By John Clay, Special Columnist-Rock At Night London
Interview: Author/producer John Clay interviews tAngerinecAt
Ritual, the acknowledgement of aggression and music as colours are just a few of the topics covered in this conversation between tAngerinecAt and John Clay. Their musical experiments are dissected for fans old and new and often provides unexpected and well received consideration of the alchemical process known as songwriting.
‘In everyday life we are required to push down our aggression, while aggression is a good thing, and maybe that’s why it is so demonized by those who sit atop the hierarchy. It is when you dare to say to the world “yes” or “no”. It’s when you become visible. It’s being active. Maybe that’s why women’s sexuality is supposed to be passive in the patriarchal world.’ – Eugene Purpurpovsky (tAngerinecAt)
What instruments do you choose to write on the most and is there any particular cultural history connected to such tools which speak to you on an emotional level?
Paul: We are using a laptop for music production which gives us access to a lot of virtual instruments and samples. Also, we create parts on organic instruments like the hurdy-gurdy, whistles, bagpipes, harmonica, and vocals. We make VSTs from our own samples of the above-mentioned instruments. We also record and manipulate samples of our instruments and noises in various ways. The laptop is central to our work because it hosts all of the various elements in one platform.
For whatever reason we once chose these particular organic instruments, now it is because they allow us to create a certain atmosphere due to the complexity, depth, timbre and uniqueness of their sound.
Eugene: The Ukrainian bagpipe reminds us of the dark atmosphere of the Carpathian mountains and forests, and it’s piercing voice tells us of the tragic history of those lands interwoven with the humour and fun of rituals and various demonic mythological entities.
I chose the hurdy-gurdy mainly because of its cultural history. In the old times in the Ukraine there was a tradition where blind musicians joined together in guilds where they supported each other because they were outsiders, and it was the only way to survive. They made their own hurdy-gurdies and banduras – I play both these instruments. Most of those musicians went to war against the Turkish invasion of the Ukraine, and were blind either in captivity or in battle. They performed songs on the streets on social and political themes like being orphaned, horrors of war, anti-imperialism, life of women in captivity… They had a very specific manner of playing and singing, and, when I heard this, I fell in love with it.
I also found the lyrics and manner of performance in the form of story-telling, recitative, and lament very close to me as a survivor. It’s sad that very few recordings have been preserved because Stalin murdered all but one or two of these musicians, and the Ukraine was such a patriarchal country that they only allowed men to be “part of their tradition”, even today. So, there were a lot of men that weren’t happy about me playing and “ruining their tradition”, but I learned all the songs I could find, and I played and sang them nightly, till my hands swelled up, because I adored them so much and they had a big healing effect on me. I cried a lot whilst singing and playing these songs, and all my pain came out in tears and I felt much lighter in spirit. I don’t perform those songs now but, of course, I use different elements and techniques that I learned, and I experiment with them in various genre contexts.
Paul: The main style that I use when playing and improvising on whistles is also similar to how musicians play in the Carpathians. It’s sweet yet dark and majestic at the same time. I used to play blues harmonica a lot and it used to feature frequently in tAngerinecAt but recently I have been using a chromatic harmonica that used to belong to my granddad and I have used it to create bass drones with a looper in our live shows, and it fits really well with our sound because all music is built around a drone bass.
Eugene: So, in the beginning our music came from singing to a bass drone accompaniment like the blind musicians I mentioned above did, and that’s why the bass drone and creation of different rhythms from this drone remains a foundation. My singing style is also as it is because I create songs and sing over a bass drone accompaniment that has a lot of overtones and harmonics.
Such a rich history. You speak of an erotic element to your music (the recent Rock at Night video interview). Can you expand on talking about this element and how your understanding of this side of your music has developed over the years?
Paul: There is no philosophy connected to this, we were just referring to erotic elements in the context of ritual. You can feel it on an emotional level. You can sense it’s presence but you cannot dissect it from everything else.
