From Anthropocene to Aquatocene: An interview with Robertina Šebjanic

ROBERTINA ŠEBJANIČ: ‘Aurelia 1+Hz / proto viva generator

Robertina Šebjanič (based in Ljubljana) works at the crossings of art – technology – science. Her art – research focus has been oriented towards the project developed in the field of Living systems (bio-art), AV performances, noise/sound art, installations and interactive ambiental responsive immersive environments. The context for her ideas and concepts is often realised in collaboration with other authors (artists, scientists, humanists, makers, hackers…), and through interdisciplinary and informal integration embodied in her work. She participates in SHAPE with various projects, and was nominated to the platform by MOTA – Museum of Transitory Art.

Can you talk about your background – the genealogy of your interest/work?

My early works were mostly created and presented in the form of video and/or sculptural/ambiental installations, which used to be my primary medium as I studied sculpture at Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana. Soon after my studies I started to become more and more involved with electronics, programming and biology, i.e. living systems. Moreover, I became increasingly involved with bio- and tech- hacking communities. Consequently I started working with non-profit institutions such as Ljudmila (Ljubljana Digital Media Lab), I was among the founding members of Ljubljana-based Theremidi Orchestra (an audiovisual DIY noise collective). Furthermore, it was important for me to get involved with Hackteria which is an international network of artists, scientists, hackers and makers.

My work in the past couple of years has gradually led me to the exploration of water habitats and marine life which serves as a starting point to investigate philosophical questions on the intersection of art, technology and science. This is, I think, the best possible platform through which I can showcase my interdisciplinary practice. Most of my projects involve diverse strategies to promote creative collaborative processes and are as well inspired by philosophy, scientific cutting-edge achievements and science fiction.

Ljubljana has quite a history in terms of new media / art & technology (NSK, Ljudmila, Vuk Cosic, etc). Have you been influenced by the local scene as such?

Yes, of course; the artistic scene in Slovenia has had a strong presence of new media art practices (we call it intermedia art) and politically engaged art. I have to say that coming from an environment with such a strong artistic scene and cultural tradition is indeed great; it certainly helped me in the early stages of my artistic development.

In the period 2008-2012 I was working as a programme coordinator and manager of artistic and educational programmes at Ljudmila, and with that I gained a more profound understanding of new media art practices, as well as getting to know some amazing people on the local scene such as Marko Peljhan, Dragan Živadinov, Vuk Cosic, Marko Košnik etc. These guys were surely pioneers of new media art in Slovenia and responsible for putting this small but very vivid artistic scene on the global map.

There is as a strong network of non-profit institutions focusing on new media art/art-tech-science practices, some of them having venues with a consistent programme, such as Kapelica Gallery, Kibla, Ljudmila, Aksioma, Project Atol, Radio Cona, MoTA, to name only few. There have also been a consistent trend of having immensely interesting generations of young and emerging artists.

Can you talk about the projects that you are participating in SHAPE with?

Project Aurelia 1+Hz has been developed throughout several years. It focuses on the idea of animal-machine-human relationship and interspecies’ communication. The aim of the project is to illuminate several issues of marine ecology and sonification of the environment. In the project I work with jellyfish, which is an extremely fragile creature, especially in a closed environment, but on the other hand very resilient as it can live for more than 500 million years. The performance and installation of Aurelia 1+Hz features species of so called Moon Jellyfish – Aurelia Aurita. The immersive audiovisual performance Aurelia 1+Hz / provo viva sonification (developed together with Slavko Glamočanin) is a second part of the work where I am, together with the jellyfish, present and submersed in the sonic experience. I like to use a quote of the poet Paul Celan in order to briefly explain the project: “There are still songs to sing beyond mankind”. The central idea of the project is that there is not only human civilisation living on our planet but there are also other species (animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, etc.) with complex and highly developed communication systems which are basically their languages. There were many collaborators as one of them is an excellent jellyfish expert, Professor Alenka Malej (Marine biology station Piran, Slovenia), and the core of the scientific research has been completed at the residency at the Izmir Marine Institute, Turkey in 2014.

Time Displacement / Chemobrionic Garden is a chemical sound installation that was developed in close collaboration with Aleš Hieng – Zergon and Ida Hiršenfelder. Initially this installation was inspired by a theoretical paper entitled From Chemical Gardens to Chemobrionics written and issued by a group of twenty one distinguished scientists on 29th May 2015 which discusses history and future experimentation with chemical gardens. The paper was about to unravel the biological formation at the origins of life. A chemical garden is a chemical experiment, where a reaction from solid metal salts immersed in an aqueous solution of sodium silicate forms growth of inorganic forms. With the use of raspberry pi cameras and a program on the raspberry pi micro controllers, the visual data captured is transformed into the medium of sound.

