Tekla Mrozowicka: My music has to be a reflection of my emotions, otherwise it would be an empty shell, no matter how technically impeccable
técieu, cétieu, éctieu. Three anagrams, three projects, three different types of electronic music, one person. Who is Tekla Mrozowicka?
You couldn’t have started with an easier question, could you? [laughing] I think that deep down I’m just an artist, but coming to such a conclusion really took me several years. I’m involved in painting and writing, but as far as music is concerned: in the end, all roads led me to it. Once I had stepped over a certain point, I finally opened myself, got rid of any barriers and limitations, and now I can do what I really want. A project under three pseudonyms was a creature of chance. I have really broad musical interests and the first material I have recorded was very experimental, it was released under the técieu moniker. Back then, it had sprung to my mind that I could use three anagrams. Subsequently I thought – if I were to release some ambient stuff, then it shouldn’t be out under the same pseudonym as my experimental stuff, and that’s how it went. Even then I felt that cétieu should be ambient-based, as it’s the easiest one to pronounce, it’s feminine and I would like to use it on a daily basis. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot why musicians tend to hide behind a certain comfort zone of limited genres and to be quite frank – I don’t really get it. A few weeks ago I released via fyh!records a new experimental EP as técieu: drones blended with noise music, with some post-metal elements, and even with something that could be described as harsh noise wall. It is something fundamentally different from what I’m doing on a daily basis. It just happens that I simply love music.
If you would have to introduce your music to someone who has never heard of it, how would you describe it?
Someone told me once that I play ambient as if I played harsh noise and maybe there’s a seed of truth to it. I don’t do loops and I don’t use granular synthesis, in fact I almost don’t use any samples at all. Usually I record everything live (for example an hour-long track in one sitting). Later on, I chisel out the sound very meticulously, sometimes I perform some fine-tuning, adding some field recordings, but the general idea is that the original recording as to flow, I take great care of my music so that its naturalness and sincerity would be preserved. My music has to be a reflection of my emotions, otherwise it would be an empty shell, no matter how technically impeccable. I tend to record very long tracks, I like to become immersed in them and I would like the listener to be allowed to do the same. Put his/her smartphone away, his/her popping up notifications on Facebook, and simply find time for me and for him/herself.
What is your original profession and how did you get in touch with ambient drone music?
I try to separate my artistic life from the professional one, and in everyday’s life I tend to conceal the former. I prefer to have two lives on Google search engine, Tekla is not my real first name. However, there is no reason why I should make a big secret out of it, I am a graduate lawyer and a practicing advocate. I’ve always shown a great deal of interest in music, during my legal apprenticeship I was actively involved in music press – to such an extent, that I sometimes needed to take a day off so that I could finish an issue just in time.
Before I started organizing concerts, I had been arranging lawyers’ balls. I like writing and organizing artistic events, but over the years I realized that being engaged in producing music is the single most important thing to me. The urge to create music had been growing in me, year by year, however I didn’t know how to handle it. I am a bona fide humanist – going through the whole technical side of production has been a real obstacle, almost impossible to overcome. Regarding drone music, the path leading me there has been an arduous one. Up till 2009 I have been listening almost exclusively to jazz music. When I was working on a music magazine LAIF, I had to do my homework regarding electronic music. I’ve been taking small steps that eventually led me to ambient and it’s where I decided to put down my roots and I’m never going to abandon them. Ambient will forever remain my top priority, therefore I consider all the remaining projects of mine to be of secondary importance.
When did you start experimenting with field recordings and ambient sounds?
My experiments bashfully began in 2011 and it all started out with ambient. However, the technical aspects of recording quickly put me off, I didn’t understand a thing from all these programs. I took part in production workshops where I was surrounded by advanced users, so I learned a thing or two by looking at my colleagues’ work, but what I really realized back then, is that I simply have to be really persistent. At that time I was undecided on what kind of music I would really like to do, it all sprang to me out of the blue. On New Year’s Eve 2011/12 I boycotted all the events, put my headphones on and gave a spin to a discography by a French duo Saåad. That night I had a profound experience coming from drone music, which I previously thought that couldn’t exist. Even before I started trying, I immediately felt that I would be really able to perform such music myself.
What kind of instruments and software do you use when creating music?
Basically, I mainly use software and a midi keyboard. For production purposes, I use a couple of programs simultaneously. For the recording I use Ableton, I perform ‘surgery’ in Reaper, mastering in both Adobe Audition and in Ableton, and occasionally some minor stuff in Renoise. I utilize a lot of external VST instruments, additionally I’m starting to experiment with virtual modular synths: ‘Flyermelon’ has been exclusively recorded on such an instrument. As far as hardware is concerned, I sporadically use KAOS PAD or Monotron. Up til now, I had been trying to perform live without the computer’s assistance, utilizing tapes, hardware-based guitar effects, throwing in some mixer manipulation amidst all that.
How does the creative process look like starting with the idea until to a finished track?
