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Viktor Benev / in the forests of Björkö, Sweden

photo © Yev Kazannik

Viktor Benev
Biographic Information

Viktor Benev is a Bulgarian musician, composer and record producer. He was born in Sofia and moved definitively in Paris in 2012 where he currently resides and works predominantly in the field of electroacoustic music.

Through his multi-instrumental practice, the usage of sound synthesis and field recordings, he composes works, which are a display of his eclectic vision, transcending the traditional boundaries of musical genre. Acoustic instruments are intertwined with deep atmospheric and almost cinematic elements. Field recordings from a variety of geographic locations complement the dramaturgical and compositional structure of his creations, thus forming what he relates to as "sonic fiction".

For Benev being a musician isn't possessing a mere virtuosic instrumental technique, it is first and foremost, an obligation to be constantly aware of the world around. It is as much learning all the theoretical aspects of music, as it is navigating the obtained knowledge through a prism of personal sensibility. A life-long journey of recurring self-questioning in the pursuit of understanding the complex language of music and ultimately forming simple, yet meaningful works.

photo © Tsvetomir Tsvetanov

Viktor Benev was born in 1990 in Sofia, Bulgaria of a middle-class family.

At the age of six, he starts playing piano initiated in music by his mother, the pianist Lilyana Getova (1955-2014) and after a successful audition with Dobri Paliev (1928-1997), the founder of the percussion class in Bulgaria, in 1997, Benev officially enters the National Music School of Sofia "Lubomir Pipkov" in the percussion class of Dobri Paliev's successors and daughters Mariya Palieva and Iskra Palieva. He continues playing piano, but chooses percussion as his main discipline. In 1997, he wins his first "special prize" at the International Competition "The Music and the Earth" with the percussion ensemble "Snejinka".

During Benev's twelve years of studies, numerous European tours (notably with chamber ensembles and the CEI-Youth Classic Orchestra) and prizes from percussion competitions are to follow. The most notable being his winning 3 prizes on the same edition of "Pendim" in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in 2007 : 1st prize, special prize for vivid stage presence and the special prize of Tatiana Koleva and Pustjens Percussion Products. During the competition he also drew the attention of the percussionist, composer and educator Emmanuel Séjourné, who was at the moment presiding the jury and who, afterwards, invited Benev to continue his studies in the Conservatory of Strasbourg in 2009.

Around the same year of 2007, Benev was introduced to jazz and improvisation by his classmate and pianist Momchil Atanasoff. Benev had started improvising mostly on piano a few years back, but this encounter was a major influence on his decision to start learning jazz music theory and the language of improvisation.
Viktor Benev (age of 7) in the National School of Music "Lubomir Pipkov" (third from the left)
photo © Viktor Benev personal archives

Richard Blackmore, Viktor Benev, Mehdi Masalmeh / Blues Corners
photo © Josselin Fouché
After an audition and two weeks of intensive courses in French, Benev is accepted in the percussion class in the Conservatory of Strasbourg. For one year, he studies contemporary percussion music repertoire with Emmanuel Séjourné, Stéphane Fougeroux et Denis Reidinger, while expanding his knowledge on jazz and notably free-jazz, to which he got introduced in the weekly workshops, led by the improviser, clarinetist and composer Jean-Marc Foltz. At the same period he discovers the work of John Cage, which would become a major influence in the future. Another important piece, proposed as work material by Séjourné, is "Interzones" by Bruce Hamilton (for vibraphone and tape). It plays an important role in Benev's decision to work in the electroacoustic music domain later on and would inspire his piece "Anaréa" (2020).

Soon after his arrival in Strasbourg, Benev went to a jam session in a local pub near the place he was renting at the time and met Richard Blackmore and Mehdi Masalmeh from the Blues Corners. A few weeks later, he became their drummer, helped with arrangements of their songs and played in a number of clubs. This meeting is one of the main reasons for Benev's love for the blues.

In 2009, the marimbist and percussionist Tatiana Koleva, who awarded him back in 2007, invites Benev to the Netherlands to join the newly formed Youth Percussion Pool, a chamber percussion ensemble with a contemporary music repertoire and newly-written-for-the-ensemble works. He would participate in no less than ten European tours with the YPP. Twelve years later, he would be commissioned to write "Aravez" (2021) for this same ensemble.
Richard Blackmore and Viktor Benev discussing arrangements / Blues Corners
photo © Viktor Benev personal archives
Youth Percussion Pool rehearsing John Cage's "Branches"
photo © Tatiana Koleva
Youth Percussion Pool playing Steve Reich / Varna Summer International Music Festival
photo © Krum Krumov
In the summer of 2010, due to economic and personal reasons, Benev takes the initiative to return to Bulgaria and enrolls in the National Academy of Music "Prof. Pancho Vladigerov" jointly in the percussion class of Tatyana Karparova and in the theoretical department in the composition class of Velislav Zaimov.

In the two years that follow, he studies piano, harmony, counterpoint, classical compositional structures, arrangement and also forms, composes for and plays in various bands on numerous stages, festivals and concert halls.

After living in France, though, Benev's return in his native country does not diminish his multi-cultural and cross-border interests. Quite the contrary. He meets the Cuban percussionist Reidi Machado from the "Ku-Ku Band Orchestra" and takes lessons on Cuban music and rhythms. Soon after, he becomes part of the "De Fuego" salsa band, playing classic Cuban repertoire in dance clubs.

