Voice Of Eye: Respite, Renewal, Reemergence

Jim Wilson and Bonnie McNairn, aka Voice Of Eye, at the 2008 IAMINDUST festival. (Photo by Craig Morse.)

For nearly two decades, the New Mexico-based music duo Voice Of Eye has taken us on some wild musical rides.

When I wrote about their 1995 album Transmigration back in my days as a fanzine writer, I recall labeling it a “really creepy darkambient experience.” It was a hard album to categorize, especially as the all of the sounds generated on the album came entirely from acoustic sources, although studio effects played a strong role in sculpting them. Musical partners-in-crime Bonnie McNairn and Jim Wilson had fashioned a 60-minute plus epic inspired by the transformative journey of death and rebirth, and the music intertwined eerie voices, tribal percussion and chimes (among other elements) into an ethereally racing work.

Their latest release, Seven Directions Divergent, is their first after a decade long hiatus and follows the same sonic modus operandi as their earlier works. It is also more diverse. The instrumental track “Golden Space Funk Transmission” even made my list of top five songs of 2009 for my submissions to
the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll.

The Voice Of Eye logo.

After their recent U.S. tour, ADD caught up with VOE’s Jim Wilson to discuss their past, present and future.

The new album really spans many different styles, from darkambient soundscapes to a Pink Floyd-esque vocal number to deep space dub. It’s certainly an evolution in the group’s sound. How did you channel all of this music into your sound, and what inspired you?
This CD has been inside us for many years and we’ve waited for the right combination of technology and ability to pull it off. Not to say that we’ve been composing it for years, but rather that because of the accidental nature in the way we operate, things like this can come out unexpectedly when the time is right. We definitely channeled the different sounds on this CD from the collective unconscious and our own musical influences. All the pieces, save for “Remember,” were composed without the end in sight. Nobody would start off the way we did if they knew what the end result would sound like. There were so many incredible accidents of composition. Like most of what we do, it started as an experiment. We’re just curious people as far as sound goes. Once the “feel” of a piece is revealed, the rest becomes obvious, especially once we decided to have fun with certain established genres and archetypes like psychedelic music.

The latest Voice Of Eye studio album.

I recall that Transmigration featured only acoustic sound samples, although manipulated in the studio. What was the mixture of sounds like this time?
It has been our approach from the beginning, as it is on this disc, to play acoustic instruments and process them electronically. We feel this allows the emotional content to be better expressed. The physical translation of movement and breath into sound cannot be matched. To literally touch the vibration, to feel it in your body, is a magical feedback to the source of all sound, the timeless vibration of the Universe. Besides it’s a lot more fun to “play” with different little noise toys.

Voice Of Eye has been active for over 15 years. How have you seen the underground ambient scene evolve during that time? How have the current problems in the music industry affected what you do?
Although Voice of Eye didn’t form until 1992, the earliest recordings that eventually became the first Voice of Eye tape were made 20 years ago in 1989. We have no idea when our 20th anniversary will be, somewhere in the middle, perhaps 2011. The Internet has changed music so much. It seems that there are a lot more people making this kind of music nowadays and infinite ways to promote through the Internet. The Internet gives bands like us an incredible voice and ability to write their own history. We end up spending hours trying to figure out ways to utilize the Internet, and there’s always more. Hopefully people really do read all the content we put out there, not drown in overload, and all the work makes a difference.

Some of Jim Wilson's homemade instruments.

Unfortunately, if you make and produce music it has become harder to sell it. There are fewer distributors and brick and mortar outlets. Can iTunes make up for this huge loss because record stores do more than online sellers to educate the next generation of listeners? Maybe it’s old school, but isn’t a person more tempted to buy a CD when it is in their hands? If you’re a listener of music, the Internet is a goldmine. You can find so much new music, and usually you can download it for free. This makes it a bit more challenging for us. It seems that the music business is cannibalizing itself into infinity. Now people are advising to just give away your music, maybe make up the sales loss by touring, through merchandise, or hoping. Maybe we’re short sighted, but we don’t see the sustainability in that model. Fair use is fine, but does that include sharing it with the entire Universe? We keep making music because we are compelled to do so. It would be nice for it to help pay for some things like time, touring and new equipment to make the music better. That seems like a fair exchange between our audience and us.

Now that Tower is gone and the “new age” bins and stores are gone, what challenges do you face in marketing yourselves?
Seven Directions is a test run of sorts. Since we haven’t self-released anything in several years, we don’t know what to expect because so much in the industry has changed. Our marketing is almost exclusively through the Internet. In the past, we had a mail order catalog and now we run that through our website, which is going really well. The distributors we work with have big presence on the Internet, probably some stores order through them, but it’s mostly individuals who order through them. Even most magazines are online now, as very few seem to be publishing–for that matter, radio as well. Our music was never in many record stores and never really in the chains, so we don’t lament the death of the “new age” bin. What will Klaus Schultze and Tangerine Dream do? Go out on tour!

A side view of the Earthship built by Wilson and McNairn.

You took a decade off from music to build a sustainable home off-grid in New Mexico. Could you talk about that process and its effect on you as people and as artists?
The whole process was a trial by fire. We went through an incredible amount of hardship to build our house — an Earthship, which is the most labor-intensive house you can build — in the barren, high desert of northern New Mexico. The end result of so much struggle was a gorgeous, free flowing sculpture of sustainability. Through building the house, splitting up as a couple and doing a lot of ongoing personal work, we have come to a much deeper place within ourselves. This definitely comes through in our music, which seems more solid, deeper, and grounded. We’ve matured as artists and can sometimes elegantly channel music of the profound Universal mystery.

McNairn performing live at the 2008 IAMINDUST festival. (Photo by Craig Morse.)

What projects do you have coming up?
One of the effects of not self-releasing anything for over a decade is that we have tons of music ready to release. 2010 and 2011 will be very busy. Old Europa Café has just released Emergence and Immersion, two very limited edition CD-R’s we did for our 2007 European tour, as a double CD. The first in a series of Voice of Eye / Nux Vomica collaborations called NVVOE is due out very soon. This is a series we recorded with them during our Fall ’09 US tour and goes as far back as collaborations we did in 1994. Drone Records will soon be releasing the first in a 5-CD series called Anthology. These are recordings from the 1990s, 90% of which are unreleased. Taâlem in France just put out a mini-CD. Vinyl on Demand will be releasing selections from our early tapes in a three-LP collection late next year. Jim has a solo CD, Metamorphic Mindphase, and our side project, Wilhelm und Katishka, will be out in 2010 also.

For more information, updates and free downloads, visit www.voiceofeye.com and www.myspace.com/voiceofeyemusic.

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