Aquatocene / Subaquatic – Quest for Serenity is an ongoing project that can be displayed as a sound installation, sound performance, or in the form of a vinyl record. The project investigates the phenomenon of underwater noise pollution created by humankind in the seas and oceans.  The sound compositions are a re-mix between the bioacoustics of marine life (shrimps, fish, sea urchins etc.), the aquatic acoustics and the presence of human generated noise in the world’s oceans and seas. This year a new vinyl record will be released by MoTA in frames of the Sonica festival in Ljubljana.

One of your projects, Aquatocene / Subaquatic quest for serenity, explores underwater noise pollution. Can you talk about how this project came about and was executed? (process of recording, etc).

I started to record with hydrophones in the sea during the huge jellyfish blossoming in Izmir, Turkey, in 2014. When listening to the recordings I realised that the soundscape of water habitats is completely different from the sounds that one is used to waves hit the shore. For the past several years, whenever it happens that I am near to the sea, I have been recording the underwater soundscape with hydrophones.

The sounds of marine animals and their bioacoustics are really great to explore and now I am already able to distinguish between different creatures and organisms. Often during my recording sessions I come across some of the loudest animals in the sea such as shrimps (especially when they are in big numbers).

For instance, I have been gathering sound recordings of shrimps in the fjords of Norway during the workshop Pikslo deep diving that I conducted with my colleagues (Slavko Glamočanin, Kat Austen, Gjino Sutic) at the Piksel festival in Bergen. Furthermore, I have recorded sounds of sea urchins on the shores of Roscoff, France and more at Dubrovnik, Izmir, Koper etc..
During these recording sessions and field trips I was surprised again and again by how omnipresent the noise produced by man-made technology is in the sea. Motors boats, ships, sonars, etc. are crucially shaping and rapidly changing the soundscapes of the world oceans because in the past fifty years quantity of marine traffic (more than) doubled. Moreover, increased use of sound cannons (used for oil exploration) also creates huge disturbances in fragile marine habitats. These aggressive soundscapes have led to a number of consequences such as beaching of whales, to the Lombard effect where some species become louder to overcome background noise, thereby gradually increasing sound intensity of the entire habitat. There have been many studies and initiatives that try to point out these issues and to rethink the nature of humankind’s industrial endeavour. The technology that people use in marine habitats is certainly invasive. In the Aquatocene project the audience is immersed into sound compositions which are a mixture of all the sounds that I recorded in specific locations of seas and oceans. These are therefore my interpretations of soundscapes.

What are some of the challenges that you experienced during your work and can you talk about the wider scope/context of your work – humanity & nature & technology & philosophy & ecology?

Working on research and combining different disciplines can be very demanding as each of these disciplines demand a different approach – how to work and what kind of environment is needed for research and development. Each of my projects is very specific and the hardest thing is to figure out basic parameters even before the research process starts. When the methodology of the research is clear, nearly half of the work is done.

The scientific part of my research is always challenging because I need to find adequate collaborators and counterparts, and there is as well a challenge regarding the presentation of the findings. With exhibits, I always try to present the entire process from the laboratory and at the same time I try not to distort or simplify the idea behind it; I like to organise alongside exhibitions and performances also a symposium/discussion events to open up the topic.
I strongly believe that beside the scientific research process it is also highly important to pose ethical and philosophical questions as well as to understand current (bio)politics. I also believe that knowledge should be accessible to everybody and I would be very excited to see stronger empowerment of citizens’ science in the future. This is in contrast with popular science where the information are sometimes very ambiguous, inaccessible and unclear in the name of simplification of the results of research.

From the point of view of art, it is important to discuss the relationship between the dominant narratives and how they shape our realities. This is one of the aspects I target with my work.
I am also very inspired by some amazing theoreticians among whom I will name only two who influence my work the most:  of Jakob von Uexküll, a theoretician who investigates biology from the nineteenth century, and Donna Haraway, a theoretician whose latest book Staying with the Trouble deals with the issue of how to live on a damaged planet.

What are you working on at the moment?

This year both of my highlights will happen in September. During the Sonica festival MoTA will release a new edition of vinyls for the Aquatocene project. These are the continuation of aforementioned narrative of human sonic noise pollution in the ocean and sea. Furthermore, I already started on research for a new project dealing with water environment and their inhabitants and ecological issues that they are facing. Here I will examine the difference in approach between mythology, pop culture and cutting edge science. The work, will premier in September at Transitio iennale in Mexico City. The 2017 edition of the biennale, curated by Pedro Soler, is following the theme of environment, energy and sustainability, asking: “How to say us?” (¿Como decir nosotrxs?).”

