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Interview with Kotä Records

img  Tobias Fischer

These days, originality appears to be the main gauge for artistic success: No insult could be worse than being made out a copycat or ripp-off, no praise higher than having one's work being commended as 'unique', 'personal' or 'inventive'. And yet, as much as it's in demand, originality is a highly problematic term. For one, entirely original music is an impossibility, since every composition already builds on what came before it in some form or the other. Also, originality as a main priority does not by default result in satisfying results. Even more critically, our notion of originality is questioned by the advances of the information age: The more people are making and releasing music, the smaller the potential for each of them to create something truly original, after all. What happens when everything has been done - every sound sculpted, every beat programmed, every chord played and every arrangement tried? We spoke to a wide selection of artists from all corners of the musical spectrum to find out more about their take on originality, how they see it changing and what it means in their work.

To Mikhail Myasoedov and Gleb Glonti of Moscow-based imprint Kotä Records, originality is not dependent on financial means or production tools - but the result of waiting for the right moment to present itself.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?


Misha:

For me it was the same. I have spent a lot of time learning to play the guitar like James Hetfield and Dimebag Darrell. Then, I discovered the computer as an instrument and learned to play algorithmic and melodic IDM similar to Autechre. After that, I realised that with the ability to emulate others styles perfectly I was going to be only a shadow of the originals. So I threw everything away and started to make something on my own. That was ten years ago. I focused on a spontaneous improvisation with guitar and synth. I was playing and tuning the sound until I felt like I’m out of here and recorded this. That is how my first album Infotswetock was created.

Gleb:

Actually, I don’t know how a phrase like your "own voice” can even exist. You are a blend of things that come into your life which you adopt or refuse to adopt. Whatever you refuse stays with you, whatever you adopt will leave you at some point. When you are listening to your own voice audio taped or from the inside, when you get your ears shut, is it your own voice or something that you hear? So, to me seems like your own voice does not exist, and learning and emulating never stops.

I still continue to adopt things and go with it, not merely in the field of music but in everyday life, in terms of my spiritual way and searching for what we are ... and this things take its place in my way whether it’s the record label I run with Misha or my Bred Blondie project or the bands I’m playing in.
Some day I ran across an Ozzy Osborne interview and he was asked whether he is listening to new music and he replied: “You know, I’m not listening to the music in order not to steal something”. Well, this is a good answer.


When, would you say, did you start to appreciate originality as an important quality in music? What were some of the first artists that stood out in terms of their originality to you and what was it about the originality in their work that attracted you to it?

Misha:

Well, it is hard to say when it became one of the most important qualities in music for me. As long as I remember myself, I think. I do love to hear something unique and do love to share this discovery with the people around me. That’s the exact reason I started Köta Records years ago. The best thing I hear about our releases is: “Wow, I have never heard something like this!”. You know, when you are a child everything is new for you. When you grow up, you tend to lose this curiosity in some part, making choices for comfort and predictability of life. But, it is self-contradictary behaviour, because your growth zone doesn’t intersecs with your comfort zone that much. That’s why it is really important to have new experience as much as you can. As for my own music, the whole Brinstaar project appeared as a embodiment of my ideas about originality and development of my own musical fingertip back in 2004.

Gleb:

As for me, I don’t remember. As for the artists, I guess there are loads of them ... Led Zeppelin <smiling>


What's your own definition of originality?

Gleb:

Do it your own way. It’s the most original it can be.

Misha:

For me originality is the quality of things or experience that makes you act, think or feel in a way you never did. Originality does not exist if we are talking about something other than subjective case.


Originality is one, but certainly not the only aspect of quality in music. What, from your current perspective, is the value of originality and has it become more or less important to you over time?

Misha:

That's one of the things that defines what a music is for me. The most important thing.

Gleb:

Yes, if you put into "originality" term every aspect of doing things: mistakes and ignorance, people you choose to work with and etc, so it’s quite important I guess.


With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?

Misha:

There is a lot of information about everything around us. The Internet has changed the rules of the information flow greatly. For me, it means that it's time to go introspective. The inner state is the area where I can find something new. Usually, I’m trying to listen only to my own music or to the ambience around me - although my part of the work for the label does include listening to demo recordings of others. Also, when I perform somewhere I’m listening to what other people are performing if there are any. Thу result is a balance between inner and outer space, that is just right for me. As I can see most of artists on the Kotä roster feel the same about it.

Gleb:

Well, I guess every generation thinks like that: it is precisely now that we are experiencing a boom or extraordinary breakthrough or great disaster or gazilions of bands or something like that. The way I see it, 60-70’s of XX century had a music boom and everybody who played guitar formed a band and could make a recording. The legacy of it is so huge that still all diggers from around the world find some stuff to dig into ... and then, the 90’s arrived and rave culture arrived with it and on on, so I think now it's all-right even considering digital distribution.

