MUSEA Magazine

Interview with Phillippe Arnaud from the Musea Magazine, 1997

1. versus X History

The precursor of versus X was a band called Vague Venture which played a New Wave/New Romantic style and was founded in 1985 as a trio with drum computer (including myself on vox,g).
One year later Stefan Maywald joined on drums and by the time my own influence pushed the band concept more in the progressive direction. In 1989 this finally led to a split up because of musical differences.
Stefan and I found the keyboard player Lukas Ernst who joined for one year but was never really satisfied with our musical direction and left again to work professionally in the film music field.
Back then the group was named versus X after an expression I found in a book about physical chemistry (I am a professional chemist). I just thought it sounded good and it my be interpreted as "against the mainstream".
At that time I gave some solo concerts using accoustic guitar, keyboards and vocals, playing mainly song stuff. At one of these concerts Ekkehard Nahm saw my performance and his interest was captured. He called me up and soon afterwards joined the band on keyboards. We discovered that we had almost the same vision of musical conception.
Two years later the present line up was completed by Stephan Dilley on bass. Still working with us since the Vague Venture days is Andy Tofahrn who cares about the equipment, mixing and recording.

2. Lyrics and Album Concept

There is no overall lyrics concept with the Disturbance album, but the individual tunes are each covering different aspects of a major theme approached from different viewpoints like personal, emotional, cosmic, etc.
"Curtain Call" deals with the role of the artist within the society that is surrounding him, ignores him or celebrates him by chance. This is exemplified by a woman who tries to flee from the disillusioning reality into her art which gives her the self-confidence she needs to survive, dreaming of being able to create her art under better circumstances.
In the second part she is confronted with the hard economic reality which rules in the art market but can never be a quality criterion of the art itself.
"In Silent Age" is an apocalyptic vision from the viewpoint of an artist. The spark of an idea emerges out of the darkness and infects the whole world which reacts like an organism being hit by a deadly desease.
This can be seen as a parabel on todays multimedia overkill which leaves the individual drowning within a sea of stimuli.
"The Mirror of Division" is about the human imagination which seems insufficient to really understand the nature of things in cosmic and microscopic scales. It´s the Heisenberg relation of uncertainty in the micro-, and the interwoven nature of gravitation, space, and time in the macroscopic view between which the world and all human imagination are drifting helplessly. But it is also this imperfection which keeps the secrets and mystery of things, representing the driving force behind man´s urge for progress and knowledge.

3. Seventies Influence

Speaking for our keyboarder Ekkehard Nahm and myself, as versus X composers, Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator are certainly major influences. Especially the early Genesis Albums are revealing such a great skill of composition, very complex but always smoothly progressing with lots of brilliant ideas and and a perfect sense for dynamics.
This hidden quality of Genesis music is often left unconsidered when comparing Gesesis to other bands who might sound similar (piano and guitar arpeggios with floating keyboards) but are far from reaching their skill of composition. We are also mainly focussing on composition rather than just on sound, hoping to approach that certain timeless quality.

4. Use of Piano

The main reason why the piano is widely used in versus X music is that Ekkehard has been trained in classical piano for 12 years and is always eager to play arpeggios rater than just keeping floating chords. This style provides a very intense harmonic impact which really works out the different themes and melodies within the instrumental context.
If you listen carefully you may realize multiple appearances of a theme in different musical environments within a song. We are always after a certain compositorical complexity which reveals new aspects of the composition with every listening for a long time. E.g. in Jethro Tulls Thick as a Brick I even now discover new details after knowing the album for more than 20 years.

5. Long Songs

We certainly prefer long songs because this format gives the composer the opportunity to use themes and structures which could not be fit into a short track. Within three minutes you can spread a song structure comprising verse/bridge/refrain with some repetitions. Within 20 minutes one can do almost everything.
In our music there is also mostly some sort of verse refrain structure but after its first presentation it is extended with different middle sections where one part leads to the other with multiple permutations of the different themes and parts.
This leads to the greatest freedom of composition, but it must be taken care that the bow of tension within the song stays clear. Otherwise it will become some kind of a suite of individual tracks just attached to each other. In the latter case it might indeed be better to do several short songs.
The real art lies in the creation and elaboration of modulations between the different basic parts of the song. It happened to us several times that the best parts of the composition were created while trying to fit two basic parts together. But the modulations themselves were found to sound even better than the initial parts (which sometimes were even left out in the end). These are the chances and possibilities to be worked out while composing a long track.

6. Plans for the Future

We have already composed two complete songs and many other themes for the next versus X album.
We are also looking for some prog festivals to play some live gigs to a bigger audience but unfortunately the time schedules of 5 people with regular jobs are hard to get together for making live gigs.
The material for a new Apogee album is already completed and recorded. It also contains very complex and lengthy tunes. If its release will still take some more time I will probably add another long song to the album approaching the 75 minutes mark.
Furthermore, I have written an essay about progressive rock which has been published in the german magazine "Carpe Diem" this spring. Maybe I find some time to translate it into english to make it accessible to international magazines like yours.