Amek nl_17: Undantem debut tape
New music and an interview with Valiska & Zenjungle
After a few months of silence, we are back with the debut full-length of Undantem, the newest member of the Amek family. We hope you’re still with us, because we’ll be ending the year with some more Amek action.
Undantem - Alterity
For over a year we’ve observed the growth and transformation of Undantem’s debut full-length Alterity. Written in Sofia between 2020-2021 by Irish-born, Bulgaria-based artist Ronan Considine, this debut album is a lesson in tranquility, patience but also of structure, sense of space, and melody. Alterity allows you to observe, feel, and experience the world it unfolds but maintains a delicate distance, making it harder to senselessly lose yourself in it.
Get Alterity on tape (ltd. to 50) and digital here.
mother spit - extraction 19
The latest addition to our EXPERIENCE tape series of live recordings is "extraction 19" by mother spit. The tape documents two 2019 live performances. As always the duo feels most at home in large, badly resonating rooms, where their defective sound artefacts and industrial debris can uncontrollably unfold and mutate into vast and bleak lo-fi soundscapes.
Find your physical or digital copy here.
Below you can see the video for “Alterity” the title track of Undantem’s debut album. We strongly suggest you subscribe to our YouTube channel for more goodness.
On October 31, with our friends from Kongtingent Records celebrated tape music at TABA record store. Ivan Shentov (Kontingent Records) and Angel Simitvhiev (Amek Collective) made two tape-only mixes. They were recorded and you can watch them here.
If you’ve missed our monthly radio shows on Kanal 103 (Skopje) and Black Rhino Radio you can catch up on all of those at the Amek Mixcloud. The November episode of Comfort Club was quite special with guest mix mix from the Macedonian label Élan Vital. Check it out here.
A shared musical language - An interview with Valiska & Zenjungle
Earlier this month, ambient artists Zenjungle (Phil Gardelis) and Valiska (Krzysztof Sujata) released their second collaborative full-length “Years From Now” via the UK-based label Trouble In Utopia. The album is a majestic atmospheric musical experience, which feels sincere, personal, and heartfelt. However, with Phil being based in Athens, Greece and Krzysztof living in Calgary, Canada, it was another example of how physical distance means nothing when artistic approaches and souls align into a shared creative process. We love the album, so we decided to learn more about what lies underneath its musical layers, and of course, we are now sharing it with you. But first, press play and listen.
First question that comes to mind when we look at your bios and your current locations is how did you two first meet? “Years from Now” is your second collaborative full-length, but have you two even met in person?
Zenjungle: I think it was in the early days of Soundcloud, back then it was a community-based music sharing platform. I believe it was out of mutual respect for each other’s music and artistic approach. I don’t really remember whose idea it was to try and make an album together, but I think it started with us trying one track first and it worked. Then we tried another and so it became an album. Unfortunately we've never met in person. Three years ago when Kris was touring in Europe it came close to happening. It was arranged that we'd play together in Bochum on a Midira records event, but I couldn’t find a ticket around those days so it was cancelled.
Valiska: That's how I remember it and I think many people made long-lasting connections in those early days of Soundcloud. I remember listening to Phil's 2013 release “Circles” and really enjoying it, but I feel we were already chatting by that point. I really wish we could have played that show in Germany, it would have been an amazing experience. And even though we've never met in person, I feel we've talked about it numerous times. I might just end up going to Greece one of these days so we can finally meet haha.
Seven years separate us from your first record together “A Changing Light” (Flaming Pines, 2014). What are your memories about writing and recording that album? How does it differ from what you recorded last year, how different were you as artists and people back then?
Z: Oh man, time flies, I almost don’t believe that it was seven years ago! Only good memories from that first album. I remember that it was super easy to collaborate on “A Changing Light” and thис was carried on to “Years from Now”. Believe it or not, I don’t actually remember having any disagreements on anything! I‘m not sure that we have really changed, of course we both have more experience and maybe our sound has been shaped more over the years and yeah, maybe we are more certain about it – although we do try new things. And speaking for myself, I think I play better saxophone now haha.
V: Honestly, for me the memories of making “A Changing Light” are very similar to my memories of making “Years from Now”. With the first record, everything felt very fluid and free throughout the whole process. Stems and ideas would go back and forth and things just took shape in a very organic way. Like Phil said, nothing felt like a bad idea, we just sort of rolled with whatever the other person would send. Also, I just remember it being so fun working on that release, being excited to hear what Phil would send my way.
I think for this release, we took a slightly different approach in how we started tracks, but I think the approach to finishing tracks was generally the same. Many of these tracks started from old abandoned recordings that we both had lying around, and just sharing it with the other person and seeing what they would do with them. But once we got going, it honestly felt very similar. I think compositionally our approach and intention was different though, and I think that's where the seven years of personal and artistic growth really comes through. I don't know if we explicitly talked about it, but in my mind I didn't want to make just an ambient or drone album, and I think we succeeded in that.
