Today's Artist introduces himself as a synthesist, drummer, electronic groove creator and sound sculptor. He mixes experimental sound sculpting with a hybrid of electronic and acoustic grooves. .......N'Joy
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Synthesist, drummer, sound sculptor and electronic groove creator, Peoria-Illinois-based "Vir Unis" (real name: John Strate-Hootman, 26 October 1969, Morton, IL, United States ) is a significant voice in the world of atmospheric / tribal / ambient music. With an emphasis on rhythm and pulse, underpinned by deep synthesizer textures, Vir Unis realizes music that moves between the organic intensity of ever evolving fractal grooves and the harmonic complexity of mist strewn sonic atmospheres. Co-founder of AtmoWorks
After performing as a drummer in various synth pop and new wave bands in the 1980's, he worked for several years in solitude developing atmospheric and experimental music via a simple analog 4-track cassette deck, one effects box, delay pedal, drum machine, and a synthesizer. Acquiring his first computer, Vir Unis was first introduced to digital recording via Sonic Foundry software in 1996. Realizing the vast potential that the digital realm offers the electronic musician, he quickly set about creating a new world of possibilities for himself, both atmospherically and rhythmically. Starting out as a drummer and percussionist, these kinds of software tools helped shape a lot of the ideas that he was developing in his mind, but could not produce with the audio tools of the time, given the limitations of magnetic tape. However, being based in this minimalist approach to creating music, he was accustomed to pushing the instruments that he had to the furthest point and beyond, thus creating an atmosphere in which the imagination could thrive in either the digital or analog world. Forging a new and experimental fusion of analog percussion sources and digital editing became the primary focus for the next several years. Combining these electronic grooves with the sonic and misty psychedelic atmospheres that he had been working on for the past decade seemed the perfect alchemy and the next level he had been seeking.
In the summer of 1998, Imaginarium was released. This was a collaboration album with Midwest duo Ma Ja Le and was produced by the legendary electronic music composer Steve Roach. This proved to be quite a fortuitous event for many reasons, but the main reason was a lasting collaboration between Roach and Unis, developing their ongoing exploration of fractal groove creation into what Roach has called "Elegant Futurism". Their first collaboration, Body Electric, was released on Projekt in February of 1999. Well received by both critics and listeners alike, Body Electric received much radio airplay nationwide and remained in the Airwaves and New Age Voice top ten for over 8 weeks. Later that year, Vir Unis released his first solo album, The Drift Inside, in November of 1999 on Minneapolis based label GreenHouse Music. Produced by Steve Roach and Vir Unis, The Drift Inside focused primarily on self-reflective inner space music. Being completely beatless, his first solo album offered a different side to the tribal and electronic groove albums with Steve Roach and Ma Ja Le. However, The Undivided Flow, his contribution to The Ambient Expanse (Mirage), did offer a glimpse at the music that was developed on The Drift Inside. He also contributed one track, Beneath the Hive, to GreenHouse Music's first compilation album, Convergent Evolution in 1999. The Drift Inside has received several highly charged and positive reviews. A favorite of many space music fans, it was #2 on the New Age Sampler Radio show for The Ambient Hour which broadcasts on 89.9 FM, WWSP from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Vir Unis was also interviewed for their Millennium Featured Artist Series during this time. The Drift Inside was also featured in February 2000 on Hearts of Space program entitled "Luminosity".
Of music, Strate says, "I consider music to be a visual medium. Not just in imagining pictures while listening to music, but in a much more direct way. I see music when I listen to it. It creates patterns, textures, and all sorts of mandala like structures. In designing images on the computer, I try to capture the things I see in music. Painting, drawing, and computer aided design is all musical too. So, there's this sort of synesthesia that occurs naturally if you tune into it, and that's why a lot of artists are able to cross over into various mediums, because they all derive from the same source".
