Inside the mind of Magma's Christian Vander
We catch up with Christian Vander and his wife Stella to discuss Magma, Vander’s method of composition, the Kobaïan constructed language, and how Magma fit into the musical landscape
There is almost no useful frame of reference to describe the music of Magma. Founded in 1969 by French pianist/drummer Christian Vander, Magma have never conformed to conventional ideas about genre, or much else for that matter.
A constantly rotating line-up of musicians have passed through Magma’s ranks, and the band have released more than a dozen studio albums, at least as many live albums, plus numerous compilations, DVDs and boxed sets. Vander’s side projects – a jazz trio and quartet, plus an 80s-era spin-off project called Offering – are relevant within the Magma universe as well.
Magma have never existed anywhere near the musical mainstream. However, the group’s works have received enthusiastic praise from open-minded critics – Rolling Stone place 1973’s Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw` Kömmandöh at No.24 on its list of the greatest albums in progressive rock. And some prominent tastemakers count themselves among Magma’s coterie of hardcore fans: a new documentary film, To Life, Death And Beyond: The Music Of Magma features passionate commentary from Trey Gunn, Jello Biafra and Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, among others.
Magma all but define underground music: early on, Vander was inspired to create nearly all of Magma’s lyrics in Kobaïan, a language of his own construction. And the group’s uncompromising style – often characterised by martial-sounding music with angelic, operatic vocals – demands much from the listener.
As unlikely as it might seem, today Magma are as busy as ever, with a high-profile documentary, recent career‑spanning boxed sets and reissues, and even a string of concert dates in the US.
Christian Vander speaks very little English. His wife Stella, Magma’s vocalist since 1973, provided the translation during our recent conversation, occasionally fielding some of Prog’s questions herself.