It always starts out similarly – I’m looking for ‘sound’. I’m never assuming how everything would pan out in advance – I never know what I may find on the way. I could of course set everything up on the basis of some piano sound or light / dark drone, but I really don’t do it often. I simply fool around with software and experiment with various devices. When I eventually find an appropriate, promising sound, that’s already a halfway to success.
Once that is settled, I test its potential if it goes smoothly, then without any additional thinking I’m inclined to hit the REC button. Sometimes it all comes out in the first sitting, sometimes it takes me ten attempts more. I play ‘live parts’ which then are subjected to a meticulous processing procedure. My ambient stuff is often multilayered, sometimes with 20 renders. I tend to swap tracks between programs, I never end up with a project in a singular piece of software, like Ableton. I try to be creative, I have my own tricks how to achieve nice sounding drones. I am however very open to different opportunities which producing can provide, like various ways of synthesising, I’m keen on constant self-improvement and I have the feeling that it is reflected in my work.
‘Ceiling Stories’ is my first physical release, apart from one track which was previously released on a compilation by Stereoscenic. It’s a diptych released digitally at the turn of last and this year which was supposed to come out in a physical form in April, however I’m still postponing it. It’s really a question of having my head in the right place, so I guess come summer, I’m going to release all my hitherto recorded material in bulk in small circulation, via Barudă Records. I’m also planning to release a polyptych ‘¡trágame tierra!’, that lasts as long as 6 hours, on DVD. It is a recording that I would want to amplify first before releasing it in hardcopies. It has been released in digital in February without any promotion. As far as labels are concerned, I haven’t ever sent my music to anyone. I have one principle: music first, and it is the most important thing, and I’m trying to stick to my guns. BLWBCK happened to contact me first, we knew each other a bit from the internet, apropos my journalistic and promoting endeavours. Guys had been clocking my work and at some point they decided to commission me to make a cassette recording. It is a lovely story, especially given the fact that the Saåad duo inspired me to make drone music in the first place, and as it’s commonly known, this duo is directly connected with BLWBCK label.
Did you get a lot of feedback on ‘Ceiling Stories’? Do you keep track of the reviews?
In Poland I’ve gotten a lot of feedback whereas the foreign one was rather scarce: two nice reviews in A Closer Listen and Santa Sangre Magazine. On the one hand I wasn’t really pushing for foreign exposure, so there is a chance that there might be some more in time. On the other hand, I made a bit more effort on my own soil and here I’ve gotten 100% feedback in the form of interviews, reviews, radio shows. Quite a buzz. I’ve also heard very positive opinions from abroad, however I’ve also heard some which claimed that album is “great” but not so “original”. I am fully satisfied and delighted with this album, I wouldn’t change a thing and from a maker’s standpoint I’m really glad that I managed to stay independent. I record music that comes straight from myself, I am very bent on artistic sincerity. I want it to maintain high level and with solid production, however I don’t care if the market would perceive it as original or just fashionable. I’m going my own way and it also yields results. Diptych ‘Espero que nos vemos pronto / Que porque bailo y porque veo el amanecer’ has been reviewed by Fluid Radio. I have the impression that if I’m going to stay in tune with my conscience and record with its accordance then my work is going to be respected, both by labels and listeners alike. I try neither to succumb to the pressure of releasing my music more frequently nor the pressure coming from reviews. Neither the listener nor the reviewers have to necessarily keep track of all my productions, but at some point they will stumble upon some stuff that they could try out.
‘Flyermelon’ seems to be an exception on the album – it’s more dynamic and less dreamy-droney than the rest, which are the perfect company to daydreaming and solitude. Why did you decide to place it exactly in the middle, somewhat kind of deflecting the atmosphere of the album?
I’m a bit contradictory person. I like to blend genres, over the years I’ve been compiling very eclectic playlists which I then passed on to my friends. They contained mixtures of jazz and ambient, sometimes intertwined with some beat-oriented music or industrial. There has always been something within me that stood against sticking to just one musical convention. Seguing music in such a way has always been conscious in my case. ‘Flyermelon’ seemed like a perfect fit for that particular spot, so I simply put it in there.
You live in Warsaw, Poland and you’re extremely active in the local scene, organizing The Dark Side of Warsaw concert series and editing the WAVE magazine. How’s the ambient music scene in Poland overall? What do you like about it and what would you like to change?
First of all, WAVE is currently dormant and The Dark Side of Warsaw is also waiting for better days. I found the new editor-in-chief for WAVE and we will try to rebuild it this year, however I will try to keep a little apart from it, only coordinating the general look of the magazine.
