Postcards from Bratislava
You play guitar, drums, keyboards and you profess to love all the instruments in the world. You also play the violin with Charming Assistant. What is your musical background, did you have any formal training or did you learn just by playing in bands when you were a teenager?
First of all, I’d like to say hello and thank you to everyone interested in my projects and collaborations.
It was good to see those interviews with Jonás, Slavo and Emil on Fluid Radio. There are many great experimental artists in Slovakia, even if the scene is underexposed, and I don’t just mean to an international audience, but sadly even to Slovak listeners as well.
Regarding the violin in Charming Assistant – I don’t really consider it “playing”. Many professional violinists would be up in arms for such an insult! I merely picked up the instrument and made it do a lot of sounds, many of which were not pleasing, but then again, they were meant to be. I really have no idea how to play a melody on violin, except maybe for some infantile, plain stupid or just poorly executed attempts as my early project Gule Tvojho Fotra can testify.
On the subject of formal musical training, I believe that people should try to be self-taught in the instrument of their choice, rehearsing as often as possible. I’ve never played anything written by others or even tried to learn a technique by copying other musicians or by reading scores (bar the odd riff or two – for instance, I could not resist Soundgarden’s simple and catchy riff on Hunted Down).
I believe that, by starting off by playing on your own without a teacher, there is a greater chance to achieve a unique style of playing, that doesn’t resort to copying or mixing well-known techniques. A fine example of this is my most beloved band – Sonic Youth.
Back in 2007 you have released a compilation of your early works under the title Anthology Of Idiocy (2000 – 2006). This is how you describe the album, “These tracks are mainly from my puberty and post-pubertal nihilistic seasons of my life, when I, usually in an aggressive manner, shouted out my personal problems (sadness/anger) in quite a naturalistic way. This release is for entertainment purposes only. Even though some tracks may possess a uniqueness, or even display some artistic quality; it is a funny and experimental recording all the way through.” At the time you were using the moniker Uchylord. How did Uchylord evolve into Avoided and have you acquired any maturity and wisdom over the years?
Uchylord is a play on words, “úchyl” – means “pervert” in Slovak, and “lord” – means… (the first correct answer wins a signed copy of Anthology Of Idiocy!). Over the years you acquire wisdom and maturity whether you like it or not, so yes, the transition was unavoidable. But I really don’t know how to answer your question literally – it was simply a matter of time when “playing with instruments” developed into “playing instruments”. There’s no secret formula or any interesting story to be told about the transition, it just happened, it wasn’t intentionally, nor planned. On Noize Konspiracy volume 3, I created a set of songs, which were significantly different from my output as Gule Tvojho Fotra, so I had to come up with a different moniker. It was still noise though, but it was rhythmic with melodies struggling to overcome the mess that surrounded them.
The name Avoided, is inspired by RBNX’s text definition of noise music. The gist of it was that one of the traits of a “true noiser” is avoidance. I fell in love with the term and just changed it to Avoided, because it contains all I was looking for – the cynicism, the simplicity and the fact that it sounds good.
Avoided then transitioned once again, when my noise phase waned (even if it never came to a halt). I think it just happened with age, I somehow went back to where I started from – drums, bass guitar, two or more guitars and some electronics thrown into the mix, and that defines Avoided as it is now. You can hear this form on my self-released debut album from 2008. Since then, as I was busy with my many side-projects, I only released one or two new Avoided tracks, one of which was made specifically for Dada Acta – www.dada-acta.eu – the Slovak movement against the whole ACTA nonsense, comprised of many quality tracks from both Slovak and Czech artists. The other new Avoided song is called “Le Temps De Quitter” but it is unfinished and the project file lost forever due to one of many hard drive failures.
Having said that, a new Avoided album is going to be my number one priority after the summer. One track made it to the demo stage and I’ll use it as a blueprint for the album. In the demo song, a few parts are performed by Acidmilk and Hektor Kolena (who is really good at guitar acrobatics for some of the solos), and I intend to enlist them both to collaborate on the album.
You dabble in many different musical genres from noise to metal, and from indie rock / pop to IDM. Is there a logic behind your seemingly schizophrenic approach?
I love many different musical genres and would like to be able to play them all – at least that’s how it started. Maybe I am a musical schizophrenic. Some people tend to think that only one particular musical genre is capable of creating specific impressions or emotions. Or they believe that one specific genre should never be combined with another. I don’t agree with either of those assumptions. Sure, there are times when you are in the mood for IDM or breakcore, and others when you crave for some heavy guitar-driven onslaught, but aside from such specific moments I realised, that, at the end of the day, there are only two kinds of music: the kind you enjoy, and the one you don’t.
