Premiere: CYNIC share inside look at 'Ascension Codes' album cover

Paul Masvidal and Martina Hoffmann elaborate on the power & synchronicity between the two works.

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Martina Hoffmann Painting 'The Landing' (2018)

Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):


Art transcends the canvass in which it's painted on. It's an open book, welcoming interpretation from individuals throughout all walks of life, each with their own understanding guided by the experiences that shaped them. Regardless of the year in which a particular piece was created or the artist's specific intention behind it, there's an accessibility to it that allows a unique connection no matter the age of the audience basking in it curiously. This is the case for today's subject, The Landing (2018), a triptych crafted by renowned fine artist Martina Hoffmann.


Hoffmann's The Landing (2018) finds itself on the cover of Cynic's newly announced record, Ascension Codes (November 26th, Season of Mist), which becomes one with Hoffmann's grandiose talents in ways that frontman Paul Masvidal felt genuine despite the record having come together after the painting itself. Both works came together at vulnerable times for each party, times of loss and deep introspection amidst the unfortunate circumstances of life. Last year, Cynic and metal as a whole suffered the passing of Sean Reinert and Sean Malone. Several years prior in 2011, Martina lost her partner and longtime Cynic cover artist, Robert Venosa, a legend in his own right who left behind a lasting impact on progressive metal through his art form. Martina and Paul carried on and used their practice as an emotional conduit, pushing towards the fully realized, wholly intrinsic experiences that are The Landing and Ascension Codes respectively. Today, it's an honor for us to premiere an intimate conversation between Paul Masvidal and Martina Hoffmann that elaborates further on the significance of their longstanding partnership, the making of The Landing, and more. It arrives in the month where Cynic celebrate 28 momentous years of their landmark debut, Focus (1993), a record that set the course for a progressive metal marvel to behold.


Check out the video below and read through an additional interview with Paul and Martina that dives further into what makes this one wondrous audiovisual endeavor:


Robert Venosa has been on all of Cynic’s cover since the landmark ‘Focus’, and now, Martina’s ‘The Landing’ fronts ‘Ascension Codes’. Having known Robert and Martina since those early Cynic years, it appears you wouldn’t have it any other way. How would you describe the relationship you’ve built with her over the decades?


Masvidal: Martina and I share similar perspectives and values about art and life, and although we’ve maintained regular contact over the years, our relationship has grown deeper since I began the journey for 'Ascension Codes'. She understands the passage of grief from her own losses, and how it relates to a creative process. Our point of connection has become richer and more meaningful because of that commonality. The cover art announcement also fell on the 28th anniversary of 'Focus' and marks the ten year anniversary of Robert’s passing which is a powerful synchronicity and a full circle.

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Martina Hoffmann On An Empty Beach (2015)

From the dates to the art itself, everything aligned so seamlessly. Martina, seeing as the painting was done during a very emotional moment of reflection and introspection, is it cathartic in a way to see ‘The Landing’ out in the world, being showcased in museums and Cynic’s ‘Ascension Codes’?


Hoffmann: I haven’t thought about it this way. I feel that it’s always cathartic to share art publicly. It’s a huge step from creating a painting in the cloistered walls of my studio to exposing work to the world. Tada! I’m stripped down to the most secret and innermost emotions, the real me, where nothing is hidden, which can be raw and powerful stuff to confront. In any event, it takes courage to expose one’s soul in this way.


It truly does. As you detail in the video, your paintings are very much alive and with ‘Ascension Codes’, one could say that Cynic has given new life into ‘The Landing’ on the 10th year of Robert’s passing. Though you’ve done cover illustrations, music artwork isn’t of course part of your day-to-day work. That said, what does it mean to you to have your work embraced by a different kind of audience, one that perhaps is being introduced to your art for the first time?


Hoffmann: Indeed, my focus hasn’t been focused on album art illustrations. There’s a few in my catalog, as well as having created original photography for music albums in the past. But in general work has been more in the realm of the fine arts related to traditional exhibitions in galleries and museums as well as for visionary events and conferences, such as Burning Man, Boom Festival, Lightning the Bottle, etc. along with online exhibitions and events.


