I am a founder of Sylvan Sound, the owner of Sylvan Sound Temple, an independent, multi-faceted artist and multi-instrumentalist musician, composer and music producer, and an intentional community-builder with a keen interest in bio-construction, Permaculture and forest regeneration.
Born in Norway, I went to drama school and lived and worked (in the arts and media) in London for ten years before making a great leap into the unknown. In 2006, at 28, I set off on what I thought would be a three-year backpacking journey. Eight years, six continents, some 70-odd countries, hundreds of hitchhiking rides and fourteen lifetimes’ worth of experiences later, I made it around the world.
The journey was never meant to be a joy ride – as a filmmaker and music producer I created and participated in various projects of a charitable nature, such as an information film against female genital cutting in Mali, a documentary about an Australian permaculture community farm to save it from municipal bulldozers, and a concert recording and documentary about a favela youth string orchestra in Brazil. I also created a “global musical collaboration” – a work still in progress, some day to be released through Sylvan Sound – which involves dozens of musicians from dozens of countries around the world.
For the last few years of the journey, through the Americas, things got really interesting as I spent my last bit of cash on a guitar. I rode 1000km in a horse caravan in Brazil, making a living from shows of music and circus, and later travelled in a gyspy-style hitchhiking caravan from Brazil to Mexico, playing music, performing theatre and doing all kinds of shows in the street, markets, schools, hospitals, centres for street kids, drugs rehabilitation centres…
I met the rainbow family on this journey, which marks a big changing point. Without going into great detail of what happens at a rainbow gathering, music is an integral part and a gathering is a great place to learn. Music at rainbow can be one of the most profound shared experiences you’ll ever be a part of. Being completely connected with 50 people around a fire in a huge teepee, everyone totally focused on the co-creation of a surging wave of energy expressed through music, is deeply connected to my sense of spirituality and continues to be a musical guiding star in my life.
If my experiences on my journey and my new understanding of the world had to be summed up in a single word, I would choose “community”. This word can be understood in many ways – it is key to a spiritual understanding of oneness on Earth and beyond; it is one of the most potent antidotes to the widespread erosion of our value systems, dignity, justice and, indeed, our very ecological basis for existence, which is casually being exacerbated by the extreme militancy of mainstream capitalism every single day; and it is a fitting word for a new, sustainable way of life where tribes with common intentions and life-paths can join hands and hearts in their co-creation of a living and working space in nature where love and sharing grow in inter-connected rhythm with trees and veggies.
That latter thought is exactly what brings me and my family to a small, indigenous village in the Sierra Sur mountains of Oaxaca – to co-create an intentional, sustainable community on a piece of land and to be of value to the wider community around us. Building the Sylvan Sound Temple, a joint recording studio / sound immersion experience / musicians’ community centre, on the communal land is a central part of my personal vision.
Living in the ecologically most “correct” way is essential, and easier to achieve in community. But I am painfully aware that I am far from perfect in this respect. The central idea behind Sylvan Sound – a musical family of ecosocial artivists – is very specific and sets a pretty high threshold for inclusion. Yet it is not entirely without humbleness that I count myself as a Sylvan Sound artist and thereby put myself side by side with people I truly admire – I see life as a process, intentions as sacred and faults as forgivable. The path is never static or locked in time; we continue to do our best with what we’ve been given.
Thinking long-term, I might feel satisfied with my ecological contribution to planet earth when my footprint is minimal, when I live in an ecologically sustainable community, do my utmost to not support big corporations and big oil, eradicate single-use plastic from my life, and when our recently founded forest regeneration project here in the Sierra Sur has reforested a thousand hectares of mixed, resilient, sustainable forest.
One of the biggest reasons why I am in the Sierra Sur mountains of Mexico is because this is where I might be able to live a life with an ecological footprint that would, if multiplied by the almost 8 billion people I share this planet with, be globally sustainable. In other words – taking at least my fair share of our globally shared personal responsibility to live sustainably, in the absence of the political will to create such a reality. It’s down to each and every one of us. “First world” living (please excuse that terrible expression) is simply not possible for the 8 billion people on this planet of limited resources. Which means, taken to an extreme, that we have a stark choice of either living in a human world whose continued existence absolutely depends on profound social injustice bordering on slavery, or that we all voluntarily choose to co-create a more balanced global reality which reins in democrapitalism, replaces consumer economy with a resource based one, where earth rights and human rights are indistinguishable, and where we give what we can and take only what we need.
I choose the latter.
But let’s talk about music.
I learned the piano from an early age, later picked up the guitar, hitchhiked around the world with my Norwegian mouth harp around my neck (a great way to simultaneously learn and kill time), and I can just about hold my ground as a percussionist. I learned to sing at drama school but didn’t consider myself a “singer” until the Brazilian horse caravan onwards, when I started singing in shows, on the street, around bonfires, on stages, in ceremonies, and in festivals and parades. I started learning about music therapy in Colombia and later led a sound healing tour around festivals in 14 European countries. I wish to continue to study the healing powers of sound and music and to incorporate this in the Sylvan Sound Temple vision.
During my stint in London I composed for numerous films and plays and recorded the album of piano pieces “Sole Essence” (download it for free from martinvoll.com). I also built my first recording studio, Otherwise Studios, and I started my journey as an engineer and music producer. I consider recording techniques and technology another musical instrument, as another and almost equally important part of the creative process.
On my journey I learned songs in more than 20 languages – mostly traditional songs from various cultures, earth music, medicine songs, indigenous chants and songs of the heart, music that perhaps makes more sense when played around a bonfire, looking at the stars or sitting by a waterfall… but maybe it is exactly here that ecosocial activism and music come together to form artivism. As humanity loses its connection with Mother Earth, our neighbours, ourselves and all beings; as we lose our sense of spirituality and awe; as we fail to find our place in nature – here is the forgotten sound of the land and the trees and the water. If it is true to say that a human culture originates from – or at least is deeply rooted in – its environment and natural surroundings, and that folk music is human culture’s closest musical representative, then folk, rather than punk, must nowadays be the ultimate musical rebellion against a system of destruction that depends, for its continued existence, on our disconnection from our roots, the land and our true culture.
These are the feelings and ideas I bring to Colectivo Salvajes, our unlikely new musical configuration here in the mountains, which simultaneously satisfies the participants’ need for individual musical expression, collective collaboration and juicy jam sessions. I am deeply honoured to play with Ananse Y La Luna and Barba Mutante as we blend an unexpectedly fiery smorgasbord of Indian intensity, Mexican beats and Norwegian earthiness. A curried bacalao taco. At the time of writing we are about to complete our album-release-mini-tour of Oaxaca and we are already talking about what to do next – the term “Electro-Folk-Metal-Activism” was mentioned and might give a hint as to where we’re going…
As time goes on I find myself more and more connected to the production side of music and a bit less to performing. But being invited to play in a very traditional village festival here in Oaxaca (that normally never deviates from the same Mexican country / traditional music), was an honour. I have recently worked on several collaborative music-to-picture projects that I hope to release soon here on Sylvan Sound.
Oh and I forgot – “sylvan” is not only a word describing something from the forest, it is also the name of my son.
Martin’s Sylvan Sound releases