This time around with more video chat options and faster file sharing services, maybe you added new approaches to your collaborative process? How long did it take and what did you try to achieve with this new shared musical experience?
Z: Apart that it’s faster to share files now, I don’t believe that many things have changed. We chat a lot, apart from being involved in the collaboration process. Over the years we have become friends, sharing each other’s news, etc. It all started with that tweet from Angel (Mytrip) who decided one day to dust off his record shelves haha and found a CD of “A Changing Light”, listened to it again and tweeted about it. Back then, when that album was released on Flaming Pines, he wrote one of the most honest and beautiful reviews on Heathen Harvest. He is the one that put the idea on us about collaborating again, although that was something that we have talked about over and over through the years. I‘m not sure why we didn’t do it earlier, that still remains a mystery haha. We both also respect him as an artist, and decided to ask him if he wanted to collaborate on one of the tracks, which came out with the apt title “Angel Layers”.
This new collaboration also became the concept of the album. It talks about our friendship. It talks about how we share the agony even if we are 10.000 km away. It talks about how we try to make our days a bit brighter. It talks about our past and our future. I guess it’s a very personal album but also touches on how we are all connected, not in a new age way, but in the everyday struggle.
V: I don't think we had even one video chat the whole time we worked on this album, to be honest. Only afterwards with Francis from Trouble In Utopia did we do that, but file sharing of course played a big part in the process. I've had a few people ask if we recorded the album in a studio, or maybe that Phil lives in Calgary, because the music doesn't feel disjointed in the way one might expect if things were recorded separately on two different continents. File sharing really does help bridge that gap, but it's only part of the equation. I think a shared musical language really helps in this case, and I feel when working with Phil, we can just tap into something that resonates between us that guides the music along.
The whole process only took a few months, maybe 4 at the most, and then a month or two for mixing afterwards. The first track we finished was “Overdue”, which began from old loops that I sent Phil which he then arranged and added to. The track basically became what it is on the record after Phil's first go at it. I remember when he sent it back, it just felt like, “Wow, this brings me back,” but also this sense of relief that we could go right back to making music together without missing a step. Not to mention that I was feeling a bit stuck in my personal musical work at the time. Having Phil there with me, working through these tracks and getting them where they needed to go, was just a big weight off my shoulders.
As we all know, Twitter is correctly seen as a space predominantly for egomaniacal boasting and petty feuds. Still, it was also the impetus for your newest release. What is your view on social media and what place does it have for you both as artists and individuals?
Z: Well, I think it’s a necessary evil. And in these last years with Covid-19, it became even more necessary, without even being able to perform or use the traditional roads of connecting.
V: I think social media has its purpose, and while there are many negatives that come with it, there are also many positives. Keeping in touch and meeting friends across the world, collaborating, discovering new things, hearing other people's point of view and stories, having a laugh, all these things would be so much harder without social media. For me, I use it to keep up with what is happening in the larger world around me, some months better than others. I think for artists, social media is often just seen as a marketing tool. But I think if you get past trying to market yourself all the time, genuine relationships can definitely develop. Everyone who has had a hand in this release, from Phil, to Angel, to Francis, all these cherished relationships happened or grew because of social media.
What is the story behind the artwork? Who came up with it and in your opinion, how does it relate to the music?
Z: That photo came up from Francis (Trouble in Utopia) who accidentally found it on an Ebay auction. It is an old photo from an unknown photographer from the late 50s and when we both saw it, it really struck us through. It is a simple photo from a New York apartment before its renovation. But I don’t know, the light, the way everything is set up on the photo, the kitchen equipment, as if everything is ready for preparing a coffee or breakfast. All of this made the photo suitable for our concept: the kitchen is the place where you start your day and your early day thoughts.
V: The story behind the artwork is pretty interesting, it is from someone’s old archival newspaper photos. I think when we all saw the photo, we kind of fell in love with it. There were a few other photos that Francis made into mockups, but this particular one just felt like it was the one for the release. We don't know much about the photo or its author, we only know its title and date: “The kitchen before remodeling the old home, 1958.” We tried finding more information about it, but nothing turned up.
For me, the photo reminds me of some of the kitchens of some of my Polish relatives, so it gives me a feeling of nostalgia. I think in the context of the album though, it's “Years from Now” in a photo: Somewhere so familiar and always with you, where you sit almost everyday, and where you start every day, regardless of what goals and ambitions you may have. It's a place that is so mundane, but also a place that is so important.
The saxophone is a very powerful instrument that draws a lot of the listener’s attention when perceiving the music. Did the instrument pose a challenge when coming up with the various other musical layers or, on the contrary, it gives you more freedom to explore the space left around it?