The ambient scene in Poland is very small – there is only a handful of producers – they really are as rare as hen’s teeth, and I guess I’m the only woman who seriously dabbles in it. There is one new young female producer who has just started recording, I’d really love to meet her, my friend told me about her, but I guess no one has heard of her yet. There are virtually no Polish ambient labels. You could say that there is Etalabel, which has a couple of world-renowned artists in its roster. However, the general experimental scene in Poland is thriving and I would rank it among the European best. Labels such as Zoharum, Sangoplasmo, Monotype, Bocian, Bôłt, Requiem, Mik Musik or Pawlacz Perski are doing a magnificent job and there is no shortage of up and coming, fantastic artists. Over there one can find a wide array of field recordings or more or less ambient-oriented music. This scene is, to a large extent, separated from the local electronic scene and ambient scene as I know it from abroad. Ambient, generally speaking is a ‘laptop guy’ scene, these two environments don’t mesh. I am kind of straddling the borders between the two and I am active in both of these worlds. I don’t like the fact that Polish ambient musicians are largely oversensitive about themselves and not very kind. I would be delighted if there was a scene where mutual support and enjoyment of doing the same thing would be the most essential thing. I highly appreciate any positive forms of contact and I’m really keen on exchanging viewpoints with one another. When I find an open and a kind person then I can talk about the production process and stuff to no end.
Which artists do you inspire the most in your sonic escapades and why?
I am influenced by a variety of genres, I could go on for hours about which artists in particular have the most significant impact on what I’m doing as I feel that all my musical excursions constitute a collective source of inspiration for my approach to music or creating it. From jazz classics in the vein of Keith Jarrett, through David Darling or Mathias Eick, as well as free-jazz scene or improvisers: Mikolaj Trzaska, Franz Hautzinger, then you got Aphex Twin, Autechre or Raster-Noton stuff such as Frank Bretschneider; next you have the IDM stuff: classics such as Brian Grainger or Benn Jordan, and finally Arovane. Speaking of strictly ambient stuff, then it would certainly have to be Celer, Stars of the Lid. I also feel a profound affinity with Jannick Schou and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s music. Moreover, I am tremendously influenced by Russell Haswell and Biosphere. Additionally, I can mention Manuel Göttsching, Richard Chartier, Fennesz, Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd. Not to mention fabulous Machinefabriek, Philip Jeck, Leyland Kirby, Murcof. From modular artists: Keith Fullerton Whitman, from classics: Giacento Scelsi, Gustav Mahler, Brahms, Sergei Prokofiev, other sources of inspiration could be: Yann Tiersen, Jack White, Mike Patton and Bohren und Der Club of Gore. If I have to be frank, my biggest inspiration to create my first recordings was Lubomir Grzelak aka Lutto Lento, a young Polish experimental producer, musician and the owner of a renowned, cassette-only label Sangoplasmo. He inspired me not only with his music but also his artistic stance. The values he stands for, his approach to both music itself and the music industry.
You’ve dedicated the track to Mark Nelson (Pan American), what is the story behind that?
‘Ceiling Stories’ have been something of a development hell for me, as the album has been commissioned by a record label. I was operating under a deadline but for a long time I couldn’t create anything. I’ve been experimenting for a really long time, looking for the defining sound and once I found it, when I had heard those static drones then I felt that this album stands for a continuation of a certain album by Mark Nelson. Ever since I remember, ‘Quiet City’ by Pan American, has always been one of the most important ambient albums to me. ‘Lights on Water’ has a special significance to me. In the first couple sounds of ‘Ceiling Stories’ I heard ‘Lights on Water’ kind of vibe and decided to expand on that direction. I was afraid that someone might accuse me of plagiarism, lack of invention, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to record a sequel to my favourite album. Eventually ‘Ceiling Stories’ have veered away somewhat, and only the first track is in the vein of ‘Quiet City’, and that’s why I named it ‘Ceiling City’ and dedicated it to Pan American. It’s a little tribute of mine to Mark Nelson’s album.
What are your future plans music-wise, and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Right now I’m looking for someone to publish my split-release with Meeting by Chance (half of Skalpel duo from Ninja Tune). I started a new collaboration with Tegh, a young talented producer from Tehran, Iran, already recommended in public by William Basinski and reviewed by Igloo Magazine. I’m also working on two albums: one in the vein of ‘Seven Stars’ by Fennesz and the second one a bit inspired by Tim Hecker, but their final shapes are definitely not set in stone yet, so the final result remains to be seen. I think I will ease the pace of my releases, as I’m continuously setting the bar higher and higher for myself…We’ll see. My standards for myself and my own music are ever growing. I would finally want to publish my different releases via Barudă Records, in addition to releasing a couple of befriended artists myself. I’m dreaming of becoming so independent and setting up my life in such a way that I could establish a serious label. I think that in 10 years time, I will definitely have it. I would love to arrange concerts and even festivals. In 2012 I tried to assemble an ambient festival, and I even had a partially pre-agreed line-up, it was quite stellar, from Wolfgang Voigt and Kreng to Thomas Köner. However, I lacked both time and capacity to make it happen smoothly, but I will certainly give it another chance some day.
MIX by CÉTIEU
A draft of this mix has been prepared as means of preparation to a live performance, so apart from a track by my colleague, De Form, it solely contains my own music. Part of presented tracks hasn’t been previously released, and to those already released I added a lot of new, completely different field recordings to spice things up a bit, since they are rather minimalistic in their original form. I hope that it’s going to be an enjoyable ride.