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Interview with Preslav Literary School

img  Tobias Fischer

Tape loops only, how come?
Part of me would love to jump on the hypnagogic pop bandwagon and say, oh it's something to do with the eighties and me growing up with tapes, but I think it's too easy, because actually I have more cds than tapes. There is an over-romanticization surrounding it. For me, it came from purely having no idea how to make music.
I first made this drone piece where I basically copied a Jim O'Rourke album [Disengage]. I was just like, okay I want to make this, and then I had no way of playing it back so I recorded the individual tracks on some dictaphones I had, then altered the speed and made my first piece. Somebody asked me to play at a concert and at that time I was doing a lot of poetry, just spoken word, and I was getting really bored of it and I thought, how can I read poetry and introduce some sounds at the same time? The only way of doing it was to hold up a dictaphone just playing the piece in the background and start manipulating the dictaphone as I was reading. Then I realized I was a really bad poet - I actually just gave up with the poetry - and thought maybe I could just play with the sounds. So I started recording my voice onto the tapes and gradually my spoken words died out of the picture, slowly disappearing, and the spoken words of other people came in. 
In the end, it was partly a response to getting disappointed at how bad I was at poetry and partly necessity. I couldn't afford a laptop, I couldn't play guitar and I had no idea about Kaoss pads or samplers. So it was the only way. I only realized it was 'music' when I came to Berlin - there was a scene. When I played my first gig, I was asked to play four or five shows immediately after. Tapes also became very influential at the same time. During my first two months I played maybe ten shows.

Before that, I was aiming at the wrong crowd completely, a slightly academic crowd. I used to do my performances with poetry in universities, it was like a lecture, with sounds and speaking, somewhere between an essay and a presentation, which is an interesting format but I should've been doing it in other places, like in a basement... 

In Echolalia, various sampled loops assemble like a Joseph Cornell box. Was the narration somehow controlled, or is it more like a Dada collage?
This was definitely more collage-based. We spent two days together with eleven other people that didn't know each other. Before this we collected audio material and people sent me mixtapes with found sounds and we went through the tapes together as a group and made real tape loops out of them. Then we split into small groups to practice, listening to the sounds and, as it developed, trying to add new sounds. There was no notation, I was leading the group as a conductor in a certain way but there was a lot that happened by chance or accident. It worked out a lot more scattered and cut-up than my own practice so it's definitely more a Dada collage than a structured composition.
We had six mixers, two people on each sharing half the channels, maybe with 4 or 5 tape players each, so we got to a point where at least twenty tapes played simultaneously. We recorded each line separately from each mixer in stereo. So I ended up, once we'd finished the live recording, with 12 or 16 hour-long tracks from each channel. I sat down and listened to it and it sounded like a total mess. I was about to do the editing myself, even there was so much live material, but in the end I gave it to a dubstep producer friend of mine [ndlr: Chris Donaghue aka Lord Cry Cry], who did an amazing job. He edited, adjusting the level of each channel, without cropping anything. The process took us about three weeks, listening to every second of the recording, equalizing. Hopefully, I presented a clear vision and knew which sounds I liked. When we were finished, we sent it over to the people who took part in the live performances and, luckily, everybody loved it.

Something about Echolalia that makes it peculiar is the tempo. Compared to many ambient works, the loops link quickly, giving a sense of steady mobility.
In Fractals for instance is a lot more drone-out and focused because it uses one or two loops at any time. I just recorded it on tape, slowed it down and built layers. Necessarily, that landscape is a lot more gradual. Echolalia is different, partly because of the source material - a lot of it was pop music or classical music. Most of the loops we made were Chandler loops which are seven seconds long and sometimes there is a drop which gives some rhythm. The energy in the session is really good and live it worked really well because you had eleven people playing, mixing and swapping tapes. I'd like to do it again live although it's difficult, expensive and time-consuming. But I could do it again with a whole new group here in Berlin, that would be interesting.

Listening to Echolalia is almost like reading a book with an extremely wide range of references. To what extent do you compare music with language?
I studied literature at university and it really is my background. The name Preslav Literary School arrived when I was writing a novel. I am really influenced by literature on so many levels when recording material. Sometimes I actively try to copy the structure of a book, like In Fractals, which is inspired by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. That was a deliberate and conscious attempt, though I haven't told anybody about that specifically because I don't want it to come across as a concept album - it's just another way of building structures.
Reading a book at the same time as making music ... there's a whole world of unconscious influence that comes out through that too. I think literature is more important to my work as an inspiration for ideas and structure than listening to other music. Having said that, I don't just want to be the guy who makes music out of books.

You're making music, you're writing and for a year now you have been working for Sourcefabric, an organization that “enables quality journalism worldwide through open source software and services”. How do you deal with the situation?
Yeah, last year was really nice, it was a big time of convergence for me. I had my writing, the curating and organizational elements (for art festivals) as well as music, and I was really struggling to keep all these things going, I felt I wasn't doing any of them well enough and it was getting me down. But at some point last year, everything seemed to converge. 
I got the job at Sourcefabric, where I'm doing work supporting independent journalism, which creates a lot of my writing energy. (I'm also thinking of open-sourcing a novel I've written and asking people to make continual edits to the book to see where it goes from now because I can't finish it.) Then at the same time my music sort of took off in a small way. I was talking to radio stations about Sourcefabric and open source software and they would ask me to play at the same time. It all started to come together. I have different hats that I wear, but more increasingly it's just becoming one big hat. 

I think that perhaps makes me something different from just an artist, although the term 'artist' becomes somehow less and less valuable. In Berlin you speak to so many 'artists', but the ones I know who are really good are actually more like professional business people, because they spend so much time promoting their work, touring, meeting people, developing networks... it actually goes beyond the definition of an artist. Although Sourcefabric is a non-profit organization, they have some private funding and I'm lucky enough to get paid and I'm really happy to do that. It allows me amazing experiences and opportunities to travel where I get to meet loads of people, and then I can take two or three days a week to work on my music and write. In the end it all overlaps and I prefer doing that more than spending all my time and energy trying to get funding and applying to festivals to make my work sellable. So many musicans are unable to spend any time on their music... that really happens a lot.

By Antoine Richard

Image By Stephen Burch

Antoine Richard maintains the Blog „Happily the Future“ dealing with Experimental and Contemporary Art.



Preslav Literary School Discography:
Autumn Bricolage (Clinical Archives) 2008
Beautiful Was The Time (Elephant and Castles) 2009
Telepathy Shots/Sonuna/ w. Glue Pour (Razzle Dazzle) 2010
Echolalia/ w. Various artists (NO-FI) 2010

Preslav Literary School

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