cover photo : Kaja Brezočnik
Our sixth questionnaire for the upcoming compilation Ex-Yu Modular Electronic Vol. 1 is with Jaka Berger, one of the most active, creative and verstile drummers, composers and improvisers on slovenian music scene in the last fifteen years. Currently he is performing free jazz with Mezei Šalamon Berger trio, Džukljev Berger duo and Šalamon Džukljev Berger – Fresh Dust trio (FMR records UK), Bootleg Unit (FMR records UK), playing in the world-dub duo Darla Smoking, has released electro acoustic album dedicated to composer Morton Feldman with pianist Dejan Berden and integrating modular synth into his prepared drumset.
When did your love for electronic music start? What is the first synth you’ve bought / played?
From the moment I started playing drums in 1996, I tried to learn all the different styles. From the electronic field I really dig hip-hop, dub and bass music. Later on I got interested in experimental approach, from granular synthesis and different manipulations of sound within electro-acoustic workflow to more primal and direct noise oriented styles. When I got the first musical ideas that were not related to playing drums I was very much depended on working and performing with computer, but clicking my way to the final arrangement and mix was not something I enjoyed, so I was looking for something with more direct workflow.
The first synth I bought was totally the opposite (lol), it was the experimental synth from Folktek called Mescaline. Folktek is a small company from Portland USA with a very organic sounding modules based on circuit bending. Aldo the workflow is more unpredictable than on most modules in eurorack and takes a bit more time to get where you want to go, I really love the sound of Folktek.
How did you get into modular synthesis? Can you tell us a bit more about your current set-up?
I first got in touch with modular synths on PIFcamp where members of Bastl Instruments from Brno brought their modular racks for us to play around with. In that moment i realized that modular synth can be much more than a oscillator or a synth voice. Today there are many modules that can do stuff you could only do it with computer before and instead of clicking your way through, you can actually enjoy the workflow. In modular world the machine can surprise you in a unexpected ways but still keep your ideas on the spot. After my first contact with eurorack I started to research what is what, learning the basics of synthesis, learning what modules are available and at the same time figuring out what I actually want my machine to do.
There are so many possibilities within eurorack that you really need to dive into the rabbit hole and find what will suit your needs and ideas. You can built a simple synth voice, a techno rack, drum beat system, sampling system, ambiental rack or all of that. It took time to learn which modules do what and what fits my workflow and ideas but it was worth it and it still is very rewarding. Today my rack is a combination of synth voice, samplers, drum beat system and effects. I use samplers and effects mostly in my electro-acoustic projects where I manipulate sounds outside of the rack and improvise a lot, while I use synth sounds and drum modules for making beats and more song oriented music.
Soundwise my rack is full of Folktek modules, samplers and effects from americans Makenoise and amazing Instruo from Scotland. I drive the rack with different envelopes, gates, clocks and sequencer from Endorphin.es. This modules are the ones that will make your workflow and live act function. I believe these are the ones you need to focus on the most. These are the ones that make your rack work for you. Coming from drums into eurorack I see both of them as a modular instruments, you make combinations and add or remove elements and create a setup that is unique to you and your playing needs and style.
You are quite of a renaissance musical persona : also a drummer, who is involved in more rocking projects, like Darla Smoking, a lot improvised and free jazz collaborations, ambient and dronescapes…. Are there any recent projects of yours or upcoming releases you’d like to unveil for our readers?
Since I developed my modular synth I do a lot of beatmusic. It comes natural to me and I love it when I switch on the machine and find myself wiggling for hours having fun with creating songs on the spot. I feed the machine and the machine surprises me back and the result is songs i didn’t even knew where there. From this sessions i developed the sound that I really like and I called it DUF. It became my latest project that took me to a new direction I didn’t do before. The first album called Dead Underground Future is a result of sessions from the first period of my modular endevours. It is very raw and direct. I am amazed how the machine takes me to places i never knew exist. When I listen back to the songs I can’t even imagine how I made some of the sounds. Usually I drive the beats through distortions and granulate samples from different origins. The idea is to create a continuous and dense sound that fills the range and makes you move. The goal is to play a modular live set so the songs will change in the future to adapt to the live set approach. DUF will continue to develope the unique raw and distorted underground noisy club sound. One challenge of the DUF I am developing at the moment is to play heavy broken beats and still keep it groovy. The new sequencer i got will take me further to developing the DUF STYLE idea.
