Questions to Ujjaya
In few genres is the line between the negligible and the miraculous as fine as in ambient. And so, while plenty of instantly pleasing but ultimately shallow soundscapes find their way to the medial surface, far more challenging and rewarding aural adventures remain hidden in the depths.
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Héry Randriambololona knows all about the loneliness that comes with one's music falling underneath the radar, the constant struggle for attentive ears. For fifteen years, he has been producing under the name of Ujjaya, carving out heavily trance-inducing, minimalist hypnotic mantras with a hallucinatory effect on the listener and releasing self-produced CD-Rs in tiny print runs. The astounding effect of the music on the mind of its audience is a result of a deep understanding of the compositional factors underlying the works of some of his personal heroes: Steve Roach, with whom Randriambololona shares a spatial approach to sound and non-linear perception of time; Brian Eno, whose concept of ambient as a maximally discrete artform is a central pillar for the for soundscapes which develop their true power by plugging into the listener's subconscious; and late Mexican sound artist Jorge Reyes, with whom he shares a mastery of shamanic rhythms.
On the other hand, Ujjaya deals with tantric wisdom in a very direct way: In a bid of extending beyond the stereotypical facts gained by textbook analysis, Randriambololona undertook several journey to India, to study with a guru, develop his technique and musical knowledge as well as adding a variety of instruments to his collection. The discrete and all but ephemeral integration of these acoustic sources - in whose timbres resonate many centuries of meditation and deep listening - into organic electronic soundscapes has lead to a style that exercises a confounding and powerful grip on the listener, pulling him or her deeper and deeper into a borderless space.
As Randriambololona reveals: "A particularity of my music is that although it may seem to be ecstatic, oneiric and hypnotic, my musical vision always come out from real events of characters that are still living or that I've met in flesh. Sometimes reality can be more amazing than dreams. After having a hard time to achieve a posture (an asana), if the posture have been accomplished to its extreme (i.e with gaining the occult power that come with it), a yogi can whisper the formula "ujjaya" - victory."
I'm fine. I'm living now in Montigny le Bretonneux in the Southern suburbs of Paris, France. What’s on your schedule right now?
I'm trying to self promote my name, make some buzz and then search for a label for my ethno-ambient album Something happens. I also intend to record some very quiet pieces of 12 strings folk guitar and find a label - albeit a different one - for them. Half of the music I've played live in 2011 was acoustic, mainly done with guitars and tibetan bowls. People were asking me to record those melodic pieces that I was keeping for myself until now and which I only played to relax on my sofa. Aside from this, I'm still making concerts with electronic paraphernalia and dozens of exotics instruments. I will try to see if there will be an opportunity in 2012 to schedule a concert in Madagascar with Francisco López, an experimental ultra ambient musician; It would mark an occasion for me to pay hommage to my ancestors - the most famous one was the first king of the island. Another wish I'll try to realize for 2012 will be to get some other european artists that belong to same "Roach-Rich" family as me to in Paris, including Max Corbacho and Ran Kirlian. How would you describe and rate the music scene of the city you are currently living in?
Although Montigny le Bretonneux is not far from the capital, people are not as open-minded here as in Paris. They like and play the classic rock stuff, jazz-blues-AOR material or rap music. Electro-pop and techno-music is still unknwown here, not to speak of experimental music. More than twenty years ago, there was an excellent progressive scene (Xaal, and the famous Magma came from this area), but it was really another era. There is one sophisticated place here, called Le theatre de Saint Quentin en Yvelines. But obviously, it is attracting more Parisians than locals. When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I began to play guitar by the end of the 80's. My beginnings were slow, because the instrument that I borrowed from my girfriend was very difficult to play. But as I was a big fan of William Ackerman and Stefan Micus, I knew I could play on an open tuned guitar (not all that many beginners know that) and make beautiful arpeggios without too much virtuosity. The next step was the electric guitar. With the group Ujjaya (a name that I would take for my own music after its split), we made some ritualistic, mystical rock influenced by Hawkwind, Magma, Pink Floyd and Dead Can Dance. But even while I was still a member of the band, I was at the time no longer listening to the music I played with it, but mainly to Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Jon Hassel and above all Steve Roach and Robert Rich. After the split in 1995, I found nobody who share my conception of music and started playing all the instruments, frequently on top of tapes.