Photo: Miha-Fras-archive-Gallery-Kapelica

Listen to N.M.O.’s mix for NTS Radio

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N.M.O. (Morten J. Olsen and Rubén Patiño) is an ever-changing acronym that incorporates club music, performance, military-style drumming, fitness and absurdity. The Diagonal and Where To Now? signed duo recently made a mix for our NTS Radio show with a tracklist that includes the likes of Russell Haswell, SHAPE alumni Lorenzo Senni and Stine Janvin Motland, Powell and Valerio Tricoli.

Nonsensical Media Outlet x NTS 21.03.2017

Ed Young, Lonnie Young Jr & S r – Jim and John / Raymond Scott – Don’t beat ..
Stine Janvin Motland – unreleased / N1L – Accelerate
Xyn Cabal – Templexity
Jesse Osborne-Lanthier – lick and a promise
Russell Haswell – Heavy Handed Sunset [Autechre “Comformity Version”]
Deutsch am Fuss – b1
DJ Clent – We bout it
Lorenzo Senni – Forever Headline / Der Plan – Nessie
Second Woman – 200601je6
Powell – Dogs on Acid
Eureka Brass Band – Eternity
Nedederlandse Maatschappij Ontwikkeling – Special GesamtkunstwerkKunst
Dale Cornish – Isolate
Tapes & Sotofett – Dub Happy
Deutsch am Fuss – b2
SRB vs RTC – Attack The Flow
Guggenmusik – field recording
EVOL – Also these eleven / Modo – Eins Zwei Polizei /
Rudolf Eb.er-Ksk Dokumentation No 01
DJ Slim – Cartoons In Progress
La VieC’estFacile – White Cobra
Henri Chopin – Le discours
Pan Daijing – A season in Hell
Rashad Becker – Theme IV
Valerio Tricoli – Clonic Earth
Novo Line – Lo Scoglio
RKSS – Brostep in the Style of Florian Hecker
Airhead – Katzz(Mumdance Remix)
DJ Taye feat. DJ Earl – Break it Down / Jeff Witscher – Meclu 3
Cont_ext – 002_bouncetest-01
Oneohtrix Point Never – Nobody Here

Gymnastics with N.M.O.

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N.M.O. is the project of North Sea drummer and producer Morten J. Olsen and Mediterranean synthesis aficionado Rubén Patiño. N.M.O. is an ever-changing acronym that incorporates club music, performance, military-style drumming, fitness, and absurdity. What they call ‘Military Danceable Space Music and/or Fluxus Techno’ is a unique blend of repetitive percussive patterns and synthetic sounds that, combined with performative aspects, explodes during their short and intense live shows.  In 2016, N.M.O. released Nordic Mediterranean Organization / Numerous Miscommunications Occur, a double 12″ LP for Powell’s Diagonal Records. Previously, they put out two releases on Barcelona’s Anòmia, including 2014’s critically acclaimed, Nederlandse Maatschappij Ontwikkeling, and in 2015 the two Naturkunde Museum Ostkreuz EPs for Boomkat’s The Death of Rave label, as well as Natalia Martínez Ordóñez for UK label Where to Now?.

How do you work as a duo?

Rubén Patiño: We’ve been living in Berlin for a while, but I recently moved to Barcelona. We still meet in person though.
Morten J. Olsen: Yeah since Rubén moved, we already did two short residencies IRL.
But it’s always been more of a project-based band anyway, as in, we work more intensely in certain periods and less in others.

Does the acronym vary from project to project? On your Where to Now? album, it was Natalia Martínez Ordóñez.

RP: Each project has a new N.M.O. basically. We started with a long, hard-to-pronounce name in Norwegian, Navnlaust Mønster Opptog, NMO, but after a while we didn’t like it anymore and changed it to Navngitt Monster Oppkok. After another while we were also not convinced about that one, so we changed it again. Then we could not stop changing it, realising it was pretty fun to come up with new things NMO could stand for. Since then, we define the acronym in new ways for each record, mixtape, performance.

You describe the project as “Fluxus techno”. Is there a humorous aspect to what you do?

RP: Well yes, there are lots of absurd and ironic aspects to what we do. For instance, the idea of having a changing acronym as a band name is probably the worst marketing strategy. It’s hard to find us on Google, etc. It’s some sort of middle finger, I guess.

To the music industry?

RP: It’s the consequence. If you play around with formats, you can easily fall out of the standard models.
MJO: If you take the whole phrase we invented: Military Danceable Space Music and/or Fluxus Techno, then maybe you could straight off connect that to some kind of Fluxus ideas. The neo-Dada, Fluxus movement is something that we’re extremely loosely connected to, maybe not at all, but somehow we do identify with some of their principles and ideas. We’re in flux, N.M.O. is in flux.

Could you elaborate?

