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V0LAND - Controlled chaos

V0LAND - Controlled chaos

Published 12:51 pm on Monday 29th November 2021 by Beat Magazine

Beat / How did you get into the art of electronic music, can you remember an essential moment?

V0LAND / Perhaps not specifically for electronic, but for electroacoustic music I actually happen to have one. Strangely enough, I remember the precise day when my way of hearing was suddenly cracked open and a new awareness of sound and listening rushed in through the gaps. It happened on July 29, 2012. I remember the day so clearly because it was the last of a ten-day conference in anthropology in Slovenia which I’d attended. This last day was dedicated to sound anthropology and as a closing event, we were to go to a music festival in the Julian Alps called Sajeta. It was a magical place right at the turquoise watersmeet of Soča and Tolminka rivers in the Zgornje Postčje valley.

We got there a bit earlier in order to do a listening workshop.The latter was to be a soundwalk, something that none of us attendees knew anything about. So we were instructed to simply stroll about, led by a guide, for about half-an-hour. While on the soundwalk, we were told to try—as best we can—to focus all our attention fully on the listening of sounds. Naturally, talking among one another must be paused, and every time thoughts surface in the mind, we were to gently sink our attention back to pure listening.

Simple (or not) as this may sound, between the start of this soundwalk and its end, my world had changed. For the first time in my life, I paid attention to my sonic background. The sound I’d been neglecting. And all of a sudden it sounded like music, everywhere and all the time. In many ways this soundwalk has never ended. And as if all this wasn’t enough, that same evening on the festival I heard Jan Jelinek perform live for the first time, and this serendipitous double-whammy put me on the trajectory that prompted my path for the decade to follow.

Beat / Would you define your creative work more as experiment or composition - and is such a classification even necessary?

V0LAND / I suppose the ways in which composers define composition are about as many as there are composers. Composition is almost by definition an experimental endeavor, as is any process directed at producing novelty. So, I’m not sure if the classification is necessary. However, without certain demarcation, words lose their meaning. I personally don't quite think of what I do as composition in the traditional sense of the term. By this I mean that I have great respect for composers who don’t need any modern technology to compose.

If necessary, a pen and paper will do. The way I currently work is not like that at all, and I’m not sure if it’s a difference in method or a difference in kind. Perhaps the distinction is in the use of technology. While I’ve studied traditional composition and music theory, my process is almost antithetical to conventional music writing. Namely, rather than developing musical ideas into compositions, building them bit by bit, I am interested in creating circumstances in which sonic structures, complexity, and variation can arise spontaneously, as if ‘out of nothing.’ I try to let the chaos of signals flowing within the network of boxes naturally find equilibria that evolve from one the the next. In other words, trying to facilitate conversation among the various instruments so that something interesting can happen. In this way my job is more that of a tinkerer, or a curator, searching for something beautiful, than that of a painter or a writer starting with a blank sheet. Having to build everything from scratch frightens me.

Beat / Where did the idea and inspiration for your current release Mimicry come from?

V0LAND / In the five years prior to the first Corona lockdown I’d been working almost exclusively with field recordings and soundscape composition. Since that faithful day in the summer of 2012 that I mentioned above, I’ve been obsessed with listening to and recording of social spaces and nature. Over the years, however, I’d also collected few pieces of equipment which I never got the chance to work with. Then, when Corona hit, I finally had ample time and nowhere to go.

So I sat down and started working with these boxes alongside the collection of field recordings I had. After experimenting with them for some time, I found a way to connect them to each other in a way that makes the different devices react to what the others are doing. Soon thereafter I was surprised to find out how much the sounds coming out of this network resembled some of the sounds I was used to hearing outside.

I could almost make out sounds of wind and water, insects and birds, traffic rumble and so on. So Mimicry is a fully synthesised piece (i.e. no field recordings or samples), and yet to my ears it sounds organic in a way that mimics nature. I remember the time when what was to become Mimicry was sounding in my studio, performed in real time by the table of devices, and it was a soundscape I was happy to live in for a while.

Beat / How do you create your creative output in the studio - with which basic set-up do you work?

V0LAND / As I mentioned above, through the years I’ve collected a few rather esoteric semi-modular boxes. I've connected them in a mesh of sorts similar to modular synthesis. Then I’ve taken as many outputs from those as my interface can handle (currently about a dozen) and put them on as many channels in my DAW. Since there are more sound outputs than I have channels, some are a composite of a few signals.

