M is the founder and sole purveyor of the space ambient project Zalys. Just over five years ago, in March 2013, M cast herself into the humming black void with a single titled “Song of a Dying Planet”. Not only was this her debut, but it was also the genesis of her post-apocalyptic science-fiction concept: A lone space wanderer barely survives the destruction of their planet and they travel the cosmos in search of new life. It’s straightforward, yet provides an interesting backdrop to explore a seemingly endless expanse of drones conjured up by M.
Over the past five years, M has crafted sixteen releases. Three of these are splits, a couple are single tracks, a handful are celebrations—for the birthday of her project, to celestial events, or even Halloween—, but most are archives of this lone wanderer’s journeys. M also crafts all of the art for her releases under Icelander Studios, is an administrator for the metal music webzine Spirit of Metal, and her primary job involves archiving and indexing historical documents and relics from eras forgotten to many.
Below M discusses Zalys at length, her love for symphonic-based compositions, how she fell into producing dark ambient, and reveals other interesting insights about her background. Thank you so much for reading.
From where does your fascination with the cosmos stem?
It all started when I was a kid. I remember being impressed by the number of stars at night and by the astronomy classes at school. It was like a whole mystery. I also always watched a lot of space / science fiction movies (I was initiated on Star Wars / Star Trek / Stargate by my parents when I was very young). But all those forms, clouds, colors, lights are the most fascinating. Just pure beauty.
Was there a particular moment in your life that struck you with awe and compelled you to begin exploring the universe through sound?
I was always interested in music: I took music theory classes, I learnt by myself to play the keyboard, I listened to a lot of projects, bands, OSTs… if you combine all of this with my fascination with the cosmos, you have… Zalys. But the true triggering event was when a friend explained to me how to play music with my computer (using virtual instruments on a Digital Audio Workstation).
Did you have any musical projects prior to Zalys?
Prior to Zalys, not at all. However, I have another project created in 2015 called Infinite Horizons; it’s electronic / trance / downtempo / retrowave with some ambient and symphonic elements as well. At the moment there are only 3 EPs. You can check them out here if you are interested.
I love the symphonic elements you incorporated on your most recent release, The Haunted Lake. What is your musical upbringing?
You would not believe me if I tell you that I did not grow up with ambient or symphonic music but with rock and metal music! Playing dark ambient is a way for me to stay close to my metal background. The symphonic elements are because I also like listening to some movie / video game OSTs and also… symphonic extreme metal. The Haunted Lake, as well as The Haunted Moon, released in 2015, are just a way to express my musical interests. The darker, the better!
What does the name Zalys mean? Is it the name of the vessel your space wanderer protagonist uses to float through the cosmos? The name of some mysterious planet being sought?
I wanted one short word that would sound feminine (in French the word “lys” stands for a flower that can be translated by “lily” in English) with some untypical letters (-z or -y) to stand out from the other projects name. It did not mean anything at the beginning, but your suggestion is interesting because after all these years, I’ve ended up with the idea that Zalys is the name of the spacecraft.
The first track you put out on Bandcamp as Zalys, “Song of a Dying Planet”, came out March 2013. This is the origin of your project along with your lone space wanderer concept—where an individual explores the mysteries of space and seeks human life after their planet is destroyed. How did you decide on the concept of threading your records together with a lone space wanderer?
I like the post-apocalyptic concepts in general. Also, I read a lot, and I like the way the authors manage to create a whole universe, gathering the elements together through their different books. I wanted to do the same with music. For the lone space wanderer, I was inspired by the lone wanderers in general in the sci-fi world. Loneliness is good to deal with introspection. When your protagonist is alone, he can think, remember, feel, express himself through feelings and emotions. If you add the troubled past (the planet destroyed), the claustrophobic situation in the spacecraft, and the coldness/darkness of space.. .you can do a lot of things with a lone space wanderer!
Does the destruction of your wanderer’s planet illustrate some underlying sentiments you have about our own world? If so, could you describe some of these sentiments?
I’m quite pessimistic about the future of our planet. Things won’t be getting any better. We are destroying it progressively in many ways. It is just a matter of time.
Is each composition of yours grounded in some star system you’ve researched? How do you decide on which cosmic expanse to explore in each song or album you produce?
It depends on the themes I want to deal with. There are two albums grounded in a star system: Wandering Through Space (in our solar system, the track “Neptune” is an indication) and The Icarus System (a fictional solar system). Some tracks are about nebulae, others can follow the news (“Lux in Tenebris” is about a solar eclipse that occurred in Northern Europe in March 2015). It also depends on the way the tracks sound: according to the instruments, the pads, the atmospheres, the effects… it will make me think of this or that. Sometimes I have a grounded concept and I compose my tracks according to the story (Towards the Sun, Reminiscences, Fragments of Life). And sometimes I don’t have a detailed concept in mind and I “just” deal with space travelling, nebulas, coldness… (Sublime, the EPs and the split albums in general).
What other forms of media beyond music influence your compositions?
Literature: I mainly read science fiction books and I especially like the old dystopian stories (We, Brave New World, Kallocain, 1984…).
Movies / Tv Series: Science-fiction as well (the X-Files influences for the “Haunted Moon” EP).
Video games: I like the worlds of Fallout, Half Like, Deus Ex… and their soundtracks are exceptional. The work of Mark Morgan on the first Fallout OST inspired me a lot.
What is your approach to composing a song or album? Where do you start and how do you know when the journey is over?
Most of the time, it’s totally random; I mean, I don’t have any patterns, I never know what I exactly want to compose, but I always have an idea of the soundscapes I want to create. So I spend a lot of time choosing the right sounds (pads, atmos…), then it comes to textures, then to melodies (the most difficult part!). I have my favorite synths and when I work with them it is always easier, but I don’t want my tracks to sound the same, I always want to create something “new” and that’s why it often takes me a lot of time.
If you could map out your discography to resemble a constellation or star system, which one would it represent?
It is difficult to map out my discography with a constellation because on a human scale, the constellations are unchanging contrary to my music. My albums are not always conceptual, some of them are just independent and I did some collaborations as well. So I don’t think we can only draw a line and link the stars / albums together. However, if I had to choose one constellation, it would be the phoenix constellation: remember the Summoning the Phoenix album? It is also a wink to this constellation and the stars behind the image of the phoenix in the artwork belong to the phoenix constellation.
You’re coming to the end of your fifth year as Zalys. Looking back on your body of work thus far, how have you grown as an artist? How have your perceptions shifted relative to when you first embarked on this project?
I learnt a lot of things with this project. I was totally inexperienced at the beginning in terms of sound, I think you can hear the difference if you compare the very first tracks to the last ones. Five years ago I was able to compose an entire album in a few weeks (Wandering Through Space, Summoning the Phoenix) because it was something new for me and I was composing stuff without thinking about what I was actually doing. Now that the years have passed, I take more time to compose, I test a lot of sounds, I have more difficulty to find the right effect, the right soundscape… I am really more demanding. Being in this project is a journey, I am actually travelling alongside the lone space wanderer.
What does 2018 hold for your project? Is a new album on the horizon?
I have a lot of plans for 2018. First, I looked back to the first album Wandering Through Space and re-released it. I have remixed and remastered the tracks, recomposed two of them, and there is also an unreleased track. Moreover, there are actually several albums on the horizon. I don’t know if I will release them all in 2018. I have a lot of tracks with different moods and atmospheres. I just have to decide if I release them all via a label or if I keep on working alone. I am also open when it comes to collaboration (split albums, compilations or else).
Thank you a lot for this interview and for your patience 🙂
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