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Interview Cosmosis (Bill Halsey)


Q: Bill, you’ve been in the psychedelic trance scene for over a decade, how did you bump into psychedelic trance?

A: In the mid to late 80’s and early 90’s I was working as a guitarist in different bands and though I was playing gigs two or three, sometimes four times a week I wasn’t exposed to dance music culture (or Raves as they was called at the time) at all. I had become aware of Rave culture through the reactionary headlines of the Tabloid newspapers and I had earmarked it as something to check out at a later date. Something which caused that much moral outrage was bound to be fun …

I got my chance sometime in 1991 when a friend of mine suggested that I come to a club in London’s Victoria that he had been going to lately called SE 1.

I had many insights that night and my musical world has never been quite the same since. One thing in particular that I remember discovering and seeing clearly was that to date my approach to writing and creating music had been very conservative and hopelessly out of date and here was a completely new and powerful form of music that used new technology – at the time Atari computers, early digital synths (like the Korg M1) and samplers to open up totally soundscapes previously unheard. That was just listening to the House and early Techno music they played in that club that night, Psy Trance ( Goa Trance ) did not yet exist.

That was my introduction to dance music in general. From then on I switched to making dance music in my own studio – the next morning in fact and finished by evening because I was so inspired.

My introduction to Goa Trance came a little later later when my brother played me an early Dragonfly Records compilation Jouneys Into Trance by Paul Oakenfold which contained some tracks which the early precursor to Goa Trance. Soon after a mutual (House) DJ friend introduced Jez Van Kampen and I to each other because he said we were both interested in making the same weird music.

Jez, it later turned out had a small collection of early Dragonfly vinyls – which must have been about half of everything that Dragonly had released at that time, Jez also had a small collection of 2nd or 3rd generation, tape to tape hissy cassette mixtapes of Goa Trance, one of which was by a new Japanese DJ called Tsuyoshi. All in all his collection amounted to a goldmine of this new, fascinating underground music that was so deep underground that it was almost impossible to find.

Q: 5 full albums, and over 30 tracks releases on compilations, what next? Do you consider staying in, or stopping for a while and maybe do something different?

A: I believe the figure is tracks on over 90 different compilations from the last count, not including the tracks I have released as Mumbo Jumbo. Also it would be six artist albums including the one with Mitch as Mumbo Jumbo, which will total seven albums once I release the new Cosmosis album in a couple of months time. So yes, looking back I suppose I have released quite a bit of music over the last or eleven years.

I don’t consider doing anything else other than making music as it is my art and profession. It’s also an important part of who I am as a being. I have a need to create. I wrote and recorded with Hip Hop, acid Jazz, Blues Rock and Funk Pop projects way before I got into making purely electronic music. I still enjoy all aspects, particularly composition too much to think about doing something else. Though at times I have been involved in making other styles of music for some (minor) DVD releases and done some paid studio work mixing in 5.1 surround, but still things that are obviously music related. I find creating music satisfying like no other occupation that I have tried.. I take this to be an indicator of my path in life.

Q: You are definitely one of the pioneers in psychedelic trance, but it’s clear to everyone that the quality of current releases has changed (some call it evolution), do you feel today you are still producing the music that you like, or that you MUST produce.

A: I guess from today’s standpoint some see Cosmosis as a pioneer of Psy-Trance. From the point of view of Jez and I back in the days when we were making the first album Cosmology and the previous early releases, we were just trying to re-capture a similar vibe and feeling as some of this exciting new, alien sounding, otherworldly music that we had just discovered and that we were completely into.

For sure I still produce the music that I like, because I find it impossible to make music that I don’t like. In the past, on occasion, I have tried to make music to fit into a category for the sake of money. I was never able to make it work. I do think that it would be nice to break out of the Trance paradigm with its narrow tempo range and restricted rhythmic structure and to create a whole journeyesque album exploring some non-rhythmic electronic soundscapes, which would offer a whole lot more creative freedom. But I always seem to need some nice new pumping tunes for my live sets, so to date, the idea of making an album of non-trance keeps getting put on the backburner. Maybe I will get around to that particular project after the next album is released.

Also, having to produce music is not necessarily a bad thing. Given that I am pretty relaxed by nature and am my own boss, I regard anything that I can use as a spur to get off my arse and force myself to create and hone my art is valid. Whether it is a release deadline, a big upcoming gig that I want to get a track finished for, or a need to strike up some cash to pay the rent, it’s all grist for my creative mill.

Q: An artist needs a certain inspiration, what inspires you Bill? Artists, other genres of music, or maybe just a mood?

A: For me, I draw inspiration from the fact that by making and playing my music, I make a big contribution to people. When I present my Cosmosis material in my live sets, my intention is to give people the opportunity to really let it all go on the dancefloor and completely trancend themselves, to let loose and really enjoy. I strive to help them create profound peak experiences for themselves even if just for a moment. Memories that they may look back on one day and say “I don’t have words to describe how utterly fantastic certain parts of that night were.” At it’s best the whole trance-dance experience can be transcendental. That is to say that one can trancend one’s ego personality and connect with the oneness.

