Interview with Manja Ristic

Photo by Milica Cvetkovi

Hi Manja, a lot has happened since we last spoke back in 2017. Considering how prolific you’ve been shall we begin with a quick recap of your output since then and how you’ve seen your own work develop?

Oh well… falling down the rabbit hole these days a lot, realizing that I might be somewhere in the middle of my 4th career. I think right about the time when we last spoke I only began awakening deeper affinities for soundscape composition which we can say is present-day creative focus. The crucial thing that happened is that I found an adequate artistic approach to keep up with my robust creative flow in a slightly complex personal circumstances. So in the last 4-5 years composing sort of took over, and my instrumental practice that was rooted in many collaborations, ensemble playing, bands, etc., literally pruned. I also pushed back most of my previous engagements in cultural activism and event’s management. The process was bumpy, I had to find the way of reducing myself and reducing the means of creation, working without other people and without dedicated space or studio equipment. So I came to the philosophical conclusion, of working with elements taken out of a thin air (field recordings), as well as found sounds, random objects… Important elements in finding my course were: spending more time on the island of Korcula, and primarily working with JrF equipment, concretely contact mics and hydrophones.

I always had a conspicuous drive to push my own limits, so walking into a new field of sound was exciting, but metaphorically speaking I jumped off the cliff, leaving for a bit instrumental performance behind. Also, the whole period seems like a personal turmoil reflected into continuous sound art collection (I put out at least 20 self-releases and 3 releases for different labels – Sonospace, Naviar Records, and Flag Day Recordings). I’m very happy that I sort of did it with grace making an effort to find the language, so the sound I was developing eventually gained some aesthetic maturity as well as more concrete theoretical structure.

Now I enjoy developed interdisciplinarity, which is fully devoted to sound. I enjoy research, writing about sound, and I am in a permanent state of learning about comparative science around it, which I like to translate in slightly more complex sound-related artworks. Besides that, I consciously developed the habit of producing a small self-release approx every two-three months. It keeps my psyche in line. Nevertheless, let us not forget that I am a violinist, a fully formed musician, I expect the beast to come out of the cave rather soon, after a longish hibernation!

Amongst the works you’ve released these past few years, one of may personal favourites is The Nightfall, which came out on Naviar Records, the music community and label exploring the connection between experimental music and traditional Japanese poetry. The album feels meditative as with the use of the guitar refrain in the closing track, Spring, but it also creates disquieting soundscapes that develop counterintuitively to the tried and tested season concept. Ultimately, far from being a consoling album, it is at times abrasive with breath playing a central role. Could you elaborate on the creative process behind it?

I am really glad that you brought that one out… First of all, when Marco Sebastiano Alessi approached me and explained that the label is deeply dedicated to haiku, it felt natural to dive into it, because I write poetry since an early adolescent age and have strong devotion to it. Understanding of the form was there, but I wanted to make a few conceptual statements, and I am quite happy with how they turned out considering that I was really just trying out the minimalistic ambient for the first time, but honestly, almost no one noticed those interventions. For example, structural decomposition of Toru Takemitsu’s tape music from 1956 – work: Ki. Sora. Tori. (Tree. Sky. Bird.) that surfaces in the first track, or reversed playing of “Hey Jude” music box in the second track, or using side effects such as the noise of the shift changes on bass guitar as a main lyrical element on the third track, etc. Apart from that, I remember feeling boldly confident about placing longer field recordings as a musical simulacrum and a narrative, and hoping to achieve fractal sonic momentum around them.

I love The Nightfall, it sounds slightly innocent, and it is my feminine album. The reviews were a bit tepid though, remembering someone saying something like “seems like an artist is still at the beginning of her career”, which made me giggle and thinking to myself, “…dude, I just made my first ambient album in Audacity, while lulling a baby…”.

Next to constructing the philosophy behind certain interventions and actions, the moment I start recording it becomes an intuitive synthesis of performing and listening that evolved through very rich and diverse musician’s life. That still didn’t change since The Nightfall, and it refers to a treatment of the objects as well as to my field recording approach. I am performer of classical and improvisational music. Opening of my intuitive paths is basically all I need. I am still often using breath as a musical element, as the way of focusing energy, or simply sculpting with the air.

