ArtsTalk Magazine doesn’t normally review or promote recorded music. However, the new Xilent Records is very closely linked to performance art so we are happy to publish the article and interview with Jonathan Nagel, co-creator of the Amsterdam-based label.
At The Splendor in Amsterdam, new music label Xilent Records was launched accompanied by three eccentric and varying live music sets from the founders of the label: Maya Felixbrodt, Alba Boustanji and Jonathan Nagel. Founded in 2022, the label hopes to provide a platform for “multi-faceted works” with various artistic elements “to be experienced sonically, visually, physically, intuitively or intellectually.”
Maya Felixbrodt played music from her new solo album I Didn’t Take Any Hearts in which she utilizes viola, voice, electronics and dance performance to create a very rhythmic and tonal performance. She hopes “to create music that encourages people to move….”
Ash Zarah, an avant-garde, ambient group (composed of Alba Boustanji, Omer Sigler, Assi Weitz, Jonathan Nagel) presented Foreign Fire with sonic soundscapes ranging from ambient to heavy noise. The music played is analogous to a roaring fire that one is trapped in.
Finally, Contra bass player and poet, Jonathan Nagel, will present a piece of eventually with dancer, Anna Heuer Hansen. Performed earlier this year in February his performance portrays the transition of power and control to loss and surrender through elements of music, dance, spoken word and lighting.
Before the performances I had the privilege to interview Nagel, the main initiator of Xilent Records.
Can you tell me what Xilent Records is about and how it was initiated?
Last year I decided to start this record label with two colleagues, Maya Felixbrodt and Alba Boustanji. At some point we decided to set up this platform and start creating a network for the specific work we produce. Our creative backgrounds vary but what our craft has in common is that it does not fit into the traditional existing ‘boxes’ in relation to how the arts have been structured. We work in more interdisciplinary and experimental means. My work is combined a lot with dance and theatre. Felixbrodt, on the other hand, has a music background but works a lot with movement. And Boustanji comes from visual arts but also does a lot of performance work. The three of us all found that we are involved in very interdisciplinary fields and varying fields which made it difficult to place our works in the existing spectrum of categories. This led to the idea of putting together Xilent Records.
You mention that the label is inspired by Gesamtkunstwerk which translates to a “total work of art” or ‘a synthesis of the arts’; an ‘all-embracing art form. Can you elaborate how you came to use that idea in the creation of Xilent Records and perhaps what listeners and viewers might expect in the live performances and by listening to the albums themselves?
In the performances I hope that the listener will become immersed in the different elements characterizing the music from spoken word, poetry, lighting, theatre and cinematic soundscapes in one cohesive body of work (hence the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk). I hope that listeners and viewers will become active in what they are experiencing, pick out and contemplate the identifiable elements in all the performances.
In regard to the album itself, I hope that people will listen to the music and think about the illustrations and photographs of the performance that will be accompanied with it. In observing the images whilst listening to the music I hope it will activate people to become curious about the sounds embedded within; to encourage them to seek further and question what artistic elements they encounter in the album.
You mention that in your art you “continuously seek to abandon the borders between genres”. With Gesamtkunstwerk and your goal in making art do you feel it improper or maybe in some way even ‘immoral’ to place the music of Xilent Records under a specific genre?
We had actually encountered this issue when discussing how to promote the album. How do we present and tell people about it? Although we wish to abandon the traditional existing ‘boxes’ and ‘genres’ you cannot escape from them completely, particularly when you need to communicate it to people. There is no specific category to place the music and art that we produce.
If no genre can categorize it, would you then describe your music as perhaps experimental?
The performances and music does include very different varying sounds and elements which could easily appeal to “experimental”. However, I would like to stay clear from labeling Xilent Records under any specific genre. Sometimes describing a music piece with these terms can carry a negative connotation or project the wrong impression about it. For example, when describing a piece as an “improvisation” it can already suggest the idea to the audience that there is a lack of preparation and thought when this is not the case at all. Similar connotations can be used when describing a piece of music as “experimental”. In Xilent Records I would like to describe it really as much as I can as a “non-genre” performance so that it can remain completely open to interpretation for the listener and not implant a prescribed perception.
You say that you hope that the label will go against the current arts market which “has a tendency to undermine and flatten works, by confining them to a singular topic, discipline, genre or style.” While “on the contrary, traditional arts theory and education often undermine and make works inaccessible, by claiming they would require to be understood in a context of study,” Can you elaborate how Xilent Records means to highlight this as a performance and music album? Why do you feel it is needed?
There’s this idea that we are forced to categorize our art and put our music or art forms into a certain box. By doing so it is believed that this is the only means to sell your work and appeal to the market which I dislike to do. I had also felt this when I was studying at university. I was interested in what I was doing but had to follow a certain route; a certain traditional disciplinary medium of learning music which made me feel limited and did not allow me to express myself with the many other interests I had. It made me consider the singular boxes we as artists need to place ourselves into in order to appeal to a market or an audience. In Xilent Records I want to show that we can break out of this system and showcase works that do not need to fall under a particular genre.
Why did you choose Xilent Records as a name for the label?
Firstly, I chose “Records” as a reference to a document filing system; to store the broad and varying sounds and artistic elements produced in each of the songs included. And secondly, Xilent in reference to the hidden gems of music (and art) making that remain unseen or unheard because of the existing genres and traditional ‘boxes’ artists are forced to categorize their work in.
How do you see the label developing over the next few years? What kind of impact do you hope it will bring to those that listen to it?
Hopefully, in the future the album and the specific inter-disciplinary work that we produce will gain more recognition. I hope to further realize and form a community of artists who do similar practices and to open the door to aspiring musicians who feel limited due to the defining labels we need to place our craft in. Jonathan Nagel was talking to Anja Herrmann in Amsterdam on 4th June 2023