Over last few days I have talked a lot with Elena Stepanova (Helga’s Ephemeris) via Skype. We discussed many things, particularly her music and her latest releases. Then I thought it would be a good idea to put some excerpts from our conversations on Elena’s web site as an interview.
Here’s the first part, and we talk about «Runology», the CD compilation that was released last year (2012).
Ti Sci Tang: The title, “Runology”, stands for “the science of runes”, doesn’t it?
Elena Stepanova: Originally Runology was conceived as a soundtrack for the play. Sometimes I do not just compose music as such, I imagine the play in the process of writing music, the stage performance. But I do not try to make serious plans at this stage of work and try not to bother myself with things like “whether the play will be staged or not… where I will find a producer for the play… will it be staged at all, is it a play or a concert…” Because if I think about it, I can’t write at all. So I came up with seven tracks, which was OK for a suite. Some of these tracks were later released on the «Runology» CD compilation, which is available on Amazon and in iTunes Store. This compilation includes the «Ephemeris» suite, too.
T.S.T.: Please tell me a bit more about the plot of Runology.
E.S.: The story behind it is divination, meditation, learning about the world and the self, by doing it through symbols, images, visual information. The man looks in the mirror to learn what he looks like. He communicates with other people to find out, ultimately, what sort of person he is. But a lot remains hidden from him, and he begins to wonder, speculate and tell fortunes, at least at the level of making predictions. In any events, he reads and interprets the “code”. And he tries to make sense of such a kaleidoscope…
T.S.T.: I noticed that you love kaleidoscopic effects.
E.S.: That’s right. The original video sequence created for Runology I is a constantly changing pattern. I call it the “runic sequence” but in fact it’s an animated mandala. There’s a lot going on in this video, but all this is based on just two colors that interchange all the time. Some people told me they find such things difficult to watch. But I like to watch how the patterns develop. Something grows on the edges of the circle, and at the same time you can see the magic triangle in the center… I like to watch how life is thriving in this digital picture. I can see it and I feel quite comfortable looking at it. But it wasn’t my intention to make the viewer stare at this sequence from beginning to end. The idea was that during the show these graphics should be mixed with live visuals and projected on the backdrop screen.
T.S.T.: My impression was that you’re trying to visualize the language the universe speaks to mankind. And the universe says a lot, but I wonder whether a human being is able to understand the things he or she is told.
E.S.: The universe indeed says a lot. As for the ability to understand… I think people are able to understand only those things they are ready for. Information beyond that gets discarded. And that’s OK because otherwise you will overload your brain! Only those who are particularly interested (or crazy enough) do go further. It is not always safe, you know.
T.S.T.: By the way, what tools did you use to write and record “Runology?”
E.S.: My usual gear that includes hardware synths (Roland JP-8000 and Korg Prophecy) and theremins. And of course I use software synths and effects from the Logic Studio package (Logic Pro 9 is my main audio+MIDI sequencer).
T.S.T.: Do you have several theremins?
E.S.: Technically speaking, at the moment I have only one theremin as such. This instrument was built by Lev Korolov, and it differs a lot from Robert Moog’s models. I used Moog Etherwave before. Also in my collection there are two quasi-theremins, both based on the optical principle. Playing technique is the same — touchless, as with the classic theremin. One of them is Alesis Air Synth. The second one was built by an American radio amateur.
T.S.T.: Are you interested in music technology?
E.S.: Sure. Music technology is my favorite subject and also my professional passion. And the roots for this are in my childhood. I had an LP (actually I still keep it) that laid the basis for my interest in music technology. It was Jean Michel Jarre’s “Equinoxe” LP, and on its cover there was a list of synths that Jarre used: ARP 2600, Elka 707 and so on. At the time I had no idea what those synth were, and I asked my dad how they work etc. It was very important for me. I wanted to know how they work, because I thought that only those ‘magic’ tools could be used to compose such a beautiful music as “Equinoxe”. And my dad explained me the technical stuff — oscillators, filters and so on…
T.S.T.: I recall an interesting thing Jean Michel Jarre once said about the workflow. The modern musician who uses computer to make music, turns into an archivist, actually. There are too many files, they must be stored somewhere, and each time you want to continue your work, you need to look for them… Jarre meant that it was much easier to work with music in the old, pre-digital days, when all a musician needed to do was to just go to the studio and record his tracks.
E.S.: Also, someone said that the man inventing the computer, hoped that the machine would remember a bunch of different things for him. In reality it doesn’t work this way. Often it’s quite the opposite. You have to remember a bunch of different things for your computer. Sometimes I find it much easier to compose a new track from scratch than to look for the old, unfinished one in my archives.
(Part 2: Helga’s Ephemeris)