Interview: Triangular Ascension

Unusual is good. Unusual is interesting. But with Federico Ágreda, the mastermind behind Triangular Ascension, pretty much everything is unusual: his home country (how many acts from Venezuela have you heard of?), his artistic range (he’s primarily known for being a drum&bass DJ), his immediate rise to success (as successful as you can be in these waters anyway, and getting signed to Cyclic Law out of the blue certainly is a mark of success), even his views on music and the world. Intrigued by all this, I hooked up for a chat with this surprisingly down-to-earth and outspoken persona.

Hello, Federico. It seems 2011 has been a busy year for you. What have you been up to lately?

Hello Vladimir, and thank you for this opportunity. Your review of “Leviathan Device” (Cyclic Law, 2011) was by far one of the most encouraging I’ve read, I am very grateful that you have enjoyed this album so much.

2011 has indeed been a busy year, I’ve been composing a lot of music recently, including the forthcoming Triangular Ascension album, soon to be released on Cyclic Law. I’ve also been playing out a lot and working on tracks for my drum&bass DJ act Zardonic, as well as an artist album for it too with a different approach. I recently got signed to FiXT Music, who hired me to compose production music. It’s been an amazing experience, because one of my main goals has been to create music that can be used in commercial ads or movie trailers. So I seem to be on the right path, finally!

I’ll start with the obvious question. How on earth does a single mind contain both a drum&bass DJ and a dark ambient artist?

The answer is simpler than you think, except people are asking the wrong question. It would be more like: “How on earth does a dark ambient artist spin drum&bass?”. I didn’t grow up with an electronic music background. In fact, I’ve been composing dark ambient and metal for years. The whole electronic music thing in my life is indeed something that has always been there, but I grew up listening to a lot of European ambient and black metal/death metal acts. I listen to a lot of Arkhon Infaustus, Anaal Nathrakh, Dark Funeral, Behemoth, At The Gates, Soilwork, as well as ambient acts like Triarii, Arditi, Karjalan Sissit, Sophia, so drum&bass was pretty much the new thing that happened, and since I had this background in listening to European metal, I brought that influence into the drum&bass that I compose, together with a lot of other things that have inevitably influenced me, since I was born and still live in a tropical country like Venezuela, right next to the Caribbean sea. So when I make music, sometimes it feels Scandinavian, sometimes Caribbean, sometimes electronic, sometimes metal, sometimes industrial, sometimes ambient, and sometimes all of that together. It indeed sounds weird or impossible to some, but remember Sepultura? They show rhythms that are clearly inherited from Latin American music, especially on albums like “Arise”, “Chaos A.D.” and “Roots”. And they happen to be one of my favourite bands as well.

When and how did you first get the idea of forming Triangular Ascension?

Triangular Ascension was my first musical project ever, except it used to be called Intimus Universum. The first album I composed goes as back as 2002 – I was about 16, I think – but the tracks were very basic and raw. It was basically me pitching sounds down to hell. I didn’t even know dark ambient existed at the time; I realized later on that it was an actual genre and that it was way more elaborated, so I decided to discard all my past discography and change the name of the project to Triangular Ascension, which also represents a more positive output. That’s something I’m very careful about these days, no matter how dark is the music that I compose – I always want it to have a certain positive vibe or message. That’s why “Leviathan Device” feels like New Age music at times, because of the melodic elements it has. It works as a personal catharsis through which I drain everything that I think is wrong in whatever surrounds me, or in myself.

What was the creation process behind “Leviathan Device” like? How much of your time did the album take from start to finish?

It probably took around a month. I started making random tracks, until I realized they were becoming a part of a single concept which I somehow envisioned, and composed the rest of the tracks based on it. I simply started researching about everything related to the word Leviathan. What it meant in the past, what it means now, what has it inspired to other artists. That made me discover the book “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes. I didn’t exactly read the entire thing, but certain quotes from that book inspired many tracks, especially the way he depicts humanity and why the system works the way it does. Personally, I feel disgusted by that reality. But I can’t change it, so I destroyed the world through the leviathan device. It is an apocalypse, seen from a positive point of view, which is the reason why the album ends in a calm requiem instead of a hollywoodesque disaster. It is the process of change, back to the water, the element that gave us life, where the leviathans (whales) live.

How do you compose for Triangular Ascension anyway? Is it a process you dedicate yourself to, or is it on-and-off-again?

A bit of both. The thing is that my mindset changes once I’m composing a dark ambient track. It’s like an addiction that I can’t get rid of. So whenever I start writing a track, I fully dedicate myself to composing the others. When I say I spend a month creating an album, it means I spend every single afternoon and night, and probably early morning, working on the tracks. I listen to them a lot to see if I can still feel the state of trance that I want to be in while they’re playing, so I start testing out sounds and elements. If they are too abrupt or out of concept, I discard them and try something else until I find the sounds that fit. After an album is done, I sleep to it for days. If I happen to find anything else taking me out of that trance, I go back and make changes. Afterwards, I forget about dark ambient for a while, until I’m in need of another catharsis.

Getting signed to Cyclic Law with nothing in your back catalogue is quite a feat. How did you manage to pull it off?

I’m not exactly sure. [laughs] I didn’t really expect it, to be honest, I just did this album for myself and thought it could be fun to start sending out demos to see if anyone would take it. Most labels these days prefer CDs, though, which is a bit retarded in my opinion, because I’m not willing to pay a lot of money just to kiss someone’s arse. Music should speak for itself, and any medium of sharing this music should be good enough. So I just sent mp3s to these labels. Pretty much anyone and everyone. A few people showed interest, some didn’t even reply, some said they loved it, but that their release schedule was full, and since no one seemed to give the project the attention I wanted, I was going to give it away for free through my net label Saturnoculto Records. I honestly just wanted people to have access to the music, nothing else; that is, until Cyclic Law responded, and you know the rest. I think it’s one of my proudest achievements so far, because it is one of the most solid dark ambient labels I’ve found.