Paul’s invitation to feature my painting 'The Landing' on the cover of Cynic’s 'Ascension Codes' is a special honor. And the synchronicity of it being published on the year of the 10th anniversary of Robert’s passing is very potent for me. A true turning of a powerfully complex page. And with this, I’m of course also very excited to be sharing my art with a new audience and curious to know how they will react.

'The Blessing' (2021) at the NAIA Museum

Judging from audience reactions so far, I'd say it resonates quite well! Martina championed Cynic as a band since the ‘Focus’ era and held you in high regard as a young band, which speaks volumes about the genuineness of it all. In revisiting this partnership after the 7 years since Robert’s work on 2014’s ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us’, is there a newfound energy present that perhaps brings you back to the excitement of first forming Cynic?


Masvidal: I’m deeply grateful for Martina’s love and support. Her powerful work has imbued Cynic’s visual landscape with new life and frequency. She is in many ways at the root of Cynic’s visual lineage, like the divine mother, undoubtedly influencing Robert and the album art choices since 'Focus'. With 'Ascension Codes'/'The Landing', we start again and tell a new story. Her painting is a direct reflection of the cathartic reset this record expresses.

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'The Landing' at the H.R. Giger Museum

It's as if they were created simultaneously, however, ‘The Landing’ wasn’t directly commissioned. It was instead licensed for use on the record and yet it aligns so well with the tone, atmosphere, and heart of ‘Ascension Codes’ despite having been created years apart. Where did you find commonalities with the painting when deciding it would be the one to represent your next chapter?


Masvidal: I was aware of 'The Landing' since it was completed and have always loved the painting, but the choice that led to it for the 'Ascension Codes' cover was purely intuition driven. On a foundational level, I connected with the colors and feeling of the work. The immense, beautifully detailed and ethereal organic alien expressing tremendous feminine power, and transdimensional vastness, floating over this grey and misty turbulent ocean. I have a karmic connection to the piece that goes beyond words.

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'The Landing' Full Triptych Painting

Cynic’s new record holds similar qualities, in that the music is layered, conceptual, vast, multidimensional and precise. After learning about Martina’s background on the painting, with the losses she also faced and her journey of letting go and coming to acceptance, I realized on a whole other level - why it resonated so deeply with me.

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Martina Hoffmann in Brittany, France

Absolutely, and it's amazing to see how she harnessed the imagery of the low tide from a winter beach creating a lunar landscape. Martina, this one of your largest paintings yet and is spread across a triptych that we’re honored to be showcasing here today. How long did the painting take to complete and was the intention always to have it be as large as it is? I’d argue the size is reflective of the power it holds!


Hoffmann: Thank you. Yes, I wanted to paint a large scale piece from the get-go. One that demands attention, not only by its contents but by its size. I also wanted to break out of my patterns and work with a new, vast landscape. Much of this was inspired by my immediate surroundings. The piece demanded my attention and kept me busy for several months. It’s impossible to really count the hours it takes to complete a painting. I just know it’s finished when my gut tells me so.


It's really a world of possibilities that is open to a myriad of interpretations, a signature characteristic of great art. Is there a particular intention you place when painting, not just for ‘The Landing’ but in general?


Hoffmann: There is a profound correlation and kinship in Paul’s and my own work. We both have a tendency towards creating music and art with an intention to shift and expand consciousness, and we both walk the visionary path. We have a “realistic optimism”, always aiming for a better future for this planet and all life on it. Personally, my intention is to inspire, open minds, and create gateways onto the canvas that expand our states of being. Where potential is always possible. Now more than ever, we need art that supports and shines light onto our existence. We need new ways to see through the veil.


I wholeheartedly agree. As Martina notes, ‘The Landing’ came about as the result of vulnerability, a vulnerability that is needed at times after moments of great suffering and loss. In this same vein, ‘Ascension Codes’ was finished following the tragic passing of both Sean Reinert and Sean Malone. Is the record a conduit of hope or rather a symbol of strength that helped you grow from such a pivotal period in your life and Cynic’s existence overall?


Masvidal: Making this record has been the most difficult and challenging experience of my life so far. Music is already hard, and every Cynic record contains an insane level of commitment, but the losses of my two lifelong friends/bandmates were watershed moments that changed me on an intrinsic level. I was literally brought to my knees, and eviscerated any sense of attachment or desire to the outer world. I spent months pondering my own death along with dreams and messages coming in at an overwhelming rate. It felt like I was stripped down to my bones, and every bit of energy was squeezed out of me physically, psychically and spiritually.