Given that improvisation seems to be at the heart of what you do, what is your actual studio set-up, specifically in terms of electronics, and how would you describe your creative process?
In terms of electronics, there are not that many ways to improvise, at least not for me, because in my heart, I’m still a rocker (I hate these sentimental statements but in retrospect they can be provide a good laugh). I lack many of the skills that professional electronic artists display when performing live. I only use electronics either to enhance a guitar-based song or, sometimes, as the core of a track. I generally play guitar on my solo live sets with the aid of many pre-programmed electronic parts, which I make sure have enough space for me to improvise using keyboards, and knobs and sliders. I usually create the structure of the songs I play live during rehearsals, again, leaving some space so that I can adapt it during a concert. I rarely play my recorded songs live and always try and create something new. This approach has its pros and cons. However, for my next release, I intend to write the new tracks keeping a live situation in mind.
My actual studio/rehearsal space is set up in quite a simple way with drums (which were the first instruments I bought and started playing at 16), a laptop with external sound I/O (TC Electronics being my favorite manufacturer), a set of MIDI controllers: keyboards, set of pads and set of sliders and knobs (Korg); two electric guitars, a microphone, and the occasional random something to plug into the input or to stick in front of the mic. Moreover, in the rehearsal space I also have my beloved Orange Rockerverb 50 guitar amp with Orange 400W repro box and a friend’s Ampeg bass amp, so that my mates and I can jam together, and maybe some day even form a fully functional band.
The creative process is chaotic. I mean, generally speaking, when I set out to create something new with a specific idea in mind, it tends to end up either as sounding completely different from my original intention or it is never worth keeping. I try to play as frequently as I can, and sometimes, eventually, I manage to create a nice sequence of riffs, or a synth line, or some other basic structure, and that’s when a new track starts to form. When working on my solo stuff, it usually takes me one or two days of intensive work to create a new piece. The 2008 Avoided S/T album contains songs that were created this way, such as the ten minute “Crashdown Blues”, which many of my friends consider my best track, whereas they all hate the demented punky beginning, which, by the way I also hate. I’ve now created a version that starts at the 3 minute mark, which has been played on Slovakia’s Radio_FM.
Would it be accurate to say that playing live is possibly more important to you than actually releasing music, even though you seem to be quite prolific mostly with collaborative projects? Also, how do you prepare for a solo set and what are, generally speaking, the most important factors that determine a successful gig?
Releasing and creating new music has always been my priority. I often feel a need to be alone in a room to start being comfortable with the creative process.
There are only few people I have no problem in collaborating with instantly, such as my good friend Acidmilk, who can play almost anything you throw at him and who partakes in many of the bands I came up with. He also leads the Bratislava Gamelan Orchestra and is now busy at work with Daniel Thoth, on their debut album as Amen Tma.
Acidmilk and I have often played both live and in the studio, and the only real failure we experienced was the collapse of our band Charming Assistant, which was probably the only predominantly electronic band I played in, that focused on live shows.
My solo sets are sparse and short, reflecting the mood I find myself in at the time, when putting together the bits and pieces for the gig, but as I described earlier, I will change this.
I cannot say whether or not I am happy with all of the gigs I have played, but I am certainly happy with some of them. The important factors are two: firstly, me enjoying myself when I play, and secondly, the audience sharing the enjoyment. When these two factors come together, everything that I may perceive as flaws ceases to be relevant (except for the learning factor).
Regarding me being prolific in collaborative projects – I am not sure if you meant the Noize Konspiracy series, which is a compilation of tracks that are delivered mostly by individual artists/projects, (more of which later), as I am only really prolific in my collaborations with Acidmilk.
You have already mentioned a few of your different collaborative projects, such as Charming Assistant, to which I would add Nihil Buldozer, Karel Boh, and Terriying Visions of Hell to name but a few. What galaxy do all these group constellations belong to?
Nihil Buldozer is a good example of what I mentioned earlier – the magic and fun of forging together the most incompatible genres and moods. The band started as my solo project, but the real fun began when Acidmilk joined me. The outcome stands with one leg in the sludge doom metal category and the other leg shivering dramatically while being washed down by techno, disco, trance, glitch, ambient and noise.