RP: Yes, we are relatively informed about last century’s art movements. But it’s not like, when we do a new piece, we base it on some Marcel Duchamp writings or we revisit Allan Kaprow. Rather than seeing a direct connection, I’d say the influence is rather manifested in a mind-set type of way, being able to connect things outside the musical box.
MJO: Maybe it’s about combining things that are unlikely to go together. A Fluxus piece could be: to climb on a tree and sit on a branch and saw off the branch you’re sitting on. To a certain degree, we’re doing this. Making impossible tasks for ourselves, trying to penetrate the club scene by using military drumming, odd meters, and fitness, might be a bit like that. But adding absurdity as a possible parameter and also keeping some self-irony intact I think is not only interesting, but also necessary in order for N.M.O. to exist. We come from pretty different backgrounds and have very different starting points, and in fact it was probably unlikely that our collaboration would work to begin with, but by borrowing and meeting at some of these old ideas and juxtaposing them with our own influences, we somehow managed to make a bunch of music together.

What are your backgrounds actually?

MJO: Ruben is a visual artist who’s into computer music. Right? I come from more of an instrumental band type of setting. We met at a very confusing time in Berlin.
RP: Yes I come from visual arts, but have a Masters degree in jurassic electronic music composition.We met in the late 00s in Berlin. By then, there had been an exciting noise scene in Berlin. We would meet at the same concerts, bars, etc. I guess these years gave us a shared desire to make strong physical sound. So I’d say that’s at the core of the project, but we’ve also added a layer of danceability and performance that has become a rara avis in the club scene. We try to question things no one else does, such as the role of the audience in a club, etc.

Your style of drumming is also quite specific.

MJO: I suppose, but in a way it’s pretty basic, usually taking simple rudiments as a starting point. As I see it, we’ve built a language together, and it includes several specific things, one being the drumming style. But in fact, what’s behind the drumming style might have been instructive to how we work.
RP: It also has to do with transparency. I don’t have traditional training in music. I’ve never played in bands, so it’s really difficult for me to count bars. We’ve found signs or cues that Morten would give me and we use it as part of the performance.
MJO: That’s an early example of the military aspect of N.M.O.: We were wondering how to get from A to B, how to manoeuvre from different patterns and parts to others, and then we started looking into using military hand signs. That was not really by coincidence, as my style of drumming – and in fact most trained drummers’ style of drumming – essentially involves military techniques.
RP: Morten made a podcast about it.
MJO: Yeah, and by looking into other sides of the military, simple principles of organisation and movement on the ground, and grouping these with our aesthetic ideas, a lot of our performative stuff was already there.
RP: This also connects to something like the ‘Lesson 1′ idea. We use ‘Lesson 1′ from various disciplines, and by combining them, the whole thing turns into something more complex. With drumming it could be a rhythm lesson for beginners.
MJO: Like the single paradiddle.
RP: Yeah, but it can also apply to gymnastics or simple exercises.
MJO: Or panning. And yeah, actually, that’s exactly what some people commented on after our gig last week: that it reminded them of a gym class in primary school combined with marching band music. They had a lot of fun because it reminded them of something very common but at the same time something they never really thought about. Imagine the bleep test, pushups, and snare drum rolls in a club. That’s the way we’ve grabbed on to the military-industrial complex. We think however, that governments should generally decrease their military budgets, or maybe rather consider adding some more drumming to it.
RP: We are (not) pacifists though.
MJO: But almost: using force to prevent a child from being run over by a car could be ok.

Can you talk about the Where to Now? record. You played around with different tempi in a conceptual way.

RP: It basically started in the Middle East, in Beirut. It was a commissioned piece for a festival called CO2. The main idea was an hour-long accelarando with dancers performing on a big avenue. We made ten 3-minute sections out of that, and every section ended up having a 10 BPM increase. The record has two sides: the first one is weirder, non-danceable compared to the second one. I particularly like the fact that if you listen to the first and the last track there is almost no connection, but if you listen to the whole record there is a smooth transition from slow and abstract to full on club music. In fact it’s one my favourite records.

Can you talk about your new project, Deutsch am Fuss?

MJO: It’s DaF! We have N.M.O, which is an ever-changing acronym, and now we also have DaF as a unit within the unit.
RP: DaF is another deviation, a necessity of evolving from N.M.O. A new playground where the focus shifts on appropriation and faster tempos. It’s clearly ironic. Some white kids trying to make footwork and combining it with Neue Deutsche Welle. It’s a collage. If you spell it out completely, it’s actually Deutsch-Amerikanisches Fusswerk.

Will you also perform with this project?

MJO: We don’t know what the future will hold. These people are a little less reliable than N.M.O.
When you play it’s a performance. How do people react?
RP: Organisers tend to have a problem with a setup in the middle of the dance floor, but the audience loves it. As I always say to skeptical promoters and reluctant stage managers, we’ve done it twice in Berghain and it worked out very well. This Berghain approval stamp helps a lot.
MJO: The main thing is the physicality of being close to people, physically working and doing stuff. That’s something that creates a terrific energy.

