Hoshin is a deep ambient project crafted by Xavier H, from Belgium. After a degree in musical school, he turned towards the use of electronic ways to make music from a wide range of genres. A new direction emerged after two long lasting spiritual journeys in Burma, where he collected lots of field recordings. While meeting Asmorod in 2010, the project of Xavier H took his final form in splitting in two parts, Hoshin and Esylt.
Hoshin tries to connect opposites, using vintage synths and effects, an analog modular synth, computer and field recordings, the whole binded by a sense of necessity to « Constrain the chaos that we are to become form ».
Softly dark, with hints of asian mysteries and a nostalgia aura, the Hoshin project is a kind of soundscape testimony. It tends to evoke the magic and the ghosts hidden in the everyday, behind a mist of unknowing.
Interview with Hoshin, by Michael Barnett
Michael: Could you please tell the readers what lead you to begin composing dark ambient works? Was there a specific moment that you can point to, or did the idea gradually form?
Xavier: Somebody heard of my interest in electronic music and gave me some software. It began like this, all of a sudden. I remember very well my first tracks. They were a little bit of everything, from cheesy chill-out to cheesy drum and bass. I was impressed by the fact it was possible to create so easily. I didn’t know it was so accessible, so I had never thought about it.
I made my third track with a cheap synth, which I still use today. I’ve kept them all, except one. The track was really dark. Yet, the following one was pure ambient a la Eno. Thereafter, I made less and less cheesy stuff and concentrated myself to those two genres.
Ten years ago, I get in touch with Asmorod. I don’t remember very well how it happened. He and, later, Hana, gave me advice, very critical comments of my tracks, which were often too cheesy. Then, little by little, he helped me to define my universe, and Hoshin was born.
I’ve always listened to this kind of music. As a teenager, it helped me to induce deep introspection or an altered state of consciousness. I create electronic music, so it’s the sound-sculpture process that I’m passionate about. It still gives me oceanic feelings as an automatic side effect. When I render a track, it’s a kind of picture of the end of this process, a memory of those moments.
Michael: What was your specialty at music school? Did you have a certain instrument or style of music which you studied the most?
Xavier: I learned clarinet and oboe, and practiced in a concert band. I didn’t like to train on technical exercises and preferred improvisation. I was mad about solfege and chords analysis and music transcription.
Michael: Could you elaborate on the significance of your spiritual journeys to Burma? How did these trips influence your music?
Xavier: It was of an utmost significance, to me, a child’s dream that came true. Though, it was not some kind of beginning, but the climax of some things I made for a long time. I had the opportunity to see and to live what it is to do a long time Vipassana Meditation retreat in a traditional way. It is not like doing 2 hours of meditation, daydreaming, working on the garden etc… It’s from 3.30 am till 11pm, staying in a highly concentrated state of mind, from the very first breath of the day, until the very last thought before the moment we fall asleep (if we fall asleep!). Even when eating or peeing, we focus on what becomes predominant on the body and mind processes. This, during 2 month. Concentrating uninterrupted for such a long period, there are, of course, influences. We are not the same after. It shakes the perception of reality. Shakes its foundations. It’s hard to answer to the question of what it changes about your life. What it changes about your creations. Because, I have always meditated. So I have nothing to compare with.
Though, I could say something about influences in two ways. Creating sounds in electronic music has influenced my meditation retreat. Because, I saw my mind sculpting sounds. I heard those arrangements in melodies and harmonies. It often happens. But, in Burma, far away from my synth for a long period, it was like an obsession hard to cope with in such context.
In the other direction, making a retreat in a traditional way was realizing my dream. And, when you have realized your dream, what’s left? I came back for another 2 month retreat, in the same place, thinking I could go further and find satisfaction. I went further, but I was again facing the void. The void we face in Buddhist meditations takes place in the everyday life. In an existential aspect too.
Even if we think it’s impossible to realize, we put lots of energy, expectations, and meaning in our dreams. It helps us to drive our lives, stretched to a target we know is not possible to reach. But, sometimes, life lets the door open and we can make it. I tend to think it’s probably not the best thing to do, to realize our dreams, if we want to stay in a serene state of mind. But, it would be crazy not to do it! So we have to face the consequences, the good and the hard ones. The nostalgia tint in my tracks could evoke my lost paradise. The quiet tearing to leave my second home and leave all this behind.
