A fortuitous rendez-vous with Vincent Moon

A fortuitous rendez-vous with Vincent Moon

August 8, 2016

Written by:

Gabriel Leașcu

Share article:

The right vibration

‘For the Flaneur, the sacred place is the profane world seen with the eyes of one whose gaze is unpeeled’ - Reflections on a Metaphysical Flaneur, by Raymond Tallis.

Part-time nomad, indigenous music digger and ritual documentarist, French-born Mathieu Saura is the sort of person that you might have hoped or imagined exists but never got the chance to meet. I was lucky enough to have this opportunity during Outernational Days festival in Bucharest, where he teamed up with sound wizard Rabih Beaini to do a live audio-video performance.

With the unplanned help of thunders announcing a possible storm and fireworks from somewhere near the location of the festival, their show was fantastic (the audio recording is HERE, and a short video sample can be watched HERE); his ritual takes blending smoothly with Rabih’s heavy electronic, avant-garde sound explorations, as if giving glimpses into the world’s soul (Anima Mundi).

On the last day of the festival I went to tell him that we should do the interview the next day, before his flight. ‘Let’s do it now’ he said, which took me by surprise, but made perfect sense when considering the way he lives his life.

How did you get into this kind of music and rituals?

Vincent Moon: By accident. I started to leave my comfort zone, Paris, and what I was doing there, working with a very limited part of what music means: rock music, indie. That was a great period, but at some point it was enough. Then I decided to travel and ended up discovering stuff that blew my mind. It was much more than what I had expected music-wise, stuff that felt in absolute connection with the cosmic levels of consciousness. Although I enjoy being here, watching the shows, for me it is very rare that I go to see shows nowadays, because I feel like something is missing. Of course sometimes you go to a show and it's a sacred moment, you feel it.

Like the Senyawa concert in Bucharest, it was a trance experience for everybody.

VM: Yes. And that trance and that sacred relationship can reach this society, even though sometimes people are on stage and you are drinking a beer, but most of the time it doesn't happen. I felt that very well when I started seeing ceremonies and rituals. Not only for their musical brilliance, but also because there's another level of culture and form. Now I'm interested in bridging these two aspects: this deeply respectful relationship with the invisible through music and the whole spectacle aspect of it.

Is music a sort of pretext for your search for trance in this world? Do you think you will do this for the rest of your life? Yesterday I was really struck by the intensity with which you lived the Italy-Germany football game.

VM: Nowadays I try to look for this trance and excitement in all the aspects of life but still I will continue to explore the world around the music angle, but then again, what is music? What do you limit music to? Go to the forest and you will hear the most beautiful music. You don't need people doing stuff with instruments if you are able to listen. Yesterday when I heard about field recording I asked myself if I'm doing it. Of course I know what it means, but I believe that's the natural way, you don’t need a term. I have no love for studio recordings. I think it's really fucked that we live in a society where we consider studio recordings more important than 'field' recordings, because it's not true to what music is.

Do some people use these fancy words in order to validate their seemingly inconsistent work, so as to give it a higher status?

VM: For sure! As I said, for me it's only natural to record this way. I think it's a very interesting topic for our generation, which is so much into recording everything. At some point, even if you are preaching living the moment, you're always looking back. In a sense I try not to care about remembering many elements of the past and, somehow, that keeps me going. You feel a bit freer from all the mistakes you made in the past. I was raised in this society, which is so concentrated around guilt, but my travels into spirituality have been helping me to get over that and now I just don't care, in the most beautiful way. I experience this also in the live shows with Rabih Beaini; you just let it go and you know it's going to be good even though I tend to ask people what they thought. When you get totally immersed in what you're doing you feel you're on the right vibration.

What is music? What do you limit music to? Go to the forest and you will hear the most beautiful music. You don't need people doing stuff with instruments if you are able to listen. (...) We live in a society where we consider studio recordings more important than 'field' recordings, and it's not true to what music is.


Traveling so much, do you ever feel like you lose your identity? Is that something you look forward to?

VM: Yes, at some point I was not sure what I was doing; I was slightly freaking out, to be honest, and was always overdosing all that information. In the past five years I made 50 films a year. It's ridiculous. Why did I do so much? I was thinking the more you move, the more you're going to be someone. In a way it was true, because traveling so much, I was destroying a little bit that identity formed by my education and my family and so on; re-linking to who I am, based as well on past lives. Most of the time you would define yourself as a filmmaker, but actually you're just using a tool to connect to what life is about and it's very exciting. At some point after searching, working insanely and traveling all around the world for so long, you can relax. This will continue but I don't need to overdo it anymore; I'm on a ride that is never going to stop. It's like an automatic pilot, but the best automatic pilot, which is consciousness.