We also recorded one special EP with no guitars involved, alongside two other main EPs. It’s called Usmr?ung, which is also a play on words too bizarre and complicated for me to explain, especially since, ultimately, it doesn’t really make much sense. It consists of two tracks – the first one, I wrote solo, a combination of glitch, then hip-hop rhythm fuelled IDM developing into idiotic lo-fi noise – by virtue of its demented melody – with some breakcore elements in it. The second track is, again, a collaboration with Acidmilk. We actually recorded some of the keyboards parts simultaneously, while facing each other with the synth between us. It was a particularly funny recording session. Some parts of the song were improvised in this fashion: I recorded a beat and bass-line and then, Acidmilk played another synth into it, sometimes even without listening to the part I created, not giving a single fuck. In the case of the synth-solo in the middle of the song – I still cannot understand how the hell he did it. Still, aside from these “extremes”, much of the song was created in a more conventional collaborative manner.
For Terrifying Visions Of Hell, the moniker comes from a collection of extremely dark and suggestive paintings of the late Polish painter Zdzis?aw Beksi?ski. It is a new live band, which will hopefully be free from the elements that caused Charming Assistant to implode. Acidmilk is one of the three members, the second being Twisted, a guitarist in the deathgrind band Nonprolific, and the leading brain in his one-man-band recently turned band 0N0, and probably a leading brain of this band as well – he surely has many things to say). The VJ Deana has also recently joined. We’ll venture into the territory of partly improvised dark ambient and death drone (all three members will play guitars, sometimes at the same time to create a massive wall of sound), slow or no tempos (if that is even possible) together with dark visual imagery. We will perform what might just turn out to be our only show at the impressive festival of experimental musical and visual arts Hradby Samoty 2014, which is held every summer at a castle or some other kind of historic monument. The festival features mostly dark ambient artists, such as Bad Sector (Italy), Sui Generis Umbra (Poland) and Svartsinn (Norway) to name but a few.
You also mentioned Karel Boh, which is another of my solo projects, where I combine many of the musical styles I like to play. It is a good introduction to my work: genre-mixing, fun, irony, electronics, guitars, indie, metal, pop, noise – it’s all there.
Funnily enough, this project almost became “popular”. When I was at the ATP Festival in the UK, curated by Steve Albini, I took with me about 50 copies of the CD and while drunk and disorderly I forced it into people’s hands. Somehow, it reached the right ones, and became popular in quite a big community in Ireland, where it gained one very favorable review in a DIY music zine, which sadly I forgot the name of.
You also manage and organize the Noize Konspiracy collective. Could you chart its genesis and locate its place on the Bratislava experimental music scene?
Yes, or at least I used to, but the motivation in making these compilation has somehow faded, as the artists have became more established and self-sufficient. I don’t take any credit for this, they all displayed their talent from the beginning and I’m only too happy for their solo success. The 15th compilation will be a landmark for the future of the project. Should the artists come up with quality material and display the same excitement and devotion they used to show, I will indeed devote more time into the promotion, execution and development of the next volumes. If not, it will be time to call it a day. It’s always good to stop when you are on top, so to speak.
Having said that, and if that were to happen, I will miss our listening sessions, which, at the beginning, were held at my place, before moving to our rehearsal space only to become official parties at Fuga, one of the two clubs in Bratislava – together with A4 -, which I would recommend to any visitor with a taste for the experimental and an open mind.
Indeed, I feel that the experimental music scene is very strong here in Bratislava, with new projects emerging all the time. I do feel compelled to thank the aforementioned venues for providing a space for all of us to share in our unique, but also in some ways similar, musical output and to socialise with happy, tolerant, friendly and curious people.
In previous emails we have talked about the work of Kedilek Fais, aka Cadillac Face, who sadly passed away a few years ago. Last August you have lovingly compiled and remastered a collection of his tracks from his Noize Conspiracy contributions, Noizy Days, a strikingly honest and raw album. Kedilek’s lo-fi approach seems to be at the heart of the NK ethos and is indeed shared by the likes of Psy v Metre and others. What importance do you place on production values yourself and what overall place do mixing and processing occupy in your creative process?
