Interview made by Saoirse Higgins
for Arts Bulletin Vol.18, Dublin, Ireland (autumn 2001):

Slavek, first thing I would like to know - can you give me an idea of your background - where you're from and how you got into sound?

Nearly all my childhood was spent with my grandparents on the edge of a huge forest in the mountains of Krkonose, on the northern border of Czechoslovakia. I was completely fascinated by nature, especially insects and reptiles. My first books were scientific books: entomology and herpetology. Everything started there, I guess. Nature, nature in every sense, has been the strongest influence on my work. I have been drawing and painting with oil colors from a very early age. Initially, my pictures were of a documentary style/character - scanning everything around me. Later on I started to be interested in capturing more than static forms. I became interested in movement and aural impressions … eventually shifting into areas of interpretation, becoming more and more abstract, attracted by emotion … I don't know when or how exactly sound started dominating my attention. It shifted gradually. Suddenly "it" was there.

My first discoveries of sound manipulations date from the beginning of the eighties.
I used old mono and stereo reel-to-reel tape recorders, recording sounds (I was very obsessed at that time with metalic objects), slicing tapes, playing with speed variations and creating my first compositions. It was an adventure, submerging into other dimensions of space and time, discovering for me an unknown universe.

Simultaneously, together with a few friends, we founded a band, Garuda. The band focussed on improvised music using acoustic objects and instruments. Our main influences were coming from ethnical and primitive cultures, urban aborigines. I was fascinated by the potential of free music, communicating on more sensual levels. In which conditions can we co-exist in the same space? Creating a common space where everybody is free to interact. The only condition is mutual respect for each participant. Are the aesthetics of language a consequence of communication?

Later on I met Jaroslav Palat, who was using also electronics ( cheap pedals for guitars, old digital delay Electro Harmonix etc.) and we began to play and record together under the name Quarantaine. It was harsh noise using loops, screaming into tubes and manipulating all kinds of objects passing through effects, usually completely distorted. I still have some tapes from this period. It was made in a very special context: in times of discovering what the communistic system was about - the system of omnipresent paranoia, control and repression. Our approach was surely a reaction to the communist regime. We were searching for different spaces, other alternatives for mental survival, ... I became obsessed with freedom. My interest lies in perception; human inventivity and creativity fascinates me.


In 1986 I left (from many reasons) my country. For nearly 2 years I was lost on the roads and streets of Germany, Holland and Belgium, ... and finally, without any special reason, I stayed in Belgium nearly 14 years. There I did perform for the first time in 1988. This performance was very symbolic, as I see it now, from a distance. The performance was called 1st attempt at contact with planet Earth, an imaginary story about extra-terrestrials approaching Earth. First they encounter whales. They don't know about humans yet, so they are attempting to establish communication with cetaceans. The whole performance consisted of pre-recorded tapes containing simple compositions created mainly from whale sounds; we were there just with microphones, some objects and one toy-sampler trying to communicate with whales. Screaming, blowing into tubes … People were really getting excited. We didn't know at all if they were laughing at us or if they liked it. No matter. In any case it became very ambiguous and challenging. Finally people started to imitate us! I will never forget it. After the performance I was on the edge of a breakdown- completely confused and exhausted. In 1989 I met Peter Moreels, who was running Corrosive Tapes. He was the first person who released my music under the name Kwi, and who introduced me to the home-tape network. It was amazing - soooo many people busy with soooo many different things!

 

Since 1990 I am publishing under name Artificial Memory Trace focusing on electroacoustic "sound-paintings". These complex audio-situations are created mainly from site specific recordings, resulting in "subjective reports" for radio broadcast, "cinema for ears" performed on multiple speakers, sound-installations integrated into the environment etc. I am interested in free-music improvisation employing the space and any objects it contains as musical instrument. Over past few years I have been also facilitating experimental sound-workshops with autistic children and those with learning disabilities, pre-school and primary school children. The workshop technique places emphasis on the stimulation of creativity through observation and the support of natural tendencies …

What are the influences in your work?

Nature, … nature in every sense … A long time I didn't see human beings as part of nature. Nature and humans were, for me, separated worlds. Later I accepted human civilization in all its manifestations (including urban and other modifications of environments, lately even pollution) as equal part (and product) of the whole natural process (evolution). It was for me an important change, an acceptance of the situation "as it is". The point of departure is here. I must deal with this world in this state, and search for possible directions ..., and nothing is definitive, all is in motion, infinite development. Each moment is asking for another approach, another language, another form. There is only the organic process of perpetual re-evaluation of every microsecond of my life ... The process of creation became very clearly a space where I could - finally! - unite my love and interest for the sound-world. This process of creation became my ideal space for such activity, stimulating my emotional, intellectual and spiritual development ... free-space without imposed rules ...