At the same period, in search of other melodic, rhythmical influences and traditions to be absorbed, he becomes the drummer of the band "SamBrasil" (later to be renamed briefly to "Marinheiros do Brasil") with his Brasilian friends and colleagues Dante Coutinho and Giovanny Conte, who are based in Sofia at the time.

Benev writes music for his own jazz bands in which he plays marimba and drums. He also plays with one of the most renowned Bulgarian jazz musicians such as Hristo Yotsov, Ventzislav Blagoev, Stoyan Yankoulov "Stundji", Vasil Parmakov and others. In 2010, he is awarded the "Best Participant" prize at the Master Class of the pianist and composer Milcho Leviev and vocalist Vicky Almazidu.

In the winter of 2012, during a brief trip to Paris, Benev would get acquainted to the Bulgarian artist bilyana furnadzhieva. He would definitively move to Paris in December of the same year.
Viktor Benev playing marimba / Swingin' Hall / with Stefan Hristov (tabla, drums) and Momchil Atanasoff (keyboards)
photo © Contemporary Bohemians

Viktor Benev and bilyana furnadzhieva
photo © Yev Kazannik
Benev's meeting with bilyana furnadzhieva was a life-changing event in many ways. It brought mutual exchanges about life, different art forms and practices, music influences and from 2017 on, a series of artistic multidisciplinary collaborations.

In order to move to Paris from an economical point of view, Benev decided to take the entrance exam for the Jazz and Improvised Music department in the National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris with vibraphone. He was one of the 6 students accepted in the class in 2013 and the only foreigner. As a student he was supported by multiple private and public scholarships.

During his Master's Degree studies, from 2013 to 2017, Benev took classes with Riccardo Del Fra, Hervé Sellin, Dré Pallemaerts, François Théberge, Pierre de Bethmann and participated in master classes with Jean Paul Celea, Billy Hart, Jimmy Cobb, Ben Street, Rick Margitza, Larry Grenadier, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Benoît Delbecq, Benjamin de la Fuente and others who greatly influenced his own work.

He composed and arranged for various small and large ensembles and wrote his first piece for symphonic orchestra and jazz rhythm section as part of his master's curriculum.

The vivid Parisian scene introduced him to the GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales), Pierre Schaeffer's "musique concrète" movement and the acousmonium. Shortly after, Benev would start to collect his own sound material at different locations and slowly build his recordings database, preparing for future electroacoustic works.

In 2012, Parisian apartments being very restrictive in terms of noise and space, Benev bought a MalletKAT, an electric (midi) vibraphone. While in the beginning it was more of a practical solution for music training purposes, this instrument would slowly push him to deepen his research in music production and contemporary electronic music (genre, for which he had admiration since his teenage years). Not satisfied with the sounds available in the instrument, he would start using Ableton Live, creating his own sounds and learning about the art of sound engineering.

Later on, this interest would be further amplified by Benev's collaboration with the French sound engineer and producer Philippe Teissier du Cros on Crystal sound project's debut album in 2018.

In 2017, bilyana furnadzhieva shares her idea of a joint work combining visual art, literature, sculpture and electroacoustic music to Benev. This marks the foundation of Crystal sound project, the duo's base for artistic exploratory experimentations, which would soon become a major part of their own collaborative work.

With the financial support of Hélène Nguyen Thien, in 2018, Crystal sound project invites the singer Selma Savolainen and the double-bassist Jean Paul Celea in Philippe Teissier du Cros' studio in Paris and makes their first record "Crystal sound".

The experience of working with du Cros is so strong that Benev decides he would find a way to build his own recording studio, consacrate extensive periods of time to learn about sound engineering, would establish his own record label and become a producer for his own and Crystal sound project's records in the near future.
Viktor Benev and Philippe Teissier du Cros / Studio Boxson / with Crystal sound project
photo © enovae records

Viktor Benev on MalletKAT / Trondheim Jazz Festival / with Oft Robin
photo © Arne Hauge
In 2019, Benev established his label Enovae Records and one year later, the ERS studio in Montreuil followed.

Crystal sound project's single My Lover's Hands featuring the Iranian singer Aida Nosrat was the first released under the imprint and was nominated for the finals of the Independent Music Awards in the eclectic category in 2020.

Since 2019, Benev has been involved with creating soundscapes for contemporary and jazz dance. In 2020, he was commissioned to compose the music for "Didę" ↗, a choreographic piece by the Beninese choreographer Marcel Gbeffa in collaboration with the French visual artist Sarah Trouche.

In the period 2021-2023, he received multiple sound design commissions for the light and sound installation "Ketleflower" ↗ by the American artist Josh Pitts. It has been presented on a number of festivals in the United States.

In 2021, he was commissioned to write "Aravez" for the Youth Percussion Pool, which was premiered at the Varna International Music Festival (2021) in Bulgaria and at the Aurora Festival (2022) in the Netherlands.

Together with bilyana furnadzhieva, Benev is currently finishing the third Crystal sound project album, which will be released in 2024 on limited edition vinyl. He also prepares a fourth solo studio EP, following "Motions in Circuits" from 2019, "Aeon" from 2020 and "Architextures" from 2022.