Photos: Moonolith at Ljubljana Castle with Fraction

MOONOLITH is an interactive monument for public spaces which reflects the Moon and the constellations of stars on its surface. Dedicated to urban strollers, it is a tribute to dark matter, emptiness, void, in-between space, speed, and time and its passage. For the Ljubljana castle a sound-responsive Moonolith version has been developed that interacts with visitors’ movements also during the day. SHAPE artist Fraction performed at the opening of the event on 21 March 2017. Check out the photos below.

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Photos: Iztok Medja

Listen to a Resonance FM mix by Oriole

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Listen to a mix by Latvian beatmaker Oriole, comprised exclusively of his own production. Oriole is one of the Dirty Deal Audio collective, a veteran of festivals in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland and Norway. Read an interview with the artist here.

Amnesia Scanner

The goal of the Amnesia Scanner live show is: to turn the stage into a living organism. They incessantly pursue this goal and achieve it by using techniques from the theatre, cinema and the technological innovations of nightclubs. They call it Xperienz, and those who have witnessed it talk of a totally enveloping spectacle that has no comparison to anything they have seen before. However not only their live show deserves this widespread praise: much of the prestige they have accumulated in just eighteen months has to do with “AS”, their debut EP and a record full of complex structures, supernatural landscapes and dense sounds, while at the same time remaining dance friendly and enjoyable.

Reluctant to give explanations or appear in public, the Berlin duo has been linked to the Janus platform, where they join similar names like M.E.S.H. and Lotic, although their first release was for the British label Young Turks. In 2014 they produced a track for Mykki Blanco and the following year they collaborated with Holly Herndon on the excellent “Platform”, and released their first mixtape on which their intense sound already seemed to be perfectly formed.

Download press photo here. 

 

Watch: SHAPE @ Novas Frequencias

After MUTEK, SHAPE platform headed over to Rio de Janeiro’s Novas Frequencias festival to present a dozen of artists associated with the platform, including Toxe, Stine Janvin Motland, Mike Rijnierse, Mr Mitch, Black Zone Myth Chant, and others. Between 3 and 8 December 2016, a number of performances, installations and live sets took place across various venues in the Brazil hotspot. Check out the videos of SHAPE artists @ Novas Frequencias below.

Brushing teeth with Machine Woman (interview)

Machine Woman

Russian-born Anastasia Vtorova a.k.a. Machine Woman is a sound artist and image maker who often collaborates with other artists. Her works are inspired by late night listening to the sounds of down beat minimal electronica along with melancholic cinema from all over the world. She sets what has been defined as “waltzing the line between techno and avant garde”. Since 2014, there have been releases on Tesla Tapes, WTN?, Peder Mannerfelt Produktion as well as contributions to Sacred Tapes and low income $quad. Her work has begun to gather notable attention, having been highlighted in Fact Magazine’s ‘10 house & techno producers to watch in 2016’. November 2016 saw the beginning of  Take Away Jazz Records,  Vtorova’s own label the output of which she characterizes as “music for people who can’t sleep at night and are perhaps quite fond of mundane, abstract collages”. She has recently been offered a regular show on Berlin’s Community Radio as well as contributing a bi-monthly podcast to Bristol’s Noods Radio.

Tell me about your musical beginnings.

I started when I was about 13 or 14. I’d been surrounded by music all my life. My first vinyl was actually my mum’s Boney M record Nightflight To Venus. I really loved it and danced to it every day. The first dance music and weirder stuff came from my brother’s bootlegged tapes. Then I moved to the UK. I guess I always wanted to do something music-related. I listened to Nirvana, Metallica and bought a bass guitar when I was 15. Then I saved up my pocket money and bought a drum kit. I tried to imitate Slipknot, whom I loved, in my mum’s garage. Electronic music came a bit later. When I was studying in London I started joining noise and experimental bands, but it got boring for me pretty fast. At first, I really didn’t like electronic music. It was just boom boom boom..But I slowly got into it, started making it and wanted to be on stage. I was discovering music on Last.fm, had a computer and took Ableton lessons. I haven’t stopped making electronic music since coming home from my first Ableton lesson evening class at Goldsmith University. Now I like a lot of music – from classical jazz to electronics.

In 2014, you released a tape on Manchester-based label Tesla Tapes.

I’d just finished playing in this one woman band. I liked the fact that I didn’t have to have a drummer to play the beats. I was into quite dark electronic stuff. I met the band Gnod at Islington Mill, one of which was Paddy who runs Tesla Tapes. I naturally like to progress, learn and do more. Being exposed to more music influenced me. I would never imagine myself listening to house music when I was 18. It came much later. Maybe it will be death metal with EDM next.

