OM Gossip #3

Interview with Daniel Vujanic

Fellow travellers,

bad news bears come first: because our tape manufacturer fucked things up a bit, we can’t release the next Zebularin tape Hermetic Topography as planned on 22/2/21. I’ll keep you updated. Sorry for that.

Nonetheless, to sweeten the in-between time, here’s an interview with Daniel Vujanic of Zebularin. We first started talking about doing a tape around May 2020 I think, and since then had some pandemic conform deep talk via email. Daniel is a witty and laid-back conversationalist, so here we go, enjoy.

Daniel, what happened in 2020? As you told me, the four Zebu releases (Infos hau ich alle hier am Ende rein) are just the beginning for a year full of releases. How come you were so productive last year?
Well, since the past year -  starting February 2020 -  was such a weird, contradictory, antisocial, idiotic and totally disenchanting one, I had thought that it might be a good idea to actually invest more time in creating new music or at least try to finish all the compositions that were still incomplete. Of course on the surface it was some kind of distraction process but it also simply felt right to do so. There was no label involved and no formal aspect that had to be taken care of.
 At first I tried to incorporate different conceptual perspectives and use a different sound palette. No melodies, no idioms, no nods to specific genres. In fact I felt a tad bored by playing the guitar through all my fx pedals and technically regurgitate the whole "atmospheric ambient/drone/postrock" thing [that] had lost its magic for quite a while - so I dug deeper into the electroacoustic realm, bought some new equipment, recorded instruments I couldn´t play at all, made field recordings at impossible places and so on. At the end of the day Zebularin was born.
Without the lockdown situation I probably wouldn´t have felt the urge to really wrap things up. I´ve basically been stockpiling some of the material for years - which was of course pointless in a way. On the other hand I had all the crucial ingredients to begin with. In the end I guess one might also call it a covid-kickstart.
Once pandora´s box had been opened everything started to happen very quickly and naturally: weekly recording sessions with the other musicians, very focused editing, compiling all the compositions with a heightened awareness in terms of flow, narrative, tension and release.
So in January 2021 I ended up with 4 solo records, a bunch of Zebularin albums, a bunch of material for Aum Taeppers (a duo with Niko Lazarakopoulos), 2 records of a weird electronics/percussion duo with Daniel Kartmann and some other albums in very different constellations that will hopefully see the light of day soon. I really do not want the collaboration-aspect to ever be underestimated. Sometimes the only way to actually gain some deeper understanding of yourself is embedded in the interaction with somebody else. You get mirrored in a very mandatory way. Higher learning, so to speak.

I had to smile as you wrote that the whole atmospheric drone whatevs thing kind of noodled itself out in 2020. For me, it felt pointless with everyone being more or less visibly and emotionally isolated to produce another chunk of isolation ambient. The Zebularin recordings all feel very communal, very on-the-spot-improv, but most of it was done via overdubs. How did you manage to capture that specific live feeling? How did you all interact, was it done in group sessions? Beneath the recording, I guess you also did most of the mixing. Do you keep a regular work schedule with all of this going on at the same time?
I agree with the isolated ambient in an isolated space nonsense. There is no additional value in that. Like buying the 14th pair of specific white tennis shoes, you know the Stan Smith model. It´s a genre that is completely oversaturated. I´ll probably revisit it in a couple of years - if nobody cares about it any longer. It´s also a bit sad. The materialistic or utilitarian aspect of so called "experimental" music, its sheer amount, can be quite nauseating.
As for the improv/communal aspect. No big deal really. I simply prefer first takes. Sometimes I even like to take it a bit further. For instance, I don´t want the players to even listen to the track before the recording. Which at times can be emotionally draining. Some of them are really exhausted afterwards. I just tell them that it has to be that way.
They have to do it on the spot and react to it. Sometimes I like to give them some specific cues beforehand, almost like a graphic notation. So the result might really sound "communal", because the playing is very tentative, careful and sometimes - if the players are confronted with a fulminating bunch of noise - spontaneous and energetic. It´s definitely something that is not constructed using a laptop and a DAW. I figured that staring at a screen for a long time might water down the results significantly. Period.
By the way - I absolutely detest the "jamming/noodling" aspect. In my opinion that´s the exact opposite of a sensual experience, at least in a direct recording situation. I simply don´t feel like doing endless editing afterwards, even though editing the material is very important. It extinguishes the ego. It empowers the composition. In one way or the other, haha.
As for the group sessions: a collective improvisation was not possible. Maybe in the near future?
I basically had to layer all the different tracks. But I knew where I wanted to go most of the time, so the compositions grew quite organically. Some atmospheres might have been less inviting, so I revisited them after some weeks - I guess that mood plays a crucial role. Zebularin is definitely a "gut feeling" kind of collective and not so much an intellectual construct. This modus operandi can also be applied to the mixing process. You know, first things first. What does the mood suggest? Does it sound right this way? Does it evolve properly? Do I need this specific passage or can it be minimized or even omitted in terms of narrative or the tension and release aspect?
As I said before, it´s an intuitive thing. One could say that intellect is overrated. It´s pretty much intelligence minus the ability to judge or discern properly.

