Angakok Thoth

Angakok Thoth, alias Danky is Bratislava based sound artist / musician and wizard. You can find him sitting on a cherry tree and having lunch, or in the forest of Koliba mountain, enjoying the moist breath of rotten autumn leaves. Making weird music since ever as well as participating in many various projects, such as 1/x, Poo, Amen Tma and Angakkut…

You are referred to as a sound artist, musician and wizard. What is your actual musical background and do you have any formal music training?

My background is quite diverse. My first memories of composing music are from when I was four or five. My father was teaching me basic programming language on an 8-bit MSX computer and once he helped me to write a program that generated random melodies. Since then, I was into any and all kinds of technologies, which can make a sound. Even today, I am still fascinated by anything about sound that I do not yet understand. To me, technologies are not only great tools, but even more importantly, they also open up new territories of ideas and things to try and explore.

I have only little formal training – my grandmother was giving me piano lessons and music theory lessons when I was young. At present, I also practice playing traditional Indonesian instruments, which is something I have been doing for a few years now.

And then my wizard training – First I travelled seven miles deep into the earth to study sound with the Empress of Clicks and then another seven miles into the atmosphere to the cloud where the Duchess of Whistles gave me lessons. Absolutely worth it!

Where does your moniker come from?

I’ve been using the ::.: moniker since around 2000, long time before the witch house bands started to use special characters as their monikers. The form is based on my interest in visual poetry, which I’ve had since I was a kid. Naturally, we didn’t know it was called “visual poetry” back then. We called it “carpet knitting”, because we often made the patterns of special characters into a rectangular form, so it resembled some ornamental carpet. Much later I started to re-explore that with other people (and called it “klingon poetry”).

Around that time, I also started recording some solo material beside the Poo project and needed to come up with a name for it. So the ::.: moniker is based on that “visual poetry” thing, plus the constellation of dots was inspired by geomancy, which is a divination technique. Nowadays, I also call myself Angakok or Angakok Thoth after my Angakkut project became comatose. Angakok means “shaman” in Inuit language, and it’s the singular form of Angakkut.

What is your studio set up, what programs do you favour and what is your working method when concentrating on your solo project?

There is lot of analog gear in my room, as I prefer that sound wise. A lot of Eurorack modular stuff. I like it so much, that I even learned to build these things, so I could feed my addiction without robbing a bank. I also have a few good microphones and some hi-end preamps, EQs and compressors in my racks. Pieces by Cranesong, Purple audio, Buzz, JZ and so on. I use them mainly for mastering, but they are often useful even for creative purposes, for example recording very silent sounds, like playing my wooden xylophone just by gently caressing it instead of hitting it with a stick, which I did for one Amen Tma track. Such sounds are inaudible without amplification, but with proper low-noise gear I can bring them up to audible levels without too much noise and use them in my music.

Regarding my working method, it is always different. Sometimes the song is already composed before I record it, whereas at other times I record raw material into my computer and compose it into a song in a kind of Musique Concrete manner. Most recently, though, I have been composing my music with the Amen Tma Sequencer, which, while I originally created it for our own purposes, I will also be making it commercially available soon.

amen_tma_live_at_FUGA_(photo_by_Drakh) angakok_thoth_live_krakow angakok_thoth_live balinese_gamelan klingon_poetry_2

Collaborations are a large part of what you do. Could you illustrate how these come about and how your working method might differ when working on collaborative projects?

Actually, I think the larger part of what I do is solo stuff, but less of it ends up finished and released, because when working alone, all too often I end up walking around in circles (not literally!) for days or weeks, before I notice something that a collaborator would notice from his/her perspective immediately. So then I need to put the whole composition aside for a time in order to break the circle and be able to come back to it with a different perspective, before I start walking in another circle. So collaborations make the process easier and faster.

I also like it when our skill sets are different, so that I can learn something new. On the other hand, the more people are involved in a project, the harder it is to sustain it, while various things are happening in our lives such as people getting pregnant or insane, getting jobs or moving to other cities, changing their priorities and so on. Internet helps with the geographical obstacles, but I still prefer collaborating in person when it’s possible, because that way I’m getting a real-time feedback during the process.

And how these come about…quite naturally. Meeting somebody who has interesting ideas, so we talk about it and sometimes even do it. Unfortunately, there is this phenomenon, that most people prefer proposing collaborations and talking about them ad infinitum while drinking beer, instead of actually doing anything.

1/x is your collaborative project with cs2 (aka Csaba Csuprai) where you play analog & digital signal processing, bells, voice, whistles, bones and stones. Notwithstanding the processing, there’s a strong organic feel to the sound. How did you go about creating the layered texture of many of your compositions as 1/x?

The organic feel you hear there… We were quite fascinated with chaos theory. Csaba has a strong math and programming background and he created lots of Reaktor patches based on non-deterministic equations and other math things that are complex enough to yield very organic sounds. Literally instruments for exploring chaos. The disadvantage is, that it’s quite difficult to play them. Most often you get just some few milliseconds long glitches, but when you are patient and lucky enough, you come across some weird fragile equilibriums that are able to survive for longer and then magic happens. Then I just add a few layers of bells and whistles, bones and stones, so that it sounds more like a song. By the way, we are working on a 1/x album for Baba Vanga label. We missed few deadlines already, but we would like to break the record set by Coil with their Backwards album, so don’t get too excited yet!