As I began to travel, mainly across Asia, for spiritual purposes, I bought all the instruments I dreamed of. Until 2005 I didn't have a syntheziser, I just managed to get my sheets by shaping and looping the sound of an acoustic instrument, electric guitar or even non musical items (such as a vacuum cleaner). At the very begining I had to explore every creative way in order to overcome my lack of means. But as time went by and as I got more equipment and more adequate instrumental skills, I nonetheless maintained this way of thinking as I discovered that it allows the creativity force of the Spirit to show itself in a very concrete way. What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
My first real solo album Au Nord du Kaîlash in 1997 was the turning point. I succeeded for the first time in making the music that I had in my mind without open references.The process was fast and easy, the ideas and the techniques (that were new for me at the time) appeared to me very clearly one after another. It was a giant step forward and gave me confidence in learning any kind of instrument and in trying unusual recording methods. It was also reflecting more my spiritual side than the rock music or the acoustic solo guitar music that I'd done in the past. And above all, it received a far better response than my previous works. What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?
I am mixing an album called Purnima that I've recorded with a friend of mine named Patrick Parola (a French musician living in Mexico). It was already recorded in August 2010, but due to bad luck, it remained untouched for an entire year. Having a jazz background but fond like me of Indian classical music and making some computer music studies, Patrick brought a touch of virtuosity to my music, which I previously lacked when I played the flutes myself. He is also a very inspired singer in the the old amerindian fashion or the dhrupad way of singing. Patrick is also a guitar virtuoso, but his style doesn't fit too well with my music, as it tends to loose some of its depth. This year I made some new tracks mainly for concert purpose so I should create a new album. Usually, I like to give more coherence to my albums, which are conceived as a whole piece. What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?
I'm working on the sound first. So I'm really concerned about the effects and the quality of the effects. If I feel I'm slipping out of my body or out of time then the sound is okay. Very quickly, beautiful and simple melodies come naturally out of those sounds. In fact, the process of working on a piece has begun, once I start searching for new instruments or new effects for that piece. I never use the same set-up twice. Nowadays, though, More than before, I tend to work on the rythmic side first. On acoustic guitar, my work is always based on arpeggios and harmonized scales.
But these are only technical considerations. At the very foundation of a piece, I often have a little piece of a documentary or a film (or a meeting with a remarkable person or place) that give me the inspiration to make music. It provides me with a vision that I try to approach with my music as closely as possible. I'm trying an incredibily high number of combinations of technique, instruments and effects mainly in a random way and suppress the ones that don't fit into my vision. I don't compose, I just choose. In the end, my musical structures are simple, but they are always the result of many choices. One Russian critic wrote about my music that it was lacking in ideas. This is the main danger of this way of proceeding, because in the end, so few things actually remain – but they are the things that truly matter. How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
As I said before, I neither feel I'm improvising nor composing, I just choose to keep the pieces of music that come to me. And they really do come to me, not from me. When the time to record them as a work has come, I'm still leaving some free spaces inside them. I try not to rehearse the track too much before recording it, because this allows for beautiful mistakes to happen. In concert, I often play one or two long tracks between twenty and fourty minutes. In that case, I'm mostly improvising inside some rigid frames. To still keep things fresh, I nearly always play some new material. How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
The relation between those three concepts is a very deep question. I can't give a short answer here, because to be clear, I would have to expose some metaphysical points of view that maybe not everybody will share or understand unless they experience it and giving an answer on the physical or the psychological ground would be for me only half an answer. So sorry. Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?
No, because my main goal in music is to have a secret influence on the listener's conciousness. Some processes are musical, some are not. The non musical elements prevail and they are always well hidden, if not outright secret. But some listeners with some spiritual accuracy can intuit them. On a more earthly plan, I like to surprise the audience by producing sounds that don't seem to bear any relation with the instrument that I play. At every stage, I like to maintain the audience's mind in a haze about my technique. For a few concerts this year, I handed out black bandages to the public, so they could cover their eyes and only have the sound of a long drone with few instruments on top at the end of my concert not knowing what was happening technically. For me, the processes are only a bridge between my soul and the listener. If I could only make it by telepathy from mind to mind, directly without the material, the time and the energy that demand to build a piece of music, I'd do it. But I suppose the hardship in itself must be the fun of being incarnate here on earth. There seem to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualisation, where tracks and albums are merely released as digital files. And, on the other, an even closer union between music, artwork, packaging and physical presentation. Where do you stand between these poles?