V: I would say it's definitely the latter. Phil created these beautiful, rich and full sonic layers, and I wanted to let them shine as much as possible. I feel maybe as solo musicians, sometimes you get into the mindset that your additions have to stand out, but I feel in many cases being a compliment to something is just as important. With this album, I was happy to just let Phil's saxophone take over whenever it needed to, and then step in myself, when it made sense to do so. And with the simple loops and melodies that I generally work with, having them sit in the background as the support to the sax only made sense. The music is still a dialogue, I feel. It's just that the sax speaks louder sometimes haha.
In recent years there’s been a lot more vocal work in Valiska’s music, especially in “On Pause” (Trouble In Utopia, 2017), with which you toured Europe, yet, instead of singing, you’ve decide to use spoken word for “Years from Now”.
Z: The poem is actually mine, it was something I had written a couple of years ago. When I finished working with the saxophones on “We Are Still Here,” I came up with the idea to use it on that track. I think it not only fit with the whole project, but also became pretty much its core. So I went down to my kitchen and I recorded it on the phone in one take.
V: Recently I've personally been stepping back from using vocals in my work, though I have a feeling that's going to change very soon. So I was happy to leave my vocals off of this album. I think Phil's use of spoken word on “We Are Still Here” is just brilliant. When he sent me that track I was blown away. I always loved the idea of throwing something into an album that is unexpected, and I think Phil doing a spoken word piece is a perfectly unexpected moment.
Phil, you’ve been involved in various other collaborations and among them especially shines your jazz band Moon Taken Over, with that you explore darker and freer jazz territories, did this work impact somehow your approach to ambient music, outside of the obvious instruments of choice (saxophone, electric guitar etc.). Actually which came first for you, was it jazz or was it experimental ambient music?
Z: I think it was improvisational music that came first. I mean I used to play in rock, punk and metal groups when I was young but I mostly played guitar and bass. When I started playing saxophone, the approach was mostly improvisational. Back then I was living in a collective house and at that point we all shared that same approach to music. I‘m not sure that I was able to play anything else on the sax back then, even if I wanted to haha. I‘m self taught on sax so I haven’t studied either jazz or orchestral theory. I do love playing it with the band. It’s a totally liberating experience especially because all the music there comes up from a zero point, a blank paper. It’s totally improvised, and you need to have that dialogue, that conversation with all those different instruments. What I get from that also applies to how I use sax on my more ambient stuff and vice versa.
Do you see this album being potentially presented live at some point, did you at all make the music with this possibility in mind or was there a different thing that you wanted to capture with it?
Z: Actually, I don’t think we've discussed that and I don’t think we made the album with that in mind. We started the album in the first months of that pandemic, so I guess it was our answer to that too. On the other hand though, playing live together is something we both want to do at some point. However, the way we constructed the album might make it difficult to perform live, unless we could find 4-5 saxophone players to perform it haha. Some tracks have more than four sax layers.
V: I'd love to play something like this live, but I think Phil is right in saying that this album would be hard to recreate in a live setting. That said, I don't think putting together something like this would be unrealistic with modifications. Both of our approaches to making this music are very improvisational, so in that sense, creating a live framework would not be that difficult. And honestly, if an opportunity to play this live presented itself, I'm sure we would figure it out haha.
Krzysztof, you are a mastering engineer yourself and yet you’ve both picked Rafael Anton Irisarri at Black Knoll Studio to work on the album, how did his work impact the album and actually why did you find it crucial to bring an extra set of ears onboard?
V: I really love Rafael's approach to mastering. He has a very consistent approach, so you know roughly how it's going to sound when you get it back, and he just really brings everything together beautifully. For this particular release, with the sax, clarinet and also synths, the mixes required a lot of work to get them sounding right. Having Raf as another set of ears to ensure that nothing was too harsh or jumping out, while still keeping things dynamic and sonically rich was really important. I think in the end it made everything sound that much better.
Tell us more about Trouble In Utopia who are releasing this record on vinyl in quite difficult times for independent music. The label has already released two other Valiska records, so you can say that Krzysztof is a current resident artist.
Z: When we finished the album, Francis, who Kris had already shared some tracks with, approached us to publish it on his label and we both agreed that it is a great place to do it. We didn’t look any further. For me, this decision made sense not only because the label has published Valiska’s albums in the past, but also because I really love Francis' approach. Not only does he do fantastic design work, he is really in touch with what he wants to do. He is very supportive and he gets us involved in every aspect of the release.
V: Personally, I really love working with Francis. It's great working with someone who both really cares about the music and about the actual release. For me, Francis just handles everything with such care and makes you feel like he's right there with you along the way, so I'm glad he wanted to work with us on this release. Of course, releasing music these days seems to have hurdle after hurdle, but we're working through them as they come.