Another constant trait of your work are collaborations and issues of legacy, I’m referring here to the inspiration behind Starfish & the sonic tonalities, for instance, which takes its cue from Serbian composer Ljubica Maric. You seem to be drawing different strands together at times by localising them, or grounding them, in your own particular surroundings and I am talking here of the Island of Korcula. Is re-contextualisation something you are consciously exploring?

I am not sure if it is exploring or by now already my identity trait. The source of energy is very important for the beginning of my creative process since I derive impulses through connecting myself with a particular content, be it a locale, or a memory, or an event, or my own penetralia. Re-contextualisation for me means imitating universal patternization, of life continuously recycling its elements. There is always geometry involved, proportion as well, in extracting the memory from it’s source with an aim to mould it into a new symbolism. Abstract symbolism tackle us on much deeper level.

For example with all those classical music pop-ups in my sound art I am also trying to propose the discourse of rethinking the history of music as a potent historical substance and a source of information, which might be of a greater accuracy then appropriated history that is stripped of its original energy values, and which is most often constructed by those holding the social power at the times. Therefore, those are not only small tributes, they are extracted chunks of personalized reflections, displaced to become the nucleus of a new memory constructs.

In the case of The Sonic Tonalities, there is an obvious statement, referring to the first all-electronic score composed by Bebe and Louie Barron for the movie Forbidden Planet, that Musicians’ Union (of the USA) “wouldn’t allow it to be considered music”, so the soundtrack had to be called “sonic tonalities”. You can find the reference of what I’m talking about in the movie “Sisters with Transistors”.

Regarding Ljubica Maric, who is probably one of the greatest inspirations to many ex Yugoslav woman composers, I decided not to take a single sound but the noise of an old vinyl on which her music was pressed. A bit of meta positioning there, with putting the focus on the object as an ultimate trace of the existence.

Ah the island of Korcula, that I perpetually embed in artistic outputs, I believe that the subconscious drive comes from continuous exploration of the notion of belonging. Apart from that, this place is an inexhaustible source of inspiration being dense in historical thus cultural layers and ecological specificity. It is a heaven for sound ecologist, but also a perfect location to observe shifts of European power/capital throughout centuries. As a kind of a historical centre of the periphery, the place from which Europe was built, eventually turning into, metaphorically speaking, a godforsaken kingdom. I love places that contain a dense and complex fabric of memory.

Photo by Jovan Marjanov

And now onto sound ecology. In your most recent works, you seem to have looked more closely at sea pollution. Before we talk about your forthcoming album kairos & the dwellers could you give us the lowdown on Requiem for the Undersea? Contact mics and hydrophone are your primary tools, but Requiem for the Undersea is more than that. As you write in the liner notes the album is more complex than that.

“The recording of a forklift scrapping the sea bed, recording of a large pneumatic drill, the sound of pouring a large amount of concrete into the sea bed – are foundations of electro-acoustic constructs, which are further de-contextualized with musical appropriations of several objects treated as instruments: metal laundry dryer, cardboard tube, AM radio signals, electromagnetic waves from electrical outlets, etc.”

The album has a politic edge to it, how did you go about composing it?

As it often happens with my self-releases, they come in a strong wave, and sometimes I almost composed them in one breath, using the archives that I compile and work on on a daily basis.

Korcula invested last year in several structural changes regarding rebuilding old docks, so already in the early Autumn heavy machinery occupied the town. I was observing for months how large forklifts were digging the sea bed that I know really well, the despair of helplessness slowly boiled inside me. Reconstructions will still last for a few more months, there is nothing left down there any more. I wasn’t even interested in making the archive of the atrocious pallet of underwater noise that those machines are making, I just silently mourned the underwater landscape day by day.

So one day I took several recordings on two different locations, went home and built structure for the Requiem. The weather was too complicated for additional field recording trips around the island, so I also concentrated on the house sounds, which I often do, sometimes to make a feminist statement by opposing the notions what that woman “is supposed” to handle. Improvising on house objects such as the fridge (nocturno for refrigerator, large bodies go backward – from the release naked flame trembles in an empty room) or use of a metal laundry dryer in the Requiem; or cooking stove in Miniature for violin and the lunch preparation – from the compilation 27).

