Deep Dreamscape Disclosures with Dasha Rush
Michael-Oliver Harding - May 21, 2015
Some artists are willing to tamper with or otherwise compromise the purity of their craft if it means reaching the next rung on the ladder. Not Dasha Ptitsyna Van Celst. For the longest time, the fiercely independent artist released her fragmented, minimalist melodies exclusively on her own labels – the techno minded Fullpanda and its more soundscape prone sublabel, Hunger to Create – so as to avoid the oft profane, rubbish suggestions folks in the music biz dole out (i.e., pile on a few more of those hi-hats for a funkier crescendo, amirite?).
From her earliest encounters with macro techno thumping and micro downtempo dreamscapes, this Russian-born, Berlin-based electronic experimentalist has been interested in exploring heady juxtapositions of exquisite emotional states. Her earliest allegiances as a performer lie with Europe’s visual arts and theatre circuits, as she honed her synthesized collages of thick moods at gallery shows and multidisciplinary plays in France, Russia and, more recently, Germany. In the lead up to the North American premiere of Dasha’s Antarctic Takt at MUTEK – a monochromatic A/V performance in collaboration with Russian videographer Stanislav Glazov – we Skyped this purveyor of rhythmic soundscape poetry to chat about her musical coming of age in the Soviet Union, her recent Raster-Noton association and her fascination with the coldest, driest and southernmost continent.
What were some of your earliest encounters with electronic music as a kid growing up in the Soviet Union?
It was the rave scene, which got really big after the Perestroika started and everything collapsed. It was perfectly timed with my teenage years. My first contact was through techno, and then I started discovering more heady music, people like Pierre Henry, a French composer who used to do krautrock and sampled electronic music in the early 1930s. And then, of course, Jean Michel Jarre. But it really was in that rave scene where I heard so many sounds for the first time.
Guys like Aphex Twin or Biosphere, we never saw them live in Russia, but of course I heard the music. Once you start learning about that techno culture, you search frenetically, you exchange tapes, you start digging through a wider spectrum of sounds – IDM, trance, ambient – and it was very exciting! The moment Russians had access to information, acid techno and rave music blew up with people like German techno DJ WestBam or Chris Liberator. In the Soviet Union, we didn’t have any of that. It was forbidden, actually; we had authorized music that was reproduced on a monopolistic, state owned Russian label called Melodiya.
Once you left Russia for France, how did you transition from music appreciator to self-taught performer and musician?
When I was 14, I had a very short lived music education playing piano, it didn’t work out well, so it took a while for me to get comfortable. But when I moved to France, at the age of 16, I just started asking friends how to make it work, what programs and synthesizers to use, etc. It was a very gradual process.
Many producers first seek the approval of an established label before branching off into their own, independent endeavours. Was self releasing your music – your debut record Forms Ain’t Formats (2006) and sophomore LP I Run Iron I Run Ironic (2009) – something you always had in mind?
It came quite naturally from my character, as I always wanted to be independent and do what I do how I want to. My first meetings with people in the industry were all along the lines of, ‘oh, I love this track, I’d love to release it, but can you change something a little bit?’ I was like, ‘no! The piece is done, it cannot be changed!’ So I realized that if I wanted to do it my way, I had to do it myself, obviously. I was young and very adamant about not wanting to change a thing, about it being my artistic statement. A bit proud, perhaps? And at the time, I had this really well paid job, so I had the independence to release how and when I wanted.
After making no compromises whatsoever on your own labels, you teamed up with esteemed German imprint Raster-Noton for your latest, Sleepstep – Sonar Poems for My Sleepless Friends (2015). Was the record’s creation more collaborative than previous works?
Not really. The album was not initially planned for Raster-Noton, I was actually aiming to relaunch Hunger to Create. I knew [Raster-Noton label boss] Carsten Nicolai; we talk regularly about projects we have in development, so I sent him a track from the album, and he responded that he wanted the whole album for the label! I wasn’t convinced at first glance – as much as I respect and love the label, and was flattered by the offer, I was not sure it was a perfect home. It’s still slightly different from previous Raster-Noton releases. So we had a lot of discussions with Carsten, and somehow we came to the conclusion that it was an interesting collaboration for both of us.
Sleepstep really is a deeply personal undertaking, as you’re tapping into your vivid dreamworld to pen a number of emotional poems. How did you manage the input of a label on this?
Well, we had a lot of conversations about artwork and visuals, and we sometimes disagreed on things, but we ended up coming to a mutual agreement, choosing elements we could both stand behind and relate to. You know, my self governing process can be positive, but it can be a handicap too, sometimes. Musically, however, I still wasn’t ready to make any compromise. If you make a painting, someone can’t just ask you to add a bit of yellow so it looks better. But Raster-Noton gave me a lot of support in terms of the visual component, so there was an artistic collaboration. The visual we finally settled on was their idea, inspired by the Rorschach inkblot test. I liked that, because it relates to this subconscious realm I explore. And the resulting drawing can be interpreted in an infinite amount of ways.
Spoken word elements run through your entire body of work. What prompted you to give these more prominence on Sleepstep? What drew you to exploring these half-awake, half-asleep states of being?
It all started with the track “Dance with Edgar Poe”. I was reading The Raven and some of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories, and I fell asleep with the book on the couch. In this semi-dream state, Edgar came to me and said, ‘well, you’re in my world, reading about my stories, so you have to write me an answer.’ Then I woke up, and I decided to do it! And however abstract it may be, that track was my answer. Since I was a child, I’ve had lots of vivid dreams. I was also studying different types of synaesthesia for the project – not only colour-wise, but also sound-wise. When I hear something, I get a visual picture. I don’t know how it happens, but it just does. So I was exploring this and trying to analyze myself, why I have these crazy vivid dreams. I made tracks from it all, to express those things.
Alongside video artist Stanislav Glazov, you’ll be presenting Antarctic Takt at MUTEK – a chilling, abstracted exploration of a visually breathtaking yet meteorologically oppressive landscape. What fascinated you most about the continent?
Antarctica is the only continent untouched by humans. There is no industry or population. Sometimes I feel really tired of all the negativity in the world, the wars and inequalities, and I wonder where I could go to escape from it all, and I settled on Antarctica! It’s this space I could escape to in order to imagine things, to be quiet from all the horrors of human history. And yet, physically, I cannot, because it’s too cold, and it’s actually forbidden to live there, save for three months, as part of a scientific expedition. So Antarctic Takt is about an abstract, evasive land that I’m trying to get away to, and I’m asking the MUTEK audience to come with me.
Dasha Rush and Stanislav Glazov present ANTARCTIC TAKT
NOCTURNE 2: Thursday, May 28, 9:00 PM - 3:00 AM