Interview: Ran Slavin



1. Hi, Ran! Please tell us about your new album. What’s the name of it? What is the contents?

Good evening, hello!

It's called Digital Junkies in Strange Times. It's a 4-track album. 59 minutes in total. Track durations are quite different. They last from 90 seconds to 49 minutes. It's my eighth release on the label Crónica with which I’ve been working from some time now.

        2. What is the difference from the previous releases? Is there something new you didn’t do before?

Yeah, because it was a live improvisation and I was in a certain mood this release is gonna be much more beat-orientated. Relatively higher bmp then the usual BPM I work at, but it's still kind of texture driven. Very much so. Technoish to some extent but very hissy and featuring some R'n'B acappella vocals by Songdreamer, snached off Youtube and refit to totally different environments.

        3. There are a lot of guitars and ethnic instruments in your works. Do you play yourself or just want to combine them with electronic?

Yes, I started as a guitarist. This was my main instrument. Back in a days I used to play in groups and bands. Guitar in various outfits. I know the instrument quite well. When there is a guitar part needed I play it myself and sample-chop it later. In regards to the other instruments I sometimes invite different musicians over to record and then I use this material as a sample material or if I specifically need something I don’t have of course I just sample it from wherever. On my releases it’s all been I think so far almost sampled recordings of which I actually recorded. 

        4. Listening to your albums The Wayward Transmissions and Bittersweet Melodies issued on the Cronica label one can see that you achieved all of those what once you called «oriental spiritual music» or «oriental glitch». 
Is there some untouched territories you would like to get into? To get into such styles like: jazz, rock, dub and change the structure?

I'm continually checking stuff out. New music. Without ruling anything out, almost. On a daily basis I’m listening to a 
very wide variety of music. I love a lot of stuff. I love jazz and ambient and I really like various parts of heavier stuff, pop and stuff like metal and drum and bass or future bass and all the other wonderful new terms for the new music out there. I'm not really limiting myself. Music should be about freedom of expression and experimentation. 

        5. How did you start your collaboration with Crónica? Why did you decide to work with them?
It was actually by coincidence. My friend Sebastian Meissner known for his project Random_Inc  (he is a friend back from Mille Plateaux label) introduced me to the label quite some many years ago. When they were just starting out he was saying: «I got these friends opening a new label in Portugal why don’t you send them some tracks and see – they might like your stuff». We’ve got a solid relationship going on until today. So, first release I had with Sebastian over there – we did some mutual tracks together which came out in a compilation and then I just continued. 

This whole thing has been really random. I’m really not the person to send demos. I’m lazy. I do a lot of stuff but I’m still lazy in sense of looking for labels for my projects. 
I’m not limited to Crónica of course – we don’t have one-sided contract or anything like that – I release music on other labels too. But Cronica have been home to 8 LP studio albums so far. Cronica started with the printed CD’s. 

6. What is the main difference between sound design and music? Does such division exist? How do you approach to this question?

In my form of music making it doesn’t exist. I don’t make any division between the two.  I like listening to soundtracks, to movie soundtracks it’s the same way to listen to music. I don’t expect any special structure from a soundtrack, from a recorded material or recorded session to actually behave as what you might call music. 

I can find music in many forms. I think music forms and boundaries are continuously expanding and diversifing - much more than ever.

7. So what do you think about noise – is this a paramount of musical evolution or it this just one of the forms?

It depends on which noise you talking about. There is annoying noise. My patience for noise music is short.  I think the question is what you do with noise – how you design it, how you approach it, because noise just as noise I will turn it off quite soon if it’s annoying and if I don’t find musicality or purposefulness in it. I don’t go for it. 

It’s source material to work with. It’s all up to what the sound designer actually does with it.

        8. When did you get to an idea of combining video and audio? When did you realize that you want to do exactly that?

I started working with video in the early 90’s when it was just you might say making it’s entrance into consciousness. When I was in art school in the late 80’s  there was not even digital video and no internet yet and if you wanted to work with video you would work with magnetic tapes. In the beginning I experimented with VJing in clubs  with two VHS machines and a Panasonic MX50 mixer. It was thrilling to overlay and mix stuff live.  It was like a fresh art channel. It was the first kind of combination of visuals and sound for me live. Improvisation of visuals live. 

You didn’t have that before, so it was a new thing and I was constantly exploring it. I started to combine that, and later on, after  affordable computers arrived I started looking into various DIY tactics of advanced live video and patching my own stuff with Max/MSP and JITTER, exploring a concept of excessive data randomization and using video material as raw source for sound automation and certain video data triggering generative raw sound from oscilloscopes and the whole challenge of directing and maintaining a potentially hazardous and unstable sonic situation live. 