For me, an amazing package for a record is always a sign of consideration for the listener. It' s a real gift and another way to invite the listener into the artist's world, to increase the magnetic aura of a work. I'm creating my own sleeves, trying to make them more and more original as time goes by. The role of an artist is always subject to change. What's your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
Music always has a social impact. It can awaken you or it can put you to sleep. The simple fact of making music away from the beaten path in itself is a political act. Providing people with new horizons is a political act. If someone is receptive to my music, then he'll get more focussed on the essential questions and automatically, the bond with the consumerist world will get looser. Playing this kind of music among a white audience as a coloured man is also a way of showing people the equality of men. Playing some rare exotics instruments is a way to show the richness and diversity of man all around the world. Moreover I always finish my concert by emphasizing the fact that everyone can play what I've played. The real difference lies in my cultural openeness, not in my virtuosity (which I don't have). An artist in the experimental field does not have to take a stance on concrete topics. He just has to play. If he did so with his heart at his best, then he can influence people beyond what he could ever imagine. It has happened to me in a very drastic way. To free the mind of people, to get their mind rid of illusion and fear, to make them discover new horizons always leads to big changes. Music-sharing sites and -blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today?
The democratisation of the means of producing the music will give us more and more artists. It will lead to more and more joblessness. The music will be of lower quality for a time. To make music, you need time to sharpen your skill and depth to sharpen your artistic vision. Most of all, you need time to digest your influences and the informations that come to you. These two elements - time and depth - are threatened by digital gadgets that are supposed to save us time. In truth, they fragment our time and consciouness. So the outer shape of the music will be more and more brilliant, but the shell will be empty.
But as the income of the musician will come mainly from their live performances, there will be a natural selection. And the rare musicians that can resist the digital hypnosis will be amazing. Because they will be great performers and prove they have great strenght in their soul, enough to resist the mirages of the digital world. This kind of artists will appear maybe around 2020.
For now, in so-called experimental music, I hear many clichés coming from using the same materials or techniques. The digital world is erasing former civilisations at the speed of broadband connections. And what is not on the web, does not exist (as a Malagasy I know what I'm talking about). So many other music traditions are rapidly dissolving into occidental music at its worst level. Slowly, surely but still rarely, new musicians with news values are arising here and there in the third world. They are not fascinated by the occidental world, they are upholding their musical idyosincrasies but want to move forward. They are not playing ethnic or world music. They are not crossing cultures. For an example, see the african and asian artists database by Cdrick. How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences?
Nowadays, people are more and more attracted by images. Non-mainstream music should therefore stress the visual side more. Sooner or later, a musician will also have to become an art designer. On the other hand, as people will get used to the virtual world, they will be longing for a real experience. So in the future, the ritualistic side of experimental music - if it provides for a genuine effect - should take an important role. Speaking more generally, non-mainstream music should try to mix with other forms of art or to be played in non usual concert spaces.The question of price is always important. Reintroducing catchy but strange melodies without abandonning the experimental part will be the challenge for the next years – and I am not speaking of making new age music here. Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.
Tuu and Jorge Reyes (although the band Tuu doesn't exist anymore and Jorge Reyes died last year). Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I'll try to give a new version of the sacred chanted texts of India, the Veda. Not all but some of them. I've found a rare book from Bénares that gives the notations. I''ll try to present the text in an ambient way, with the chant over the most subtil drones I can make. Imagine Elaine Radigue in 2010, not with her old synth but with the latest software equipment. The main point will be a strong spiritual training before beginning that album. Because I want the spiritual effect obviuos for everyone who hears it, as the music would almost approach silence. Curiously, each time I try to begin this album of my life, each time an event occures that prevents me from doing it. Maybe next year. Ujjaya Discography:
What we know about the Unexpected (1996)
De Retour (1998)
Le maître des carrefours (2005)
Something Happens (2007)
Arunachala Live (2011) Homepage: Ujjaya at Soundcloud