Name: Maria Horn
Occupation: Producer, Composer
Current Release: Epistasis on Hallow Ground
Recommendations: I love reading fiction, something I was ashamed of for several years as all of my friends seemed to read only political theory and literary classics. Sara Stridsberg is one of my favorite Swedish writers, I would recommend reading Darling River, or The Faculty of Dreams.
Check out the music of David Granström, specifically one of our most recent releases on XKatedral - A distant color, secluded.
If you enjoyed this interview with Maria Horn and want to find out more about her and her work, visit her website.
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?
I started out playing electric bass in punk and folk bands in my hometown of Härnösand. Eventually I started high school and attended a program focused on music performance. This unfortunately destroyed the joy of being an instrumentalist for me, as the type of virtuosity and style of music that was promoted within that context did not align with my interests.
By pure chance I signed up for an evening class in electroacoustic music composition at a local education center. The course in itself was not spectacular in any way, I worked for a few hours a week in a basic cellar studio, along with some guidance by an gentleman of the old compositional guard. But to me this equalled an immense freedom of expression, in comparison to the stylized ideal of being a musician that I had previously been taught.
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 relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
During my first years spent in the above mentioned cellar studio, I was deprived of a community and had to seek out new influences on my own. In I way I think it was a good starting point to not have a defined musical path laid out before me, as I had to look inwards instead of trying to be accepted by an external musical community.
Still, copying is a great way of learning. It seems to work in the same way as learning language does, in the beginning you are just trying to formulate words that you hear others use, eventually a certain vocabulary sticks with you and the more you learn you start forming phrases and expressions that resonates with your own musical universe.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning it was a lot about zooming in on specific tools and environments, composing based on a specific set of limits and the possibilities of each technological framework. I guess what ultimately changed with time is that I gradually built a set of tools that cover a wide range in terms of methodology and possible result.
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?
The computer has always been my most important piece of gear. That was the main device from my first studio, and I still see it as my main instrument. The ways I use it has changed immensely over the years. From starting out with a linear style of recording and layering sounds, and then gradually moving towards finding other less linear way of working with and thinking about music.
Algorithmic frameworks for building synthesis and structure from scratch have completely shifted my approach to composition. Although I have been working within the SuperCollider framework for several years, I am still far from exploring the entire range of sound I can create with it.
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?
Machines are good for precision, with doing exactly what they are designed to do. Humans are affected by the way machines work, especially when a big part of the day is spent interacting with machines - eventually we’re influenced by their logic. When making music one might easily be stuck with standardised ideas about signal flow and functionality. That is why designing your own systems from scratch is interesting, the feedback mechanism between you and the machine becomes more intimate.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
The interaction itself I perceive as a kind of call-and-response cycle between me and the machine, with emphasis on listening. I write the instruction with a certain idea in mind, execute the code and listen to the resulting sound, then adjust accordingly. The beauty of randomness in generative music, it will never sound exactly the same, and has the potential of endless duration. I am often aiming for a certain state of mind or musical behaviour. It's a bit like gardening, you are interacting with something that has a life of its own. Like Brian Eno said, “you plant a seed in your computer and watch it grow”.
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?
My main influences are friends and colleagues, by collaborating or giving feedback and having continuous conversations. Running a label and arranging shows is also a way of contributing to the local community and to achieve an exchange of ideas.
STHLM Drone Society is a collaboration that we started as a response to the difficulty of presenting slowly evolving music within the context of a traditional concert program. This type of music requires a different perceptual framework, and an initiation into a specific way of listening. I see a tendency looking at younger generations of competition instead of collaboration, I am sure this is linked to the growing commercial interest in these cultural spheres combined with our changed social media behavior. I sincerely hope that this is a transitory phase, or that I am just being wrong about this.
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?
Having a separate studio space helps. The ritual of walking to the studio, it wakes me up and puts me in the right mental space. Coffee and snus. Since I started playing more shows it has been getting harder to maintain a fixed schedule, even though I like having routines.
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?
My last record Epistasis came together within the scope of my master studies in electroacoustic composition at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. I wanted to examine perception and audiovisuality, and compose a series of pieces that explore specific aspects of that. I have been a fan of Maryanne Amachers work and her strategy of creating perceptual rooms; instead of focusing exclusively on the sonic transmissions, to focus on the perceptual paradigm i.e our ways of hearing.
The first piece I made was "Interlocked Cycles" for multichannel loudspeakers and light, originally presented in the sound dome at the academy. In "Interlocked Cycles", I wanted to start from a point of low sensoric impact in a slow tempo, and gradually reach a high tempo and a sense of sensory overload.
The transformation between the two states is controlled by a slow tempo glissando, where each channel is synchronized to an LED-light placed on top of each speaker. The hope is that the listener's focus is not primarily on the tempo but on the gradually increasing intensity of the overall audiovisual movement.
"Interlocked Cycles" eventually developed into a series of pieces, two of them I shortened and translated into music for Disklavier, and those are the ones that are also presented on the Epistasis record.
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?
If I am going to the studio to work on music, I try not to contaminate my mind with social media or looking at emails beforehand. One has to be careful about streams of information these days.
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?
The relationship between improvisation, composition and playing live varies with each project, and depends on the type of musical material that I am currently presenting. The sound that derives from the compositional or collaborative process usually suggests its own logic of presentation.
At the moment I prefer to perform my solo sets with pre-composed material, using processing and generative layers of sound. Usually my compositional work derives from the enhanced listening environment of the studio. Playing live is a kind of invitation for other people to enter that perceptual realm.
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?
These aspects are usually intertwined in an intuitive way. Either the sound itself suggests certain organisational principles to be used, or one starts with an idea of composition or harmonic framework and from there develop a suitable instrumentation.
As I like the idea of being involved in the whole line of production, from building the instruments to recording the sounds to composing and mixing the music, these aspects are continuously feeding back into each other.
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 am particularly interested in the disrupted sense of time that can happen in focused listening, of losing oneself in the music and distorting the sense of a bodily self. This is one of the things we have been working with in Sthlm Drone Society, to create conditions for this type of enhanced listening experiences to occur.
In the perceptual landscapes of today it's easy to get lost in streams of information and sensory debris. Our cognitive and emotional capacities attuned to certain degrees of sensory input and rates of change. If these are bypassed, say by sensory deprivation or overload, this usually has the effect of altering our mental state or sense of self. These are powerful mechanisms has been used in prison as ways of torturing prisoners, but can of course be used to create pleasant and in other ways interesting results.
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?
Everything that we do has social and political implications whether we want it or not. “Being an artist” sounds like an extroverted activity (and for many people I am sure it is), but for me the continuous intuitive streams of actions that happens within the solitary and interpersonal realms are the most important. It's the habit of getting into a mindspace where learning and listening, reflection and creative activities can happen.
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?
During the last ten years I have seen spaces for experimental and DIY artistic activities get more and more commercialized while non-profit communities gets thrown out of their spaces. At the same time large companies are sponsoring experimental music festivals that are profiting on posing with “young” and “radical” symbolism. If this trend continues this is a dystopian future of music.
As the Internet has increased the diversity of styles and approaches, let's hope for a flourishing future of music untangled from capitalist interests, were local communities can thrive.
In this future I imagine a broader spectrum of rituals, new ways of organizing the realms of human attention, from personalized musical experiences, to channeling of collective values.