Synthesizers and sound modulation. A conversation with Kateryna Zavoloka

Dec 11, 2017
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Kateryna Zavoloka is an artist from Ukraine, currently living and working in Wien. She composes experimental music, with sonorities ranging from electro-acoustic sounds to IDM, ambient and even techno. She’s active since 2003, having released albums on labels such as Nexsound or Zeromoon. In 2006 she started her own label, Kvitnu, for which she also produces graphic design. Zavoloka is heavily inspired by Ukrainian traditions, field-recordings and also contemporary sound design technologies, heavily using synthesizers (both hardware and software) in her music.

Do you still use field-recordings on your albums?
Yes, sometimes I use old field recordings, which I made a few years ago, or, for example, just record my voice like some phrases that I read on Syngonia album.

How did you use recordings from the Maidan protests from Kiev before moving to Wien?
During Maidan revolution me and my friends were always there mostly during nights - and we asked ourselves - “what can we do there as artists” . So I just took my small audio-video recorder and start to film everything - at first it was just like anthropological interest, I just wanted to capture the history without any intention to use those sounds.  I only used a small Zoom recorder, as it is not possible to carry big equipment in this situation, if you suddenly need to run.  First two months there was not very big clashes with police, but then in January 2014 the real fighting with the riot police began. Exploding fireworks and Molotov cocktails from protesters and gas grenades from police, water cannons in - 20 degrees, and after this, shotguns… With clashes  with police, protesters started to take huge metal sticks and beat them onto burned buses and any metal surfaces - that sound was very powerful, like a military march and symphony to me - imagine on big square suddenly all sounds silenced and one person screams “Слава Україні! -  “Glory to Ukraine” - and all the people on the square started to sing the Ukrainian national anthem. This symphony was so impressive to me - you hear those sounds all around yourself, like multi-channel powerful freedom music - that was very strong.

And just after the revolution finished I didn’t think to use those field recordings, but when Russia occupied Crimea and started war in the East of Ukraine - I wanted to say something, to make like a prayer, mantra protection for my home country and composed the album called Volya, that can be translated as “Freedom” and “Will” from Ukrainian. There I used those samples, mostly as drums  and combined them with synthesizers.

What are your sources of inspiration?
Everything - books, magic, music, Nature, arts, films.

Could you please describe your studio and live setup? What instruments do you use?
I like to use various sound sources in the studio and usually I don't like so much to talk about technical equipment - it  vanishes some magic and mystery from the process of creation of music. I don't want to know, when musicians write on album covers which synthesizer or instrument or field recording was used for it, unless it was some very rare instrument and it is in the concept or musician wants to pay tribute to engineers.

But mostly I use and like digital hardware synthesizers: wavetable synthesizers: Waldorf Blofeld, Novation Mininova and also Waldorf Streichfett string synth, analogue: Doepfer Dark Energy, Dave Smith Tempest drum machine, various pedals and effect-processors. As for software I like Native Instruments synths and Waves plugins. If to talk about old school synthesizers I must say I have recorded, curtsy of ina-GRM, the Coupigny synthesizer, a matrix synthesizer from 60'ties.

Would you go back to arrhythmic and experimental IDM such as what is to be listened on Plavyna? I really love this record, it's been on repeat in my playlists since like forever..
I try to not look back in time and be present. Music is time, it can never be repeated. I try to experiment with everything and let my music to evolve naturally.

Do you prefer working with hardware or software? What about Ableton Live + MaxForLive devices + midi controllers?
I like both hardware and software synthesizers, I like to record acoustic and natural sounds and try to use any audio sources and not to limit myself with only analogue or just digital. I like physical modelling synthesis too.

Your compositions range from IDM to techno to ambient (or mellow noise, as in your debut, Suspenzia) to pure experimental bliss (as in your collaboration with AGF, Nature never produces the same sound twice). In this eclecticism where do you feel best, where do you feel "at home" ?
Music is like a tree. The skeleton is made by drums and melodies are the leaves. For me the most natural thing is when my music starts, for example, with a complicated industrial sound design, then airy melodies follows, then strong beats, and after all these the sound is changing into something completely different.

How was working with the legendary Aphex Twin? Will we see a future song collaboration?
He is a genius and a very kind person, it was so great to have a few shows together with him - he invited me to support his rave shows. About future collaboration - can not say anything for now.

Who are the musicians you'd like to work with ?
For now I try to have less collaborative projects. I am working at a future duo project called Cluster Lizard. It is me and Dmytro Fedorenko (Kotra), label manager of Kvitnu label. We call our music Sci-Fi techno. Cluster Lizard is about galaxies, space, esoteric, alchemy, old sci-fi movies, cyberpunk. It has a very cinematographic sound, like a soundtrack for a sci-fi movie that was never shown. Me and Dmytro are huge fans of Sci-Fi books and films since childhood. Cluster Lizard already has a debut album called “Edge of The Universe” and we are finishing the second album now. For me, Cluster Lizard is the next level of my own art evolution.

What synthesizers do you use and what is your approach in modulating sound? If you were to build your own synthesizer what functions would it have? What about granular synthesis?
As I mentioned - I like physical modelling synthesis, also I love wavetable synthesis. If I would build my synth - it would have both those synthesis for sure, and endless sampler’s possibilities. First of all it would have many knobs, potentiometers and faders and would be super user friendly, so you could compose without menu diving.

What do you understand by "music for sculpture"? What implies to work for a 3D, physical object?
That composer has to be more specific. What do you want to achieve? How do you want the listener to perceive the sound? Maybe the listener needs to feel the vibrations physically?

What's your philosophy in approaching sound? Do you improvise, do you write sketches?
Music is magic and I understand and feel the Universe through it. Yes, I improvise a lot but I also write concepts and ideas before I start to record an album or composition.

Your latest release, Syngonia, is more dance-oriented than your previous albums. What drove you to use elements from techno music? What drum-machines do you use? Do you go to raves?
Yes, I really like what is going now in techno scene. I think in a way it is more experimental and innovative  than some “experimental” music.

What comes next, after Syngonia?
Syngonia will be followed by an album about the Fire element. It is going to be  the last in this series, dedicated to purification by the Four Elements. I am working on it now, it is almost finished.

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