Eugene: Our music contains a lot of erotic, sexual energy at least because it’s connected with the world of ritual and what people call otherworldly or demonic, and you can feel it on a bodily level. Sexuality is a healthy expression of aggression. In everyday life we are required to push down our aggression, while aggression is a good thing, and maybe that’s why it is so demonized by those who sit atop the hierarchy. It is when you dare to say to the world “yes” or “no”. It’s when you become visible. It’s being active. Maybe that’s why women’s sexuality is supposed to be passive in the patriarchal world. Our music and especially performing on stage has a liberating effect on me, and I hope it’s the same for others too, and especially representatives of marginalized groups. That’s why I feel like I can be open on stage and I feel a lot of active sexual energy, and this of course affects our performance and perception and feelings of the audience. Maybe that’s why our performances are called very powerful. They like our music are very aggressive but in a healthy way.
Of course, this style was developed over the years, and I am grateful to my feminist and anarchist views and activism for the freedom to express it. I don’t think this is an outward expression but you can feel it strongly during our performance and listening to our music.
When did you first become aware of this understanding of your music and what were the early conversations between the both of you in regards to this subject matter?
Eugene: I talked about this to my friends and fans of our music, and especially feminists, who felt this, and also wrote about this on Facebook but I hardly talked about this aspect of our music with Paul. What is most important for me isn’t always the same for Paul, and we don’t talk about everything. Me and Paul express ourselves on stage and in music differently because we are different people with different experiences.
Do you ever have differences in opinion as to how a song is completed, and have adjustments to your individual philosophies been made after such a process?
Eugene: We always have different opinions in the process of working on our music. Each of us adds different details but I always make the final decision to complete the work based on our mutual suggestions and we always agree together on what is good. Also a lot depends on who began to create the composition. “My” tracks and “Paul’s” tracks sound differently. In the beginning I was the composer of all our tracks but Paul does more and more over time. But still, I bring things to their conclusion.
Paul: I don’t know about philosophy. Sometimes there is just an idea that sounds good and it obviously sounds good for both of us. Sometimes I create something and Eugene comes in and says “that’s genius” and sometimes he says “what’s that crap you are playing?”. I really appreciate Eugene being direct like that. We used to argue a lot in the past but almost never nowadays. I think I just learned a lot over the years and things got easier.
You’re always so open about your process. Thank you! Eugene, you’ve spoken of seeing music like a painter. What colours come to mind when you consider ‘House of Shards’?
Eugene: I think that a lot of sound designers see music they create like a painter. When I think about ‘House of Shards’, I imagine it in metallic with drops of black and red during the hurdy-gurdy solo.
I suppose the logical step would be to ask what black and red means to you, in order to decipher your imagination in the context of your solo.
Eugene: Black and red are the colours of the anarchist flag so this is connected with my sense of liberation and empowerment. Also, red is connected to erotic expression that I wrote about above and which also is empowering for me. Black is also connected with everything that is underground, demonized and dehumanized. For me these are the colours of revolution, both personal and universal.
Thank you for that clarification! Moving on, Stanislavsky has been a noted influence in regards to emotional expression. Can you give precise examples of how this has played out on recent material?
Paul: I think I was referring more to a general approach that we started using a long time ago when we explored his method which Eugene introduced me to, because he has been involved in theatre using Stanislavsky’s method since childhood. The idea is to begin with a simple technique that allows you to access something deep inside more subconsciously. This is beneficial because if you try too hard to show something it can look like a parody or caricature – like putting onions on your eyes to make you cry which is hard to believe and more importantly you are unable to access your real emotion this way. In time, and with practice, this process becomes more natural and it isn’t necessary to think about it consciously.
Can you identify the benefits in a recent composition or is that an unfair question, given your answer alluding to a more unconscious practice?
Eugene: You are right. It’s a very unfair question. But, even so… I will answer it. People see a lot of emotion in House of Shards, and particularly anxiety, but this song musically was created almost without any emotions but with a vision of what emotion we would like to put into it. Of course, there were a lot of emotions when I wrote the lyrics, and I cried, but during sound design I had to emotionally stand back and concentrate on technical stuff and creativity which is pretty mathematical and logical, otherwise it would be poor production and I won’t be able to convey to people information about that emotion.
Perhaps this is where journalism of this nature can render itself moot, particularly in what appears to be the search for conclusions which can be rationalised and easily compartmentalised. I thank you for your time and patience.
Thank you for your in depth questions which help us to discover more about ourselves and our art!
My sentiments exactly. Until next time. Stay safe.
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