Emcsi talks about the relationship between listening and making music, about disassembled and assembled recordings, and why she ignores usual dramaturgy.
Emcsi’s music is richly layered, moving and personal. She constructs her songs from sound events with a distinct character (though not a clear ‘real’ origin), avoiding the usual dramaturgical solutions. Besides her debut album Janus, her music can be heard on a number of compilations. The interview was conducted in the framework of the UH Fest and Shape+ residency program, where she worked with The Stanley Maneuver and Tunisian Rehab Hazgui over several days, the result of which was presented at the Budapest Jazz Club on 1 April.
There is a narrative quality to your music, we hear not just sounds, but events. At the same time, I wouldn’t say that the songs tell a story, they are more open than that.
I think of my music as working through emotions, releasing my tensions; drawing on my own experiences, I look for transitions in which they can be released. Obviously, there’s a narrative in it, because in a way I’m thinking in terms of sound events and soundscapes, but not necessarily from a literary approach.
How do you construct the dramaturgy of a song, do you have a kind of a plan?
I prefer to play and improvise; my album and other released tracks are improvisations recorded in real time. I basically work from my recorded sounds, putting them together into smaller sound events that change in relation to each other. I play with them until I find a shape, a transition, a movable soundscape or a playable sound event that appeals to me. Then I work with these and slowly the story builds up. I formulate a thought or an idea beforehand, rather than a structure; it takes shape as I go. And then I arrive at the point when I just feel like, ‘OK, now it’s good’.
Many people who work with similar sounds use very clear structures: building tensions, climaxes, releases. You don’t have those things. Do you deliberately avoid them?
Yes, because I think of everything as a sound event, a thing that comes from somewhere and goes somewhere, that happens in infinity. Just because a particular track or concert ends that doesn’t mean the sound event itself has to end, and just because it appears somewhere doesn’t mean it started there, but these are fragments extracted from infinity. Just as everyday events are not always filled with climaxes and exalted endings. In this respect, I basically think in soundscapes, even though I know that my songs are more musical than that, and I don’t use the recorded sounds in their original form. I think in sequences; it’s actually difficult for me to edit a song in a classical way (laughs). Improvisation is closer to me than planned structures. I would get bored if I always had to fulfill predetermined forms, repeating them from occasion to occasion. Obviously, it’s a matter of attitude and practice; for me it’s more comfortable this way.
In many of your sounds you can sense that something real might have been the starting point, but most of the time it’s not clear what it was; you might suspect that it was something like drops of water…
The sounds I record and listen back to are never actually heard in their original form. Rather, they inspire my mood, they inspire my thoughts. I usually break them down completely, into bits and pieces that I might as well synthesize with all that effort, and then I start to reassemble them, to put them together in smaller contexts. These in turn relate to the original experiences I have had while recording, or what I notice about how sound events happen in life, what their connections are. So it’s a kind of back-and-forth game: I take it apart, put it back together, and that’s how it comes together.
You also have a show https://lahmacun.hu/shows/soundscape-diaries-emcsivel on Lahmacun community radio where you have raw field recordings.
I started doing that to get myself to record every week; to train myself a little bit to that regularity where there’s always a time when I have nothing to do but sit down and just listen. I really enjoy observing the sounds and images around us, so it’s good to create occasions for that. Then I tend to work from those sounds. It’s good to listen to these sound events, to take time to listen to them. It’s also interesting that when I listen back to the recordings, I always hear something different; it’s instructive to listen consciously to that. Anyway, the show has been parked for a few months now, but I’m going to start again in the summer.
What came first for you, listening or making music?
Absolutely listening. I started playing music, or any form of music at all, three years ago, at the university. I had this focus that I really like to observe and listen, and I’m also a big music consumer; the experiences I get through these add a lot to my life. I was like, I can’t rely on other people to give those to me (laughs). I had to find a way to create those experiences for myself. For a while, I was in a dilemma about whether to do photography or sound, but that was soon decided when I looked around the education system and found the electronic music media arts course https://www.facebook.com/pte.emma/ at the University of Pécs. I first got involved with making music three years ago, when I was preparing for the admissions process.
How much time did search for the forms you shape your sound recordings into?
My knowledge and my tools determined the way I could work with sounds. I had to learn how to record in good quality; and then how to use that in a way that was good to listen to. At first I was thinking in terms of collages, soundscapes; then I learned different approaches in terms of technical knowledge and also in attitude. It all evolved and came together organically. But I had to realize that I was interested in basically the same soundscapes; no matter if the sounds are synthesized or recorded, collaged, the way the whole picture comes together is very similar. It’s very exciting to me, the number of ways you can convey the same thing.
You have released tracks on compilations that were not exclusively for an audience that already follows experimental music (Electronic Beats: Selector XPERI22, https://soundcloud.com/selected-sounds/sets/xperi22 Free Sequence Records: Transcendent Waves Vol.1). https://freesequence.bandcamp.com/album/transcendent-waves-vol-1 Have you received any feedback, let’s say from outsiders, for whom your approach was more unusual?
I don’t know exactly what it means to be outside or inside; I don’t think what I do is clearly definable or pigeonholed. It’s a bit all over the place, it fits in more than one place… People sometimes try to define it as ambient, but it’s such a broad term and so many different kinds are labeled that so I shy away from it; they say it’s experimental, but it’s too structured for that… I don’t get any feedback beyond some people writing me to say they liked it. It’s nice to get some feedback at all, to be approached to do something for a compilation, to be published, to be listened to. I don’t even know how, but the Electronic Beats song on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taUsmmCGBiU got 23,000 views, I have no idea how that happened…
What kind of collaborations have you been involved in before, for example at university, and what was the Shape+ residency like compared to those?
It’s a relatively common, established thing at university, but otherwise I haven’t participated in many collaborations. The Shape+ residency wasn’t really a collaborative improvisation, it was more of a collaborative workflow that we finetuned until everyone was somewhat satisfied. For me, it’s very exciting to work with other people because it’s a way of finding out what I can show of myself, how I can respond to others and what I can take from that. It’s also very exciting on a human level to see how three strangers can understand each other and find common ground. It can be a bigger task than just how each one operates with which sounds. I hope there will be more of such residencies for me to be involved in because I’ve learned a lot from it. It gave me a great sense of security to be able to deal with sounds that had already passed through the filter of the others, and then I could listen to each other while making music. Alone I don’t have that, usually it’s just me and my little voices.
By Andras Ronai, originally appeared on mmn-mag.hu