I was looking for danger in sound and found it. It led to some thrilling moments but also to some awkward live moments (to me, not sure audience was noticing), when I hit  really stupid and meaningless musical/noise grounds and had difficulty snapping out of them, or at times I just didn’t know what the fuck was going on anymore, so you force quit and stick on some sound in the background until you spark the app back up again.

        9. Would you name some of your favorite movies and directors? Are there any authorities who made serious impact or became close to you?

Oh my god! I love many films and directors. Here are some films from recent times:

I love a lot of new cinema from asian directors. There are great films coming from China like 2015’s Black Coal, 
Thin Ice.  I’m working on a new feature length film right now as well.

       10. Once we got your release «Insomniac City» we watched the movie then listened your music on the CD – it was very impressive and looked fantastical. What is the audience’s perception of your music and movie?

Insomniac City went down well. It had a good welcome reception. It had a good run in film festivals, galleries and museums. Insomniac City was an art project before it turned into the full-length film The Insomniac City Cycles

It had 3 generations, it was an ongoing  project for  4-5 years.  I started a 28-minute  film which was a video installation at the the Israeli Pavilion of The Venice Biennale Architecture in 2004. I declared it an open ended digital project which I want to continue, and continued exhibiting it as it involved and changed form and length. 

Within this next year I was shooting again and re-editing the film and exhibiting it in a new form which was a 40-minute piece which you show on Mille Plateaux release. 

Later on in the next 2 years I continued shooting in Shanghai in China and re-edited the film into a narrative  mode with actors and script. The process of Insomniac was very interesting to me, to acknowledged how the city fluctuated from main protagonist to the background of the protagonist. It was 70-minute film which then continued to be exhibited and shown in film festivals and cinema theaters as well.  

        11. Have your artistic life been changed after issuing this release on Mille Plateaux? Do you have any invitations?

Mille Plateaux was a really long time ago. For me it’s like ages ago already. A lot of things have changed since then. Mille Plateaux after Insomniac City only released one more LP and unfortunately shut down. It was almost the last release they had, but it was a very good release for me. It was of good momentum.
I wasn't into too much speaking terms with the label. We just had official correspondence in regards to the release. It wasn’t like in Cronica. I didn’t have much  personal conversation with Achim Szepanski back in a day, and when I did, it was a bit hard to understand what he was saying. But Im very grateful for him taking on this project, it was fun. I heard they had some financial difficulties later on which is the usual story when things shut down. 

There was all kind of rumors and you could know what was real anymore. I think the main issue was financial difficulties and the label continued switching from hands. Some other people took the name there was a whole kind of legal thing. Who owns the name Mille Plateaux? and etc. Really weird things happened which I didn’t know what was going anymore because in that time I was really out of the loop.

        12. Your life performances are unpredictable? What you would like to show and introduce to the audience?

I think they are unpredictable because they are unpredictable for me as well. 
Quite from the beginning I was thinking about the meaning of what a live performance is in a deep sense, on a personal level. What does it really mean to do/transmit/perform something live? I started thinking about this whole process of rehearsing, when you are with the band you are rehearsing songs which you then bring to stage and perform live. In a certain sense it is not a real live transmission,  it is not a dangerous live transmission because it is rehearsed material. I built myself a platform which is completely open to disaster, a really unstable platform which is improvised video and the video generates numbers that generate sound and you never know which sound will be emitted because the video is random itself.  
I took on myself to try to control this whole unpredictable system in a live situation.

It’s unpredictable in its core and this is the starting point of a live sound video design situation.
I come to the location and everything is site specific. From how I position the screens, how I position myself. I used to prefer not to perform in standard venues when you have a stage and etc. Expand it into something between art and music. To give an example: I made a performance in the theater where I reversed everything. There was a very big stage like 10x10 meters and in front of it was like a amphitheater and just seats for people to come watch the theater. I positioned 22 see-through-screens, like a forest of screens on the stage itself and that’s where I was screening from the amphitheater unto this,  So it’s kind of a reversal. All the performance was on stage but the audience were of course invited to walk between these screens and interact in close. It was 3-4 years ago.

And there was one after that when I was making a live thing  for a new CD called Showing Light (out on False Ind. label). I made the show in the very small store which is also a small theater here, in Tel-Aviv it’s called The Store. 
I positioned a rubber faced human-looking doll with a suite, hat that sat right in front of a laptop in the small table and chair right in front of an audience. So the audience were seeing this doll believing for a while that it’s a real performer.