As for the potential, I see a great potential in every area, so it’s hard to say ... The pursuit for originality sometimes gets you on the wrong way, I guess. In Russia we have the following anecdote about that:

There is a punk sitting at the bar. He has pink hair, extremely worn-out jeans and leather jacket, totally trashed, and pins and all stuff like that. A bully-type of guy approaches him, some sort hooligan or neighbourhood gang member. We call it "pazan", okay. And the bully asks: "What do you have pink hair for?
"
"To be not like others."
" Okaaay. And what is your rings and pins allover are for?"
"To be original."
"– Maaaan, you ought to be original with your brain" – says the bully.

Well, I guess it’s not so funny in written and in english, but you get the point. Just be yourself, follow the people you like and don’t waste your time on the people you don’t like, guess it’s that simple. And it doesn’t matter how many artists there and albums there, if you really think you’ve got something to say, okay, say it and fuck it.


What are areas of your writing process at the moment that are particularly challenging to you and how does the notion of originality come into play here? What have been some of the more rewarding strategies for attaining originality for you? Please feel free to expand on some of your recent projects and releases.

Misha:

I’m always try to use objects I can see around me when I’m writing or performing. Everything from the floor squeaking and door claps to bells and old pianos. As an example, I can tell you about the instruments I used to record "Floatbirt Clockenspi" track from the Testarossa album. I was a guest at my mother-in-law's house for some days. The first sounds you can hear were culled from the only instrument of my own: my guitar. I played it with a nail attached to the strings to have more overtones, after that shamanic khakassian bells come in, percussive and singing-bowlish sound come from different sized saucepan lids, at the end of the track you can hear old piano with metallic brushes applied directly to the strings. I use this approach when performing in venues, too. In September I was performing in Riga, Latvia, and utilised some field recordings made few days before in Kuldīga — a small town we were brought to by our Latvian friends. It was a sequenced fountain with three little girls playing around it. Also I sampled Riga Cathedral’s organ to play along some fountain recording. It was very inspiring for me.

Gleb:

Well, everything is challenging now and will be. Because every time you do something it is a way forward. We had a talk recently with Misha and I made a statement that when a musician arrives at the top, he needs to switch to another activity or another genre and leave what he's done behind. Because you are going somewhere for a long period, making your way, after success actually it’s clear all you can do is stay upon it, trying not to lose your fortune and keep the money flowing. Well it’s very good thing finally get money for what you are doing, and the main thing, as I see it, is where this money is being directed to and what means you use to hold on to your fortune. <smiling>

But, after all, who cares, who am I to judge people and tell them what to do, on the one hand there are people like Mike Patton and on the other, there are people doing album after album of the same shit. It's all subjective, and people decide how they wanna live they lives. I'm okay with that. I just hope that when I get to something, I will turn to the new horizons.

When we got familiar with the process of making and distributing records at the label, we started to do gigs and tours for our artists, then after, we decided to launch the paper magazine and we are in the middle of this activity now, then some other thing occurs I’m sure, maybe we launch a restaurant <smiling>. The same with Bred Blondie, when I've done the record, I'm not interested in it anymore. Now I’m doing a record totally based on field recordings with no additional sounds and hope I can avoid using any processing (well, this is the plan - just pure field recorded pieces), I'm going to spend a year or two or whatever I need on that. This is the challenge. Then, maybe, I go learn for 10 years to perform ragas or whatever. You set yourself a goal, you live with it and you leave it behind. This is the point.

After some Brinstaar concert, when there were no any beats lasting more then 30-40 seconds, I came to Misha and said - "Man, what the hell, just when I was beginning to get into things and getting a kick out of the beat, you completely changed the pattern and everything was gone." He replied - "Well, after I found some form during the concert and realize what it was, it was not interesting anymore". He might not remember this answer, but I did. And we put this view of things into Kotä company and any our activity.


The idea of originality is closely related to one's understanding of the creative process. How would you describe this process for yourself - where do ideas come from, how are they transformed in your mind and how do experiences and observations turn into a work of art?

Gleb:

Oh, man. It’s total improvisation. I’m not into repeating things and most of the records I did, I don’t want to reproduce or even can’t. My first, self-titled release, was not recorded in the studio. Just at the right moment, the idea was born and got immediately recorded and produced. This was the challenge, I was inspired by Ed Wood. I spent a year doing nothing, just meditating and lookingand thinking about things and walking in the parks and listening to the birds and stuff like that. So I had this luxury of recording things right after they appeared with no procrastination. I recorded it and then I did the structure and almost all things right after it, then after a while I made a few final touches.

