Name: Bana Haffar
Nationality: Lebanese, Argentinean
Occupation: Producer, sound artist
Current Release: Genera; Live at AB Salon, Brussels on Touch
Recommendations: Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music; James Turrell (light & space artist)
If you enjoyed this interview with Bana Haffar, her website and soundcloud page are the best places to find out more about her.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
The synthesizer opened up my desire to make my own music. Coming out of years of being a session bass player, shifting to solo synthesizer work was extremely liberating and provided me with a new set of sonic tools that opened up my creative spirit. I was able to configure my own instrument and arrange sounds in ways that were previously inaccessible. My early influences in the world of electronic music specifically were pretty standard I think for many of us ... Autechre, Boards of Canada, Throbbing Gristle, Aphex Twin, etc ...
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
When I was in music school, I focused on jazz. A big part of jazz education is transcribing and memorizing solos. Through this process you pick up on phrasing, note selection, and structure. After doing this for a few years, you start to develop your own amalgamated voice. I took a similar approach to synthesis when I first started, listening to those I admired and attempting to reverse engineer sounds I liked. I've since taken the training wheels off and try and be as self referential as possible, with the occasional emulation because we are all products of what we listen to, whether we care to admit it or not.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My compositional challenges have shifted with time. I tended to overthink things less when I first started. The main challenge I face now is dedicating enough time to explore sounds openly, without an end goal, versus trying to contextualise every piece I work on. Production wise, recording the modular was challenging at first because I didn't have the right output gear. The modular uses 1/8'' cables and the output needs to be attenuated to line level before going into an interface.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was my bedroom, I had a small Eurorack system, a Moog Voyager, and a Zoom H6. I've since invested in a bigger system, an interface, DAW, and have a dedicated space to work on music. My gear setup changes for each piece, I'm constantly reconfiguring and have no particular attachment to any one piece of gear. Instead, I try and explore new pairings.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Modular synthesizers are a unique form of music technology because they deal in fluctuations of control voltages and infinite resolution (in the case of analog gear). The raw material is alive. As a synthesist, I can create the global ecosystem of the patch but after a certain density of patch points are crossed, the system starts to interfere with itself and behave in subtle ways I'm no longer able to trace. It's a dynamic interplay, unlike the often static nature of working solely in a computer.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I like to learn from artists working in other disciplines, weavers, painters, potters, farmers, architects, engineers ... the more distant the better. There's more cross over than you'd think. Exploring these crossing points is central to my practise.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Making my own music full time is new to me so I'm still struggling with the scheduling side of things. I go through phases of fixed scheduled to get specific projects done, then I change it for the next one. I'm trying to work against my tendency for rigidity and instead create a self regulating schedule, trusting that projects will get completed while leaving space for the unplanned and the unknown.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I recorded a piece called Memoriam after loosing a friend in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. This was pure emotion latching on to the closest instrument without thought, recorded and uploaded to Soundcloud within a couple of hours. It was my way of coping, honouring those who passed, and trying to create a room for remembrance to those who may have needed it, which turned out to be quite a few.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
This is the constant struggle many of us go through, chasing that state, the zone. I don't have a formula other than showing up and trusting that it will come with time. The creative state is an elusive thing that can't be induced, only nurtured. Solitude and presence is a good start. I also don't bring my cell phone into the studio.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I have separated the two in my modular work. My studio patches are totally different than what I play live. My system configuration is constantly shifting. I simplify ideas and use a much smaller system for live performances because the system has to be transported. Improvisation within a pre-constructed compositional scaffold is how I work both in the studio and live.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Sometimes the sound forms the composition, other times the composition dictates the sounds. I work in both ways.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I'm very interested in the work of Victor Mazon Gardoqui. One of the many avenues he explores is very low and ultra low frequencies. His live performances cross the threshold of the audible into the felt, where the body becomes the resonator. This, of course requires a good sound system and a serious array of subs.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
No separation between art and life! I love this credo championed by V Vale of RE/Search. I've decided to dedicate my life to my art as a matter of self preservation, not as a political or social act. I've tried other types of work that reinforced this idea. Diving deep into blind creative alleys with no financial guarantee is difficult to justify in many ways but I know now that the alternative doesn't work for me.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I would love to see instrument companies take more risks like speculative designers. There is a lot of redundancy in synthesizer design to guarantee the products will sell. This is just creating more of the same ... a homogeneous landscape of low pass filters and linear sequencers. Companies like Make Noise and Cycling 74 are always pushing sound further, we need more people like them!