I do have very strong feelings about the position of a woman in our society, so it comes out.

The strongest emotion in the Requiem for the undersea is despair, that we as a species are still completely ignorant toward nature and everything that nature provides. I am happy to be part of the CENSE – Central European Network for Sonic Ecologies, founded in Budapest in 2018, the initiative that brought many amazing artists and researchers together in an effort, among other things, of raising awareness about the role of sound and soundscape in ecological and sociable engaged frameworks. You can read what is it about here.

Your latest album is titled kairos & the dwellers (is the lower case intentional?) and is released by the publishing platform forms of minutiae, who have curated a gorgeous package where photography plays an integral part. How did this collaboration come about and what made you decide for vinyl as the ideal format for the album?

Yes, I often use only lower case which comes from my poetry writing, it is a form of poetical deconstruction of the language, of stripping it off from punctuation and traditional form. It happened also that the label had similar affinities, so it fell natural to proceed in that tone.

Pablo Diserens (they/them) contacted me in December 2019. Soon we realised we really enjoy each other’s music very much. Pablo is an incredible young artist and I am eager to experience what will come out of their practice in the coming years. Seeing the passion with which they are sensing and feeling what I do made a strong impact on me. My age and experience in music already made me have a solid distance from own artistic outputs. Through Pablo’s reflections, I started experiencing my sounds through a new prism.

Together with their friend and colleague Mathieu Bonnafous, in Spring 2020 they decided to launch a new label, forms of minutiae. Regardless of our similar musical and artistic affinities, working with such wonderful young people was a rewarding learning process for me.

Pablo is an artist with a strong visual identity, they graduated from a film school and they have a very sensible approach to analogue photography, which I think reflected on the concept of forms of minutiae as a publishing platform that supports a plurality of projects ideally merging sound and visual art.

The island is a photographer’s heaven, so my job wasn’t very hard. This is the first occasion I am publishing photography out of the frame of the photo and/or graphic scores.

Vinyl was their wish, so who am I to disagree? I am quite excited that my first vinyl is produced and curated by this incredible duo.

 

The album is a love poem, or maybe an elegy, to the island of Korcula with its quarries and its Adriatic wilderness. Could you expand on Gilles Clément’s concept of Third Landscape which has informed the album?

In Clément’s words – “From this point of view, the Third Landscape can be considered as the genetic reservoir of the planet, the space of the future. Viewing the Third Landscape as a biological necessity, conditioning the future of living things, modifies the interpretation of territory and enhances areas usually looked upon as negligible. It is up to the political body to organize ground division in such a manner as to assume responsibility for these undetermined areas, tantamount to concern for the future.”

I became interested in listening to abandoned places and landscapes reshaped by an extensive intervention of human presence and exploitation, that were eventually “returned“ to Nature to reclaim the space. And I am further transposing and sort of transcending this concept to our perceptive as well as cognitive abilities to confront the memory and trauma of the landscape. Through the means of listening, phenomenological psychology, systems ecology and sound and energy-related resonance observation.

Island is an inexhaustible source of content for comparative art&science research. No matter how many times I visit a certain location, and I mean throughout my whole life, I frequently notice something new. So dwelling around ancient quarries that made a significant impact on the landscape but also provided so much cultural and social development through the centuries and across the wider region simply pulled me in. Clément’s concept of the Third Landscape was something I was already deeply intrigued with for some years, and by only leaning to the concept I developed an approach in the frame of the sonic ecology and soundscape composition. Most delicate work reflecting the approach is Sonic Ontology of Negligence. It was presented last year in Ljubljana, by Cona Institute, as a programme of the ‘Steklenik’ gallery for sound, bio acoustic and art.