Was there a feminist aspect to you being called Machine Woman?

My first band was called Female Band. Everyone was asking “Who’s Female Band, who are your band members?”. But it was just me. It was just a joke because a lot of people say Oh it’s a girl band playing. Actually, there is a project called Girl Band now and it’s four dudes. I find it very interesting how to play with audience. With Machine Woman, it was more about the idea of electronic music and Kraftwerk, how they pretended to be robots. The name Machine Woman rather came from the film Metropolis. I didn’t really think too much about it – I’m a woman, I make machine music. Actually I didn’t want people to know it was me. I wanted to have a picture of a guy. Someone wrote to me once and said “Oh dude, you’re so good”, and I wrote back that I’m not a dude. Then I had a picture of my mum and a lady from Texas wrote to me and said that she was so excited to see older women making electronic music. I told my mum and she was like “I’m not an older woman.” It’s about how you present yourself visually. If Machine Woman was a guy, would I get asked about feminism? To me equal rights are absolutely essential.

The names of your tracks and vocals touch upon more personal topics and experiences in your life, which is not that usual in electronic music.

The track names come really randomly. My last vinyl release, which was on Where To Now? Records, was called I Can Mend Your Broken Heart, and it was about a Tinder date who cancelled on me and I couldn’t get into a club. I got home and drunk a bottle of wine and made dance music, because I really wanted to dance that night. I’d been going through a broken heart stage at that time too and there was a book next to me which said “I Can Mend Your Broken Heart”, and I just used it. Friday Night was a track made on Friday night. Some tracks are named by dates… It just happens.

How do you make your music – is it inspirational, or do you have a certain routine in the studio?

Both. Sometimes it would be inspirational – I’d be inspired by someone I’ve met, a situation that happens, or something I witness, but most of the time it’s just me making music every day. It has become a sort of a habit. I make a lot of stuff. Not everything is good, but it has to be done every day, like brushing teeth. I don’t question myself, I just do it. My studio is in my bedroom, and I make music with my headphones.

Does the fact that you make music with your headphones also make it more intimate?

Definitely. I can make music at four in the morning and my flatmate has no idea. And then in the morning I just say that I made a house banger the previous night. I use Ableton most of the time, but I also have pedals and some hardware. But again, it’s like brushing teeth – you don’t brush your teeth in front of other people. Making music is also my own time, I’m brushing my own teeth in a musical way.

Do you also work with others?

I try, but being in a band means there are so many opinions and egos to take into account. I’ve only connected to about two people in my life musically. With electronic music, I guess I haven’t done too many collaborations. Object came to my house and I showed him how I make music and he showed me how he makes his, which was very different. He showed me some techniques and I made a track and sent it to him. He liked it and wanted to work on it more. But it’s never about sitting with someone in a studio at the same time.

What are you planning next?

There’s a few releases and remixes coming out. There’s going to be a very house-y vinyl. I also have my own label, Take Away Jazz Records, where I want to release other people’s music as well. I make a lot of music, I’d send it to someone in a WhatsApp message and ask them if they want to sign it. If they don’t reply within ten minutes, I say I’m sorry but I’m not working with them. (laughs) I’m a bit of a diva sometimes. I also have a show on Berlin Community Radio. I started buying vinyl, but going to a record store can be a bit intimidating (similarly to going to a music store and buying hardware), but it’s fun. Other people’s music is more important to me than my own.

You have moved to Berlin. Do you still keep in touch with the UK?

I’ve just come back from there. I played a show at a Lobster Theremin party in London. My mother still lives in the UK, so I visit her. It’s always going to be a very special place for me, but there’s so many other places to discover. Even though I’m really scared of flying, I cannot see myself not going to places and meeting people who have different ideas and musical backgrounds.

What about Russia, do you go back there too?

Russia is a lit bit of a weird place for me. I was growing up in post-Soviet Union. It was a very intense time. I haven’t been there since 2011, but I’m planing to go because half of my family lives in Russia. A lot of things have changed there musically, socially and culturally. It would be very interesting to see it. Every time I go there though, I feel a little bit out of place, even though I grew up there, and come from there. Certain places bring back not very positive memories. But it’s all about what you make of it. Sometimes a bad experience can shape you and you actually learn to appreciate it.

Where’s home for you now?

Oh my god…where’s home? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’ve been here in Berlin for a year. Every time I return it doesn’t feel it’s mine yet. Then I go back to the UK, and I’m not sure if it’s still my home. It’s very strange. I can’t answer this question.

Are you worried about the consequences of Brexit?

I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen. We live in a very interesting time politically. So much has happened, especially last year. But I guess growing up in Russia and seeing so much instability and so many changes happening so quickly, it doesn’t frighten me as much. Maybe I’m not going to be living here, but we’ll see. But I try to stay positive. Even if I have to go back to Russia, I’ll still be making music. Maybe that’s the beauty of it. I’ll be brushing my teeth anywhere, through Brexit, or anything.