That‘s a tough one, unlearning judgement - musically and everywhere else. How does your practice of unlearning look like? We also talked some time ago about the „punk ear“ - our musical upbringing consisting of a diet of often harsh/underproduced/non-leveled sounds. What does that mindset and attitude mean to you?
I really don´t have a specific concept for thinking outside of the box. One aspect is to nourish some subtle impulses when they appear and to get out of the comfort zone. You know, the usual things:  actually listen to what people have to say, no matter if they ´re young, old, inept, talented, progressive or conservative and so on. Be patient. One can learn from anybody´s experience. Moreover I try not to take myself too seriously (except for the music itself of course) and to apply some humour especially when I´m really pissed off and feel like smashing someone´s face in. So humour would be a good start. But thinking positive is quite tough especially when you tend to be a melancholic, impatient misanthrope. In musical terms this means listening to the Bad Brains more than to Black Flag (haha - even though they´ll always be my favourite American Hardcore band!). I reckon I´m still a punk at heart with all the implications: DIY, self empowerment, contempt of authority, working class affinity, stoicism and solidarity with the underdogs. That translates into a certain attitude of course. I´ve already mentioned my fondness for first takes and intuition. Punk also means a direct approach without the intellectual pomp. So even the frequent mistakes can offer a new vantage point for the individual´s creativity. But I suppose the notion and the aesthetic of "punk" has changed significantly nowadays. From my point of view it has evolved into a rather glossy entity without the existential dread that used to be embedded therein, the thing that made live concerts so cathartic at times. It was ok for bands to be confrontational, volatile and destructive. But I tend to find that element in some extreme metal bands today (or, for that matter, even in free jazz, chamber music or noise), so the most recent version of punk is okay with me, because at the end of the day I don´t have to listen to it.

