Richard Wileman of Karda Estra interviewed by Petter Herbertsson

Karda Estra is one of the most interesting contemporary artists I’ve come across in the last ten years or so. Often described as ‘cinematic’, or unfairly associated with the horrible neo prog scene, this music certainly does something to my head, conjure up dark images and shadowy worlds of dreamt up SF movies of the 70’s, and yes, that’s a good thing). I simply had to interview the mastermind Richard Wileman to find out more!

I seem to remember you saying that it’s exactly 20 years since you started Karda Estra. Can you tell me a bit about how it all started? 

I started Karda Estra in 1998 when I made my first home studio. It’s neither a band or a solo thing, although it is most definitely ‘my’ thing. I guess ‘project’ is the nearest name that suits because I started it to be free from the restrictions of traditional musical line ups. I wanted to be able to use any instruments, players, sounds, techniques, experiments and sometimes collaborations.

My thought process when composing KE music is heavily influenced by visual artistic considerations  – like blending/blurring, impressionism, surrealism, light, shade, collage, abstraction – as well as musical ones. With an unrestricted sound pallet, I feel more able to approach the ideas that inspire me and consequently much of my music has themes running through it. I also love chords. A lot. They often form the backbone to my writing. I’m influenced by many different styles of music but the one common denominator my favourites have is that they all harmonically resonate with me in some way.

Through 20 years of Karda Estra, I’ve recorded 13 albums, one collaboration album with Artemiy Artemiev, plus numerous other tracks that have been on compilations etc.

20 years is a long time! If you compare 1998 to 2018, your thoughts back then and now, what has changed over the years? 

I’m not really sure. I remember I started KE to try and make music without any frontiers and experiment with whatever arrangements and ideas I thought of. Between then and now, I’ve gone through quite a few twists and turns and hopefully created something worthwhile.

Infernal Spheres cover.jpg

Can you tell me a bit about your thoughts of Infernal Spheres, your latest album that was released in 2017?

The idea behind composing Infernal Spheres came (much like The Seas And the Stars) from reading articles in the astronomy magazine – especially one entitled ‘Hidden planets in the solar system’ which read: ‘Some experts think there are other worlds that could be – or have been – lurking in the shadows, but where are they?’

This inspired me to create my own solar odyssey inspired by the idea of a Nemesis star that creates periodic extinctions on Earth, plus transmissions, artifacts and other events in the history of the solar system.

Yesterday when I played the album I thought I noticed a nod to Blackstar by David Bowie in Anatomy of the Heavens…is that intentional or just a coincidence?

No, not influenced by that (haven’t heard the album) but there was a particular track that started it off – it’ s this live version – and it HAS to be this reworked orchestral version – just amazing: Joni Mitchell – Amelia.

Nice song, haven’t heard that before! Generally I don’t associate your music with Bowie of course, you sound like nothing else. I do think of Canterbury and r.i.o. once in a while though, as well as weird soundtracks from the 70’s. There are also moments with small hints of Cardiacs, is that something you’ve listened to? 

I don’t know too much Canterbury or RIO but Paul Sears who drums for me is from the band The Muffins who have associations. I love Rascal Reporters too. 70s weird soundtracks – now we’re talking – definitely one of my things! Yes, I know Cardiacs family. In fact Kavus Torabi of Cardiacs has collaborated with me on four Karda Estra tunes and I worked on his Exquisite Corpse album.

Richard Wileman and Amy Fry - Veil live.jpg

I’m curious about some of the things you said about being inspired by lights and shapes. It seems to me that you have some kind of synesthesia, is that correct? I’m asking partly because I have something similar myself, although I’m not entirely sure synesthesia would be the correct term. I tend to get powerful images in my head when I hear music, I don’t see colours or experience taste and stuff like that, but images of what the music actually depicts.

I’ve spoken to my friend Siri about this a lot, she has it for real so to speak, she sees colours and shapes all the time, and always the same colours and shapes (my images tend to vary a bit). The images I get from your music: extinct stars, intensely darker than the space that surrounds them, sometimes emanating beams of coloured light or sluggish lava, anti-matter, burnt out comets.

Very interesting. No I don’t (as far as I’m aware) have any kind synesthesia. When I was young, my first creative thing was drawing. I carried on with this, became an art student and book illustrator in my 20s. I came late to music and had my first guitar at 16 and first band at 17. Music soon overtook art as the fun thing to do. But, I wasn’t happy with what I did.

I saw a documentary on classical guitarist Segovia and he said his life had been one ascending line with his focus on guitar. Mine was a mess of different arts and different instruments and my ideas being much higher than my ability – I felt very unfocused. Then when I got my home studio & started to form Karda Estra, I realised I could fuse everything – how I saw things/heard things, experiment with points of light, dark, motion, narrative, accidents etc and so finally, the different strands of my (creative) life bonded and started to form that ascending line Segovia talked of. Well I hope! But it’s from a frustration that my individual skills are not good enough on their own to satisfy myself and I need to build up a bigger ‘picture’ from many strands. It’s like live music is a sculputre and recorded music is a painting.

It’s expanded beyond that into a different area as my work for the last 9 years has been community music with adults with learning disabilaties where I sing and strum alot. Totally different to KE but I’ve recently experimented with merging that with KE. Who knows what will happen next? I love the sound of the imagery you’re experiencing and that’s certainly the kind of thing I’m trying to convey but for me, it comes more from my mind than my eyes – if that makes sense? I know that’s too simplistic a way of describing it, just the gut feeling of where my bias lies. As an aside, I’m also colour blind. I do see in full colour but have a problem attaching the names to the colours.

Anyhow, I’m just delighted you’re making those kind of connections – it’s fantastic. Chords by the way are a huge emotional involuntary thing. When I hear certain sequences, I swear the molecules in my body resonate and a door to some great beyond opens. I’ve been like this since a kid and I’m still hopelessly hooked.

Can you tell us a bit about Equilibrium, the album you made with the Russian composer Artemiy Artemiev in 2002?

I discovered Artemiy’s music on a tape label called ‘Music & Elsewhere’ run by Mick Magic around 2000 when I attempted to do a short lived experimental music fanzine. Artemiy has his own label ‘Electroshock’ and asked if I wanted to collaborate. He sent 70+ minutes of electro-acoustic music and I added my own parts to it as well as doig the doing double reed and vocal arrangements for Caron and Ileesha. It took me about six weeks. Artemiy had already mixed his parts so I mixed the Karda Estra parts with what he had already done and the album Equlibrium was the result.

Richard Wileman and Amy Fry - Veil.JPG

You’ve recently started recording as a solo artist under your own name as well. What are your thoughts about the difference between this and Karda Estra?

I wanted to try singing my own material as well as writing instrumentals, get back into songwriting and do the artwork (as opposed to just the graphic design). I also wanted to be able to play live.

What’s next? 
I’m on the verge of releasing an album Veil.

Veil cover.jpg

Richard Wileman’s top 5 weird soundtracks:

Off the top of my head and in no particular order:
The Wicker Man – Paul Giovanni (I cover ‘The Tinker Of Rye’ on ‘Veil’)
Dracula A.D 1972 – Mike Vickers
Fistful Of Dynamite – Ennio Morricone (my favourite soundtrack composer – I could easily pick 30+ more of his)
Twilight Zone – Bernard Herrmann
Planet Of The Apes – Jerry Goldsmith

I made two radio shows for Steve Davis called The Interesting Cinematic Show that together give four hours of my favourite soundtrack music. You can here them here:
1st show part 1part 2, second show in full

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