Exploring the subconscious: An interview with Black Zone Myth Chant

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Black Zone Myth Chant is a project of Afrocentric psychedelia and hypnotic footwork by psych-drone artist High Wolf. Sometimes described as “Sun Ra meets Dj Screw”, various Black Zone Myth Chant releases have been released on Low Jack’s label Editions Gravats, including Mane Thecel Phares (ranked 33 in the 2015 albums of the year Boomkat’s charts). The story of the project starts in 2011. Back from the US where he spent some time touring, hanging out with friends and listening to DJ Screw, High Wolf sat down in his studio and, without any plan, recorded Straight Cassette within a couple of days. Black Zone Myth Chant was one of the SHAPE artists performing at Novas Frequencias’ SHAPE showcase in Rio de Janeiro last year, where this interview took place. 

Does the context influence what you play?

Right now, I’m in a phase where I try to not to really care about the context, as long as it’s pretty standard and not a seated audience at 2pm in a gallery, for instance. It’s more about the live show being a predetermined thing, with freedom of interpretation based on what’s going around and what my intuition tells me.

Is there a difference between Black Zone Myth Chant and High Wolf in this respect?

The live show approach is similar. I’m going to feel the same during the show, trying to understand what’s happening and feel the vibe. For instance last night, I thought I would go in some direction and then at the end it got a bit more energetic, and I decided to finish with that. It’s about reading the room. But I’m not going to sell out and do what people want me to.

Is the psychedelic, immersive aspect important to your work?

It’s not something that I think about. It just happens. I stopped trying to explain it. People use that word to describe my music, and I’m totally fine with it, but it’s not something that I try to do.

Black Zone Myth Chant is surrounded by mysticism. Can you talk about it?

It’s more a big blur of many different things. Maybe it’s good it stays mysterious.

I remember when it first appeared – with the whole imagery. I was wondering who could that be.

When I think about projects – it can be a new band or a record, there’s a conceptual way behind it, once again it’s as much intuitive as thought of. It has to go beyond the music, there has to be a story behind it, a reason why it exists, and it has to show something different than what I’ve already done.

Has Afrofuturism been an influence?

It’s definitely a big influence. Maybe more on the second album. It’s mythological and it’s artistic. I like that it’s about the whole world, not about a specific music style. It was about the way people dressed, about every aspect of their life. I like this living in an imaginary world on top of an existing one. You decide to see things through some kind of filter. That’s what I do in life.

What are the mythologies of today?

I have nothing against science, on the contrary, but it kind of killed the poetic approach to life and within it, mythology. I’ve heard a very interesting comment that despite the fact that science killed mythology, science gave the most eccentric mythology / cosmology – we are all stardust. Mythology was the first science, people trying to give answers to questions that have no answer. Now that we get some of the answers, we feel that we don’t need this kind of view of the world, the answers we get are equally beautiful, powerful and poetic as imaginary tales or mythologies from the past. We just lost that way of looking at things.

Can you talk about High Wolf and how you got connected to the US psychedelic, Not Not Fun scene?

I think it was a big shift in the way people made music. Not in terms of style, but interaction. When I started High Wolf, it was the beginning of Myspace. If I had started this ten years earlier, I would have stayed in the local scene. I’d been making this music more or less in musical isolation, and then I found out that people had been doing the same in the US, mainly the Not Not Fun guys. So I found my local scene over there. We just got in touch online, and decided to collaborate. That’s how I played my first shows and put together my first record. After that, a lot of people have started to associate me with those guys and think I’m from the US.

So the internet has had a big impact on your work?

Yes, big time. I don’t even think I would make music without the internet. If it wasn’t for the internet, I would have done my thing, which in the beginning was way more obscure and niche than now. I would probably have played a few shows in my city, and nobody would have cared. Maybe I would have stopped and done something else. I found support and audience spread out over different parts of the world because of the internet. It was a sign that it was not such a bad idea to try to make music. But the music scene has really changed. We’ve gone from people getting together and working as bands to everyone making music by themselves – solo projects on Ableton. It’s the same with touring. You had to have a promoter or tour agent for each country, working by phone or letters, and now you have a million ways to contact people. You can do things yourself. It’s a total game changer.

Do you see any negative sides to it as well?

Not really because anyone can have a shot at it, you can show your art to the world. I guess there is what I would call a natural selection, which is not always 100% rational, some people will make it, some people won’t. It’s a fair game, but there is also a lot of wrong reasons why some people are making it in this business, let’s not be naive. There’s too much music out there than we can handle anyway so it’ll be selected somehow.

Have you noticed any differences in perception between your Black Zone Myth Chant and High Wolf material?

