KETEV is a project by Yair Elazar Glotman, a musician and sound artist who focuses on experimental electro-acoustic composition, sound installations, and sculptures. A post-techno project made by phasing patterns from reel-to-reel tape loops that are manipulated by 4-track cassette decks, Ketev creates roaring textures above slowly shifting rhythmic mantras. His releases, both under his own name and Ketev, have appeared on labels such as Subtext, Where To Now? and Opal Tapes. Ketev was nominated for SHAPE by CTM Festival. He will be playing at the following SHAPE-related events this autumn: musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst, TodaysArt, RIAM Festival and SONICA.
We are at your studio in Berlin right now, surrounded by the various instruments that you play, both acoustic and electronic.
Yair Elazar Glotman: The one I feel most comfortable with is the contrabass, which I have been playing for many years, coming from classical musical training and jazz. I also have a bass guitar here and a bunch of electronics, synths, tape machines.
Did you move from classical, acoustic instruments to electronics after relocating to Berlin?
YEG: I started experimenting with electronic music when I was about 18. The main thing about playing an instrument such as the contrabass or bass guitar as a side man very much depended on other people being in a group or an orchestra. Moving to electronic music was the immediate way to break free from that and be able to make music by myself. In the beginning, I perceived leaving classical music as a failure. It was this big instrument in my room, that big force that made me feel guilty most of the time. After 3 years during which I hadn’t really played it, I found a different way to approach the instrument. I had to break free from it and in a way free the instrument from myself in order to go back to it and develop different approaches to playing it.
You studied media art at Berlin University of the Arts (UdK). How did this influence your music practice?
YEG: It was very interesting to approach composition from the media art context, and not going to the composition class was actually freeing. Apparently music is considered an art form, but people have the most stereotypes associated with what it should be.
What is that you are trying to express and search for in music nowadays after all your rapport with it?
YEG: It’s always changing, it’s a never-ending process, which explains the different music I’ve done so far, lot of things contradict each other.
You have the atmospheric guise under your own name and the more club-oriented under Ketev.
YEG: I started the Ketev project to experience the freedom of making music under a different moniker, and to do certain things I wouldn’t have the courage to under my own name. I wanted to experiment with other contexts, I wasn’t so much interested in techno. I was more interested in the language it speaks to to certain people.
It has this immediate, physical aspect, rather than the cerebral at first glance.
YEG: The most interesting for me was working with rhythm related sound material and acknowledging how people perceive rhythm in a different way than they perceive melody and harmony, it’s a more primal way.
How do you decide what to work on? Is it dependent on the mood you are in?
YEG: Sometimes I’m not even sure what it is that I’m doing, whether to release it under my own name or Ketev. Usually I’m trying to have a certain idea before I start working. It doesn’t need to be an idea of a process or a concept, it could also start from a certain atmosphere or speculative memory.
What is this speculative memory?
YEG: It is a certain state of mind, a certain energy or an atmosphere, which has no verbal meaning. It’s not personal. I would like to do something that other people could perceive the same way. The most interesting thing about memories is that they are very dynamic and keep on changing. I could always go and listen to something and enjoy how my perception of it changes.
Do you think you will go back to the contrabass?
YEG: I’m working on solo contrabass pieces, which will be released on Subtext Recordings (released as Études in July 2015). It’s actually dealing with hidden sounds of instruments. When you play acoustic instruments, you always do so within a certain dynamic range – between the most quiet pianissimo to the most loud fortissimo. The instrument needs to resonate in a room. But as a musician, you never really spend time to investigate what is beneath this threshold. I’m playing very quietly, in a sense that sometimes I cannot really perceive what I’m playing anymore. There is a lot of work with signal processing of compression and very high pre-amp, kind of revealing the instrument by amplification. Interesting things happen when playing so quietly, and also forgetting how you are supposed to play an instrument is important.
When playing an acoustic instrument, you try to utilise all the energy to one note to resonate the best you can. By playing so quietly, the energy goes into a lot of different places and by recording with different microphones at the same time, you deconstruct the sound and have three or four different sound elements at the same time, so it sounds very rich actually. For me the most interesting about this process is the separation between the action and the result. It’s a little bit like analogue photography, giving you room for speculation. When you play, you don’t really perceive what happens.
When you play quietly, do you have to restrain yourself more as compared to a Ketev set? Is there more control involved?
YEG: The most interesting part is losing control in a situation where I usually feel most comfortable and have the most control.
Is there a difference between playing the contrabass, which has been part of you for so long, and the electronics set?
YEG: I think the most uncomfortable I’ve felt was when playing classical pieces, where I felt I couldn’t really express myself. It’s hard to find yourself in that other person from a different time. I guess I feel comfortable playing my own music. I was playing rock music and a lot of jazz, and then at 14 I started to play the contrabass. When I was six, my grandparents bought me a Metallica cassette for my birthday. I just wanted to play the guitar and distort it. Since then, it has become this weird musical path. My parents said that if I wanted to play the electric guitar, first I needed to learn to play a classical one. Playing jazz got me into playing the contrabass, and that lead me to play orchestral music.
Are your parents also musicians?
YEG: No, but they really love music. My mum listened to a lot of classical music and my dad is really into jazz and Tom Waits.
Do they like your music?
YEG: I think they do. They are being supportive.