Together with Rentip you also formed Poo, an audio platform established in 1998. Alongside a more meditative streak with the Sounds of Mana cycle, you have also released the full-length album Fluorescent on the Czech based label 11 Fingers Records, which relies on a more sombre and darker mood. What percentage of improvisation is there in Fluorescent’s distinctive glitch & drone sound?

No improvisation at all. From the Fluorescent album, only AMT was recorded live – me playing a drum machine, whispering and hitting a few hundreds years old human skull with a rock, while Rentip was doing the drones and everything else. But that’s an exception and even that was not improvised as we rehearsed it 4 or 5 times before recording the one perfect take. The rest of the album is 0,01% improvised and 99,9% over-obsessively composed from small pieces of sounds we generated in Reaktor. Then we also made a small Czechoslovakian Tour, where we played free form versions of all the songs from that album, while “cheating” as little as possible. Most of it was synthesized real-time with absolutely no backing tracks, only a few loops and samples, which we were heavily manipulating live.

Amongst all of your projects, I would say that Angakkut, is possibly the most sparse and “ambient”. It also relies on a greater and more evident presence of physical instruments, from bass guitar to bowed mandolin, and it features vocals by Mira Manek. The album Unshaped Unspoken was recorded and mixed between 2005-2013 and released on vinyl by Lom. What are the reasons behind its protracted gestation?

Yes, it took me eons. We recorded the backbone of the song in one, entirely improvised take in 2005. Just Ika playing bass guitar with Mira singing. Charmed by what I heard, I decided to just lie on the floor and hit a bell only now and then, trying not to ruin the take. It was quite long, because we wanted to have enough material for editing, but in the end, I loved each and every part of it, so instead of throwing away any pieces, I started recording more and more layers to make the 16 minute long journey more interesting. Editing and arranging took quite some time, as there were around 80 tracks in the final version. Then there were many subtle things I spend my time with, like the spatial aspect of the composition, which is commonly a static thing in music, but here I worked with it in a dynamic way. The sounds are not only shifting their positions, but also, the surrounding space where it all happens, appears to be slowly reshaping all the time. It’s something we perceive only subconsciously, but we do perceive it all the time. If you close your eyes now and make few small sounds, you can “feel” that you’re in a room and not outdoors. And also how big the room is. Technically it’s not feeling, but hearing, and it is very common to use this, but to use it in a static manner. In this song it’s changing all the time.

The main reason it took so long was probably down to my perfectionism combined with the fact that I was working alone most of the time. The thing I mentioned before. I dived in very deep into one aspect of one part the song and once I was done there, I found that I’d lost perspective and had to put it aside for some time to refresh my take on it by working on my other projects. This combined with the length of the song. I am still amazed that I really finished it in the end.

Your most recent collaborative project, Amen Tma is inspired by gamelan, (which is no great surprise as you also play in the same gamelan orchestra as Jonas Gruska). However, you’ve refrained from just tweaking traditional gamelan and have opted instead to construct the album only with “genuine stuff”.

We were inspired by many things, but our approach was to take just the core principles of the things we like and use them in our own way. We didn’t even use any Indonesian instruments except for bamboo xylophone on the Moulting. What I find interesting about gamelan is that it fits the most basic 4/4 grid, but still can sound very complex, even confusing. I love their tricks, like the interlocking patterns and other things. Acidmilk would be able to tell you more, as he is our gamelan teacher. We also took some core principles from traditional African drumming and techno, so some songs have a polymeter instead of 4/4.

You also do mastering and have worked on Superskin and Stred Sveta’s recent albums, released on the Baba Vanga label, amongst others. There’s a growing number of great musicians all performing mastering duties such as Rashad Becker, Giuseppe Ielasi, Taylor Deupree, James Plotkin, Lawrence English. What makes a good “masterer” in your opinion?

Except the obvious things like experience, accurate speakers and ears etc, I believe that understanding and enjoying the material is very important, especially when mastering some outsider genre-less material, for which there are no rules about how it should sound. That’s usually the most challenging mastering job.

How would you describe the way the Bratislava experimental / electro-acoustic scene has evolved over the past ten years or so and what are the biggest challenges it faces in making itself known outside of Slovakia? Also, how difficult is it to find venues for live performances in Slovakia in general?

It is already been fifteen years since we started playing concerts with Rentip and cs2. Back then considerably fewer people were familiar with this kind of music and fewer organizers were willing to risk having some harsh noise performer scare away people from their party. On the other hand, it was more precious and exciting when some noise or experimental concert was going to happen in the city. Today it is much easier to find a venue and also there is also audience to play for. Five years ago we also started our own label LOM with the intention of making the good stuff more visible not only here, but also outside of the Eastern Europe. We’ve already released more than ten albums, plus Jonas is now doing these Fields edition of field recordings.

Thinking about the differences between then and now, I also like how technology makes everything so much easier now. When we started Poo and 1/x, synths, hardware and even laptops were so expensive, that we could only dream about them. We had to be stubborn enough to carry our desktop computers with the big CRT monitors, keyboards and mouse to all our concerts. Now everything is so small, fast and cheap. Not much to complain about. Probably the biggest challenge is to have enough time to make music and still be able to afford the instruments and pay the rent and bills. Nobody knows why, but Bratislava is insanely expensive.

Photo credits:

Photos 1 & 4 by Branislav Grebeci
Photo 2 by Lubomir Panak
Photo 3 by Mehenra Fisher
Photo 5 by Jana Kobolkova

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