Photos by : Justina Lukošiūtė
When we talk about Ashtoteth, we can say it is a solo project formed by Peter Verwimp in Antwerp, Belgium, during the winter of 2010. Developed as the crown achievement of Peter’s rich experience in music, Ashtoreth, in his alchemical process of creation, combines different genres and approaches in music, always in a free and improvised form. We can also say that Ashtoreth is a mystical experience of one man’s journey searching for a shamanic perspective in music. And this is not all.
Hello Peter, welcome to Popscotch Radio. In the beginning, can you introduce Ashtoreth to the public in Serbia who is not familiar with your work?
Ashtoreth is a guitar and vocal driven dark ambient solo project looking for a shamanic perspective, meaning that it uses some essential elements of the shamanic experience.
Through effects and electronics I manipulate guitar and vocal sounds into long and ritual pieces that aim at transporting the listener into alternate, inner realms, much like the shamanic journey.
Shamanism gives me the backbone for all my musical influences to find a way out. I think that music is the most powerful vector to represent my thoughts and ideas.
Can you tell me something about your “free-form” approach to music? Also, I would like to hear about the standard setup you use in composing and performing music.
I have been playing in different bands for many years and I got tired with playing structured music and playing the same songs over and over again, as well in rehearsal as in a live context.
I was looking for something more liberating, something with a more feminine approach to things. I found that in the improvisations that I do. I`d say that structure and songs are a more masculine approach and demands a lot of thinking and remembering. Improvisation is a more feminine approach to me. It allows one to express feelings and ideas on the spot and for a real interaction with the audience. It is from this kind of thinking that I felt the need for a name of a Goddess. More so because a lot of my music deals with natural and super natural phenomena and ASHTORETH (the Goddess) also symbolises that for me, another form of Gaia, of Nature as a whole.
My set up for composing an album is somewhat different from the one I use live. Live I use mainly guitar and vocals and lots of different effects (reverbs, delays, octaver, chorus etc…) and loops. That sort of set up allows me to make a base layer and improvise over that. In a studio setting I also use that same set up, but here I also make use of field recordings, recordings of other instruments like flutes, drums, bells…sometimes it starts from a basic jam / improv session, sometimes i`ll just randomly place some sound files and see what happens. Coincidence / chance plays an integral part in my way of composing.
Why is each of your performances a unique experience?
Mostly because it is never the same. I deliberately work with the energies I receive from the crowd or from the film i`m playing music to. I might start the improv session with an idea i`ve worked on before, but sometimes not even that. I`ll just start by setting a mood and then see where the sound takes me. During a performance the music can go from drone / ambient to folk, noise, choir based sounds…all depending on the moment and the energies of those present.
The second part of the last decade has been fruitful for Ashtoreth. In addition to several solo and live albums, there have been many significant collaborations and split albums. I would especially like to point out the series of albums Rites, released for Cyclic Law. And would also highlight my favorite folk horror trilogy in collaboration with Grey Malkin. Can you tell me about your inspiration and something more about collaborations, which I would say, are a significant mark of Ashtoreth’s work?
Inspiration can come in many forms, be it books or films, philosophical concepts, folklore, history, images i get from journeys and meditations, walks in nature…anything can be an inspiration really. I`ve always been interested in religious ceremonies, philosophical thinking, folklore and the way rituals are formed and keep being repeated. On my travels I always visit sacred or revered places and something always drew me to the hidden mysteries and symbolism. Years ago I got involved with Shamanism and I instantly felt at home in that universe, just because it is not tied to rules and prescribed actions. I believe that the power of shamanism is exactly that it is able to connect us to that `time before God` but at the same time it stays relevant in these modern days too. I often use the hashtag `archaic revival`, a term coined by Terence McKenna and it refers to exactly that, a return to the time before God in a modern setting. I think that that is the power shamanism has and the reason it survived for so many centuries, even under the weight of organised religion. Shamanism holds a possibility to transform and change according to the needs of the moment. There is a sense of improvisation that interests me as well. Shamans sometimes perform rituals, but mostly it is about ceremony. I distinguish between those two because a ceremony, in my view, is an intuitive and spontaneous respons to a situation and ritual is a repeated ( and therefore maybe less powerful) form of ceremony. In ceremony it is asked of us to look at the current situation and deal with it accordingly. Much like in improvised music.
Collaborations are indeed an integral part of my praxis. It allows me to have a different point of view, to see how others use sound and elaborate on those visions. It`s also a way of learning for me. other artists bring their ideas and concepts to the fold and I always learn a lot from those interactions. I also shows me the different ways of how I can integrate that what makes Ashtoreth what it is. Some collaborators even show me sides of myself i did`t know of. It`s also a great way to interact with others, music is a language that is, in my perspective, way more powerful than spoken or written language.
Rites 1 and 2 on Cyclic Law
Talking about Ashtoreth as an artistic project is like exploring only one dimension. All your work has a strong spiritual concept, such as a shamanic perspective in music, as well as female deities such as Asthoreth and Morana – significant deities in the ancient religion of the Serbs. I find this side of you particularly interesting. Can you tell me something about it?
The spiritual dimension is indeed a very important part of what makes up Ashtoreth. Both from my own practise as a shamanic healer as well as my interest in other religions / spiritual paths. It gives me inspiration and a feeling of connectedness to a bigger whole. The shamanic approach provides me with a frame work upon which i can build. In a live setting I try to involve the audience in this too by smudging the room with either Sage or Palo santo or another herb that is available. The smoke brings everyone together and provides protection during the session.
What makes Ashtoreth’s creations even more complex are the authentic visuals. I would say that you are a musician who perfectly combines music and visual dimension. You also made music for films and had experience at events like Live Soundtrack. How important is the visual component to your music? And what can the audience expect on Sunday, when you will be a guest at the new edition of Live Soundtrack in Belgrade?
I`ve been lucky to be able to work with talented film makers and to convey my ideas to them. Even though i`ll leave them with an artistic carte blanche, the end result always seems to work out well. Maybe because my music somehow conjures up images by itself…
I`m not totally sure of what to expect from it myself, but for the practical reason of travelling i`ll come with a small set up this time, consisting of voice and several small percussion instruments. So I will be focussing a lot on vocal drones, choir-like soundscapes with percussion. the rest will show itself on the moment of the performance !
Ashtoreth on Bandcamp | Facebook
Facebook event for Live Soundtrack 67 | Ashtoreth [BE], Iframes, Hton, Nemanja Pavlović x tribute to Alvin Lucier