, which can last anything from 7 to 13 minutes during performances.
Velvoir stayed at the recording studio until the early morning hours to complete a section of the track, convinced all the same that they'll have to redo certain segments to perfect it even further.
For Velvoir’s fans, what keeps bringing them back to the band’s live gigs is this organic quality to their music and, as local music supporter Mike Ray claims, they can put on an hour and a half set of compelling original songs that not only gives the impression that they are a highly experienced and talented band, but also that what they produce is of indisputable musical quality. Ray is convinced that, “Velvoir cannot produce a bad track,” and still feels excited to see them live despite having been to over 45 of their performances.
To produce socially and artistically intricate music (see Creations for a detailed discussion), Velvoir have to go through an equally intricate — and painfully time-consuming — process that has no hard and fast rules to success. What listeners may not necessarily realise is that, like any socially-conscious art, inspiration for their songs start in the dense fabric of the community that surrounds them and more particularly in ‘Verity’s book of notes’. These notes contain newspaper and magazine clippings of happenings past and present, photographs and a selection of writing: scrawls, ideas, verse, prose.
Once the linguistic beginnings of a song have been completed, Verity takes it to the rehearsal room where she explains the original intent of the text. Each band member is lead by their own interpretation of the words to develop a section of the musical framework which gets revised, improvised on and continually polished during rehearsals and gigs. The personal nature and passion that go into the lyrics and accompanying instrumental parts explain why the development of songs never truly stops and the songs themselves only really come into their own during live performance.
Yet, attaining success as an artist has never been as simple as putting in the time to develop your talent for the entertainment of others. Especially for a music artist, whose recognition depends largely on being recorded and distributed, it has been noted by rockers such as Gene Simmons that an older system that more readily lapped up those who truly distinguished themselves in songwriting and instrumental talent has been surpassed by another kind of machine.
To understand the impact of this other kind of machine, it has to be remembered that up until the advent of modern technology, music was the only art form that remained unknown, abstract until an interpreter (a musician) produced the wanted effect and even then the effect changed depending on the interpreter. With technology, recording became possible and at the same time some would say that the soul of the art form was lost as authentic interpretation was increasingly taken over by digital engineering and over-produced records. It became lost to such a point that now we are less concerned with quality, and that lasting durability and creativity that open itself up to various interpretations.
What we do desire is something new and with each ‘new’ we consume it until it is depleted of pulsing artistic blood and then move on to the next 'new'.
The digital music machine’s obsession with new input partly reveals why the artist has been transformed from being creators to being vehicles for making profits. As the artists themselves are largely dictated by the companies who fund them, and also the expectations of the masses, their music cannot always stand the test of time and precludes them from ever becoming iconic as artists from the 60s and 70s, such as The Beatles, Prince and Bowie, still had the opportunity to become. And success through live music is simply not sustainable in the current economy because the demand and support for live music are rapidly decreasing with venues across the country closing down.
Velvoir may have more than half the qualities any excellent group of musicians need to overcome the first step in achieving more than local notoriety. As I tried to depict in Creations and Humans, there is no disputing the scope of their potential and they effectively distinguish themselves in sound and image, producing something wholly original yet held together by seams of familiarity. Said by promoters to be one of the North East’s hardest working bands, they relentlessly gig throughout the region, and increasingly the country. Experienced in music as in life, with an admirable dedication to artistic integrity, they have a growing fan base to whom they continually deliver what they are best at.
What remains to be seen is if the ideal that they aim to uphold to the public — being something more than another cracking band by dealing with life’s filthy truths in a unique and sophisticated way — can survive being picked up and processed by the Machine? Perhaps this is why there is a staunch group of music supporters who support their local scene more avidly then well-established bands. Because it is there that you’ll see a raw hunger like no other.
A hunger to thrive. A hunger to express. A hunger to break down. A hunger to change.
A hunger to do the impossible.
The true artist’s hunger.