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Interview with Nicholas Szczepanik

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hey, I’m doing pretty well. Just had a nice breakfast and now I’m sitting at my desk, which happens to be a total mess at the moment.

In which way did „The Chiasmus“ represent a special challenge to compose for a longer format?
To be honest, with the type of sound art I make, I really thought it was more effective for the music to have the space it has on a longer format. I’m not sure I struggled too much with this particular situation because I never really consciously paid attention to the length of the album until I felt it was finished.

Was there nonetheless an overarching vision for the album at the outset in some way?
Yes, I wouldn’t say the concept existed from the start, but I would say that as I started really working on it, there definitely became an overarching vision for the album. I’m really proud to say that for me, The Chiasmus, feels like one complete piece of art. From the artwork, which I’m very grateful Avery agreed to let me use, to the title, to the music itself, it feels very cohesive. I don’t like to reveal too much about my intentions for the album because I think it’s more rewarding for the listener to conjure is own conception about The Chiasmus.

How did you keep the album together stylistically over the long period it took to complete?
I’d like to begin to say that I never really timed how long it took me to complete the album, but I do believe it was over two years. I work very slowly because my creative output is a very emotional release for me and I have to wait for it to come to me. I can’t force what I do or I wind up hating it. That’s part of why it took me so long in the first place. I wouldn’t say my tastes changed stylistically during the creation of the album, but I would say that I began to use different sound sources over that span of time. In the beginning I was just working with a Casio SK-1, which was borrowed and eventually had to be given back, so then I started using my laptop more. As a result, the album is a mixture of real instruments and software manipulation. I am always worried about the flow of an album, but I think even with all the equipment changes, it turned out pretty well. The album has never changed conceptually.

What is quite remarkable on "The Chiasmus" is that it is a very pure Drone album on the one hand and yet it doesn't sound as though it were imitating anyone or anything in particular ...
Well, thanks for that! I really appreciate that and take it as a big compliment. I've definitely been inspired by particular people including my mom and sister, Charles Chaplin, Scott Tuma, Andrew Chalk, Mark Rothko, Keith Berry, John Fahey, and many others. But when I'm recording, it's a much more emotional, meditative experience for me than it is inspiration from my heroes. My mind is normally in another zone while recording; many times thinking back on previous experiences-- especially relating to my childhood.

Where were the few field recordings for „The Chiasmus“ taken from?

Good question! I have to be honest and say I'm not the greatest with organizing or labeling my field recordings properly. Considering the length of the time it took to compose the album, I can safely say that it's a mixture of different places, both urban and rural, that I've visited over the years. I've never really focused on geographic location, but rather the sounds themselves. Lately, I've been really intrigued by machinery hum...

The album appears to revolve, in a way, around the epic „Temporary Inundation“. What can you tell us about how that piece came about?

It's interesting that you refer to "Temporary Inundation..." as the "epic" centerpiece. That was the first completed track for the album, and the only one for quite a long time, until I shared it with Jerome of Basses Frequences. He encouraged me to continue with the album that, at one particular point, I had considered abandoning out of frustration. If it wasn't for his obvious love for the piece and his determination in forcing me to finish the album, The Chiasmus would have never came to fruition. (Thanks again, Jerome.)

As far as how the piece came about (sorry I'm ranting), I had just received a $20 Casio keyboard off of eBay and wanted to explore its potential output. A lot of my source material is improvised and then manipulated, arranged and composed more attentively later in the process.

Tracks on „The Chiasmus“ have a strong sense of space. Did at least the rough outlines of the music come into being through live sessions, were you would allow the music to simply flow?
I'm glad you noticed the sense of space. I was trying to be more cautious about that issue because I felt like my previous recordings were cramped and too busy. Mood becomes forced if you don't give it room to expand. I would agree and say I would let the music flow, but it was normal because I was lost in the sounds and vibrations myself and was enjoying every moment.

Morton Feldman composed „For Philip Guston“ as a piece where he no longer wanted „to ask questions“. On many occasions, I am under a similiar impression with „The Chiasmus“ ...
Morton Feldman is an artist I'm not thoroughly familiar with, but I'm not sure I'd agree with referencing that "no questions asked" piece. As far as the recording process went, I think I asked myself a lot of questions about the album. Composition is a vital aspect of my sound art, which causes me to question often. I think I'm still trying to discover how different my work would sound if I wasn't a perfectionist. I'm curious if, when one listens to The Chiasmus, they pose any sort of question in regards to the album...?

How did you finally come to decide that the album was finished?
For months I sat with the album. Not even necessarily listening to it, but just thinking about and "feeling" its effects on me. I still felt way too tense and knew that something wasn't right. It's then that I realized that the ending was all wrong and changed it to what it is now. It was that finishing touch that truly pieced together the cyclical nature that I wanted The Chiasmus to symbolize.

You've said that your music is very emotional for you. In which way?

I'm not sure I ever consciously thought about it on this level, but I think emotionally, it's a re-release of tension that I still have from memories long past. I believe that a big part of who I am now is a direct result of what happened during my childhood. Outside of that huge influence on my work, the people I hold nearest to my heart are the other source of emotions.

I think "We Define Everything in Desperation" is the one specific piece that has had me rediscovering personal meanings that I may have forgotten or began taking for granted...

You've said that „listening to music is more rewarding than talking about it“. Would you say, then, that the pleasure is more in the making it than in the pleasure of having done it?
Hah. Hmm... I'm not sure what I enjoy more. Making sound art is a very necessary thing that I need to do to keep my mind balanced; the process that I go through is vital to my well-being. Reversely, when I rediscover the finished piece of art that The Chiasmus represents, even now, it is an absolute reward.

By Tobias Fischer

Astilbe Rubra (Small Doses) 2007
Dull In Color (200mg) 2007
A Stillness Rarely Seen (Small Doses) 2008
Everyone Is Someone's (Splatter Archive) 2008
Iomcin (Faraday's Discs) 2008
Mi Otra Mitad (Basses Frequences) 2008
Sundries (Test Tube) 2008
To The Moon And Back Again (Ruralfaune) 2008
The Chiasmus (Basses Frequences/Sentient Recognition Archive) 2009

Nicholas Szczepanik

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