Ti Sci Tang: Is your music a product of mental activity or emotion?
Elena Stepanova: I think it is a product of intuition and experimentation. A product of my intuitive experiments with sound. Also, it is a result of different experiences – or rather, the way they were transformed in my head. I like to experiment, to learn new things. Something interesting is born during this process, and if I can catch and record it, it is great. When I listen to my experimental tracks, I often think it is something like a record of my brain biorhythms…
T.S.T.: An encephalogram? 🙂
E.S.: Well, maybe… A sound encephalogram, if you like. For example, when I listen to “Dream 17”, I feel very comfortable… you know, sometimes I wonder why so very few of my friends can listen to this track from beginning to end… 🙂
T.S.T.: That’s why I say it is a product of mental activity, not emotions.
E.S.: A product of mental activity, yes, but not of logic. When I’m writing music, it is mostly the right hemisphere of the brain that is active. It is responsible for mysticism, dreams, imagination, and metaphor. And all I do is write all that. But it is difficult at times to come up with names for the tracks on which I am working, and for this reason I started to call them simply «paysages sonores» plus a number. I mean, these are the working titles of the tracks. I come up with a final title only about the time when the final mix is ready. Sometimes it happens a bit earlier.
T.S.T.: What is your current project?
E.S.: First I need to finish «Amber Sketches». This is literally my musical sketches of “The Chronicles of Amber”, or rather my impressions of the world described by Roger Zelazny. Other musicians are involved in this project, too. We work using online music collaboration resources, including my own resource, www.1000tracks.net. I like working with other musicians, because, you know, it is the most productive way to create something.
T.S.T.: I noticed that you post not only the finished tracks, but also the working versions on your website.
E.S.: Eventually these working versions will be replaced by the final mixes. This is the normal workflow for me. I feel quite comfortable working online, and I can occasionally post tracks that are not quite finished — i.e. rough mixes. What is interesting, working this way gives me more creative freedom, and it often helps to get a clearer idea of the final result I am out for.
T.S.T.: Don’t you care that someone may have a false impression about the future album?
E.S.: Well, there is a saying: “To create, we need to lose our fear of being wrong”. What someone may think about what I am doing is not actually relevant. I think there is no point in trying to predict and influence someone else’s impression.
T.S.T.: How do you react to criticism?
E.S.: Constructive criticism is a good thing. I benefit from it. There were times when I absolutely did not agree with the criticism, but somehow it helped me to get a much clearer idea about the changes I would really like to make to a particular track. I started to “remodel” the track, and I did it quite the opposite way than someone suggested. The result was much better than the original version. Basically, I appreciate other people’s opinions about my work, but it is not the ultimate truth to me.
T.S.T.: What about encouragement? Do you like to get likes?
E.S.: Well, I have removed tracks with lots of likes a few times. I deleted them because after a while it became clear to me that I didn’t really like certain tracks or videos. And if I don’t like them, why keep them?
T.S.T.: But the whole world is chasing likes. Musicians are so fond of approval, they love to be praised, and so on.
E.S.: As for likes, it’s all virtual applause, but many people take it seriously and think it is actually happening in real life. In a sense, the Matrix has you… You need to get a life to see the reality… Social networks are perfectly adapted for the promotion of ego, for playing a game of self-importance. I mean, the ego games constantly take place there, no matter what you think you are doing there. One ego-related pattern is obvious: it’s when you think you’re the centre of the universe. But there’s also a less obvious pattern: it’s when you consider yourself a complete loser. Both patterns are ego-related. Both situations mean you are ruled by your ego… By getting a life I mean quitting the games.
T.S.T.: Being an independent musician, do you feel you have special options regarding your music career?
E.S.: Being an independent musician is quite an experience. The idea is that you are your own boss, you publish your music, you do not depend on a major label boss’ decision. You promote yourself. Well, at least this is how it has been advertised for a long time: an independent musician has many opportunities, and even more so since social networks arrived. Musicians believe in it and are engaged in social networking, because there is where the potential audience is… However, this audience is pretty much virtual. Just because social networks are a virtual thing. Friendship is virtual there, and everything else is, too.
T.S.T.: But people are real.
E.S.: People are real, but the environment is artificial. You have to accept this artificial environment and get used to it, and to constantly adapt to it because it keeps on changing according to its own pace and goals… Well, of course, the situation can be different in each particular case. Musicians who play live often are likely to benefit from keeping in touch with their fan base using social media. But I know one thing: if I spend a lot of effort on social networking, if I start to count the number of likes, I do stop writing music. It was exactly this way back in the early ’00s when my music projects were on mp3.com.