You touched on moods. For me making trance music is very much about using the sounds to capture a certain vibe and feeling. Not easy to describe in words, but I know it when I hear it. What I aim to do is combine that special vibe with an irresistible groove that has the power to possess your body and compels you to dance like a total lunatic – because that is the best damn music that you have ever heard in your life up to that point and it must be expressed physically.

Q: Some people consider your first two albums “Cosmology” and “Synergy” to be your best releases, even though you have released 3 other albums, do you agree on that?

A: I don’t think it would be too much of an exaggeration to say the first two Cosmosis albums contributed to defining the genres of both Goa Trance and Psy-Trance. I think probably mainly by default as there were not that many artists producing artist albums in the early days.

When Cosmology was released there were only around five other artist albums available. For sure there were compilations aplenty but artist albums, no. In fact, I only remember four other artists that had released an album at that time that Cosmology was released: The Infinity Project, Total Eclipse, Astral Projection and of course Hallucinogen’s Twisted.

That first album Cosmology which I co-wrote with Jez Van Kampen during 1995, I would say helped to define the sound of Goa Trance, in fact many people cite it as an example of a classic Goa trance album.

A little later Jez and I decided to focus on our individual projects; Jez as Laughing Buddha and me as Cosmosis. At that time, I had been on the road touring for a while. I had been playing at (and going ) to a lot of pretty crazy outdoor psychedelic parties in forests, on beaches all over the world. As a consequence, I began to explore and focus more on harder-edged and more trippy, psychedelic sounds. By the time I had got my studio set up at my new location I was bursting with ideas and itching to get some stuff down. I wrote Synergy during 1997. Judging by what I read about it on the net, many regard it as one of the first classic Psy-Trance albums, and again many use it as a reference point for when Goa trance first morphed into PsyTrance.

Do I think that these were the best two Cosmosis albums? I think that they were both excellent albums and still are nice to listen to musically. Perhaps more importantly for me, they both captured the spirit of the time very nicely, like a snapshot of that age. However, times and production values have changed such that the grooves can sound a little polite when played side by side with today’s production standard which tends to feature the kik drum much further up in the overall mix.

Personally, at the moment, I reckon that Trancendance is my strongest album overall since Synergy. But it’s difficult for me to say which is my best album because there seems to be little correlation between what I think is good and what people generally like. A classic example for me would be the track “Howling At The Moon.” Many, many people love that track and I get repeated requests to either play it in my sets, or re-release it on cd (it came out on vinyl) But I listen to it today and think to myself “God, what kind of angry mood was I in when I produced that ?”

Admittedly, I did set out to capture the spooky mood of primitive and ancient, ritual footstomping in the dead of night in a misty forest under a full moon (and perhaps with a subtext of bloodlust…) But personally, I find it just too much to listen to. For the main lines, I used aggressive, metallic sounding FM sounds and combined it with an arrangement is totally full-on and relentless. But still, many people love it so….

Cosmosis Live

Q: You worked with artists like Jez Van Kampen, and then Dj Kuma on Mumbo Jumbo, do you enjoy working with other artists, or prefer a solo project?

A: I like both approaches because they offer different advantages. When working in the studio with someone else, apart from the obvious advantage of someone else bringing fresh musical ideas to the session, it can be a lot more fun, especially when slogging through long editing sessions. Working with another experienced producer (rather than a DJ) is particularly useful because you can take more breaks and swap the two major roles of: 1. driving the sequencer, editing, and focussing in on the minuscule details and 2. being responsible for maintaining the overview of the track/keeping the session vibe light and moving forward / tea making responsibilities.

On the other hand, when working alone there is not the same restriction on time, so I can indulge myself in trying many different ideas before choosing between them. There are also no artistic compromises that need to be made between ideas, so I can express my personal artistic vision more completely.

Your music was used in soundtracks and various animations, are you still working on such projects?

Not right now. I am focused on making a new Cosmosis album.

Q: So what do you do when you’re not busy touring and making music?

A: Sit in my garden in a place in the sunshine with a view over the mountains and play the blues on my acoustic guitar. When I am not doing that I read. I also meditate.

I wonder how you feel when you play in a party? is it like just a normal day of work for me? after all it works for you too.

Actually, performing onstage is never works for me, never has been. I still get a really big kick out of playing and watching people freaking out enjoying themselves (it can also a good laugh watching people from onstage sometimes : ) On the other hand, hanging around backstage in some dirty club for hours before the party starts, spending hours on crowded long haul flights, and stumbling through multiple airports with severe sleep deprivation can be less than pleasant. All things considered, though I consider myself very fortunate to be following my vocation and doing something I love, which is both to make music and be able to travel and share it with an appreciative audience and contribute in some small way to other people’s lives.