What sort of themes do you focus on, if any?

Perception. Everything seems connected to the perception. I am fascinated by the potential of interpretation - what determines how we see/hear things around/inside of us?

Change of perception > change of interest (including system of values) > impact on behavior > influence on relation with outside world > change (modulation) of reality

My interest is in the process of creation as an organic phenomena. The form is conceived as a consequent result of this process. I am focused on the state of mind. Creation (and all included in this process) is clearly a tool. The form (= composition) documents a momentary state of perception, including subjectivity, automatically.


How would you describe your sound compositions in words? If you listed some words what would they be to describe the experience for you and for the people that will listen to your work?

Sound movie, cinema for ears, sound painting, sound sculpture, digitally frozen contemplation … feature from certain mental process dealing with certain subject …

I am attracted by situations resistant to rational analysis. Such situations leave free space for potential interpretation* - the phenomena of interpretation is inevitable. I encorporated this fact into compositional methods. I reject voluntarily employment of logical systems, narrative structures (= there is no "story" or message ) and employ sounds, even very "concrete" sounds, as non-referential "abstraction". All sounds are abstract. There is no direct association with the "origin" of sound. The choice of sounds could be compared with using colors or textures while painting or sculpting (e.g. sound of chicken is employed for its quality and not because I would like to suggest a chicken). It is the character (morphology, inner energetic structure and containing etc.) of sound itself, which determinates all, despite its origin. I am always observing the potential of sounds (capability to interact or/and coexist with other sounds), each sequence or single sound are considered as an independent entity. I am searching for a balance, through nature, of each participant (> strategy of "controlled" coincidence), sounds are playing the roles of "individuals" coexisting inside "societies of sounds" (= compositions).

[* With the higher potential of interpretation (sounds or combinations of sounds)are getting a paradoxically higher potential for abstraction].


Do you visualize your sounds in a certain way?

Sometime I am using graphical scores. Graphics preserve a creative dialogue with the subject-this is clearly an equal part of the whole process of dealing with perception.

  < Ritmax Asimetra [part]

I do not try to describe sounds, but rather what these sounds evoke in me. I see images perpetually (abstract!) inside my head, although the words "see" and "image", as we refer to them, are very reducing terms. What I percept, in reality, is absolutely impossible to describe. The closest I have come to such a description is through sound-work.

For example, you are doing an installation for the exhibition at Arthouse - tell us how you approach the visual aspect of the work.

"Spectral Territories Pt.2" is a sound-installation, so my first concern is inevitably how it will sound. The visual aspect is consequent to the distribution of any employed equipment in the exhibition space. You cannot avoid the visual impact of these elements. It becomes automatically a visual environment as well. I am interested about a balanced situation in every sense.

The sound-installation (composition of 35 min) is performed from a 6-channel digital tape (played in a loop, in repeat mode continuously) and diffused from 3 pairs of different devices, e.g. using tweeters placed inside umbrellas and plexiglas parabolas. The sound-installation is composed from multiple sound-units distributed in the space, creating a complex sound-organism. The composition changes according to the position of the audience in the space.

December 2000 - January 2001 I was traveling in eastern Africa, recording various natural environments, eg. rainforests. This caused me to re-question the sound environment we are living in. We are living in domestic environments surrounded perpetually by sounds generated and introduced by technology, e.g. electric circuit which produces non-stop low frequency on the edge of audibility, but still omnipresent and surely having some effect on us. There are many frequential layers produced by electric circuits (e.g. refrigerators, TV screens & computers, amplifiers, aquarium's oxygen machines etc.) While listening to rain-forest soundscapes - particularly dawn and dusk, when activity seems the most rich and ever-changing - many sounds reminded me strangely of some electric tensions (sounds of insects - cicads, very loud and intensively monotone, bizarre birds sounding like high pitched synthetic-line "falling" down in frequency etc.) July 2001 I have recorded in Arthouse sounds produced by machines (e.g. ventilations, elevators, inside studios, training rooms, cafe and another working spaces). Creating associative sound-environments in combination with original sounds and transformations of these sounds by computer. Studying natural sound-environments and artificial sound-pollution; researching changes in nature caused by sound pollution, and its impact on human beings, including psychological & physical aspects.

What is the difference between listening to your sounds sitting with headphones on - without any visual stimulus and walking around in the installation you are planning?