Black Zone Myth Chant started a little later and it was inactive for a few years. I got back to it a few years ago partly because of a friend / label manager / DJ from the techno scene who encouraged me to make a new album. It’s good for me because now I can play under different names, express different ideas and reach different audiences. But it has a side effect: I’m sometimes too preoccupied on keeping a clear line between those projects and it certainly goes against creativity at some point.

What about the vocals on Black Zone Myth Chant, how important are they?

It’s a way of using vocals – kind of in-between chanting, talking and not talking, that deep down is like trying to talk to the subconscious. I think it’s very important that we don’t understand what it’s about. It has this ritualistic, mysterious way of communicating beyond words. I feel that, probably for some biological reason, the human voice has a bigger impact on your brain than any other sound. There’s probably something in our brain that tells us to pay attention to what a fellow human being is talking to us.

So a certain degree of mystery is important to you?

Yes. And the subconscious. There’s a lot of it in this project. Right now, we are talking to each other, but we do a million of gestures that we are not aware of. We feel like we are in control of our life, what we talk about and do, but we just aren’t. It’s about exploring the different levels of consciousness that are somehow part of me. Intuitively, I feel it, because I’m dreaming and in my dreams I have a view of what it’s like, like everyone. When you pay attention to your subconscious every day, you start to understand it a little bit. It’s a fascinating subject and I think Black Zone has a lot to do with that matter.

You have been using a modular synth in your music for a while now.

When you get familiar with this kind of equipment, it’s the ultimate control-giving instrument (which is a funny thing to say for someone who just said we don’t control much). You design your instrument; the modules you chose and the way you use or patch them is all up to you. Your synth becomes your world. It’s a very romantic instrument in a way. Creatively speaking, it opens up a billion doors all of a sudden, maybe even too many at once, so it can be confusing. I’ve been using it for a few years, but I feel I’ve only just scratched the surface.

What about guitar?

I stopped using it when I got my modular synth because I got bored of it. I was getting to a point where my technique was hitting a wall and it became a routine. And in terms of texture, guitar will always sound more or less like guitar, at least in my hands. I sometimes miss playing the instrument, the feeling of it, but I’m not interested in it right now.

Do you think you would be making music if you stayed in the local scene?

I don’t think so to be honest. I’ve always been intro travelling – it’s a way of life, and touring, showing my music to different people in different places, is a huge factor in my motivation for creation.  A lot of my friends started making music around the same time as me but were not really into the touring aspect, so they have a very different life now. My experience is that if I’m here now, it’s also because I tried and decided that I wanted to do that, not doing records only but playing live shows as well. I think if I was stuck at home playing random shows in bars, I would be frustrated, but you can never tell. Probably it has a lot to do with the ego too. I guess I’d be more enlightened if I was able to do that: playing in a local bar amid general inattention and still be happy about it. Any of us can go from bigger to smaller and vice versa very quickly, and that’s when you need to be at peace with your ego so you don’t become eager or angry.

Do you have any other creative outlets apart from music?

Music is the most important thing, but I also write. When you really focus your life on something – like music in my case – you spend almost every day doing it, but sometimes you get a little anxious thinking about what is going to happen if you don’t want to do it anymore. What could fill that hole? The day it happens, I know I would be into trying to write a book or something similar. I would be very passionate about it. That is some kind of safety net. Sometimes I fantasise about stopping everything for a year and writing a book. The music takes place in the now. The music I played yesterday in Rio was new stuff, created in the past couple of weeks. The time between the creation and realisation in music is not so long.  I want to go crazy doing a piece of art, which would consume me. For some reason, I’m able to make music and release it (with difficulties though, to finalise things and say “it’s finished now”), but maybe I would never be able to reach a point where I’m satisfied with my writing.

What do you write about?

I like automatic writing, random thoughts, mixing philosophical thoughts, psychological theories, diary style reflexions, studies about yourself. When I do it, it’s a constant flow – the mind is way faster than the hand. I like that instead of music it has no public diffusion, its purpose is not to be shared (at least in that form) so it gives me absolute freedom in content and shape, hence probably my most intimate outcome possible.

Usually I feel the need to write when I experience something like this: we take something for granted, anything, like a concept, an animal, the wind, breathing, because we experience it every day, and then one day you look at it differently, you stop for a second and you’re like: why is that thing the way it is? For example, water is something we experience everyday, 99% percent of the time without thinking about it, and then one day you’re like: wait, where does it come from? How come those molecules make that whole, that substance? Why do I need to drink it so I don’t die? How come my body is mostly made of water? What does it mean to my individuality that I’m 2/3 made of water? All this is the beauty of life. It can be super boring if you look at it in a certain way. Or it can be overwhelming with beauty and poetry. And it’s a lot of questions without answers.