You know, there is this quite specific relationship between Korcula and her people (in the Croatian language it falls under feminine pronouns but also is famous for its strong feminine legacy, not to mention a myth that Circe – a Greek goddess of magic or sometimes a nymph, witch, enchantress, or sorceress, was one of the island’s dwellers), it is the place that forms a strong sense of belonging and the place that has slight phenomenological twist with the notion of the time flow. Historically so dense that it becomes visibly radiant. People coming on the catamaran from Split literally, get up from their seats and glue themselves to the windows the moment the boat is approaching the town, is just so incredibly beautiful. kairos & the dwellers is recorded in very strong places, such as Vrnik or Lenga ancient quarries, and abandoned archaeological site of an early Christian Monastery on the little island of Majsan (of course built on the ruins of an ancient Greek temple), but the core of the narrative is rooted in poetical reflection to my personal memories spent in these places this Summer, Autumn and Winter. It is a love poem, but not to the island.

What is different about this album is that it has an atmosphere of particular psychological dynamics that can occur in remote island places only off-season. It shows the other side of the medal, human humbleness in front of the furious forces of nature, but also tackles our mystical corners that yearn to connect with them. The rather darker tone is not simply a depressive state, I put a lot of effort into finding the imaginary soundscape that would make us face the phantasmagoric content without fear. From a safe place of courage and compassion. And that would charge our senses, in a way that we can withstand the weight of pain and suffering.

There is a lot of rawness in the ambiance because I constructed the inner space by embracing sounds for what they are. My educated musical aestheticism often push me to sculpt and polish both structure and sounds, so I need to resist a lot. And this resisting is where the magic starts to happen.

I find a lot of satisfaction in building sonic simulacrum from not obvious sonic sources. For example by listening to space through the cardboard tube, or listening to the rain from the broken bottle, or listening to the sea waves from the whole which bellows the Earth’s level, making drones out of magnetic fields, and extracting them from field recordings. Because there is an effort in finding them, and they bring poetry to the table, all that makes us a bit more awake and alert. There are creative processes that can be unpleasant or prolonged or slightly robust. kairos & the dwellers is definitely not one of those. It came with ease, and it was the last breath of the year 2020.

Photo by Helena Vilovic

One of the things that strikes me about your work is how things seem to pop up unexpectedly and out for nowhere, so to speak, like the voice of Dolores Ibarruri in Isolation 2 from Out of Thin Air. In kairos & the dwellers I was startled when I heard a voice speaking English. But then I thought, why should I be startled and why should the voice not be speaking English? Is it possible to “listen without prejudice” to a filed recording based album?

I believe it is possible to listen without prejudice, but it involves an in-depth process of unlearning and becoming aware of the clusters of habits that we develop in social interaction and through educational structures. I often call those a labyrinth of discrimination, where notions and behavioural patterns are set to unroll in a certain way without further questioning. Questioning and doubt in certain sense are essential elements of free will (in a philosophical sense). It is our human duty to nourish critical thinking and keep up with the paradigm shifts. I am interested in not obvious, also in experimenting with the form, in a concrete sense the form of time and memory simulacrum intrigue me a lot.

Those voices that you heard are random tourists that showed up out of nowhere in the middle of nowhere, literally on the side of the island that the rocks and wilderness are so inaccessible that there is no sense to go there unless you are an extreme sports enthusiast or a scientist. My son is always with me wherever I go and he is already quite skilful in hiking and climbing rocks, but on many occasions, I don’t want him to follow me to the exact place where I want to leave the recorder. Sometimes I place it and go back to where our “camp” for the day is. And often when I listen to the material later I find all sort of “ghosts” in there! Those people will never know that they became a part of an artwork. That tiny moment of their wandering through the Adriatic wilderness became my poetical turn.

Story about Dolores is a bit more complex. I love media archaeology, but yes finding the historical substance that I will further work with is a bit of a specific process. Combination of deep intuition, associative chain, symbolic thinking. And almost frantic curiosity.

One of the things I have noticed over the years is how transient the world of experimental music seems to be. On the one hand releasing music online has never been easier, but at the same time, many labels seem to come and go, and not many musical projects appear to stay the course. And that’s not even taking into account music reviewing sites that hit the dust. It also sometimes happens that embedded tracks in interviews and reviews on Fluid Radio are taken down by the artists after a certain amount of time for a number of different reasons. Are you concerned at all by the notion of longevity?

