Ursula Sereghy: ‘I can’t hear myself in a city’
With a background in jazz and formative years of playing saxophone in a live band, Prague-based Ursula Sereghy stepped out of the hustle to focus, all the while becoming a regular at the local Synth Library Prague. A space where she found the support of the musically and politically like-minded and could nourish her newfound passion for experimenting with machines and exploring the limitless possibilities of sound design. An extensive period of voluntary detachment from everyday life during the pandemic gave rise to the stunningly confident debut album OK Box put together by this dark horse of a producer.
How would you describe your musical journey? You are a self-professed instrumentalist. Saxophone was your instrument of choice for a while, and then the instrumentation turned digital. Was electronic music a way to take control of the sounds you wanted to make?
Well, my journey started with classical instruments, that is true. Through my teen years, I spent a lot of time playing with friends whenever it was possible and I was part of some music groups. It was a great time but in one moment I felt that I wanted to do my own music and I needed to invent a way to do it. Then I entered the land of electronic music and saw that there is a whole new world, with millions of possibilities. I could finally do what was in my head. (Yes of course it was a great pain to actually make it sound good and it took several years to learn it).
Being in nature and the country seems an important part of your creative process. Is it the stillness or solitude, or the organic landscape around you that inspires you?
It is absolutely crucial. I must say that I can be only alive in close proximity to nature although I very often feel like a foreigner, or someone who is searching for her own roots in the country of her ancestors. In a country which is under the attack or colonised by the country where she was born. So the relationship with the land and living creatures who inhabit it is a topic I’m very concerned with and I definitely will be in the future. I still feel that my perception of nature is very shallow even though I’m really trying to connect with it again, after all these generations. To make this connection as strong as possible and somehow being in the state of exploring it (not in the scientific “objective ”way”) is a way to stay mentally alive. Which I really need in order to be creative. And.. how can I put it… well I can’t hear myself when I’m in a city for a long period of time, let alone this something around me, which is far more subtle and discreet than my yelling mind.
The Prague-based Synth Library has played an important part in the development of your electronic music production. Probably both in terms of access to technology, as well as the community aspect. Synth Library in Prague encourages women and female-identifying producers to gather together and develop their music-making skills. Can you introduce this space to those who might not know it, and how it contributed to you personally?
Wow, Synth Library is a space where you can do many things. You can try, learn and record many many synths, which is totally great, because you know, there are not so many people who can actually afford to buy them. Music should not be limited by your budget but of course it is like everything else. And SL can make a difference in terms of that affordability disappearing. There are also many workshops where you can actually learn how to make electronic music. But what is the best thing is that you as a woman, or non-binary, or not an alfa male simply, can be completely safe and you can finally fucking flourish. Everybody there gets that you as a woman have been told your whole life that you probably cannot even switch on the computer, so your self esteem around all this electronic stuff needs support from the very beginning. It is also a community which has no boundaries (or at least they are not based on social status, power etc.) and you can bet you’ĺl be truly welcome with any issue you might have (really, any problem…when I bought a Digitakt and didn’t have money for food because of it, people from SL were leaving me food there so I could survive…well, that is community). So I’m really grateful that I met the SL crew completely by accident right in the moment when I decided to make electronic music. I have learned how to overcome struggles in life and music and I was prepared when they happened.
You mentioned in one interview that with your music, you try to avoid making people sad and wouldn’t want to trigger sad emotions in them. A lot of music is doing exactly that. What sort of emotions would you like your music to bring to people?
That is a really tricky question. I would like to find joy in life so I’m trying to do it through music. I feel that there is a place inside of me which is full of it. It is not easy to access that place, especially in the 21st century where I need to think about questions like: Is it moral to have a baby if there is a high probability that our world will be in immense chaos due to changes induced by global warming in a few decades? Will nature collapse completely because of human activities and what can I do to protect it? And many others! It is hard for me (and probably for others too) to maintain my head up and see some light at the end of this tunnel. But we are still alive, floating in our bubbles of comfort, trying to find strength and will to fight or help. And I need joy for that. And it has thousands of flavours which I think are not so often articulated. For the record, I’m talking just about my process, I completely honour music which is full of anger and sadness for its flavours and powers. Maybe one day I will approach these emotions in some creative way, but for now I do not feel in the flow when I’m doing that.
You also mentioned that sounds are more important than the form itself when it comes to the music-making process. Can you elaborate?
I’m not so strictly sure about that anymore. Let’s say that for me the combination of sounds is another scale where I can find new relationships which make specific flows. The ones that I seek maybe. Also perhaps I’ve spent too much time in an environment where everything was about how many chords you know, or how fast you can play this and that. Or what genre you like or dislike. But it’s true that the characteristics of sound are very important to me, much more than the complexity of harmony or stuff like that.
Is music something that you do full time nowadays, and if not, how do you combine it with other activities and how do you see that evolving?
Thank you for that question. I’ve reached the point where I can for some short time just do and care solely about music. I don’t know if everybody here knows the feeling of not being able to know if you will be able to pay the rent in two months but that is exactly what is happening to me. Highly unstable and romantic probably, but I hope that it will last as long as I am alive. Evolving, evolving…I really would like to do some stuff for PC games and many more concerts!
What are your dreams?
Well, it is not complicated really, I would like to continue making music, be healthy and be able to support others around me when it’s needed. And I’m also dreaming about the end of the war, as naive as it sounds.
Interview: Lucia Udvardyova