From punk to ultrasonic bat detectors: An interview with Jonáš Gruska


Jonáš Gruska studied at the Institute of Sonology in The Hague and the Academy of Music in Kraków. He focuses on chaotic rhythms, explorations of psychoacoustic properties of sound and field recording. He has created several site-specific sound installation based on resonant properties of spaces and materials and gave workshops on sonification, field recording, printed circuit board design, and programming for artists. He creates his own instruments and runs the label LOM in Bratislava. He was nominated for SHAPE by MeetFactory.

You studied at the Institute of Sonology in The Hague. Where does your interest in the sonic stem from? Were you always more interested in sound as such than in music?

As a kid I studied classical guitar for couple of years, played in a hardcore/punk band, and always found myself searching for the extremes. I travelled a lot, musically. In the end I found a comfortable place where I am now – approaching music and sound from different perspectives, free of the preconceived notions.

How did your studies influence your perception and work with sound?

It generally allowed me to grow as an artist. It helped me realise what I really want to do with my life. Interacting with others, learning about different approaches was always beneficial and mind-expanding to me. I learned to trust my own ideas. Of course, I found out a lot about the technicalities of the work as well. It was an irreplaceable and strongly defining period of my life.

How would you describe your approach to sound?

At the moment, I am interested in sound as a whole. I love physics of sound, psychoacoustics, acoustics, field recording but also composition, harmony and melody, especially harmonies and tunings of traditional music from different parts of the world. Regarding my own work, I mostly work with sounds that have a specific spectral quality and interesting resonances, rich textures and unconventional/chaotic rhythms.

After finishing your studies, you decided to return to your home country Slovakia and established the label LOM. Can you talk about the imprint?

The idea of the label actually came about during my studies. I found myself disconnected from the Slovak artists and realised how unknown they are to the world. So I wanted to create a platform which would help to “export” and present them to the world. I asked a couple of friends for help. We’ve built a website, started to collect contacts and send out records to the world. Over time, the concept changed a bit – we currently publish not only Slovakian artists, but also Eastern-European experimental music and field recordings.

Aside from the various aspects of working with sound (recording, producing, engineering), you also started to create your own music instruments and microphones. What led you to this, and could you – for instance – describe the whole process behind making one concrete instrument? 

All of my instruments started as something I needed for my work as a field recordist or a performer. The ready-made instruments were either too expensive or not suitable for the job. So there was basically no other option than DIY. It started very simply when I was around 22 years old – I didn’t have internet connection at my flat which helped my online-addiction a lot, and allowed me to focus on other things like lock-picking and electronics. I became fascinated with the world of DIY synthesizers, built tens of different ones… I learned a lot back then about how it all works. Since I didn’t have proper education in electronics, all my work was more empirical and based on trial and error.

Now I am bit more advanced – I design products, with proper circuit boards, assembled by robots and with nice casing. But I maintain the DIY nature of things. For example I prepared a tutorial on making of DIY Elektrosluch (my electromagnetic listening device) for Make magazine.

You are also interested in field recordings, an area that has captured the imaginations of many musicians and artists. How do you approach field recording and what environmental sounds do you look for in particular?

I don’t have any particular favourite environments for my field recording work. I recorded depths of a old concrete bridge as well as pure sounds of meadows around Slovakia during last summer. I simply enjoy different sounds, there are very little boundaries.

In general I like to do field recording with unusual microphone techniques (untraditional mic. placement), or unusual microphones – hydrophones, contact or electromagnetic mics. Recently I’ve also been experimenting with ultrasonic bat detectors in my work, which is very inspiring.