Honestly, I accepted the transience and learned about the actual meaning of the legacy the hard way, by losing someone close at an early age. There is no much left after a human being apart from deep human relations and deeds. A similar way artistic work rarely surfaces to become universal phenomenon and an integral part of collective memory. So many incredible artists and human beings producing culture lived and left works behind that humanity will never know about, but what really stays behind them is experience of artwork and often the context that surrounds it. That experience can enter individual or collective memory in a ways generations can thrive from.

In that sense, the ways art communicates is crucial to me and more important than longevity. Even if it tackles the most abstract and undefined level of our perceptive abilities, if there is the substance that will produce an emotion, or boost imagination and produce creative impulse, critical thinking, or ideally lead into a body-mind state of a higher cognition where shifts of our perception of ourselves and the world happen, than art did its mission.

Entropy of the digital culture seems unavoidable. Present-day Internet might end up only as an exhibit in some museums of the future. How to approach archiving of sound and give it a proper place in the post-digital museology is the question we should be asking ourselves constantly. For now, good old science of the soul might still be the most efficient way of tracing the future.

The obvious questions: what has been your own experience of the pandemic?

When you know for worse, resilience surfaces in the time of crisis. Pandemic was for me a wake-up call, and I made an effort to do some serious changes. I moved to another country, although it is one of my domiciles, it took a lot of strength to leave everything and everyone behind in the middle of a complete mess.

I entered the pandemic already very stressed, when situation escalated in Wuhan I had precognition that things can get really bad. Spring was marked by the surrealness of the strict Belgrade curfews, that really evoked anguish. It fell hard on a deeply traumatized society, but on the other hand people showed an incredible stoicism and solidarity. As things were getting worst unfortunately both stoicism and solidarity soon dissolved into a complete madness.

In the early days I concentrated on my son and the activism, working with colleagues from the Association Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia to build Solidarity Fund, since we knew really well that criminal populist government can only let people down the drain. At the beginning I tried to embrace the isolation with great attentiveness, so I kept composing which significantly helped me reduce anxiety. Silence of the city felt like a grave, I really wasn’t inspired by it. I was waiting for the first possible moment to flee to the island.

Summer on the island was full of trepidation, due to my work during a touristic season, in which I am responsible for people that I hire in a small design shop, so a lot of stress accumulated. Only in the late Autumn things slowly started stabilizing. Winter on the island was full of unpleasant introspection.

So, the experience of the pandemic was/is a proper Balkan mishmash of a struggle, adaptability, both solidarity and loneliness. But also a time of a great overturns. And I hope a large-scale effect will unroll for all of us.

I think we cannot afford any more to keep our societies in present corruptive frameworks based on the flow of the “invisible” capital and behind-the-closed-doors government business, discrimination, exploitative labour, hypocrisy and double standards. Virus showed us the value of life, also revealed all of the Potemkin’s villages of the so-called First World. Now is time to dismantle oppressive machinery around Europe and further, and the time to disclose colonial and post-colonial wrongdoings, and the time to understand the importance and the role of the civil sector development and global community strengthening. It is time to take action, so refugees from the Middle East stop drowning and dying in the 30 years old mind fields in the forests of Bosnia. People of Europe need to wake up.

I guess my partisan’s genes are breaking through, but that is what the experience of pandemic did. Nerves got short, but the spirits of freedom fighting became high.

Photo by MySoul

Sonic artists were quick to respond to lockdown with different initiatives taking place, most notably AMPLIFY 2020: the quarantine Festival initiated by Jon Abbey to which you’ve contributed the album Out of Thin Air. During the first lockdown, sound artist Kate Carr also presented interiorties, an audio series which focused on sonic experiments, works in progress and field recordings taken during lockdown. Would you say we are now more in tune with our domestic soundscapes and maybe even our bodies, and has the pandemic changed the way you approach music?

I am glad the people put an effort in marking the moment with such initiatives, time will only amplify the huge importance of those. I was very grateful to be part of both the online festival and Kate’s amazing radio specials. I believe that these efforts are notable for the culture of memory, as an anchors helping us maintain continuity in articulating turmoil in which we found ourselves.