Vir Unis performed on 4 March 2000 at The Gatherings Concert Series in Philadelphia. This was his first concert ever on the east coast of the USA, second solo concert ever and demonstrated his talent for exploring, through music, the areas of space within and outside of the audience. A recording of this concert has been released via MP3.com.
Following the 4 March Gathering, Saul Stokes and Vir Unis performed their first collaboration live on the 03.05.00 broadcast of STAR'S END. Vir Unis + James JohnsonVir Unis returned to Philadelphia on 12 April 2003 to once again perform at The Gatherings Concert Series. Joining him was friend and collaborator, noted sonic explorer James Johnson. The duo presented live material in the vein of their recent release, Perimeter and its follow-up 3CD set, Perimeter 2 - released in Philadelphia on 12 April.
Among music composition and recording, Vir Unis has also been credited as a graphic designer for all his own solo albums, the cover artwork for Steve Roach's Midnight Moon (Projekt), and most recently, Blood Machine and the upcoming Sonic Foundry Vir Unis ACID Loop Library. Vir Unis has also musically contributed to Steve Roach's solo album, Light Fantastic (HOS/Fathom) as a guest artist, which earned Steve the AIIFM award for 1999, and also Roach's Serpant's Lair (Projekt), which was a collaboration album with percussionist Byron Metcalf. Always looking to keep the music and ideas fresh and evolving, Vir Unis is relentless in his search for new sounds, new grooves, and new worlds in which to create. Combing the various sources of acoustic and electronic sounds from the ground up into an analog and digital fractal stew and utilizing the latest software and hardware, Vir Unis' goal was nothing less than to create 100% original electro-psychedelic mind-body music.
AV: You started your musical career playing drums. Bearing in mind other synthesists like Klaus Schulze, Chris Franke started out on the same route, what made you change to synthesizers?
VU: Actually, my brother had a Moog Rogue and a Prophet 600 and I remember being quite fascinated with the possibilities to create strange and alien sounds. I didn't really care too much about conventional sounds and playing chops or recognized musical forms. I was very intrigued with the idea that one could sculpt sound and the patterns could just keep changing infinitely. I liked synthesizers because they were their own instrument. I despised the more featureless black box sample playback machines that were starting to come out. They seemed to have more in common with a Stealth Bomber than they did a musical instrument! I was way more intrigued by the analog synthesizers and all the blinking lights, sliders, faders, and knobs they had. From there I started listening closely to some of the more atmospheric string sounds that a lot of New Wave pop bands were utilizing in their songs and recognizing how they sort of sprung from a lot of the early Brian Eno recordings and also stuff that David Sylvian and Richard Barbieri were doing with their band, Japan. So I set out with really no concrete plans other than to just sit in front of the synth and just dream.
AV: What exactly is a "fractal groove" in technical terms?
VU: "Fractal grooves" are really a process born out of extracting rhythmic patterns from within patterns. It's also an endless and infinite array of possibilities, so I was certainly fascinated with this concept when I first discovered how you could literally produce 30 different type of grooves from a single loop. It's a matter of increasing complexity, taking one simple groove and pushing it through this process to create highly sophisticated and what Steve Roach calls "elegant futuristic" beats. The idea is to create several varying degrees of a type of loop and blend them together in oscillating crossfades that create this sort of mandala like fractalization. It gives that sort of psychedelic and liquid lava lamp like flow to the grooves.
AV: Can you remember the first electronic recording you heard and how it affected you?
VU: I can't recall the exact title of the first electronic recording I heard. But, I can recall first listening to space music in the mid eighties. A girlfriend of mine had a tape she made of a program that I had just heard about called "Hearts of Space". I remember how lush and mind expanding it sounded in comparison to the more upbeat electronic pop music that I was listening to and performing at the time. It wasn't something that I listened to all the time or very much, for that matter, so when I did listen to it it was a unique and special event. So this atmosphere of it being a special event started to develop. It began to affect me slowly but deeply. It really felt like the soundtrack to a dream, and increasingly I felt connected to it at a deeper level, as it felt like something that I had been searching for a long time. Staying up late and listening to this music in a dark room became a favorite ritual over time.