I am not entirely sure about the “lovingly” part regarding Cadillac Face’s remaster. In hindsight, the remaster sounds way too loud and I’m really not a fan of the loudness war. It also distorted a small number of parts. When I do this to the tracks of a deceased friend, all the mistakes I’ve made – they hurt much more. That’s why I’ve decided to ask Danky Thoth – who is one of the best masterer in Slovakia together with Jonáš Gruska, – to sit beside me, and redo the mastering, hopefully adding a few more tracks I found in my archive. Should Danky find the time, we’ll try to achieve a higher sound quality while staying true to the original and deliberate lo-fi nature of his recordings. Mixing and mastering are a very important part of the whole creative process and even deliberately lo-fi recordings require you to stay focused on the details when mixing.
You also mention Psy V Metre. He is another talented musician from Bratislava and indeed, some of his recordings are reminiscent of the atmosphere of Cadillac Face, even if he’s more grunge and guitar oriented, with electronic and experimental tracks being only a few pleasant exceptions.
On the subject of Slovak experimental music how would you describe the scene to an outsider and how would you say it has evolved in the past 10 years or so?
I will answer from the point of view of the Noize Konspiracy (NK), as I’m one of its founding members. We formed the collective back in 2005, which at the time was comprised of hLukáš (with his project Žebrota), Twisted (aka 0N0) and Acidmilk.
I must confess, that at that time, my interest in noise and experimental electronics wasn’t really fully developed. We started the NK purely for fun with the aim of creating a perverted and bizarre set of noise-based tracks, burning it on a CDR, and holding a release party – which, for the first two volumes included mainly the authors, a couple of friends and a lot of booze. Some of the “songs” on Volumes 1 and 2 are so bad it hurts, but never fail to entertain.
It was really all about shocking the listeners, that, and the parties. But this evolved beautifully in a way we’d never imagined. Now, we have around 60 to 100 people attending the release events at Fuga. Also, over time, we have developed a real sense for this type of music, which is evident when listening to how the sound evolved throughout all of the NK volumes.
Every member of the collective took a unique path, new talented musicians joined, the number of featured genres grew, and “noize” became mainly just a reminder of where we came from.
I personally, fell in love with IDM, and experimental electronic music at the same time I was exploring the noise scene, which became apparent in my music.
After releasing Volume 11, though, we felt that the “N” from NK was getting a bit neglected, so we decided to name the following release Noize Konspiracy Kills Music and told the members, that if their work didn’t meet the standards of (harsh) noise, it wouldn’t get released.
The 79 minute album that we gave birth to was not what we expected. It was way worse. The listening session meant 79 minutes of high-volume torture. After this release, we jokingly stated, that we can release indie pop only for the next 5 years. That, luckily, never happened. Noise has stayed with us, not always as a genre itself, but as an ingredient suitable for all meals.
hLukás, for instance, stayed true to his harsh noise origins for quite a long time, and only about two years ago, started to produce some more ambient music, which was a welcome addition to his brutal live gigs and recordings. He was highly influenced by RBNX, which is by many considered the pioneer of Slovak nihilistic noise scene (at least in Bratislava). His performances show no respect for human ears, human emotions and humankind in general, which is good.
RBNX, himself, joined the NK on Volume 9, which was a great honour for us. More recently, he formed a band called Ružoví Kovboji (Pink Cowboys), with the local dirty analogue techno superstar Urbanfailure. They released a split CD with Bartek on the Forum Absurdum label a few weeks ago.
I believe there are, to date, plenty of great projects, bands and artists, on the Slovak experimental music scene and we see many more of them being born and take shape all the time. Unfortunately, though, the audience isn’t really growing as much. The fact that many clubs are so money orientated and not prepared to take risks doesn’t help either.
A good introduction to the scene is the first chapter of the The Blank Stare project, an online journal mapping the Slovak electronic and experimental scene, featuring Urbanfailure, András Cséfalvay, Jacques Kustod and Triple Sun.
On your SoundCloud page, you state that you are against any kind of artistic oppression and that you support freedom in music distribution. Indeed, all your music is available for free download. What is the ideal balance between such freedom and financial support for musicians?
As a non-professional musician I don’t really have enough insight into the financial struggles of people who make music for living. When I was young, I didn’t have any money whatsoever to buy records. Another thing to consider is the average salary we were earning in Slovakia. Back then, for us to buy one album was maybe equivalent to getting a new bike for the UK average earner. Not to mention the extremely limited selection on offer (you were lucky to find anything other than mainstream music, apart from metal; this genre somehow did make it over here).
At present, I try and buy vinyl whenever I can, and also support independent bands via BandCamp and similar platforms.
As for my music, it will remain free, at least until I buy all the software I’d like to use legally and will make a name for myself, only then I would consider “going pro”.