Urban Blues

An interview with Strom Noir

Your latest album, Urban Blues, was released last January by the Polish label Zoharum. You’ve written about the album as being a journey through the city you live in and you’ve described the process as being akin to listening to music while taking urban walks with background sounds and noises supplementing the music in a non-recurring way which, in turn, triggers a feeling of reverse déjà-vu. In the light of this, would you consider Urban Blues to be a sort of experiment in sonic flânerie?

Well, I would say that I still consider Urban Blues as a “regular album” in terms of its structure and track’s composition. I guess that in order to meet the condition of sonic flânerie it would require to be more connected with a specific area or place also in terms of the sound used, not only in the way it is meant to be listened.

The reasons why I would recommend listening to it on headphones while walking through the city are presented in its title. Firstly, because of how external sounds can co-exist with the (ambient) music in a fascinating way and, because a city, with its variety of sounds, offers the best experience (urban). Secondly, there’s some strange sort of loneliness and isolation one can experience in a city when listening to the music (blues). Even if you are surrounded by heaps of people, music is able to totally change your perception of reality and to take you somewhere else.

Can the journey be sometimes more important than the destination when creating music?

Within the whole process of creating music, the first moments when I start working on a new track are crucial to me, when I am looking for the right guitar sound, the right notes & chords, and when I am trying to capture an atmosphere and to transform it into a sound… I guess that, when you are recording drone music, you have to achieve a particular state of mind, and by that I mean the stage in which music represents the only object you are focused on – the only reality. Once you achieve it, you can and you must record a lot. Therefore, I try to record as much as possible during the “first” session. These moments are the main reason why I make music. Alas, from the rest of the process, which consists of the more technical parts, I don’t get as much. Moreover, once the album is out, I don’t listen to it.

Field recordings can sometimes feel as an easy shortcut to create a specific mood. How do you feel is the best way to approach them?

A couple of years ago I used to take a digital recorder everywhere I went, no matter whether it was on a long trip or even just a short walk near my home. I believed that interesting sounds could be found anywhere and that I just needed to look for them. But it is not as easy as that… The process of recording sounds is, in some ways, akin to photography. You can either stand and wait, or go around and seek, depending on what you are actually looking for. Currently, I am not recording as much as I used to. I guess on “Urban Blues” there is only one massive field recording used – there is a long sample of an old man playing on ninera (hurdy-gurdy) in the centre of Bratislava in the title track. That was really a special moment, an old man dressed in the medieval clothes sadly playing & singing surrounded by crowds of walking and talking people. That was a real urban blues…

Your music has an organic feel to it thanks to the use of acoustic instruments. Could you describe your working process and the importance of texture?

Currently, I am recording acoustic guitar in a kind of lo-fi way – I use a portable audio recorder with microphones set to a very sensitive level in order to capture also various room, or even street, sounds and noises. Afterwards, the signal is processed in a similar way, as in the case of an electric guitar – through various guitar pedals.

I consider an organic element to be really important, or it might be better to say a balance between acoustic and electronic sound, and therefore, I always tend to have some human / nature elements present in the music of Strom Noir. Since I don’t use vocals the only way to reach a balance is through the use of acoustic instruments.

How would you describe the journey your music has taken since your first release on Black Orchid Productions in 2007?

I suppose that my early recordings were influenced by the fact that I had played in a band previously. When you are in a band, you are always confronted with others and if something is taking a wrong direction there is still someone you can get feedback from at an early stage. So, in the end, you do compromise but, at the same time, you can be sure that result has some kind of “standard”. And this is fully absent when you are making music on your own. Therefore, to try and achieve the right level of self-criticism is really fundamental. Another closely related issue is that you have to know “when the track is done”, which is also significantly different when you are solo. So, I would say that my approach hasn’t changed that much in terms of the recording techniques, but more so in the terms how I am thinking about my music.

One of the tracks on Urban Blues, Zavtra, has a Rusyn title, not for the first time, I suspect. How important is it for you to identify as being of Rusyn origins and does this translate in any way in your practice?

No, it doesn’t influence me significantly in terms of everyday life. However, from time to time, I do feel that I should do some kind of homage to my Rusyn roots.

Thinking back to your collaboration with Peter Nejedly, how influenced are you by the visual arts and what importance do they hold in your music?

I would distinguish between the impact of the visual arts during the composition process and the way the final music is complemented by the visual when it is presented to the listeners.

From a composer’s perspective, you are influenced by everything that surrounds you, in general. Whereas I used to record usually at night, I can’t simply throw away the impressions and images of the day and, since our times are strongly based on visuals, these are always somehow transformed into the music.

On the other hand, from the perspective of the listener, I believe that music should stand on its own, independent from other arts form as much as possible in order to provide the listener with the possibility of focussing just on the music. In order to be fully absorbed by the sound, you have to switch off your other senses to fully understand the music.

Slovakia seems to be quite a vibrant place in terms of experimental and electronic music with people like Jonas Gruska, Dead Janitors, Aches, Casi Cada Minuto, The Ills, Daniel Thoth aka ::.:, Zeleny Antoin aka Jacques Kustod, Avoided and the Noize Konspiracy. What is the actual situation on the ground in terms of festival, labels, and venues?

Regarding experimental and electronic music in general, the situation has never been better than at present. I suppose that it is probably thanks to the fact that there are many more active labels than anytime in the past. Labels such as Exitab or LOM do a good and important job in support of local artists. And this goes hand in hand with greater opportunities for performing live, which, in turn, generates higher public interest etc.

On the other hand, if you break down the experimental music scene into several of its subcategories, many of which are really marginal, Slovakia is simply too small a country for it.

Also, is there an actual sense of community amongst experimental sound artists specifically in Bratislava?

As I said, thanks to these new labels, many new artists have appeared during the last two-three years. I would say that currently there is a new generation of artists emerging, especially here in Bratislava, and even if Bratislava is quite a big city, people used to know each other. Although, to be honest, I have to say that I am not as much involved in the local scene as I wish to.

What are you currently working on?

Firstly, I am looking forward to seeing some older stuff finally released. Two cassette releases have been planned for a longer time and hopefully they should come out during the course of the year. Furthermore, I have another album ready but I still haven’t decided when or where to release it. These three works are pretty different compared to Urban Blues.

Regarding new tracks, I have plenty in progress but I have decided to slow down a little. Having said that, I would be happy for the follow up to Urban Blues to come out next year .


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