DUF on Bandcamp
Even though there are a few labels for improvised music in Slovenia, the one you’ re involved with, “Zvočni prepihi” is at the far reaches of experimental music, involved in more conceptual practices and sound art. What is the defining motto, or rather, how do you find / choose the releases which will be put out, and what’s in store for the future.
Zvočni Prepihi (Sound Draughts) are a DIY label I started for the purpose of releasing my materials. At one point my production got so intense there was no time to wait for labels to reply and release all the music I created. I wanted to keep my workflow in present and not to release an album that was more than a year old, couse in that time I was already going further with my work. So the only chance to keep in time with my current music was to release albums as they were created. After learning how to record, mix, make artwork, finding print shops and all needed to make a release, I started to share the knowhow with others on the scene and helping them to make their releases. So Zvočni Prepihi in this way, is a label of DIY artists. Each of the artists developes, invests and owns its product and also gets all the money from the sales. After all this time we share the knowhow and help each other with the releases. I take care of the promotional side and help with sending the albums to the critiques. I love how the artist family is coming together and help eachother. One thing I keep straight about the label is that the releases are radical, experimental, walking on the edge and keep the artist idea pure without censorshit. I believe each artist has a right to his or her own vision of what the sound is and how he or she hears the music.
In the future we can expect a third album from SSM KOSK that I really look forward to. Also one of my dear friends Nina Farič Kikiriki is working on her solo album. She is a true undergound noise artist from Slovenia releasing for different labels from around the world and it is about time she makes and album for Zvočni Prepihi, especially since she is part of the family from the beginnings.
Latest on Zvočni prepihi : POETRIX 08 – Ana Pepelnik & Brgs
Can you tell us something about your track “Transitions”, from the upcoming Popscotch compilation?
Transitions represent my latest work in electro-acoustic field with the use of prepared snare drum, feedback speakers and modular synth. I am developing my prepared drum with feedback speakers and strings for some time now and i started to implement modular synth in the setup in the last two years. The acoustic sound of prepared snare with feedback is being processed with granular samplers and effects from modular rack. It is all played in real time. While i improvise with this setup in most cases, this specific track is my interpretation of a graphic composition Treatise from composer Cornelius Cardew. I like the challenges this composition provides with its concept and i find my current electro-acoustic setup with modular synth upgrade most inspiring to play this graphic scores. Transitions will also be a part of upcoming album playing Cardew’s Treatise scores called Breakfast With Cardew following the Popscotch compilation release.
How did the entire situation with the pandemic affect your musical / professional life?
Pandemic was quite a challenge for my musical life since all the live events practicaly vanished over night. It was and still is a big challenge to survive but fortunately I could still work on education that kept me busy within lockdown. I’m teaching drums and developing workshops on improvisation and musicality. I also spent most of my lockdown playing and recording new albums that are waiting to be released. I managed to start one of the projects that was waiting to be realized for some time, called Poetrix. Poetrix deals with remix of poetry. It is a series of ten remixes/sound translations of poets from Slovenia that will be finished in October 2021 with the release of a book with accompanied sound translations on USB stick.
On the personal side i could say pandemic gave me time to reflect on my life. I literally haven’t stoped my production for the last ten or more years and was getting overburned from work, which is a big problem for a lot of people i know. So this lockdown was a forced stop and made me reflect on my life and work and set my priorities for the future. I never had a problem doing other work to survive, from journalist, organizer, technician to carpenter or other work, but it was always a way to keep my music going and music will stay my main priority in the future.