That was then. I was like "I don’t care”, I need to say it and don't bother much about the sound and production quality, so I did it using mostly with what was in hands - field recording on the iPhone, loopers and apps on the iPhone, KORG Monotron synth to process a guitar and all stuff like that. Misha, who is doing all sound works on our label, except mastering, mastering we do with Gabriel from SubRosa, well, Misha told me that time: ”You are a son of the bitch. It sounds shit and you ought to be in our Kotä-base and record things properly with proper mics and amps and etc.” But every time I see the record button is on, I don’t know what to perform. My mind is a blank slate.

The main thing I know for sure, is that the best things I did were never recorded. Only me, my wife and maybe the birds heard it. I like it that way.

Misha:

I don’t use concepts and ideas directly while writing music. The process for me is like tuning in some frequency. Sometimes I hear a sound or a soundscape that inspires me to create a scope for the track. Another day I can take any instrument and tune its sound and my way of playing to “tune” myself to suspend rational thinking and start to feel the universal vibes.


The aspect of originality has often been closely linked to copyright questions. I'm not so much interested in the legal and economic consequences, but your thoughts on how far an artist can claim an
dea / composition as being their own – is there, perhaps, a better model for recognising originality than the one currently in place?

Misha:

I think all this copyright stuff is overrated nowadays. It is a part of our mission as a label to make cash flow transparent to artists and to get people to know why they need to support artists if they like the music. Artists in turn can think of sharing profit if it is based on idea of some other author. Money is the feedback from the society that you are doing things that are needed. So if you borrow ideas you need to give a positive feedback to author.

Gleb:

Totally agree with Misha, I'd just like to add a bit. One of our friends with whom we perform in the Elektroschit and YCHIAA bands and I hope sometime we see his personal project, Alexey Sulin, always says that he really questions the idea that some idea can be own entirely by somebody alone or even a group of people. And I agree.

As for the compositions and copyrights. Yes, there is copyright and we should respect it. It’s not a good thing to get something that is not yours and don’t ask first. But really, people should be more relaxed on that. They want be happy by owning things, they want feel secure by owning things and guarding them very well, with high fences, men in black suites, lawyers and etc. They talk and think - mine mine mine ... But it makes them no good. Sharing is a good thing and everybody knows it. So, we should respect copyright, no doubt, but will be good if people don’t go mad about it.


How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?

Misha:

When you are using an instrument, the result is greatly influenced by its interface. So you need to use unique instruments or uncommon ways of utilizing mainstream instruments to overstep their interface and get something original. Both ways are good. We released Papa Srapa and ::vtol:: recently, they are making their own synthesizers to play with. At the same time, we are going to release Burstbot and solo.op soon, they are using laptops as a musical instrument and it sounds outstanding because of their unique approach.

Gleb:

As for me, I’m not keen on tools. I hardly know how to play a guitar and it got me real hard to get along with the mic for field recording ... and all synths with loads of cords just scare me. So, I’m bad at it and I guess there is no relationship there. Just on the surface, I use this and you use that, but when you get a bit deeper – there's no link.


In terms of supporting originality, what are some of the technological developments you find interesting points of departure for your own work?

Gleb:

Well, the main "technological development” is nature. Then goes voice and some surface you can drum a beat on with your fingers. Then, okay, mic and looper. <smiling>

Misha:

I’m looking forward to seeing new music arise from a big data. Advanced use of neural interfaces can be a perspective too. As for my music I'm not really into high technology, I’m going the other way and tending towards basic and ancient things like natural resonances, overtone singing and so on.


The importance and perspective on originality has greatly varied over the course of musical history. From your point of view, what are some of the factors in the cultural landscape that are conducive to originality and what are some of those that constitute obstacles?

Misha:

The propagation of chroniclers' awareness about original music is what really varied over the course of musical history.

Gleb:

Yes, there is no any obstacles above the ones what are within you.


Do you have a vision of a piece of music which you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons?

Misha:

Sometimes I need an orchestra and a choir for my purposes. But life is full of surprises and everything can turn up quickly, you know. I was saying that I want to play organ on my next album and it looks like I will have such an opportunity this or next year. It’s not a matter of financial or some other reasons actually. You just need to wait for a while and remain passionate and things will happen.

Gleb:

Me, too, have everything I need to make my music. If I haven’t got something, well, then it’s not the right time for that piece and I should do another one. After all, I’m telling stories and I can do it with whatever I have. Nina Simone has this song, I like it a lot:

I ain't got no home, ain't got no shoes Ain't got no money, ain't got no class Ain't got no skirts, ain't got no sweater Ain't got no perfume, ain't got no beer
Then what have I got Why am I alive anyway? Yeah, what have I got Nobody can take away
I've got life
've got my freedom.

Interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Kotä Records