Born in Michigan but raised in Oslo, Carmen Maria Hillestad aka Carmen Villain is a Norwegian-Mexican producer and electronic musician whose career to date has to a certain extent been marked by a progressive transformation. From fashion model in her late teens and early twenties to indie-rock singer songwriter and guitarist in the 2010s, Carmen Villain has gradually drifted towards an enchanting style of ambient electronica, especially since her first full instrumental album Both Lines Will Be Blue in 2019.

Released on 25 February 2022 last on Oslo-based label Smalltown Supersound, Only Love From Now On coherently combines elements of microhouse, dub techno, glitch and electronic ambient music with earthly field recordings, folk and jazz to create vast reverberating and shimmering soundscapes.

Carmen Villain - Only Love From Now On (2022)
Carmen Villain – Only Love From Now On (2022)

In 2020, the musician was approached by Longform Editions – the Sydney-based label celebrating “immersive listening experiences for the musically adventurous” – to create a new piece for their bi-monthly release. Affection in a Time of Crisis is a 20mn meditation which sees the artist delving for the first time into an extended collage of field recordings, sampling, voice and synth layers. The creative process involved in the production of the piece more than likely helped shape her artistic vision and foster the serene atmosphere pervading Only Love From Now On.  

As stated in several interviews, Carmen Villain always likes to “breathe” life into her music by incorporating wind instruments. She does so by sampling her own voice, by adding layers of clarinet or by inviting guest musicians. 

The majestic opening track “Gestures” features the distinct airy and processed trumpet of fellow citizen and prolific jazz improviser Arve Henriksen. The track alone magnificently conjures up the sonic universe of two other musicians – the percussive found sounds of Norwegian electronic producer Jan Bang (who is often heard alongside Arve Henriksen) as well as the visionary fourth-world musical concepts of the late American trumpet player Jon Hassell.

The title track and “Portals” both feature Johanna Scheie Orellana who can be heard freestyling on flute, bansuri and bass flute. The young musician first featured on Carmen Villain’s 2019 release Both Lines Will Be Blue and both have been collaborating ever since. 

As an electronic musician, Carmen Villain is always keen to suggest partnerships with other like-minded artists. The Both Lines Will Be Blue Remixed EP in 2020 already saw six producers and DJs revisit her music. Only Love From Now On features two companion releases. On CV x Actress, the British DJ suggests an 8mn “impression of the album” by condensing elements from various tracks of the original album into a feature remix. American producer and DJ Huerco S. also reworked Subtle Bodies in February 2022, released as a 12” 45 RPM EP on Smalltown Supersound.

And like a complex work of visual art, Only Love From Now On slowly unveils multiple layers of significance. The song title “Gestures” refers to a 35mn 1974 video performance by pioneering American feminist and conceptual artist Hannah Wilke. “Silueta” also borrows its title from the 1973-1980 series of the same name by Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta in which the artist staged various earth-body performances as a dialogue between her body and the natural landscape.

There is a fascinating parallel at play here between Carmen Hillestad’s early days as a model and two female artists interrogating feminism and the representation of the female body in the 1970s and 1980s. From “Liminal Space” to “Future Memory” via “Portals”, Carmen Villain is now blurring the timelines as a sound artist, “wishing to maintain a sense of careful optimism for the future, while on the cusp of something unknown”.