Jung An Tagen: ‘My main approach is still psychedelic’
Through the use of synthesis and sampling techniques, Jung An Tagen builds aleatoric arrays, repetitive figures & polyrhythmic moirés that speak equally to the body and to the mind. The grammar of this music is confounding, the language itself immediate, oscillating between modern composition and ritualistic techno, immersion and repulsion. In 2016, the Viennese artist found a local home at Editions Mego, a label with more than 20 years of expertise in this territory. In the past, Stefan Juster appeared with different monikers on labels such as Not Not Fun, Blackest Rainbow, Orange Milk or his own imprints, and worked on artworks for different artists e.g. Kevin Drumm, and as an experimental video artist.
Even though you are now releasing on Editions Mego, and the music you have been making in the last few years follows the lineage of computer/experimental music such as Florian Hecker, etc, you were previously associated with Not Not Fun, the iconic Californian label which was one of the flagships of DIY, lo-fi underground. Can you talk about this era and your association with the imprint (NNF)?
Because in Europe techno was highly popular in the 90s, noise was more an electronic phenomenon, and very sophisticated and computer-based by the mid-2000s. Around this time in the US, a scene formed which, as you said, came from a more DIY and also a more psychedelic background. Labels like Not Not Fun, Heavy Tapes, New Age Tapes, early Woodsist or Night People represented aesthetically a complete shake up of every ritual I knew, so I was very drawn to it. Also, nobody knew them so it seemed very conspiratorial. In the beginning everybody just used Casios, delay pedals, voice, drums etc. and made drone. Later it branched out into a more synth approach with, for example, Oneohtrix Point Never, more hypnagogic/vapor with James Ferraro, or some people even formed bands again, e.g. Religious Knives. 10 years of this passed and everybody matured in their own way. Around that time I also felt that I needed to explore new ground, and that was the birth of Jung An Tagen. NNF is still a really good label, they even did a techno/house sublabel with 100% Silk, which was very funny for me personally because it closed the circle of my history.
So, where would you place your new album for Editions Mego which, compared to the previous one, centers on rhythm?
By featuring a lot of artists the previous album also had a big social aspect. This time I wanted to be very coherent. Everything is spawned by a 16:17 polyrhythm, plus I used a kick drum.
At some point you also replaced analogue gear with software. What importance does this have for your work in general?
When I used hardware/instruments the approach to music was realtime. But after a while I realised that I’m really not a good musician in the traditional sense. It’s more fun for me to think about sounds, create them, compose with them and then think about their use in a track or in a live setting. I love to think about time and structure, things that happen when I take my hands off the machines.
As an electronic music artist you have to be a composer, musician, producer and an instrument maker at the same time… which can be quite a struggle. If you are more a musician, as, for example, the great Charles Cohen was, then you need your very own specific instrument that you know how to play. But a computer is way more helpful most of the time for what I do. Making complex sequences or synth patches is a breeze compared to hardware and it’s obviously way cheaper. I also like the thought of escaping the current hardware fetishism that’s going on with modular synths. When I play live I still don’t look at the screen though. I still think that the machine we all check our emails and Facebook on shouldn’t be too centered in a live ritual.
Can you talk about this “ritual” in terms of your live performance?
For the moment I have a very clear setup: I play in front of the speakers, because I need to hear exactly what the audience hears. Working with monitors is nonsense. This way I usually form a triangle with the speakers. With this gesture I introduce them as my instrument, at least that’s how I see it. With the audience facing me we form a closed circle together. When it’s very dark and we are all connected by the same frequencies I can achieve the best results.
You established the mysterious Virtual Vienna Institute. Can you say something about it?
At some point I used a ridiculous amount of monikers. I was working in a kitchen where we served a lot of academics, like Anton Zeilinger from the Faculty of Physics. I got this funny picture in my head that all my monikers worked in an institute, and used it from that time on as a vessel for all my work. I use it less and less though.
You work has become increasingly cerebral. Can you talk about the evolution of your sonic aesthetic?
Nowadays I look for very specific qualities in sound and structure. It often lies in the balance between simplicity and complexity, harmony/disharmony, etc. My main approach is still psychedelic, so ideally the sounds should have a direct effect on your body but also give your thoughts certain directions. For example, a pure sine wave can be very powerful in a live context but also makes a very fragile, glassy impression on a record. Or in terms of structure, I love polyrhythms that still have a very simple repetitive structure in them. It serves the same purpose, like Arabic arabesques. The sounds themselves become more clean to emphasize their specific qualities; meanwhile, the arrangements become more structuralist.
Can you talk about some of your inspirations – musical and non-musical?
Architecture is maybe the biggest. It’s very unspecific and subtle but I’m very moved by certain forms and proportions. I also dream about them a lot. I watch all kinds of sports and think about their movements and aesthetics. Classical experimental film. I work all day and when I’ve done enough I go for a walk, buy some ingredients and cook. I know that sounds corny but it’s actually impossible not to draw lines from there.
You’ve recently premièred a new AV performance at the Hyperreality Festival in Vienna. Can you talk about it?
I’m actually quite critical of visuals, because they are so powerful. When it’s not done right the performance can suffer quite dramatically. While I was working on the album I also simultaneously made the video for one track with the help of JeongHo Park and Scott Sinclair. I was very happy with the the result, and when I showed it one day to Marlene Engel, the curator of the Hyperreality festival, she encouraged me to work with this material on an AV performance. I’m very happy that it turned out quite OK and I’d love to work more in this field in the future.
By Lucia Udvardyova
Photo: Milicia Balubdzic