AV: How do you go about preparing for a concert? Is it a disciplined approach with hours of rehearsal or is a lot done on the spur of the moment in the concert hall?
VU: My preparation for a concert is more psychological than anything else. Of course, I go through all the usual preparations of getting a few sounds programmed on the synthesizers and putting together backdrop atmospheres, although I prefer to mainly twist the music on the fly. Mostly I tend to become very quiet, preferring little or no speech, and slowly start to focus on being in the moment and being carried by the current of the beats and sounds. Usually this approach melts away the nervous energy that builds up preceding a performance. Most of the shows that I've done recently have been based on improvisation. You make yourself prepared emotionally and physically and the spirit will move you to create the right stuff. This is something that makes the shows much more exhilarating, on the edge, and less of being a sound pilot/dj for the crowd. I definitely think it's much more interesting to see a performer moving and interacting with other musicians. That's why a lot of my recent shows have been with others.
AV: You have worked with Steve Roach on a number of albums now. What is the single most important thing you have learned from this veteran of the scene?
VU: Actually, several things. Integrity. Grace. Focus. Dedication. I've met very few people in this life as focused and dedicated to their craft as Steve Roach. Time and time again he has blown me away with how deep his art flows. This is a man who makes no compromises with the outer world, instead choosing to dive into the dark and bring back something profoundly human, rich, and enduring. It's a hero's quest, and working with him has only served to clarify my calling, my destiny.
AV: Is there a single piece of musical equipment that you would just love to own?
VU: I would love to own a top of the line Lexicon reverb. It's pure space contained in a black box....
AV: Have you ever been tempted to try and break into the mainstream music charts by releasing a commercial "pop" piece of music?
VU: I come from a background of playing in bands that though they have been a bit on the unconventional side still created musical forms from the well of popular culture. I did this for approximately 7 years, so I've had my fill to last a lifetime. Since I've been on my own, it's been all about creating my own space.
AV: A lot of your music is very reflective and spiritual. Do you have your own personal belief system or do you practice a faith that comes through with the music?
VU: I don't practice any sort of organized religious doctrine. I tend to shy away from the dogma that lies at the outer perimeter of religion and go immediately to it's essence which I feel connects all the world's ideologies and traditions. I come from a Christian environment that had very little to do with the actual teachings of Christ, so the reflective and spiritual aspect of my music is really an attempt to get past these layers of cultural conditioning and dive deeper to the truth that lies inside. I have a lot of beliefs and ideas that spring from a more eastern philosophy or approach to life, so I certainly have an affinity with Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen, but by no means am I a scholar of any these ways of life. Essentially, my religion, if anything, is my music.
AV: Beyond Perimeter what projects do you have in the works for next year that we might be looking for?
VU: A collaboration with Saul Stokes should be finished by the end of the year. This is titled "Thermal Transfer" and will be released on Hypnos' new affiliate label, Binary. An official release date hasn't been scheduled yet, but it's expected to be out sometime around early February 2002. It's really a nice mix of Saul's homemade synth style electronic music and my fractal groovescapes and atmospheres. We've been working on it for about a year, so I'm really excited about seeing it finally come to life. I also have a solo album, tentatively titled "Mercury and Plastic" coming out sometime next year. It's a continuation of Pulse n Atmo and a lot of the work that I've done with Steve Roach and James Johnson. A live disc from the Space For Music Festival that Interstitial and I performed at in Milwaukee last May will also be released sometime early in 2002. We're hoping to encode it in 5.1 surround for a really expansive experience. That will probably be released on my new artist direct label, "In The Bubble Music".
