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Nir Yaniv’s Voice Remains Eternal!

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The LifeArt award winner talks about life and art, but not necessarily in that order!
Nir Yaniv
Nir Yaniv is the winner of the Sound & Vision award at the LifeArt International Festival 2020 among the competition from across the globe, including the blockbusters with superstars such as Gerard Butler, Vin Diesel, and popular Netflix series such as Emily in Paris and Fauda. However, the work he did on The Voice Remains didn't impress only LifeArt's grand jury. The original music, created by nothing but his God-given voice and a set of drums, won the Best Score award at the Genre Celebration Festival in Tokyo. The movie also won the title of the best animated short film at the Paris Independent Film Festival, but Yaniv is too modest to talk about all the awards. What he wants to talk about is his passionate love for music and storytelling. The 49-year old Israeli artist is not only an occasional filmmaker but a composer and a published novelist. He's one of the top science fiction and fantasy writers in the Mediterranean, and he also founded Israel's first online science fiction magazine. Talking to Nir about his worldview for an hour is more exciting and informative than a day at Comic-Con.

Damir Ludvig: The Voice Remains won the Sound & Vision award at the LifeArt International Festival. What was the idea behind this short animated masterpiece?

Nir Yaniv: For many years I’ve been interested in the difference, if any, between what we consider natural and what we term artificial. Is the Empire State Building any more artificial than a beaver’s dam? Is the dam less natural than tools used by chimpanzees? Where do you draw the line?

When creating my album I was performing the parts of “artificial” musical instruments, such as bass, guitars, and keyboards, with my voice. One could assume that a human voice is more “natural” than any other instrument, but in this scenario, how is it less artificial than a synthesizer? This kind of thinking led me to the concept of the animation, in which one of the protagonists is a mechanical being and the other is a biological one. The former is a robot, the product of a half-dead machine planet, following a mysterious signal through space in search of its origin. The latter is a mutated flower-child, in a kingdom of obedient plants, singing in loneliness through the spheres. Eventually, we’ll find out, through metamorphosis, splitting, and merging, that the difference isn’t as big as one would’ve expected.

DL: How did you decide to use only your voice and the drums for the soundtrack?

NY: I’ve been an instrumental vocalist even before I knew those words or their meanings. To me, the voice is the easiest way of expression. While some of my past bands and projects were of more common genres—funk, rock, jazz, and electronic—there was always at least one vocal group going on. When the idea for this album came to me before I even suspected there’ll be an animation film involved. I knew that to get the exact layered feeling I heard in my head, voices would feature almost exclusively. When considering the percussion aspect of the project, I felt it was crucial to have a live drummer, despite the rhythmic complexity. I needed the drums to complement the voices while having a life of their own. For this task, I chose veteran drummer Karen Teperberg, who performed brilliantly, for which I’m very grateful.

DL: If a time machine would take you back at the beginning of the project, would you change anything?

NY: The beginning of a project, to me, is always the best part. I’m so busy writing and recording that nothing else occupies my mind. That is a blessing. The point in which the first hint of anxiety comes in is right after recording everything. It is when I realize the material is not yet adequately mixed. If I had a time machine, I’d go to this point in time and tell my past self, “relax, it’s going to be just fine!”

DL: What attracted you to science fiction in the first place?

NY: I was one of those kids who could spend entire days reading books. I read every book I could lay my hands on, but science fiction, at the time, was the most exciting. Admittedly, some of those books aim for the adult audience. These days, I wouldn’t recommend Robert Heinlein’s novels as reading material for nine years olds. However, the sex-related parts flew above my head, and I significantly enjoyed the spaceships and computers. Growing up, I realized that science fiction is so fascinating because of its possible scope of ideas.

I learned the difference between a thought-provoking plot and one using futuristic technology as a prop. For example, Star Wars is a hugely entertaining western with lasers and spaceships. The same story would work with pistols and trains without suffering music. On the other hand, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is truly an idea-based fiction, and without its basic idea, there’ll be no plot to tell. The following led me to become a science fiction magazine editor, and eventually a writer as well.

DL: It seems that science fiction creates an imaginary problem, usually set up by the avant-garde technology or the alternative regime, and then deals with its consequences on society! How do you see the genre? What's your approach to storytelling within the genre?

NY: Good science fiction deals with real, human problems, even when there are no humans in the story. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be interesting. In most cases, stories deal with the challenges of an era when the writing takes place. Famously, much of the American science fiction written in the fifties and sixties dealt with the fear of the Soviet invasion. On the other hand, much of the cyberpunk genre deals with the loss of trust in governments, conglomerates, and the repercussions of air pollution and drugs. Subjects that we all consider to be real-world problems. As for myself, I like dealing with questions of memory, identity, and perception, not only for the individual human being but also for concepts (natural vs. artificial, past vs. present) and systems (cities, ecosystems, or the brain). If the subject is interesting enough for me as a writer, hopefully, it also makes a thought-provoking topic for the reader.

DL: SF is an art-form engaging a large number of intellectuals. All the legendary writers such as Asimov, Clarke, Orwell, Huxley, Lem, to mention just a few, had a very high IQ. Do you agree that the genre also requires an intelligent audience?

NY: The scope of what people perceive as science fiction is enormous. It is not my place to decide what is an appropriate story for a particular audience. I’d argue that much of the best SF out there is enjoyable even if one doesn’t perceive a hundred percent of the intended meaning. I know that for a fact, since I appreciably enjoyed books by Lem, Clarke, and Orwell while still in primary school, and had to re-read them as an adult to find out how much I missed.

DL: What do you consider to be your best work so far?

NY: I would say that my best novel is King of Jerusalem. It is a story in which King Solomon travels back and forward in time. The king has many adventures that slowly reveal his true identity. It’s available only in Hebrew, though an English translation is in the works. As for music and animation—well, it is The Voice Remains!

DL: How do you see the correlation between music and writing?

NY: I feel that patterns in both music and writing have a lot in common. The first and most obvious, to me, is the tempo. Words always have their speed, and a story written without awareness of that fact will never be good, in my opinion. One of the greatest masters of tempo in writing is the great master of science fiction, Alfred Bester. His novels flash like firecrackers. As a writer or a composer, one must understand the structure. There needs to be a certain weight behind an ending. The same principles apply when it comes to a melody, or a sentence, or a paragraph, or a song.

DL: Is there a difference between your approach to writing stories and books to your procedure for writing music?

NY: The settings are very different. I prefer writing stories in coffee shops, where there’s the constant sound of background conversations. I also like to do my drawings that way. I usually sketch on my iPad. On the other hand, music, and animation, require a powerful desktop computer and a quiet environment. That’s a job for the studio. The ideas, however, come the same way—always when I’m busy doing something else!

~Damir Ludvig

About Damir Ludvig

Damir Ludvig is an award-winning film and music producer who has received three awards for music documentary work at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. Ludvig is a columnist at Mixmag Adria, but he's best known as an international DJ. He is also an achieved composer, producer, and lyricist of the project Ludvig & Stelar, with releases on the prestigious Café del Mar. Damir is the Best Soundtrack Award nominee at the World Music and Independent Film Festival (Washington, DC) and an author of Ludvig & Stelar's album title track Relax, which has been played in more than 90 countries around the globe including Hong-Kong, Argentina, Australia, South Africa, Romania, etc. As a DJ, Ludvig is no less impressive. He has been a resident DJ and art director for the Astralis events since 1998 and has played at various venues in the USA, UK, Taiwan, Switzerland, Spain, Slovenia, Japan, Israel, Italy, Greece, Germany, Belgium, Austria...

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