Although some people recommend to listen to my music on headphones,
I have never designed this music for headphones. It is designed for good quality speakers. The physical experience is for me very important; you cannot obtain this from headphones. In the case of sound installations,using multiple speakers, this experience is enhanced even more depending on the audience's position within the space. Listening with headphones might be useful for concentration, to isolation oneself from the surrounding environment, though my intention is also to integrate this composition into your sound environment- sounds around you becomes part of the listening experience. The volume level also plays an important role. I am mixing (and mastering) my music on very different levels of listening. Some layers are appearing only with very high volume, some are emerging only with very low volume, ... as it is in our natural sound-environment, which is composed from many layers of sounds, some of them very distant, on the edge of audibility, impossible to identify, becoming "aural colors". But they are present, and they are an equal part of the whole environment. All these layers define the density of the environment (composition).

Do you work with visual artists in any of your projects?
Most visual artists have enough to contend with creating the visual, spatial elements of their work without trying to tackle the sound too - can you tell us about the Soundshapes project which pairs up visual and sound artists…..?

Yes, for example: in springtime 2001 I was invited to collaborate with Paul Loftus Murnaghan on an installation Requiem for the Fly: A celebration of the insignificant, of useless monuments and of the beauty within loss. Postproduction. Paul carved from stone a small triangular mauzoleum. Inside this he fixed a small red light over a miniature coffin. Inside the coffin was a dead fly lying on a sugar cube. The audience was invited to sit on one of two chairs covered with velvet and take headphones to listen to the piece, which was created exclusively from transformed sounds of flies. On each chair was attached a hidden woofer (low-frequency speaker). As you sat on the chair, you could feel vibrations through your body. The installation was first introduced at a Poisonhats event in the Project Arts Centre, and stayed as an exhibition for the following two weeks.

Soundshapes is a challenging project, curated by Sean McCrum and Hilary Morley. The main aim is to bring together visual (14) and sound (11) artists from very different disciplines and backgrounds. At the same time, the project encourages us to create a network between the participants, which I find very exciting and interesting. The focus is on designing objects, which should be outcomes of this network, and sharing skills. An example might be to design objects conceived as sound instruments, or translate the shapes of object into a musical form.

Opening of Soundshapes is in July 2002 - Galway Arts Festival, Galway with following tour from confirmed venues:
October 2002 - Limerick City Gallery of Art. November 2002 - Model Arts and Niland Gallery, Sligo. December 2002/January 2003 - National Crafts Gallery, Kilkenny.
February 2003/March 2003 - The Engine Room, Belfast
March 2003/April 2003 - Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart, Co.Derry. Venues in Castlebar, Cork and Dublin are currently in discussion.

What are your plans for the future in terms of new projects, direction…?

Currently I am working on a soundtrack for a 3D animation film made by Kavaleer Prod. From November 2001 I am starting a 6-month residence in IMMA, where I hope to work on the Soundshapes project in collaboration with Martina Coyle, Inge Van Doorslaer, Robert Tully and others.

16/11/2001, 8pm: performing Orgenviron Throbsine (35 min) in the Project Arts Centre. In this electroacoustic piece, composed in 1999, I am using pre-recorded composition played simultaneously from two CDs and diffused from special set-up. In some moments I am performing also live, using mainly acoustic objects and space. The idea of the performance is to question the physical presence of the performer as a visual disturbance from listening.

I am also involved in long-term collaborations based on exchanges of sound materials, e.g. with Francisco Lopez (composer originally from Spain); with Manuel Rocha Iturbide (Mexico). We are currently preparing a project based on insect sounds.

Recently I have completed a collaboration with Eric La Casa, composer based in Paris. The piece is a subjective sound-cartography based on recordings from the site of a foundry of Bells Paccard in Sevrier-Lac-d'Annecy (France). The idea was that each of us create an individual composition from these recordings and also one collaborative composition, which we have developed gradually. These works will be performed 17/11/2001 at a festival in Annecy, and simultaneously released on CD in edition Collection Musiques Tracee de Savoie by Collectif & Cie (www.collectifetcie.fr.fm). This project was also supported by Arthouse, Dublin.

Have you any other artists that you like - any artists in general not necessarily sound…..

Ward Weis http://bewoner.antwerpen.be/wardweis
http://www.lostminute.yucom.be
Ralf Wehowsky http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/selektion/
Pierre Berthet pierre.berthet@mail.be
Kelly Davis tokyoaudioarts@hotmail.com
Eric La Casa ascendre@free.fr http://www.kaon.org/members/e_lacasa/
Jerome Noetinger metamkine@compuserve.com
… list might be long …