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Paul Masvidal, Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

I also had to cross many bridges on the path that were on the verge of collapsing at any moment. Eventually the bridges did collapse and it was in the annihilation of everything that felt solid or safe, that I was able to keep going. The state of complete abandon was where space emerged for the work to continue. I spent most of 2020 feeling emotionally raw, questioning everything in my life, including what Cynic meant to me and why I was to finish an album that had faced unimaginably tragic circumstances during its process and whether the band was even able to exist without them. I then realized that they were a big part of why it needed to be completed, in their honor and also in respect to Cynic as an entity in itself. My friend Jeff Wagner described it as paradoxically acting as both swan song and rebirth.


You did everyone justice, Paul, and though I'm sure it remains painful for you to reminisce their lives, 'Ascension Codes' is a testament to the heart that Cynic as a musical entity represents. Martina, similar question for you. Would you say that the painting was a conduit or rather a symbol of strength that helped pick you up from that significant period in your life?


Hoffmann: 'The Landing' was both, a conduit and a symbol of a delicate moment in time. The creation of it helped me cope, and move forward with my life. I see the creative process in general as a healing practice, like a pressure valve that releases blocked energy and helps me do something constructive with what’s most present on my plate. It’s in this transformational process that we can meet the difficult moments in our lives and reveal the gifts that they truly are. In that sense making art and music, during vulnerable moments in our lives often uplift, provide strength, and give us courage.


And now, it'll serve as a beacon of hope for those keep on engaging deeper. For as compositionally astounding as the record is, I’ve listened through it a few times in solace, allowing for it to unfold. It honestly exists as more than just a mere technical display but rather a genuine experience inviting listeners to fully immerse themselves. As someone who’s very intentional about every aspect of Cynic’s releases, what did you aim to achieve with ‘Ascension Codes’?

Masvidal: That’s an excellent observation. For me, the technical aspects are simply tools to have at your disposal in order to tell a story. We’re in the business of telling stories using the abstract medium of music, and the goal is to communicate that story as honestly as we can to others. The story itself always takes precedence and technique has nothing to do with the objective, in the end. Occasionally, a high skill-set and creative vision align in a way you could never have predicted and that’s often where the magical mojo resides.


'Ascension Codes' is a story of unraveling into multiple dimensions, stages of letting go, and awakening the starseed within. It’s a cosmic tapestry of inner space. The album is not what I would call an easy listen. It requires patience, but the rewards are big for those willing to stick with it. This is essentially what makes every Cynic record an interesting offering, each detail is carefully considered from measure to measure, bar to bar, note to note. This record also exists as a totality, a dense experience, and it’s all about immersive listening. The most personal aspects are often what makes songs the most universal and this record is imbued with that energy. I can hear and feel it in the performances. I’m also deeply grateful to have been able to work with exceptional musicians that became integral to the sound, including Matt Lynch, Dave Mackay, DARK, and Max Phelps. Warren Riker, who mixed the album, was a lifeline throughout the process, especially when I was ready to jump ship. Michael Berberian, the head of Season of Mist really showed up, and many other friends and colleagues played their parts. Ultimately, the record is a collective effort.


As they say, it takes a village. Touching further on the point of ‘Ascension Codes’ being a record meant to be experienced rather than simply heard, this continuous period of COVID and quarantine has allowed for life to come to a halt, at least temporarily. What role do you feel the arts and your music in particular play in the contemporary time where many have suffered a loss or are living a period of uncertainty?


Masvidal: Music and the arts in general often serve their greatest purpose (if there is one) during times of hardship or great change. The recorded performances of this record happened during 2020. We’re empathic musicians and are always informed by the world around us whether we know it or not. I think of our daily commute into downtown Los Angeles, with my drummer Matt Lynch during the record rehearsals. It was crazy intense out on the streets of Skid Row in the height of lockdown. The energy was super visceral and in your face. I believe the sense of urgency and push the album carries, was partially informed by the experiences of being in this city during that time. We were all meeting our own demons and personal forms of grief, throughout this album while also reaching for something far beyond us, something alien.