It was surrounded by see-through screens and I was projecting on these screens and on the doll but controlling everything from backstage. In the end the doll collapsed and fell apart.

        13.You visit Europe periodically. Tell us please what is going on right there with audio-visual art? Is this all going up or down? What is this situation different from Tel-Aviv?

Wow! I’m not the right one to answer this question because I have been out of this loop for quite a while now. 
All the stuff we’ve been talking about were like a few years ago. In the last few years Ive been concentrating not on live shows but on cinema. I haven’t being doing audiovisual festivals as of recently so I really couldn’t say what is really going in Europe. I’ve been doing occasional shows here in Tel-Aviv specifically in my solo show at TheHerzliya Museum of Art with my friend and artist Uri Katzenstein.

14. Is there any composer or contemporary artist you’re really interested?

I'm interested in many composers. 
My interest is constantly shifting from contemporary to old masters. Right know I’m interested in rock-steady of early 70’s and then coming back to classical and to some trap music, so I completely zigzagging all the time. I’m just fascinated by lots of good stuff which is out there. 
Its an endless exploration. Stuff from way back. All the time I’m uncovering jems just using Spotify where it’s really comfortable to see common music very quickly and efitiantly.  Music is always on in the studio or office. 

Actually I discovered an interesting composer for tracks in my film, Jani Rantanen. I found his music really great and I invited him to submit some music to my film –  some beautiful tracks and also great remixes of Zurab Chkhartishvili the owner of Sinoptik Music label.

        15.  Let’s talk about your last video works – it looks like quiet deep and serious message. Would you tell us about that? What is the meaning of that? Do you spend a lot of energy, strengths and time to make all that?

Yes, of course. That’s what I do. I make videos most of the time and of course sound design. In the last 7 years I’m working on a new film - this has been a very deep process from script writing to production, editing to post-production. I’m right now at post-production. I’m not gonna say much about it, but it’s a film thats gonna be dealing with dreams and it happens between Tokyo and Tel Aviv. And regarding  other videos works each piece has a different meaning and a different constellation.

For example World5 which was my first solo museum show, last year. It was only built from 3D video. There wasn’t any video shot which was a big change in my space of things because I wasn’t recording anything but actually synthetically manufacturing it. 

This whole exhibition talked about a new virtual world. World5 as in regards to the 1th, 2nd and 3rd world. Categorization of nations in social sense, political sense etc.  

The 5th world being a completely virtual realm of consciousness.

You have this categorization of worlds of societies. The 4th is kinda of an esoteric term usually related to a small groups outside of society. World5 has been termed the virtual world.  

        16. As far as we see the installation rewild the contents of each piece or object around us and shows its hidden meaning. Would you give us some example how do you create your installation from zero level?

Well, you can start with the space itself which might transmit a motive or action. 
The actual physicality of the space. The actual installation might start with a video which Ialready have in hand and then you only need to adapt it. It’s one of the two. Most films  start with the video and video content.

        17.  What else are you interested except music and video? Is there life around you? Photo, painting, books, religion, kabbalah?

No, not religion. Mostly in cinema. I’ve been evolving only around cinema lately with this film which took most of my time.

Of course meditation and yoga. I’ve been practicing in last 16 years which is good physical and mental process. It’s like a good maintenance for the body and soul which is very much needed as the years goes by for computer working people.                                    

The last book I read which was really great was 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. It’s a very long book.  A huge novel. Then I also discovered another interesting less known author called Isaac Adamson. This is actually all part of my research on Japanese culture for my next film.  

18.  What did you want to say to the people with your music? What would you like them to pay attention to?

A lot of my music has to do with cities with urban culture, the settings of our surroundings. As people this is where we live right now - this is our habitat.

I don’t want to say anything with my music that I’m not already saying with my music. That’s the nice thing about music – you’re not saying anything, you’re not describing anything specifically (unless you have spoken words of course), because you describing or transmitting a much more abstract experience which can be understood in many different ways and waves. The music is kind of a wave, It’s a kind of abstract story, It’s like a film without any visuals. Each track conveys a different story. My instagram account is called «celu-digital one frame stories». I think in each frame is kinda of conveying a specific story in time, so I think that’s what the tracks are – they are not about anything specific, anything current or political, they are transmitting a kind of mood, a juxtaposition, a timeframe of events and mini clusters, small turn mills and hurricanes that splatter through your ears into your brain and into the world. They form a horizon, a bleach point, a tandem, a small miracle. They freeze time while in motion, they are invisible.  I think that music has to do a lot with the magic and imagination. It’s fuel for parallel worlds. 

     Questions: Krib 
     Photos (#1-4) by David Lev Ari