„I always have a concept before I start making music.“ PW-Magazine met with ZAVOLOKA to discuss her compositional approach, the riots in Ukraine and working with Aphex Twin.
ZAVOLOKA is a Ukrainian experimental electronic sound artist based in Vienna. In her music she explores digital and analogue sound synthesis and combines it with Ukrainian ancient folk songs and traditional instruments.
ZAVOLOKA also works as visual supervisor and main designer at the brightest sight of the darkest sound – Ukrainian label KVITNU. Representing various international artists, KVITNU recently celebrated their 10-year anniversary with the release of ZAVOLOKA’s new record Transmutatsia.
At the moment ZAVOLOKA is studying Art and Digital Media under Constanze Ruhm at the Academy of fine Arts in Vienna, where PW-Magazine met with her to discuss current and past projects.
What’s it like for you to study at the Academy?
I love it because I’m not being constrained to one specific medium or ideology. I studied Graphic Design in Ukraine but everything there was very conservative and academic. Here at the Academy you have the freedom to do whatever you want, which is great for my development as an artist.
Was the limited artistic freedom a reason for you to leave Ukraine?
Yeah, kind of. With KVITNU, we put a lot of festivals together. We invited really big acts from diverse genres including experimental electronic music and techno. The people in Ukraine really liked it and we had quite a big audience. But at some point it just wasn’t interesting for us anymore. We had pushed all the limits and felt like we had to move away to broaden our horizons. This wasn’t an easy choice to make. It’s very strange to move away from a country you feel so patriotic about and where you have such a good reputation regarding your work. But when you’re an artist you have to get out of your comfort zone to be able to evolve.
So how did coming to Vienna affect your work so far?
I don’t know if it’s because of Vienna in particular or just because I moved to another place but it’s for sure been transformational. Suddenly I’m involved in a completely new environment. Vienna is a very comfortable city and I really enjoy the balance between civilization and nature – Kyiv is rougher than that.
Back in 2014 you did a very powerful project during the Ukrainian revolution.
When Dmytro (Kotra, founder and owner of KVITNU) and me started the project, the revolution had already been going on for two months. We were standing on the Independence Square in Kyiv to protest and started thinking about what we could do as artists to address the situation.
The peaceful protests turned into something else, when the police started beating and even shooting the protestors. From then on, people began using self-made Molotov cocktails, fireworks and basically everything they could think of in order to protect themselves. During all this violence people started picking up things to create rhythms that sounded like war drums. It was kind of a warning system. When the police was close, the drums went faster as a sign of danger and anger. When nothing happened, they turned quiet. It was like a constant symphony of strange sounds going on. When you stood right in the middle of the square, it was all around you, which was really beautiful. So I started to record this madness with my little Zoom recorder and Dmytro and I turned it into an audiovisual piece.
What are you currently working on?
I started a series of albums, each one dedicated to one of the elements – air, water, earth and fire. The anniversary release ‚Transmutatsia‘ represents fire, and my upcoming album ‚Syngonia‘ stands for the earth. Creating the latter was really special for me because it took around two years to write the material. It contains a lot of complex structures, and I really wanted to find a specific sound for it. For ‚Transmutatsia‘ I did it the exact opposite way. I worked very fast to keep the spontaneity and energy that I relate to fire. Confronting myself with these different elements obviously led to diverse working methods and approaches for each one of them.
What does your work process regarding your pieces usually look like?
I always have a concept before I start making music. You probably can’t tell while listening to the finished product, but this approach is very important to me. After I’ve built the concept I pick out one of my synths and just start improvising to collect a lot of musical material. In terms of technical stuff, I use various types of soft- and hardware instead of limiting myself to one thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s analogue or digital, it just has to feel right. Additionally I do some field recordings, take voice samples or anything I can imagine to suit the specific project. Then I go to the studio and listen to all these little pieces. I really enjoy this part because there’s a lot of energy going on in this process of meditative listening and sound experimenting. In the end, I try to build something coherent out of all this material.
There’s one last thing we have to ask you: how did you get to play for Aphex Twin?
Around 5 years ago he found me on the Internet and wrote me an e-mail saying he really liked my music. I obviously wrote back, since he’s the reason I started making music in the first place. His album ‚I care because you do‘ was the first experimental record I ever heard and it’s still my favourite one to this day.
Following this initial e-mail, we started a conversation about music and life in general. Aphex Twin is always the first person to buy my record. I always tell him that I want to give it to him as a gift but he keeps on refusing. One day he asked me to warm up two of his shows in Manchester and Copenhagen and that’s how it all came together. He’s a really nice person, really kind. A genius.
Text by Amar Priganica & Marie-Claire Gagnon
Photography by Laura Schaeffer