‘Myth is an interface': An interview with J.G. Biberkopf

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J.G. Biberkopf’s music spans club, theatre and digital radio contexts. His debut EP, entitled Ecologies, launched the new Knives label. From cyber ambience and slamming rhythmic constructions to instant trails of web-filtered grime and beatless studies of net phenomenology, Biberkopf’s first release was intended as a field trip into the representations of nature that emerge from the social media scape. The resulting experience is oddly romantic, stripped of its tangibility yet with a synthetic vitality. A follow-up recording, the full-length Ecologies II: Ecosystems Of Excess, was released in 2016. He will be performing at a SHAPE event in Dresden this Friday, 7 April.

My childhood memories are of growing up in the backwaters of Eastern Europe and finding out about the world via early dial-up internet, realising the literal/figurative periphery of my existence and wanting to escape. Building up these imaginary worlds, connecting with the virtual much more than the real. How was your childhood?

I can relate to your experience quite a lot, although I never thought of escaping, as it didn’t seem possible. My family comes from small Lithuanian villages and I’m basically of the first generation in some time that grew up in a city. I’m also the first generation in this kind of economy so there was an immense confrontation of value systems and modes of living. Most of my family was exiled by the Soviets to Siberia after WWII; some of those who weren’t exiled were killed and a lot of my family fled to the States. They took away everything in every way. As a kid, I loved listening to stories about those times, about my family, from my late grand-grandmother, and on the other hand I was watching MTV as much as I could. MTV and digital communities served a structure that allowed me to escape and also to connect to a more global reality. It allowed the creation of a western identity, imagining/constructing a cosmopolitan one, and in that way getting away from a traumatic (post-)Soviet, ‘oriental’, local one. Also, it allowed me to escape the incredibly limited opportunities the atmosphere of the times offered.

The second part of your Ecologies album addresses the way global politics shapes the Earth’s ecosystem and the architectures and infrastructures of power. Is geopolitics something that interests you, and in what way does it influence your work?

Yes, for sure. I was thinking a lot about how global political realities and their way of organising and structuring the environment, how a new model of a social-spatial order will emerge out of a shift. It started out with reading a lot about the environmental crisis and being incredibly anxious about it; I think I choose to be bombarded and swallowed a lot of it and in a way it was channelling, thinking, what was in my feeds… I never used the term ‘geopolitics’ to think about it. I like to think about ‘geopolitics’ in terms of ecology – a science of understanding how organisms relate to the environment. The album was an effort to think about ‘politics’, landscapes, climates and their interplay on the macro scale. Politics to a particular degree is the management of chance and circumstances, so I was interested in politics, in relation to the hyperobject of climate, the environment – how politics creates cosmographies, which are in the end, about the legitimization of a certain social-spatial order, the particular usage of the environmental. There are way too many ideas touched upon in the album; it’s a mess, honestly.

Your work deals with representations – of nature, digital landscapes, technological interferences with humanity, etc. Is your work a (critical?) response to the increasing hyperreality of today’s world or rather the utilisation of its potential?

I view my ‘work’ as a primal evolutionary drive to understand the environments you are participating in, their transformations, figuring out ‘survival strategies’. Myth is an interface in itself. So even when we have user interfaces, which are layered on top of direct surroundings, it is not going to be that far from religion which is essentially a protocol on how to participate in an environment, a practical cosmography, a delusion for efficiency. I am more directly critical of the ongoing (collectives) fantasies that produce these interfaces, hyperrealities – the way technology is designed and utilised is a political matter, it is the battlefront.

The tracklist of your album (eg Ecologies II: Ecosystems of Excess) reads like a treatise (sometimes even a religious one, which is interesting since a lot of your music reminds me of choral or church music, music to be listened to in domes, like an aural depiction of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings).

The names of titles – I think they are dense in what they are encapsulating. They could serve as an outline for a book for sure, and at some point, I was thinking of making a book engaging with a lot more writers. I thought they could do the work for me, which was a naive idea. The album was about starting to map an alternative cosmography and critique the current one, so it shares a lot of similarities and visions with religious art. I think the ambition of the album is classical in that sense; it shares the ideas of what art should do in society, and I think played with that a bit. On the other hand, I like taking on a language, ‘high’ language; one I’m not supposed to take on, corrupting its supposed sanctity.

What is the importance of dramaturgy in your work?

At some points, while having sex, I would think about how bodies are moving through dramaturgical stages in this experience – glad that it stopped. For performances, ‘tracks’, I separate things into stages, which I try to define what I want to do. I prefer to use my knowledge about the dramaturgical arrangement, rather the music, since I find it a more exciting way of thinking. When I am doing my best, I think about my music more as narratives of spaces, of states, which is more compatible with the way things are thought of in the theatre, than in music.

What is the importance of research in your work? In one interview, you mentioned that “I think music becomes mostly a reaction to the research I do, and the way I do research is less and less compatible with composing music.” Could you talk about your research and the difficulties of combining it with music?

I think it is similar to the way to how a fiction writer would do research, rather an academic. It is not very musical, but I try to make it more so recently. I am at crossroads because translating research to music becomes too limiting, and I find research the most enjoyable, rewarding part of the process. Before my whole point was about making music talk, about what it is not supposed to, but then many shortcomings of the current compositional process, how incompatible it is to the way I do ‘research’, became incredibly frustrating. I started doing a lot more field recording recently, began exploring archives, and decided that it is healthiest with some ideas to drastically move away from music. However, in the end, it is most rewarding when I escape my process and the limitations I set up in the moment of creation.