I also hope my long time collaboration with MJ Dawn, Steve Roach and Subatomic God will be finished. It's taken a lot of twists and turns these past four years and I'm really anxious to see it finally finished. Expect some real high energy and fast paced groovescapes on that one! Other than that, James Johnson and I have been talking about releasing a live CD that would consist of tracks collected from our Fall 2001 shows that we're in the middle of right now. Also a collaboration with guitartist Chris Short, entitled Hub of The Mono Gods, may be finished sometime in the Spring or Summer of 2002. Actually, despite this list of collaborations and solo projects, I really intended to relax some more next year, but the projects are already stacking up!
AV: Do you have any plans for appearances for the balance of this year and into next year that have been finalized?
VU: My next scheduled apprearance is Nov. 4th and 6th in Toronto, Canada for 1groove.com and The Ambient Ping. The show at the Ambient Ping is actually a release party for "Perimeter" with James Johnson. We'll be performing material from this album at both shows. Other than those two concerts, nothing else is scheduled for the remainder of this year....At least, for now....
AV: Lastly where do you see yourself in say ten years time?
VU: It's hard to say. All of us, in this world, are really on the edge of uncertainty. The world really does spin on a dime, and who knows what will happen with any one of us. Of course I have my personal hopes and aspirations that I work towards, but I really try to stay focused on the present and the immediate future. In ten years time, I do know that I will be on the same path that I am now, but with hopefully a lot more insight, patience, respect, and compassion. Other than just being alive and breathing, what more could I ask for?
Well i made an effort to tell you about the man, even if the net delivers very little on him, and now i guess here at Rho-Xs we have the best advertorial on him, hmmm someone should create a wiki page on him
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Vir Unis, with some help from Steve Roach, has managed to create a profound and chimerical recording. The Drift Inside, with its slowly evolving aural brilliance and kaleidoscopic melodic fragments, takes the listener for a deep journey into the mind's eyes and ears. This is another great Green House Music recording that takes you away just long enough to regroup and return revived. Vir Unis' impeccable blend of harmonic alchemy and provocative, illustrious soundscapes is a welcome contribution to ambient music, and clearly one of the genre's best offerings. Beyond being another great ambient recording, this disc clearly illustrates the intersection of gifted studio production and exceptional imagination. The Drift Inside is very representative of Vir Unis' more atmospheric ambient work, and quite comparable to his Aeonian Glow.
The Drift Inside consists of 12 electronic pieces, which proceed along at a slow, stately pace. There is no rhythm and only very minimal percussion. Each piece is a meditation on only one or two chords, with volume pulsing softer and louder, traced about by a slow kaleidoscope of electronic effects that come and go. The chords are beautifully chosen, some as tonal as Debussy, others microtonal and more dissonant. All are sunk in that ocean of reverb that is so characteristic of the school of Steve Roach. Roach himself does put in an appearance here and there, but this doesn't sound like imitation Roach. The first four pieces are especially powerful, seamlessly linked together, and the title cut, number 4, "The Drift Inside," is perhaps the best on the album.
As the title advertises, the album is meant to drift you into an inward, meditative, perhaps ecstatic mental state; it certainly works like that for me. The sensuous yet austere harmonies evoke moods of languid dreaming sunlight, or bracing interstellar darkness, or unearthly visionary landscapes. I highly recommend The Drift Inside for any astral travelling you may be planning to undertake.