I know you have a background in photography. Did you graduate from a certain college or school?

VM: No, it's not about graduation; I studied photography on my own, more or less. I was part of a photography group in Paris for three years and they opened me a lot. There were three teachers, funny characters, very alternative; we would spend 4 hours a week with them and we would always learn about the techniques, but it was much more about sharing ideas and discovering things that were talking to us; like Guy Debord and the whole Situationist movement. It really changed my life and I dived into that, although I had no relationship to it before, not from my family, not from anyone. I just ended up there, by accident. Then again, later on in your life, you realise that those were not accidents; be it destiny or other, you can create your path of life and it's a very beautiful thing to realise that.

Speaking of accidents, how did our setup work for you?

VM: I was just thinking about yesterday when we arrived here, it was 3 in the afternoon and I saw a horrible screen and I was like ‘Ok, fuck!’ It happened before, where we made a really great show but in poor conditions. But here, in three hours you managed to resolve everything; you found a great screen, a projector, the sound was really good and the whole show was absolutely stunning. Sometimes I am a pain in the ass, but I try to be sincere; that's how you make things happen; I was way more aggressive before. To put it simply it's a lot of fun to make beauty and this world a better place, but sometimes I am intense because I'm very demanding. It's a natural flow that I need to reach with the people I work, by raising the level all the time.

Do you have this from working with bands like R.E.M. and Arcade Fire? Was it strict in any way?

VM: No, I always apply the same method to all those films, not planning and always shooting in one take as much as possible.

How does that work? It must involve a fair amount of confidence.

VM: Hmm, that’s interesting. I never trusted myself until recently, and I can finally let it go and don't care. I was caring too much about how you could give certain energy in that moment. From the beginning it was all about how to move people out of their comfort zone, because I was trying to do the same with myself I think. Even with R.E.M, I didn't give a shit, it was just another band and I say it in the most respectful way, they are very nice people. However, not all those kind of guys are very nice, once you reach a certain state of fame, definitely not. It fucks up a lot of people, and I was not at all interested in working with celebrities.

Do you want to be famous?

VM: Haha, that's the worst thing. It's good to be recognised and a lot of beautiful stuff comes with that, like being at this festival in Bucharest. You're in it for that. But fame is just a horrible thing. It changes your relationship with the world; it's fucked up because you're not considering yourself as an equal.

Vincent Moon
Vincent Moon

The opposite of love

I spot a similarity between you and a famous Romanian director. He didn’t study anthropology but he manages to capture certain aspects of life that anthropologists wish for, maybe their whole lives. He makes fiction films and is really demanding when he works; his reason being the search for that moment in which he is not in control anymore, that moment which comes from a higher force. For that moment to happen he shoots many takes in order to get the people completely immersed in the action. He also talks a lot about fear, maybe at one point he started being afraid of those accidents not happening anymore.

VM: That's interesting, ‘cause in my films it's only one take and my approach to let the accidents happen is based very much on the fact that I do not prepare anything and in the world of fiction cinema you tend to over prepare everything. To reach the accident you have to repeat things a lot; you do it many times until it gets out of control. You should tell him to do it like me, haha.

You said fear and I think it's a very interesting word that I've understood recently. It took me many years to understand what fear is all about and it actually hit me in the past 6 months. A few months ago I was at a ritual in Brazil. I went to see an Umbanda ritual, where people enter the state of trance and basically get connected with other entities, with spirits of higher levels. So at these ceremonies, after the mediums enter trance you can go and talk to them in a very casual setting. And they see all the disharmonies in you. So I talked to this woman and she told me that I have to stay in love with everything because hate is not the opposite of love. The opposite of love is fear. Fear is the thing that will stop you from being a purely living being, connected with everything around you. I started to think more about that and suddenly I realised how much fear was in me from the beginning and how much all this fucked up society is in fear, which is the worst thing for our evolution. I think everyone is capable of living without fear.

Your approach seems more instinctive and organic which is, academically speaking, also not anthropological. Not that it should be.

VM: It's a very interesting topic and I like to talk about that because I've been facing it, especially for the past 5 years, when I started filming rituals. Before, when I was doing videos for indie bands I wasn't disturbing anthropologists but then when I got in their field; obviously my modus operandi is different than what school will teach you. And what school teaches you is based on a specific angle, one of the angles being the more time you will spend the more you will know. I think this is untrue; maybe you will know more but you would feel less. My way is trying to feel as much as possible and you know it when you go to a place you haven’t been before. The first day is always the most intense, you get connected to something, which is totally unknown, and you navigate until - based on your background - you discover something unique. So my work is based more on feeling the society, and that feeling is only available if I don't stay long. The more I will stay the more I will take some steps away. I truly think that the more you know about how a ritual works the less you will interact with it, the less you will, really, be inside the moment.