If I remember right, when you first mailed me tracks of an early incarnation of Zebularin, the sounds were pretty sceletal. And you are kind of the core of Zebularin. Who are the other players? How does their contribution look, except for the instruments? I know that the ongoing dialogue with Daniel Kartmann, with whom play in a lot of other projects, is crucial for Zebularin.
You are right. Daniel Kartmann is such a versatile player. He´s a fantastic drummer, vibraphone player and also adds oboe and cornetto on some of the tracks, so I´d say that Zebularin is pretty much this core duo at the moment. I also play in a post-jazz/ambient trio called Portosol with him, so our interaction is rather telepathic. He´s also a very good friend, which makes things more simple of course. I hardly have to tell him what to do or how to play. He just feels it. He is probably the only one who gives me some direct feedback after hearing the final mixes/edits. [...]
There are also Heiner Stilz and Ekkehard Roessle who contribute different shades of saxophone or clarinet. Both are incredibly talented musicians. I´ve known Heiner for quite some time now. He´s a very soulful saxplayer. We´ve recorded regularly back in the days (Baja, Höhlenmusik Ensemble) and also played live as a duo a couple of times. Since he moved to Potsdam our communication has become rather infrequent, but I still send him some music for overdubs from time to time. I´m always surprised about his emotional approach and results. Ekkehard on the other hand is a full time jazzhead, with nods to a very specific sheets of sound style that I really like. An absolutely stunning artist.
Peter Bone contributed some piano and electric piano flourishes. He´s into jazz and classical music but enjoys my rather punkish experiments. I´ve already worked with him on a few Höhlenmusik Ensemble and Ixtar records. An incredible musician with a great pair of ears. He´s a couple of decades older than me and an Evan Parker contemporary. He told me they went to the same school in England. A nice fun fact, isn´t it? I´ve also recorded some double-bass tracks with Rüdiger Kurz a while ago and with Zebularin I´ve finally found an outlet to use them. Yoshihiro Kikuchi, whom I´ve known for quite some time now,  contributed some bits of electronic noise. A great visual artist (and drummer) by the way. We intend to revitalize our Doom/Black-Metal/Post-Rock duo Graves And Orchestra Pits very soon.

Speaking of which...You were pretty active in the past with mentioned projects and others, then I guess for some years you were busy with other aspects of live. Often, at this point and age, people tend to move away from music, be it because interests shifted or time's too little. What is your motor of still doing all this labor?
You are absolutely right. I was busy with other aspects of life. Which is quite normal. Nevertheless, music has always been important in my life. You know, from both perspectives - as music lover and musician. It hasn´t fundamentally changed in the last 20 years. In a way the fun never stops: listening, collecting records, going to concerts, acquiring a certain taste, checking out other genres. But also playing an instrument, rehearsing, playing two instruments, writing songs, being in bands and projects, releasing records, playing live, releasing more records with other projects/bands and so forth. These habits are hard to erase I guess. They have been nourished and cultivated. So there´s definitely something compulsive about it on a very basal level. I also like to come back to this reciprocal effect which makes me feel better instantly, in a very natural way. I simply enjoy finding sounds and playing with textures, rhythms and melodies. Creating comfort and discomfort. Coming up with structures and flow.
With all the different things going on it reminds me of a garden that needs to be taken care of properly. Sometimes you need to water certain plants, fruits and flowers while others need to be left alone and in the shade for a while. At times you revisit your garden and find new aspects and colours. You cultivate those. Fertilize them. Communicate with them. Then you have the process of weeding out and also the process of trimming down your palette in order to reach some healthy equilibrium in your garden. And, at some point in the future you´ll hopefully be able to harvest all these ripened and well matured fruits, flowers, plants or, in my case songs/compositions. I hope this image wasn´t too flowery, I really don´t have a green thumb[...].
Of course as an adult you have a full-time job and there are regular periods where you simply do not have the time to compose, record or edit. Moreover, as parent/husband you need to schedule things in precise time frames. At least I have to do so. Sometimes you have two hours, sometimes 3 days in a row to dive into "your" music. Sometimes there´s no time at all. These are certain rigid structures but not necessarily obstacles. I reckon that patience is also really helpful. It´s important to distinguish between chronos and kairos, you know. Who can be creative 24/7? I certainly can´t. It ´s absolutely crucial to let go for some time to grow a new pair of ears and to be able to wrap your head around aesthetic, formal or conceptual aspects too. In the course of the years I figured this wasn´t a drawback at all. Maybe I´ll just stick to literature and painting for the next 5 months without recording a single note. Who knows?

As said, we’ll keep you posted on the release. Until then, check out the video to Wesung by Lucia Schmuck and Zebularin’s other albums on Steep Gloss and Cruel Nature. We also uploaded a third pre-listening track on BC.

End transmission 3.

Ambassador Kaputt