Yes the pandemic soundscape changed listening habits for many. It tackled attuning, and certainly affected our bodies. More than that, it did bring Buddhist value to the everyday introspection. Such stick in the wheel on many levels also affected our neurological and sensory pathways, and our mental health will be suffering from now on at various levels depending on individual capacities to process impacts of life-threatening situations, loss, anxiety, insecurity, suspense, and uncertainty… until we as a global community don’t find a new societal balance and show greater scale empathy and solidarity with each other, there will be a struggle.

I must disappoint you by saying that I don’t think pandemic changed my approach to music or listening, because I was already deeply immersed in radical practices, and for a long time. Deep end is my speciality. But it is not over yet, let us see how the turn from more silent – back to atrociously noisy world will go! I honestly hope we will never come back to the level of noise we had before pandemic. That level of abuse and destruction of the environment which we are inseparable part of, makes no sense.

Interestingly, the president of the Hearing Industries Association, also coincidentally called Kate Carr, states that, “There’s so much we don’t know about COVID-19. But there seems to be some association between having COVID and hearing loss. We also know that working from home… doing school at home or online as opposed to in a classroom, is leading for us to have our headsets or our ear pods in for longer periods of time, and we just want to encourage people to watch the level of sound that’s going into their ears.”

Now, I have a friend who suffers from long Covid and he’s become far more sensitive to sound than he used to. This makes him wear earplugs which in turn causes a painful build up of wax.

This might be repeating the previous question, but do you believe the pandemic has affected the way we listen to sonic works as well?

I absolutely agree with Kate, but I would take the problem further considering Covid-19 as atrociously neuroactive and that is the field that needs to be taken very seriously. Because of the neurological reactions to the virus we also have a wide range of psycho-somatic side effects that directly reflect on our mental health. Another things that we need to take very seriously is that our hearing health is not primarily important because of the translation of an audible information, but it is substantially significant for a range of primary functions, such are regulation of metabolism, regulation of an autonomous nervous system, regulation of a vagus nerve that connects gut, heart and the brain, for cognitive categorisation and discrimination of neurological information, for direct charging of the cortex with an electrical impulses that we need to function in an awake state, to regulate balance between the body and gravitational force, to regulate wider spectrum of sensory traits including proprioception, interoception, visual and other sensory content, and many other neurological and metabolic processes that our brain has to put up with. Ear is an apparatus that handles much more then “hearing”.

Now, as someone who had a squeaking violin 20 centimetres from my left ear for 35 years and have slight hearing loss same as many professional classical string players, and especially orchestral players, to add on that almost 20 years of loud experimental music on blasting sound systems straight into my face, plus at least 10 years of long hours of sound editing with headphones (shell I skip mentioning working with kids that are a lethal decibel producers!), I should be deaf as a canon. Our ears are adaptable and quite flexible, but they need great care in order to protect our nervous system and the brain that can suffer irreversible damage.

So, if we are doomed to have headphones on our head for some time yes taking care of the volume is important, but also is the resolution of the audible information, cheap earplug-headphones produce rough mechanical oscillations, better headphones reduce this attack, so invest into your headphones! I insist on maintaining the balance at present situation by combining different means of communication.

Considering your friend, the focus is to be put on sensory sensitivity and neurological cause of it and although neurologist are not too keen to dig into such subtle side effects such as noise irritation, there are many ways to help people with this problem. Including special noise cancelling ear plugs that are made for people with sensory diversity and various forms of neurodiversity. I’m also a fan of good old antiphons, looks silly but feels awesome!

There is for sure some modulation how we listen to the sound works now, but I insist it comes from the extended psychological aspect of what we are going through. We are dealing with traumatic experiences on a daily basis, that is constantly rewiring our neuroception, our autonomic nervous system becomes tired and overwhelmed, and falls into different defensive states. Continuous tension and suspense ask for longer recovery periods in which we should try to concentrate on calming the overall psycho-physical state. But also, these amplitudes as well as intensities are widening our perceptive abilities, that further reflect on our psychological growth, we can become more sensitised, therefore more empathic, also gain new insights and widen our awareness of both ourselves and the environment. If we can afford to concentrate on processing traumatic elements with a close care. But most of people simply can’t afford that, which means solidarity is needed more then ever. Pandemic is a collective struggle. So the healing from it should also be a collective effort.

