New Jersey’s experimental one-man band Avyakta is a brainchild of songwriter Jesse Agins, who back in April launched the debut album entitled ‘Somnium Chorus.’ Avyakta was recently part of the Progotronics 29 compilation, and Agins answered our questionnaire about his work, the album, and more.
Define the mission of Avyakta.
The word Avyakta is of Sanskrit origin that roughly translates to “devoid of form,” in other words something without limits. I’ve been in numerous bands that wanted to “sound like this band or be this genre” and I didn’t want to do that again. I wanted to have a band (even though it’s just me) that is willing to write whatever sounds right for the song and doesn’t fit a mold of any particular genre or band. I suppose the mission is to constantly change and to try to not be write the same song over and over.
Tell me about the creative process that informed your debut album “Somnium Chorus.”
The songs on “Somnium Chorus” began when I was attending university for my undergraduate degree — part of which was studying music theory and composition. I knew that I wanted to explore a larger scale work so all of the songs ended up being in a variation of C minor (jazz minor, harmonic minor, etc.) or Eb Major in order to flow into the next song (or movement if you will). This was the first work where I’d written, played, recorded, edited, mixed, and mastered everything on my own so I got to do whatever I wanted. I knew what I wanted to hear, so I wrote out the scores and then during the demoing stage of recording I tried to let the songs breathe more, which, I feel, translates quite well in songs like “Dancing on the Waves.” It has an almost experimental vibe to it right in the middle. In the end, I put out the album that I wanted to hear and not what I thought would land me a record deal.
Although it’s an instrumental release, is there a certain message you are trying to give with “Somnium Chorus”?
Well, the title “Somnium Chorus” translates to something like “dream dance.” I had always dreamt of being able to put out an album I wasn’t just a part of, but was part of me, so when it came to naming it I could only describe it as “dancing with a dream” and the name stuck. Originally, I did intend to have singing on it, but I wasn’t comfortable enough with my voice to attempt it. That said though I found it had a poetry on its own without lyrics or singing; so I guess the message is “don’t ever compromise what you want to do for popularity points. Play the music you hear in your head and you’ll never be disappointed.”
How did you document the music while it was being formulated?
I wrote all of the songs out in scores/sheet music on Guitar Pro. I find the program’s functionality to be superior to others like Notion or Sibelius.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?
As a matter of fact, it is. I envisioned the album to be one long piece separated into movements (or songs). It’s all written in variations of C minor with occasional modulations to other keys (except “The Fortune Teller” which is C Locrian). Each movement has its peaks and valleys with the overall aspiration of evolving into the next song.
Describe the approach to recording the album.
It was a rather long and tedious process. Mapping all of the time signature changes and tempo changes, finding the right tone for each instrument, balancing them in the mix — these things take time that some people don’t get to experience because they’re not doing the whole album by themselves. It’s nice to get to know your craft on an intimate level though. I’m not much of a music engineer, but I knew what I wanted to hear so I spent a few hours each day obsessing over small details through each process until I was content. I’m not ashamed to admit that Axe Fx II made my life drastically easier when it came to developing tones. I think that was probably the trickiest part, but because I spent so long playing and rehearsing the songs before actually recording them I knew them inside and out. Additionally, I think one of the more fun aspects was really experimenting with the space I left myself to improvise (i.e., the Sax solo in “An Ominous Oracle”).
How long “Somnium Chorus” was in the making?
I spent about three years writing and then it took me another year to save up to buy my “studio” equipment, by which I mean a Mac desktop, Axe fx II, studio monitors, Logic Pro, and a nice 5-string bass. Once I had everything in place to record it took me another three months to set up and record everything. When everything was finally recorded it took me another three months — give or take — to edit, mix, and master everything. It’s hard when you’re working full-time and going to university full-time, but it was really worth it and I’m not sure, given the chance, I would have had it any other way.
Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?
It’s funny, because I can tell you what I was listening to when writing it, but I wouldn’t compare the record (or my “sound”) to any of those bands/musicians. At least I don’t think it sounds like them — but leave that for the listeners, right? Some of my favorite groups are King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Yes, Between the Buried and Me, Cardiacs, Opeth, Cynic, Porcupine Tree, The Mars Volta, The Human Abstract (but only Nocturne-era), Univers Zéro, The Number Twelve Looks Like You, Bela Bartok, The Aristocrats, Miles Davis, Dead Kennedys, Paco de Lucia, Converge, The Gift of Gab. I like a little bit of everything.
What is your view on technology in music?
I mean, all music is technology, isn’t it? Short of hearing it in person music is digital if you’re listening to it on your phone, or computer. Personally, I find that the more technology advances the more interesting results can be achieved. On a more personal level, I find that as a fan of “progressive” music the only way to keep music progressive is to do as the definition of the word indicates and keep moving forward. Don’t do what someone else has done — that’s not progressive. Take what someone else has done, let it influence you, and play what you hear. It will yield more interesting outcomes. There are two tracks in particular on the album that are what I would consider “soundscaping” (“That Which Lies Beyond” and “Petrichor”) where I don’t play guitar, bass, or drums and only utilize different synth sounds — although I mess with the settings a great deal. Getting lost in the technology is a great way to find something previously unused.
Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?
Well, much like any other craft I think that it speaks to the observer in its own way. Everyone experiences reality subjectively and as a result it’s likely that people with different experiences and backgrounds may perceive things in different ways than others. Personally I’d love to hear what others thought — especially of the artwork — but I’m always open to discussion. I hopewhat people take away from Avyakta is that music (or one’s craft in general) is a door and that door can take you wherever you want to go if you follow it and let it move you. Defy convention; play freely; create what you want to experience in life.
What are your plans for the future?
For starters, the next Avyakta record is completely recorded. I just have to go back and fix some things, followed by the grueling process of editing, mixing, and subsequently mastering. I’m also in grad school right now getting my master’s degree in Information and Library Science. When I’m not working, in school, or writing music I enjoy reading (mostly analytical or comparative literature, but I’m also a fan of fiction — I’ve read Lord of the Rings eleven times and Salem’s Lot five times), playing board games (especially RPGS), learning new things (lectures and podcasts are favorites of mine), and cooking new and delicious vegan meals! So hopefully plenty of all that in the future. Cheers!