I tinker with them, massage them, let them take a lead, and listen, until I stumble upon something interesting. It can be anything as long as it gives me a shiver. It’s very often a jewel hidden under a pile of other things so I try to dig it up and let it shine. My setup is such that I have to turn away from the instruments in order to look at the DAW.

So I only go to the computer when I need to hit record. From then on, it’s easy, I simply record simultaneously on all available channels. My interface comes with a digital mixer, so I can do some basic levelling and panning, as well as introduce some preamplification on the way in to increase the harmonic complexity and trim the peaks. In this way, I get a real-time performance of whatever it is that has presented itself. Having the different channels recorded separately allows me to cut and polish it in a way that the various sounds don’t stand in each other’s way, but can evolve together and reveal their inner complexities and sonic interactions.

Beat / And what do you particularly appreciate about the individual tools and gear?

V0LAND / I pick my gear carefully (duh). I try to resist the temptation to always acquire new machines as it's unsustainable and expensive, takes up precious real estate (physically and in terms of I/O channels), and takes away from the necessity to find creative ways to use what I already have. The things I pick are usually rather esoteric. I’m drawn to strange machines that are never fully tamable and are built to produce unfamiliar sounds. None of my devices has any displays, presets, menus, or saving functions. Once a sound has sounded, it’s lost for good. I use software for postproduction only. I work in Logic, as that’s what I got used to back in the day, as well as plugins.

Beat / Analogue devices are often said to have a soul of their own - how much can you confirm that?

V0LAND / As my answer to the previous question may suggest, I am definitely team analogue. I don’t have big experience with digital instruments, and so I can’t really testify to differences in quality, but for me it’s more an aesthetic preference in my process. I like the idea of irreproducibility and the notion of having an original. Analogue devices have a signature to them, both in sound (to my ears) and in tactile response, which I find truly appealing.

From a simple example like, for instance, the way an analogue filter sweeps the frequency range, to the more conceptual idea of sonic ephemerality, I feel analogue devices play a sound rather than reproduce it. I also work in photography, and there as well, I keep the process analogue: I shoot on film with a fully mechanical camera, I develop my films and print the traditional way in a dark room with all the chemicals etc. In music I still use a DAW and other software (e.g. plugins), but almost all of the heavy lifting is done by analogue gear.

Beat / Do you think that a certain sound aesthetic can only be produced by certain equipment? Or is everything reproducible today by means of software?

V0LAND / Well, like I said, it’s rather difficult for me to tell what's possible with software nowadays, and I’m sure there is amazing stuff out there that sounds undistinguishable from analogue work. However, I think that’s beside the point. I think each technology has its strengths and weaknesses and many (if not most) producers use a combination of analogue and digital. The idea, for me, is to use each technology to its strength rather than to emulate the strengths of another. To the second part of the question: even if it’s possible to fully reproduce an analogue track digitally, it would be just that—a reproduction.

Why trying to use a discontinuous binary method (ones and zeros) to reproduce a continuous process? My aesthetic inclination leads me away from reproducing. Electricity coursing through a mesh of wires is a feisty mistress. It lives, startles, rebels, and transforms. And this aliveness is what draws me to her. In this way, it’s very similar to my field recording work where sounds are never reproduced, but are simply born acoustically through the workings of the world. Each sound is an irreproducible original. Once gone it’s gone. And this I find inexhaustibly exhilarating and awe-inspiring.

Beat / How do you deal with creative differences in the studio?

V0LAND / Well, as someone who’s almost exclusively worked on my own so far, the only creative differences I experience are with myself. And cheeky as this sounds, it is not to be underestimated, for disagreements with myself are real and present. What I often find most difficult is to tell good judgement from self-deception. Sometimes something would sound amazing today and awful tomorrow (and vice versa). And it’s never clear which is the deception and which is the clear judgement.

As many others have reported, I too tend to like a work less and less over time. Until a point when I can’t even bear to listen to it. Then, after a certain period of mysterious length has passed, the process my start reversing itself. I think we all often tend stand in our own way. So the trick, it seems to me, is to do our best while at it without too much thinking, and then put it out as quickly as possible before starting to second-guess. I haven’t quite stuck to this fully yet, but I’m getting there.

Beat / What's next for V0LAND?

V0LAND / Thankfully, the serial lockdowns freed up quite some time and I have lined up few works I will be releasing over the next months. I’m hoping to have an EP out by December for which I am very excited about, as it combines field-recordings with synthesis work. Then I have a couple of more things for early 2022. I’m hoping this social limbo will be over soon and life will once again open up for concerts, collaborations, and a general sense of optimism. I’m somewhat wary of saying it, but this seems to already be starting to happen.

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