Are you saying that if you stay too much, you destroy the mythical part, the ‘magic’ of the ritual?

VM: You destroy your magic. There have been some absolutely amazing works by fabulous anthropologists in the 20th century, but I think the world has changed a lot. That whole relationship to the world has morphed into something else, into new identities.

Vincent Moon
Vincent Moon

The process of chaos

Do you show your films to the people you work with?

VM: I don't spend enough time with them, that's the problem but I always send them.

Do you get any feedback?

VM: Sometimes. One feedback I got was from an indigenous chief in Brazil: I spent a week in his village and showed him my films; by the way I think those people are way more advanced than us. Anyway, he told me that the way I film the world was very true to his relationship to the world, and that's the best feedback. Because I think they are, some of them, not at all corrupted by media and the TV style of editing images which is to me very poor in terms of openness for the viewer. Now they have this big program of guys doing films and leaving cameras for people in indigenous tribes and teaching them how to use a camera and so on. Sometimes they have one TV without a cable connection and they watch dvd's of films that someone from a different tribe made on their ritual. And they watch that, which can be maybe 10 hours long, uncut. It's really long, but for them it's the normal time of the ritual.

It sounds a bit too good to be true. In between those rituals do they watch Hollywood productions?

VM: Not the people I went to see. Of course a lot of others have been corrupted totally by civilisation.

Are you looking for a specific type?

VM: Not even. Usually I do this with my wife and in Brazil we spent some time with three tribes. None of them had strong ties with the television network and the whole fucked up society outside, but some of them more than others though. For example one of the tribes had television and alcohol in the eighties and at some point the chief made the decision to eject everything and go back to the roots. Another tribe has no electricity in the village but they take their motorbike, go to the city, which is 45 minutes away, and they go on Facebook. So everybody has a different relationship with technology and it's amazing. It's like the talk I had with Rabih Beaini yesterday about traditions and about recording them. I think the danger of that is to say: 'Ok guys, what you do is amazing and you should not change it, actually you should not at all interact with the world'. That's what's happening; we are protecting nature to a point that we are actually killing it. This overprotection is changing the world in a sort of botanical garden and it's not right because there is the process of chaos which is at the heart of life and that is beautiful. That's the whole danger of a certain anthropological thinking that has been spread around the world. In a certain way recognising the Other, but at the same time stopping him from moving.

Like putting them in a cage. Would you film a guy that wears a t-shirt with Nike or some other brands written on it?

VM: Sure, I film them although sometimes I will say it's nicer without, especially if there are writings on it.

What do you think about the plants used in some of the rituals you witnessed?

VM: All that those plants tell you is that if you take them well, in the right setting, in a very serious setting, they're going to show you what's life all about and change your life forever. It's something that we all have and can rediscover through different means.

But not all of us will.

VM: I had a talk with a guy, and he asked me what I think about the future and the way we are going to evolve. It's funny that nowadays we talk much more about the future than five years ago. I believe that some people will be completely open, in absolute connection with life and unfortunately, most of the other will just stay stuck in this civilised society, which is more and more destroying everything around; it's terrible. I don't see us being able to change the world on a big scale but on small scales absolutely, like we're doing now.

*main photo credits: Cecilia Ibanez
**other photo credits: Antje Taiga Jandrig, Eugene Shimalsky, Jérémie Bouillon

Follow Vincent Moon and Collection Petites Planètes

About the Author

Gabriel Leașcu

Studied anthropology but interested in anything unrelated to academia, loves long walks in other people’s minds.

Share this Article
Next Article

Rully Shabara & Wukir Suryadi from Senyawa - A Force of Nature

From Indonesia with love, conversations with Rully and Wukir from Senyawa.

Eduard Alexandru
More Articles

Mircea Florian, a Rebel Ahead of His Time

How the communist regime influenced creation and what ‘underground’ meant back in the 70s and 80s.

Laura Marin

Dan Armeanca in the Attic

Interview with Dan Armeanca, one of the founders of Romani / manele music.

Victor Stütz / Dragoș Rusu

Mazen Kerbaj - A Radical Edge

In-depth interview with Lebanese musician and comics writer Mazen Kerbaj in Berlin.

Dragoș Rusu