THE VOICE OF ENERGY VOL. 064
Hello once again, my lovely subscribers. Welcome to the first edition of The Voice of Energy for 2022.
I say "first," but those of you lucky paid subscribers already received a missive from me earlier this week with some free music in it and more words from me. If you don't want to miss out on future exclusives, etc., sign up for premium subscription. It ain't much money and it helps pay for my Pocky habit.
Speaking of money... I've never been one for New Year's resolutions. During my barista days, I had the annoying habit of telling people that they could just choose any old day to start a new habit or give up sugar or what not. But my stance has softened, especially during this fraught period of time we're in, and I'm on board with making the turning of some personal pages coincide with the start of a new calendar year. For 2022, I have resolved to a) read 40 books and b) not purchase any new music / books / films for myself. The two are very much connected as I'm surrounded in my home office with media I haven't even touched yet, and a good chunk of it is books I've found at library sales and the Goodwill outlet. Though I do a good amount of reading in magazines and newspapers and online, my book reading is paltry even as I continue to acquire more. So I'm doing what I can to put a stop to the stream of incoming stuff and actually digging into what's already here. (That doesn't mean I'm not accepting physical promos. Keep those coming, folks.) I'm also hoping this will have a positive impact on the bank account. But that goes without saying.
I'm off to a good start, though. Finished Caitlin Moran's funny and trenchant How To Be a Woman and am working through Rob Young's new book The Magic Box. And I've resisted plenty of discount codes for cheaper records and CDs. We'll see how long I can hold out.
This week, you'll find an interview with the wonderful electronic artist Zvrra, some reviews, and a couple of links to my writing work. I hope you enjoy it.
Chicago-based producer/artist Zvrra can do and has done a little bit everything in the world of electronic music. Their Bandcamp page is packed with releases that range from the tribal thunder of 2017's Temple to the techno boom of their single b l a c k l a k e to the jazzy footwork found on Snapped 2. Zvrra's DJ sets follow a similar pattern, going wherever their curiosity draws them. My current favorite is the set they put together recently for Dekmantel, which is as relentless and soothing as watching Uncut Gems at the spa. Their latest full-length Array of Light (out last November through Whited Sepulchre) feels born under the influence of Gas as its five caustic tracks and deep bass pulses are caught in a similar web of gauze and lush greenery.
I'm curious about what led you to want to mess around with electronic music and production in the first place. It sounds as if you found your lane with the music you heard on a video game, but what made you want to mess around with putting sounds / beats together before that? What sort of stuff were you working on?
I’m not exactly sure what initially got me into music production, but I’ve always been into making music and I originally was making a lot of experimental, trance and trip hop. I’ve always been around software and computers due to my grandmother having an interest in them. I was told by her that I could hook up a computer at four years old.
Over the course of the decade that you were practicing and developing your sound, would you talk about what you were working on with friends and family? Let them hear what you were getting up to?
I was making rap, trip hop, trance, dark wave and experimental beats with my friends. We would collab via FL studio 3/4 and send messages back and forth until we finished the track. I clearly remember one day I let some of my family hear my tracks and they said they had too many sounds in them and it overwhelmed the listener. That is what taught me “less is more”, but I didn’t totally understand that until like 17 years old.
What was it about the first track/tracks that you made that gave you the confidence to finally put them out into the world? How did people respond to them?
My friends used to tell me they’d like to rap on my beats so that's when I started releasing them and the rest of my music out to the public more Instead of just on the Yahoo messenger app we used back in the day. Another thing that encouraged me to promote my music was being notified that I was on the soundclick music charts top 100 for electronic. I remember some of my tracks would reach the top 50 and I feel like I was hot stuff lol. That led to people wanting to buy music from me.
What does your music loving family feel about the work that you have done to date?
My immediate family is pretty proud it seems.
Because you've made so much music and you're working in so many different styles, I wonder about your writing process. Do you go into a project with a deliberate idea about what you're going to do or how it's going to sound? Or do you let tracks evolve more organically? Can you point to some examples in your discography of your typical writing style?
It depends. Sometimes I’ll have an idea, other times I’ll hit randomize/mutate on my synth and it will turn whatever sound I give it into something custom and that is what helps with writer's block. My typical writing styles would have to be:
The Mood https://zvrra.bandcamp.com/album/the-mood
Heightened Atmos https://zvrra.bandcamp.com/album/heightened-atmos
Ancient Witchhelm https://zvrra.bandcamp.com/album/ancient-witchhelm
Are you someone that is easily influenced by the sounds of other tracks or the work of other producers? Is it easy to develop your own material knowing that there is so much history in the type of music you are making?
When I was younger I had that problem, but nowadays not so much. It’s easy to develop my own material because for some reason I interpret things quite differently than normal (it seems) and that helps me tremendously with music. I respect the history of electronic music and techno in general, though I tend to do my research and learn about the history for sure and make sure i'm not recreating a melody etc.
To that end, what are you listening for when you decided to add a track to your DJ set? What draws you to a piece of music?
I am a sucker for choirs, ambient pads, tribal grooves and non traditional time signatures. When I add tracks to a DJ set, I’m trying to showcase the track so music that stands out I'll most likely select.
You've had a fairly busy 2021. How have you been able to navigate all the folks like me banging on your door asking for interviews or mixes?
I have ADHD and anxiety so it’s been a little hectic, but at the same time, I love it. In the future I’ll be getting an assistant to help me keep organized haha.