Michael: Is there any one album which had a major influence on your life and your music style?
Xavier: There are plenty of them. If there was only one, it would be Apollo 2 – The Divine Compilation on Apollo Records. I discovered the name ambient with this compilation in 1995. Even though I was listening to ambient earlier. I fell in love with incredible projects such as Biosphere, Subsurfing, Global Communication. It was a crucial and founder moment to me. I still thank the man who made me discover it.
Michael: Many dark ambient artists like to set a particular mood in the studio while they work on music. Do you have any kind of set rituals you like to follow when sitting down to work on music?
Xavier: It seems not. I tend to simplify every act of creation to the extreme. I avoid all forms of unnecessary addictions. They can expose us to the risk of not receiving inspiration. Because, we have little time, or we need to make our rituals complex. Because, they tend to be less and less useful. As I don’t have much time to practice, I have to dive right in.
Though, I have habits, which are like little rituals, but separated from religion. My main habit is to practice music everyday. If I can’t practice, then I practice in my head. I let the music play and vanish within, or I let the music play me. Doing it this way is the best for me.
It happens also that I do something before making music, which is not related to it. Sometimes, I open a special book or look at some selected pictures. So that they have an impact on my creation during the next session. It helps me to create coherence. It helps me to find conceptual inspiration. To put some meaning which will eventually guide me.
Michael: Would you like to speak a little about your studio-space itself? Any favorite instruments, chairs, or software which you absolutely couldn’t live without?
Xavier: I actually have two studios. One at work, the other at home. In order not to bully my inspiration, I try not to do the same thing in those two different spaces. So, when I’m on the Hoshin project, I work on sound sculpting and composition at home and I mix at work. Those two different processes use such different attitudes and abilities. If I blend the two in the same areas, or even too close in space and time, it leads me to have bad quality results on both. If I work on Esylt and Hoshin at the same time, I carefully restrict Hoshin’s creations at home and Esylt’s at work. I find it a lot easier to do like this. If I’m on Esylt only, I create at work, and mix at home. Such a crazy-looking organization is a huge help. It equals easier creativity and quality, for me.
It’s hard to talk about favorite instruments, because they are all my favorite. So, I’ll make a top 3:
1) My main synth is my modular synth, quite important to me. I built it with my father. It took 6 month to buy and solder all those tiny components, and to make the panels, when I had some time… But the result is magnificent and so musical! I use it regularly to make drones, wind or wave noises. I use it to warm up some field recording. Also I sometimes use it for melodic parts.
2) My «Swiss army knife» synth is an Alesis Ion. I like especially the fact that the encoders are on high resolution. I can’t stand to hear a filter sweep which sounds like a progression in stairs. This synth is huge. It allows incredibly thorough and sharp programming, with a lot of different colors.
3) My «secret weapon synth» is the Elektron Monomachine. A quite complex and unorthodox tool. It is rarely associated with the ambient scene (much more techno/minimal/chip-tune). But I like to break codes and labels. I’ve made my best «Biosphere-like-pads» on this machine.
On effects, I’m in love with various forms of reverb. I have 3 old digital racks, and I recently bought the outstanding Eventide Space.
As for software, I use Reaper to control and record everything. No VST except some EQ and compressors. I use also Reason 7, sometimes. I like this modular environment and it’s like a studio.
… Of course, I have a lot of other secret weapons…
Michael: Do you take any interest in esotericism or occultism? Do any of your personal beliefs hold a prominent position in your musical output?
Xavier: Esotericism and occultism are interesting subjects, as other schools of thoughts. I’m fascinated by all those things humans can create as keys to understand where and who we are, how to live… So, I’m also interested in harmful sectarian movements, and nauseous new age conceptions…
Though, I’m more into esotericism in its first sense, the instruction to the within. The instruction that is reserved for the initiated. Those who wants to go further than the common religious practices. This esotericism points to every mystic branch of all religious and cultural traditions. It interests me deeply. From Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite to Shamanism, from Sufism to Kashmir Shaivism. An essential food!