You’re obviously a person with an eclectic taste in music. What has your musical path looked like, both as a listener and as an artist?

As eclectic as anyone can imagine. As a listener, classical music, metal, progressive rock, salsa, jazz, dance music, experimental music, video game and movie soundtracks (two of my favourite composers are Nobuo Uematsu from the Final Fantasy series and Danny Elfman), but my preferences have always lain with avant-garde music.

As an artist, it all narrows down to metal, ambient and electronic music, though, but influenced by everything that I’ve listened to. I’ve been involved in a total of almost 20 projects, which I’ve eventually merged into the two main things that I have now: Zardonic and Triangular Ascension.

You seem to have covered a lot of road performing live with your DJ act, yet you haven’t performed live under your Triangular Ascension guise up to now. Why is that? Can we expect anything in the near future? I’d love to catch you on European soil.

As much as it could dissappoint some people, Triangular Ascension will stay a studio project for the moment. The main reason behind this is that I’ve seen many dark ambient acts playing live, and I believe it’s the most boring thing you could ever see. What’s the point of seeing some dude with a sad face playing a snare over a track? Or some dude pushing buttons while drinking a beer? Where is the theatrical element in it? This is why I don’t want to do a live act with Triangular Ascension. I would probably want to do an entirely different audiovisual experience, something closer to the Cirque du Soleil, but with a dark edge to it. An entire orchestra of actors with costumes, playing live. Although dark ambient can only have so much money to invest in such ambitious projects, my position stands. I don’t think my music deserves to be associated with me and my misanthropic look at a laptop. Unless I could get people to close their eyes during the entire performance, which could be a good solution to it. Time will tell if people will be willing to pay for it too, because I’m not cheap.

Now, being a DJ is an easier thing. Sure, you can say the same: “What’s the point of seeing a dude mixing some CDs while drinking beer?”, but the music is different, it keeps people focused on dancing, together with yourself. I also personally try to add a certain performance to the DJ act, so that I’m not the typical cool-looking dude dressed in hoodies or all that street/hipster crap. I’ve always taken pride in saying that I looked different than the rest. And so far, it has worked.

Now, I apologise for what must seem a prejudiced question, but what is everyday life like in Venezuela for a musician such as you?

No need for apologies, that is a completely natural question. Everybody out there believes that Latin America is a jungle or that everything is a ghetto. There is a lot of poverty and misery, that’s for sure, but I don’t think it’s any different from other places. I was raised in what you could call an upper-class neighbourhood, but my family worked very hard to get there, so I’ve always understood the value of things, which is why I have no problem with sleeping in a waterbed, and then in a hamack. They’re both pleasant in their own way.

No matter where you come from, you will always find people with interest in art. And that’s all there is to it. Some are good at it, some are not. Some are popular, some are not. Neither defines anything. Things just happen. Some dude even sent me some drum&bass demos and he’s living in Afghanistan, one of the most satanised countries recently by the Western media. But that’s all there is to it, it’s all about the bullshit the Western media puts forward for who knows what interest. The kids know nothing about this world. They just care about themselves, and that needs to stop. So I don’t blame you for asking this. It’s all because of the Western media.

Is there an interest for dark ambient and similar kinds of music in your home country? Is there any sort of scene, so to speak?

Yes and no. Many people I’ve played this to have shown great interest in it, but they don’t understand it as a scene, because no one has had the chance to hear about it. I know some people like dark ambient here, but I haven’t heard of many people doing it. There have been some attempts, but they’re rather mediocre, with the exception of a live band a friend of mine has, which is called Tan Frío El Verano (Summer So Cold). They’re truly amazing, although it’s not exactly dark ambient, it’s more like Sigur Ros with some ethnic elements, but still a very solid concept. It’s amazing to see them live.

Most of the decent dark ambient in the continent comes from Argentina, and I also have a friend in Bolivia that has an amazing project called Abiotha. The rest is yet to impress me, because it’s full of these kids who think they’re abstract because they put together a bunch of sounds with no concept whatsoever. You know that type, right? It’s this hippie style shit that just has no real point to it. Or maybe I shouldn’t misjudge them that much because it works for them, but absolutely not for me. I have no problem in pop- or hippie- sounding ambient, but when you want to talk about something like that that is well done, you can name Era, Enya, Enigma, Boards Of Canada or Sigur Ros, to put a few examples. But they have a very solid concept, a message that is understood. I think that, when people here understand that, then there might be a real scene. Artists need to stop blaming the lack of support on the general public and blame it on themselves. If people don’t come to you, it means you’re not speaking the right language.

What does future hold in store for Triangular Ascension? Any exclusive details you’d like to divulge concerning the upcoming album?

The future is very uncertain, but so far the plans are to keep going with the project as long as I feel the need to. As for the forthcoming album, it will be entitled “The Chronos Anomaly”, and it’s primarily based on the death of time. It will have some elements reminding of “Leviathan Device” of course, but this time with tracks that will be a little more melodic and percussive. My mindset has changed since I composed Leviathan Device, so it will have a bit of a different vibe for sure.

Finally, what’s the one thing you’d like to be remembered for as an artist?

For changing the course of music. Of course, that’s very hard to attain. However, you asked what I’d like to be remembered for. Can’t really say I will do it, after all, I’m no The Beatles. [laughs] But it’s always good to dream.

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