Vir Unis - The Drift Inside (flac 370mb)
01 Currents Beneath The Shine 7:05
02 Hidden Streams 4:59
03 Leaving The Skin 7:02
04 The Drift Inside 5:25
05 Zero Ground 8:39
06 esonate & Glow 5:43
07 Crystal Eyes 8:13
08 In The Wake Of A Passing Thought 6:06
09 Adrift 5:34
10 Solar Plexus 3:02
11 Neuron Lights 5:30
12 Deepest Dream 5:26
Vir Unis - The Drift Inside (ogg 150mb)
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With Aeonian Glow, Vir Unis has created a recording that -- like his previous work, The Drift Inside -- no ambient/space/atmospheric music enthusiast should be without. Again like The Drift Inside, the production is of the absolutely highest audiophile quality -- a very stereophonic atmospheric recording that's as multi-dimensional as it is dynamic. Aeonian Glow is an album of surprisingly paradoxical qualities: dark yet expansive, sparse but possessing an inescapable warmth, cold precision blended seamlessly with organic sound textures. The atmosphere is frigid as any Nordic ambient, yet maintains a constant energy that would seem to defy that description. Shimmering, irresistibly mind-blowing synths against a backdrop of subtle nature and field recordings. The composition is far exceeding other artists, more like classical music taking ambient form. Attention never wanes thanks to clever arrangement which slowly builds listener anticipation and presents consistent emotional cues. This is one of those rare modern ambient albums that is really effective. Highly recommended for anyone that likes ambient music.
Vir Unis - Aeonian Glow (A New Aeon) (flac 427mb)
01 Glide 8:05
02 The Ghost Of Aeons 13:14
03 Indigo Light 13:53
04 Particle Path 4:47
05 A Night Of Passage 16:39
06 Flying Dream 10:33
07 Alien Machinery 8:00
08 Letting Go Of This Radiant Hive 16:17
09 A New Aeon 7:22
Vir Unis - Aeonian Glow (A New Aeon) (ogg 188 mb)
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A melancholy master-work of Vir Unis' work; recommended as a good place to start for any non-adept at Vir Unis' works. The album breaks away from the more popular pulse-beats -- that have plagued some of his earlier works -- and nears the boundary of starry sound-scapes by use of resonance and overtones (read as the "end effects" of instruments/sounds) making Primary Space definite "ambient" music. One may venture to say that Primary Space should have brought him more deserved attention and credibility.
Vir Unis - Primary Space - Early Works Vol. 2 (flac 328mb)
01 In The Core Of A Spinning Disc 6:02
02 Stochastic Entropies 6:31
03 The Red Queen Principle 5:44
04 A Number Of Recombinations 5:21
05 Dissolving At The Singularity 5:04
06 A Sense Of Light Travel 4:08
07 Micro Tunnels 1:52
08 Symmetry Of The Mirror 5:42
09 Cellular Automata 4:09
10 Primary Space 5:33
11 Shadows Drift 5:47
12 Growth Of Complexity 6:15
13 Dreaming Of Time 5:17
14 Infinite Curvature 4:54
15 Four Exposures To The Logos Laser 3:05
Vir Unis - Primary Space - Early Works Vol. 2 (ogg 154mb)
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Pulse-N-Atmo was a step in a different direction for Vir Unis, mostly thanks to a larger focus on modern music and a glazed percussive-heavy atmosphere. The change worked, not as effectively as hardcore enthusiasts would've liked, but with purpose, a little direction, and a significant amount of resourcefulness, riding that fine line between subtle exploration and a stylistic (and previously successful) safety net. "Mind Blink Bike Ride," for example, and its glitch-techno influences are in pleasant contrast to the familiar breezes of ambient and cool new-age synths. The inconsistency was jarring to some, conflicted to others, but one of the only satisfying choices Vir Unis could've made for a third outing that wasn't too innocuous or too unexpected and alienating.
Vir Unis - Pulse N Atmo (flac 404mb)
01 Ghost In The Bubble 6:23
02 Doppleganger 5:30
03 Spoon Bender 6:47
04 Black Locust Beach 4:26
05 Good Morning Blowfish 6:24
06 Mind Blink Bike Ride 5:49
07 Rinse 3:20
08 Alpha State 5:26
09 Logan 5:01
10 Tweak The Pulse 5:40
11 Transmission At Banner Marsh 4:40
12 We Are The Sun's Dream 10:40
Vir Unis - Pulse N Atmo (ogg 194mb)
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