Aleksandra Słyż is a Polish composer, sound designer and sound engineer, currently living between Stockholm and Poznań. In her latest live performances, Aleksandra has been focusing on finding subtle connections between acoustic instruments and modular synthesisers, creating rich and diverse drone structures that slowly, yet intensely, pulse and resonate within the surrounding space and the listener. Interactive sonification systems are another large part of her artistic practice. Since 2017, she has been conducting artistic research, which applies practical experiments to movement/gesture sonification and human proprioceptive reflexes as well as different types of interaction.
What does sound mean to you, and what sparked your interest in it?
Well, it’s so difficult to give you an answer that doesn’t sound completely banal, but it’s literally something I’ve been doing my whole life and I cannot imagine myself without it.
It allows me to express myself, process certain feelings or channel my thoughts, overcome difficult moments, and appreciate the good ones. It’s a huge part of my everyday life.
Time plays a role in your sound compositions – the sound is stretched into an almost meditative, hypnotic eternity. Can you talk about time and its importance in your sound work?
Absolutely, it is indeed one of the most crucial aspects in many of my works. I want music to be (and I truly hope it is) an intense, meditative experience in which time is stretched to the maximum, thus – ironically – it almost doesn’t exist. In that case “change” means something different… it’s almost imperceptible, so there’s a need to shape the tension in a very specific way. Moreover, a large part of my artistic (mostly academic) practice is based on movement and gesture sonification. One of the most challenging difficulties of creating interactive sound works is their open form – e.g., installations or some site-specific works are often non-linear, meaning time changes depend on the input information generated by the user. They should not simply end at some point, but either continue indefinitely or at least have a looping structure.
Through that experience, I learned so much about how to create, participate and understand the phenomenon of time.
You are based in both Stockholm and Poznan. Why is that?
In 2014, I moved from my hometown of Ełk to start higher education at the Adam Mickiewicz University and Music Academy in Poznań. In 2017, I went to Sweden to continue my studies at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. I immediately felt it was the right place for me – Stockholm is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to; the institution has these crazy great studios, with impossible equipment and tools, where I spend days and nights. Besides, I meet so many incredibly talented artists, not only musicians, of course, but most of them are engaged in the Swedish experimental music scene.
However, I’m still very strongly associated with Poland. Currently, I’m back in Poznań, staying here for the next few weeks as I’m writing music for a new theatre production. And that’s how it goes – I come here, I go there. Honestly, I think it’s just too difficult for me to stick to one place.
Which part of working with sound do you feel closest to?
I would say there are no predominant parts in my process. Each element is valuable, each builds my way of self-expression and tells something intimate about me.
You’ve also worked with film and video. Do you visualise your music?
Sometimes. For instance, some timbres remind me of specific colours, but it is rather a very vague association, and I wouldn’t call it synaesthesia or anything like that.
Your new album, A Vibrant Touch, is released in September via Warm Winters. Which alludes to the physicality of sound. Can you talk about what this album means to you and how it came about?
In A Vibrant Touch I continue to explore two phenomena. I am very much inspired by microtonal music, especially early spectralism or more contemporary music that adopts systems like just intonation. I also appreciate the power of resonance understood as waves of energy, as natural vibrations which, if intense enough, race through and absorb the whole body.
Focusing on those phenomena, I present here three forms full of intense vibrations, slow, heavy glissandos, and moments when the beating sensation disappears completely.
As I already mentioned, time is incredibly important as well. Through this album, I want to create situations in which listeners cannot precisely say if the music they just heard lasted 15 or 50 minutes.
Composing A Vibrant Touch was a very long, sometimes rather exhausting but usually extremely satisfying process that started in early 2020 and finished in February 2022. Nevertheless, I’m very glad it took me so much time as I’m quite sure it’s complete now and I would not change anything.
There is a beautiful poem accompanying the album. What does it denote?
I like to see things holistically. I think each detail is important and brings some value. Besides, once the material was done, I had this weird feeling that the music somehow hides inside itself an untold story and that I’m not the one who should tell it.
That’s why I cannot imagine the album without Konrad Wróblewski, the author of this beautiful poem, and Maks Posio, who designed gorgeous covers for the digital album, vinyl and cassette.
Even though Maks and I have been working together for quite a while, this was the very first time I invited Konrad to join the collaboration. Together we started an interdisciplinary process, during which I prepared a list of keywords and images that presented forms or ideas closely associated with the music. And they transformed it into those details, which put the whole album on a completely different level.
How can sound artists innovate work with sound, how can they push the boundaries and the field further?
I think that nowadays, arts are in the midst of an interdisciplinary turn. And that brings not only sound artists, but all contemporary creators new opportunities to push the boundaries and crush the limits, both in theory and practice. From my point of view, we should be able to benefit from other disciplines, use new types of media and encourage ourselves to go beyond the tools or concepts that make us comfortable. However, we should never sacrifice our self-expression for technology. Of course, that’s obvious. But it took me a while to truly understand that rule. So, in my opinion, the real key is – and I always bear this in mind, especially when working with movement sonification – to find a perfect balance between progress, technology and artistic value. Otherwise, pushing the boundaries has no point for me.
Interview Lucia Udvardyova