Swiss artiste creates digital, spatial sound

Marcel Zaes

How do you like your sound? Different and abstract, thank you very much — says Marcel Zaes. The Swiss artiste creates a unique type of music with digital sound, ‘trash’ speakers and video that can be broadly classified as an ever-pulsing swarm that is spatial and repetitive but which will never quite sound the same.

In town for a solo performance, ‘Pulsations’, he spoke to Rajitha Menon about his aural world.

How would you describe the music that you make?

I am not sure if ‘music’ is the right word. I am not a classically trained musician; I don’t have an instrument. I construct sound worlds — sometimes I create sounds out of mathematical functions that create sine wave oscillations or my material comes from the real world, like field recordings of a ventilator blowing air, or musicians playing a single chord on their instruments, that I reuse in a different context.

What kind of sounds do you use?

I prefer my sounds to be as simple as possible, such as a single tone, a single hum of some machine, a single frequency and so on.

However, I like complex layers and subtle fluctuations to this simple sound. 

Do you think such a sound would find an audience in largely-traditional India?

Audiences everywhere I have gone are largely ‘traditional’. My work is radical and hence most of them are not used to it but I still see a lot of people who are excited about my sounds, who listen and perceive.

It would be unfair to say that India is starving for electronic sounds, for much of what India produces in music is heavily electronic with state-of-the art beats and production.

Electronic music is a popular genre in places like Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. Everything I do is already here, only the presentation, assemblage and timing of my sounds is unique. And for that, I do believe there is an audience in India.

What inspired you to come up with a concept like this?

Mostly from fields and settings outside music. Conceptual art and works based on textures of colour which do not represent anything. Other than that, I am inspired by my geographical settings — a forest I’m passing, the structure of the sand in the desert or urban surroundings constructed by humans etc.

You produce a stuttering, swarming, repetitive sound - how do you ensure your audience stays hooked?

Quite large part of music is based on cyclic repetitive patterns and rhythms. In my experience, often when I am hooked to the sound, the audience will also feel the same. It is more difficult to keep the same tension with abstract stuttering and swarming, but since they are a contrast to the flowing beats and are not predictable, they are interesting.

Thoughts about India...

It makes me think of clichés such as tigers, deep woods and history as well as contemporary realities of poverty and wastelands built of concrete. But it also makes me think of all the music it has produced, some of which has influenced me, directly or otherwise.

For instance, I had a time when I listened a lot to Italian musician Giacinto Scelsi, and later found out that his sound is heavily inspired by Hindustani traditions. 

What music do you listen to in your spare time?

My listening habits are varied; they range from Hindustani Qawwali to Mexican electronic music to German techno to American popular music to experimental sound art pieces.

Is there a particular sound from everyday life that you enjoy? 

The sound of a dishwasher is something I perceive as highly musical. On the contrary, I have not been able to adapt to the sound of air conditioning in India. Its voice is lower, deeper and heavier. 

Future projects?

My solo project ‘Pulsations’ that I will be showcasing in Bengaluru represents a pivotal moment in my work.

Starting with this is my future plan — to tour more often as a solo artist. I also wish to write music for instrumental ensembles and collaborate with different artists, dancers, film makers, and other musicians. 

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Swiss artiste creates digital, spatial sound

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