Personally, being a freelancer and having worked from home for the past 15 years, I wasn’t probably as affected by lockdown as many have been, but it has certainly made me more aware of my neighbours as most have also been working from with zoom calls spilling over from open windows. Another of the noticeable things has been the reduction in traffic and especially air traffic, as I happen to live in an area of London on the pathway for planes going to Heathrow. But what I have enjoyed most has been listening to experimental and especially field recording based albums on loudspeakers allowing external sounds to interfere by leaving the windows open to the point that I wasn’t always aware of which sound belonged to what. Is this heresy?

Nooooooooo! I made my career out of it :)

And I like that description of a new city soundscape in which people’s shouts from Zoom calls are overlapping with the sonic compositions. There’s poetry in there. I find a great deal of beauty in multidimensional approach to our reality. Also, I’m glad you had a break from the insane Heathrow schedule! Not to mention good effects for both humans, and flora & fauna with less air pollution in the atmosphere. I ain’t telling you that once upon a time I blocked a whole exit on Heathrow, because respectfully intelligent security thought that there is a bomb in my violin. It was a custom made pre-amp. Good old days.

This is a “provocative” and possibly misleading question but what I am getting at is that you are sometime specific in your listening recommendations for some of your works, i.e. with headphones or not standing up, which I fully respect. The silly question being, is there are an incorrect way of listening to a sound piece?

No I don’t believe there is an incorrect way to listen. Development of an individual listening is a complex psycho-physical process. According to that everyone has the right to listen and understand what has been sensed in their own pace.

Specific instructions I sometimes put next to the works are of technical nature, for example the sound I produce is texturally very rich, it is overly detailed and full of narratives in micro-layering, also it contains a lot of subtle frequencies that are stretching our hearing range and that I am carefully sculpting, therefore listening to it on a lousy computer speakers that do not support proper resolution or frequency range means missing all of it, and losing the possibility to sense those immersive and complex sonic compounds. It is more likely that people will have a decent headphones then extremely good sound system. Also, instructing to listen on headphones alludes that music can be experienced in stillness and with certain approach to quietness. In organic sound art right volume has a crucial role, I often leave masters in a slightly lower volume then usual optimization levels that we are forced to withstand by mainstream production and streaming platforms, so the listeners has to go through the process of finding, hence sensing, that right level, in which sound opens up its multidimensionality.

Simple instruction such is “not to be listened while standing”, means that I’m becoming quite skilful at psycho-acoustics and that certain frequencies can produce sensory irritation to more sensitive folks, and cause unpleasant effects such as dizziness. It is basically a disclaimer. I believe we need to be much more responsible with sculpting with sound because it does effect overall extended mind-body.

Finally, on the pandemic, has it had a financial impact on your work as a sound artist?

Oh well.. I’m from Eastern Europe you know, we are trained to expect crisis around the corner… living as a sound artist and sound researcher is a political statement around here. Finances often fall under an experimental genre too, with or without pandemic. I don’t think nowadays even scholars and University professors can live out of sound, I do a wide range of projects in arts & culture, as a result of my complex artistic development but also as a survival strategy.

To live out of art today one need to have many skills, one of the crucial ones would be having guts to live in complete uncertainty. I’ll just take out the fact that since February 2020 I didn’t perform a single concert, over a year now, which would be the longest period off stage since 1986.

My point is, artists and especially performers were fragile economically before the pandemic due to obvious ignorance by the societies toward the value and precariousness of our work. Cultural politics are simply not taken seriously as such, for example, although European Union developed many strands for culture in the last 10-15 years, this funding is conditioned by pretty much insufficient technocratic machinery that is too slow and self-justificatory and can’t even tackle the living culture. What can we further expect from individual wider European states scattered in a quasi political scene between populism, nationalism, even fascism, and weakened and wounded democratic fractions (including self-afflicted corruption-driven breakdowns). Present economical system deeply interwoven with politics won’t fix things for arts & culture.

kairos & the dwellers is available for preorder:

www.f-o-m.bandcamp.com
www.soundcloud.com/manja-ristic

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