You've done some collaborations along the way. Is that a comfortable thing for you - to work with someone else and bounce ideas off of them? What makes for a good collaborator for you?
Yeah, it’s pretty comfortable. I like going back and forth. I remember when I was a teen and my friends from online and I would collaborate by sending each other the track-outs and just bouncing ideas back and forth until it was completed. Over a decade later, I still do the same thing and it’s worked for so long. Now what makes a good collaborator is communication and knowing not to over produce. I don’t want to fill in the blanks of a track. I want to be fully involved, same as the collaborator.
What do you think comes next for you in 2022 and beyond? Any plans or future releases you can hip us to?
Oh my! There's so much music I’ve got in my vault, literally over 1000 quality tracks. Now I don’t make everything, but there's more Techno, Tribal, Synthwave and Ambient and just overall music experiments coming. I’ve been in coordination with some labels as well as developing my own label Vulcanologists (formerly known as Rare Type). I’m in the process of getting my passport because there's places around the world that are ready to book me for shows. Really just getting myself together including my health. I feel 2022 is going to be a blast.
Woodland Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021, dir. Kier-La Janisse)
As Rob Young points out in his new book The Magic Box, the term "folk horror" has become a handy critical shorthand for writers trying to elucidate the "dark synergy between nature, myth, occultism and ghost traces of hauntological memory" found in recent work like Midsommar, Gallow's Pole, or even the video for Radiohead's "Burn The Witch." The trouble with the term is that, when viewing it through a wide enough lens, it can be attached to most any art with even the slightest mythological bent. That's the trouble that filmmaker Kier-La Janisse gets into with her folk horror history documentary. While it lands on some of the same ground covered by Young and authors like Adam Scovell, especially with highlighting the holy triumvirate of foundational British films (Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satan's Claw, The Wicker Man), she casts a far too wide net. The scope of Woodland Days is huge (the doc clocks in at nearly 200 minutes), leading to questionable film picks, unnecessary talking head chatter, and an unfortunate skimming through Asian cinema. The benefit of this film being on a streaming service now is the ability to pause it frequently and jot down some of the titles Janisse and her interview subjects discuss, or to at least take breaks along the way. All the better to avoid the exhaustion that comes with watching it all in one go, as I did when it screened at the Hollywood Theatre recently. A decent starting point, but hardly the final word on the subject — an assessment that I'm sure even Janisse would agree with. (available on Shudder beginning Jan 10)
Various Artists: Tanamur City: Indonesian AOR, City Pop, Boogie 1979 to 1991 (Cultures of Soul / Peels)
Scarcity can sometimes be a good thing. According to the liner notes for this collection of vivid, sleek pop tunes rarely heard outside Indonesia, co-curators Harry "Munir" Septiandry and Deano Sounds had a huge batch of tunes to choose from, but were only able to include nine tracks as they were "limited by access to workable master recordings and licensing availability." That worked to their advantage as Tanamur City is free of the muddy sound quality that sometimes mars retrospective compilations like this and it makes for a much more concise listening experience. The tunes that Munir and Deano had to work with provide a fascinating portal into the sounds emanating from this Asian nation. Through the import and influence of music and instruments from Japan — as well as the arrival of sounds from the West — Indonesian artists and producers churned out oblong disco-pop (Lydia Kandou's gently stomping "Denny," the sugary city pop of "Langkah Kemuka" by Andi Meriem Matalatta) and a charmingly sodden take on funk (the boogie bass and synth bleats of Chaseiro's "Waktu Kian Berarti" play like a faded copy of The Crown Heights Affair). Tanamur City is the perfect microdose of retro sounds. (Bandcamp)
Fred Hersch: Breath By Breath (Palmetto)
Considering the fluid melodicism of Fred Hersch's playing and his dalliances in the world of contemporary classical music, it's a wonder that this is the first time the pianist has recorded with a string ensemble. It is such a natural fit. Through this suite of songs inspired, as the title suggests, by Hersch's meditation practice, the members of the Crosby Street String Quartet (named after the location where they first rehearsed this material) flow in and out of each song with fluid perfection — always there at the precise moment when a melody or solo needs a shimmering counterbalance or a touch of plucked atonality. It's the same service that drummer Jochen Rueckert and bassist Drew Gress provide for Hersch, only their support is as sturdy as a good rhythm section should be. This leads to incredible moments like the gorgeous "Rising, Falling," where the strings flood and dissipate in waves while the trio splashes through it with a playful reserve, or "Worldly Winds," which plays with a deconstructed bossa nova tempo that the violins and viola get lovingly tangled up in. (purchase)
Thank you, as always, for reading. If you like what I'm doing here, share it with your friends or spread the word on those places where words get spread.
Before I let you go, here are some recent pieces of mine that might be of interest. My first live music column for 2022 went live earlier this week, highlighting two fantastic local hip-hop artists that performed at the January edition of The Thesis. We'll see how many more of those I can produce this month considering all the recent omicron-related cancellations. And for the Portland Business Journal, I was tasked with taking the temperature of the local music scene as it deals with the waves of the pandemic. The picture is bleak, but hopeful. (If that link doesn't give you the full story, here are PDFs of the piece.)
Back on Monday with another edition exclusive to paid subscribers and then again next Friday for all y'all. Until then... Do no harm. Take no shit.
RIP Peter Bogdanovich and Traxamillion
Artwork for this edition of the newsletter is by Kazakh artist Abduakhat Muratbayev.