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'The Landing' at the NAIA Museum (2021)

We’re currently developing a short animated film that tells the conceptual story of 'Ascension Codes'. All the visuals are being built out of Martina Hoffmann and Robert Venosa’s paintings and it will be ideally screened in immersive type environments.


Looking forward to that film, and count on it being shared here on our platform. With ‘Ascension Codes’ now announced and a release cycle underway, is it cathartic in any way to see it come to after months of emotional and physical investment?


Masvidal: Beyond cathartic. Making an album is like giving birth to entire worlds that are soul spilling, vulnerable and freakishly ambitious. I’ve been unraveling in new ways while also touching into feelings I experienced while making the album. Releasing a new record, for me is terrifying and exhilarating at once but this one has taken on another level of meaning.


It's amazing that the pre-release excitement is still as high as it was when you were first getting your bearings. You’re far from being the ‘Focus’ (1993) era Paul. In the years that followed, you changed lives by pushing the boundaries for what progressive metal could be. Having learned through joy and suffering over the band’s existence, what would you say to that young, 22-year old Paul that had great aspirations for what Cynic could become?


Masvidal: Music demands humility, especially when standards have been set by musicians like Bach. So, I never feel like I’ve arrived or accomplished much in that sense. It’s a constant thing to maintain this path, not to mention improve on, so one never feels settled in the abode you’ve built. There’s always somewhere else to go, new rooms to create, the energy needs to keep moving. But, if the music has been able to connect with another human and offer something helpful or inspiring in some small way, then that’s enough.

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Paul Masvidal, Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

The ‘words for the younger Paul’ question brought tears to my eyes, cause I occasionally have conversations with that dude. I was lucky to have a few key mentors during my early musical years that impacted me in ways I wouldn’t understand until decades later. One of them was Robert Venosa, who I would speak on the phone with about art and ideas. I would often hear Martina’s sweet and encouraging voice in the background. Also my guitar teacher, Dave Weissbrot who held space for me as a young, aspiring musician and opened up doors that I didn’t know existed. They knew the path I was on, because they walked it themselves, and in a sense acted as mirrors of my older self. So in meeting this younger Paul, I would begin with a loving hug, then a couple long deep synchronized breaths, and once I sensed he was more at ease, I would invite him to trust in life wholeheartedly, to be kind to himself, to honor and celebrate the dream like nature of reality, and to flow as gently as possible down the stream.


Those are powerful words, thank you for your openness. Martina, you’ve had the opportunity to know Paul from the ‘Focus’ era to where he is today, staying in touch throughout all of the ups and downs of Cynic’s revered existence. In looking back at that initial collaboration with Robert, where do you feel that you’ve witnessed great change in his persona?


Hoffman: I’ve always known Paul to be a kind and sensitive human being, aware, deeply connected, and always looking for the best in life. In light of what he faced during 2020 with the tragic loss of his bandmates, Sean Reinert and Sean Malone, I noticed a shift. He became immersed in his work in a way that I’ve never seen before. He was broken open completely. This is a profound change that has undeniably ushered in an entirely new chapter in his life, and I’m certain it will be greatly reflected in his new music. In respect to the sadness surrounding this time, I’m also excited about the surprises he may offer us.


Like Paul, you’ve of course had your own learning and growing to do. When looking at your artistic trajectory and the lives you changed through your teachings, what about it speaks most to you?


Hoffmann: All the phases of my life have been valuable and meaningful, and that includes teaching painting classes. I love sharing and offering what I’ve learned with others. I can see the hunger people have to learn how to be creative, and to develop proper painting techniques and what that means to them. I also enjoy live events, meeting kindred spirits, and exchanging ideas about the visionary path.


But honestly, my favorite environment is the sacred space of my studio - hidden away from the world, deeply immersed in making art. I get to fill the ‘inner well’, and have a dialogue with the canvas that feels like a meditation for countless hours. It’s a state of gratitude.


A brush in my hand is like a magic wand that provides a key to other worlds and inner landscapes. As if a mysterious source is offering me a glimpse into new realms. The emotions I feel in my studio are unparalleled by even the most exciting events in regular, waking life. Creating art is an incredibly meaningful and profound journey.

Ascension Codes arrives on November 26th via Season of Mist. Order your copy HERE. For more of Martina's work, you can visit her site HERE.

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'The Landing' by Martina Hoffmann