Marcel Sletten likes to visit the rugged and gorgeous Cosumnes River out in the Central Valley. He has spent many hours just sitting there and taking in the sounds of the birds. This experience inspired the song “Cosumnes River Hymn” off of his latest EP California Delta Blues.
It’s a somber ambient electronic tune that hits on a gut level—not exactly the kind of song you’d expect this ambiance to inspire. It doesn’t sound like “nature” in any overt way, but does, if you try hard enough, bring to mind visions of a sunset on a sad, calm day.
Sletten often makes electronic music with nature as an influence, and it adds a layer of emotionality, reflection and depth that sets it apart from what people typically associate with the genre.
And it’s not just nature that influences Sletten’s music—he has a whole lot of non-electronic musical influences, as well.
“I’m more inspired by folk and country music than electronic music, even though all of what I make is done on the computer. I relate more to songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and Guy Clark. I try to channel certain energy I sense from their recordings,” Sletten says. “My aim is to elevate the synthesizer. I think the synthesizer shares a lot of qualities with instruments such as the guitar or the harmonica. And I think there’s a lot of [sounds] you can produce with similar emotional impact.”
The “Cosumnes River Hymn” was also inspired by the compositions of Olivier Messiaen. He was a composer who incorporated bird sounds into his work. Sletten felt that rather than bringing in the actual bird sounds at the Cosumnes River that inspired him, he’d try to capture the feeling they gave him in song.
“I enjoy hearing those sounds in that landscape. You have this kind of bayou swamp landscape going on. It’s very surreal and beautiful to hear those sounds out there,” Sletten says. “I came up with that based on my experiences out there. A lot of the tracks I make are very multi-layered in terms of influence, and where I get particular ideas from, so they’re kind of scattered about throughout my releases.”
Originally from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Sletten drew a lot of inspiration from the unique character of our mountain range. But in 2018, he moved to Lodi and now finds influence in its flat, open landscape. This new album is awash in his Lodi experience.
“A lot of my music for the past year has been heavily inspired by the California Delta. A lot of my music is about emulating the spiritual energy of my surroundings here,” Sletten says. “I feel like that’s what ties it together to folk and country music, because a lot of folk music that I listened to focuses on rural themes.”
He recorded his first two EPs in 2019 and 2020, and assembled each one based on sonic cohesion.
“This particular EP is a lot darker than my first one. I dealt with a huge personal loss last year, and I was also going through some heavy bouts of depression and anxiety while recording the EP,” Sletten says. “I have this fascination with cathedrals. And I appreciate them as these holy spaces. Before Covid hit, I was taking these trips out to San Francisco pretty regularly. I hadn’t experienced somebody in my life passing away for quite some time until last year. So it did have a profound impact on me for sure.”
Sletten also runs the Primordial Void label, which he started in 2017 while still living in Aptos. At the time, he didn’t play music. He was running a music blog called MMJ (2013-2017). He also posted about visual artists such as Alix Vollum, Marc Matchak, Lauren Graycar, and Adriana Ramić. He created the label so he could release music that he liked by the bands he was connecting with. Visual art was an important part of the label, too—perhaps just as important as the music. He began compiling songs in 2017, then put out his first release in the summer of 2018, the Primordial Chaos comp, which featured an assortment of bizarre and mossy bands experimenting with noise, sound, and texture.
“There’s no one particular sound that I try to stick to for the label. It’s anything that I enjoy,” Sletten says. “That explains why a lot of the label’s catalog is eclectic.”
For more info, check out primordial-void.com.