cover photo : Anže Kokalj
In early September, Popscotch will premiere as a Bandcamp label, with focus on the electronic, experimental, and other alternative music from the region. Presented as a series of curated compilations, as a follow-up to our samplers, we will explore a certain important topic or a theme, and present authors of each track to our readers.
In our first questionnaire / interview for the first comp : Ex-Yu Modular Electronic Vol. 1, you can find out more about Miha Šajina, a producer, sound designer and DJ from Ljubljana, who has worked as a keyboardist in the bands Intimn Hairstyle and Moveknowledgement, formed his band Ewok, and has been wandering the club waters under the pseudonym Shekuza, where he explores modern electronic music, as represented on the two releases for the leading Slovenian electronic label Kamizdat.
Popscotch : When did your love for electronic music start? What is the first synth you’ve bought/played?
My love for electronic music started in 1997 when I first heard “New Forms” from Roni Size, especially the track Brown Paper Bag which blew my mind because it featured a double bass with frenetic breaky drums. It clicked with me immediately because until then I was a huge jazz fan so drum & bass with acoustic instruments was a natural progression for me. From then on I regularly visited Ambasada Gavioli and became entangled in the rave era of the nineties. My first synth was a Kurzweil K2000 which I bought in the year 2000 from a gipsy musician, so there were a lot of accordion and violin samples on it when I first turned it on.
How did you get into modular synthesis? Can you tell us a bit more about your current set-up?
I got into modulars 5 years ago, when I felt the need to get away from computers; my job at the time required me to sit for up to 8 hours a day behind a screen, so making music on computers wasn’t an option for me anymore. I searched the web and found Surgeon’s and Blawan’s techno sets which featured some strange machines with lots of cables, but the sound was so original and different from anything I’d heard before. I was intimidated at first but then I started reading obsessively, trying to understand the process behind it. The study phase lasted for 2 years, just reading every day and trying to understand what it was all about before I pulled the plug. But then I bought my first custom wood case from Scotland, which I still have and use, and my modular journey finally started.
My current setup is a case size of 4 x 104hp and my goal was to make a perfect machine for gigging in clubs, galleries or with other people, so I tried to design a flexible modular setup to be able to use it in different environments and to meet different needs; it can do anything from ambient to techno. I took my time buying modules, trying to feel out what I might need before I bought I know of people who bought a lot of modules at the beginning of their journey that weren’t quite right and they end up getting more involved in buying and selling equipment instead of recording music. In 3 years I only sold one module, so carefully selecting the components is key for me.
“De Sica” and “Coriolis Effect” are the two releases you’ve released under the Shekuza alias, stylistically very diverse, although rooted in the (poly)rhythmical, minimal/modular techno sound. Are there going to be any radical shifts in the aesthetics of future Shekuza releases? Any plans for your other project, Moveknowledgment?
I’m not really planning my sound before I press the red button. My process is quite spontaneous, I just plug in the cables and try to record something interesting every time I enter the studio, doing what I feel in the moment instead of rationalizing too much. I save my sessions and leave them on my computer, sometimes for days or weeks before I come back to them; it’s like some sort of recording diary. When the time comes for a release I spend about a week just listening to the tracks before I decide which ones are interesting enough to put them out. The tracks I select then go through quite intense postproduction on the computer making the end result a lot different than at the start. The original ideas are just starting points for me because digital tools are so good these days and a modern producer shouldn’t ignore that world. I also use guitar pedals extensively when I search for a certain flavour.
Corona was nice to me time-wise; I managed to finish two albums, one with Moveknowledgement, which should see the light later this year and another one called Warhorse with my dear friend Domen Učakar alias Lifecutter, a great sound artist with whom we decided to make a tribute album to medieval and more recent torture devices. The album features 9 aggressive and abrasive tracks which will come out in October this year on the Kamizdat label. For this one, we had to invent a new sound palette to make it dark and scary enough to fit the concept. There is also a proper techno EP in the works, it’s my lifelong wish to make a proper techno release and I grabbed the opportunity when Marko Luk alias Deconstructor invited me to collaborate with him. He has a lot of experience with making hard-hitting techno so I hope we find a way to make it work on the dancefloor and release it when it’s finished.
Some of your music videos are also done with the use of analogue techniques. Can you tell us something about the authors? Do you pursue the combination of music and visuals when performing live?
The multimedia artist, Lina Rica, who is also a dear friend of mine, made a one-shot video for a single called De Sica. We have also performed live on multiple occasions in the project Shekuza Trio. Lina combines generative real-time audio-reactive animations with digital video feedback resulting in abstract and minimal visuals. For Coriollis Effect I collaborated with Gašper Milkovič – Biloslav who made a video using a mix of analogue and digital techniques. The source of the signal was a video feedback loop between an old SD video camera and a crt screen, which was then manipulated through various video mixers, mostly stuff from the late ‘90s. The signal chain also included a raspberry pi for additional control and effects and the whole thing was then shot on a digital camera and edited on a computer. So it’s definitely a mix of older and contemporary technology. When performing live I try to combine modular synths with innovative video techniques whenever possible and make a more immersive experience for the concert-goers.
Can you tell us something about your track “Brownian Motion”, from the upcoming Popscotch compilation?
Brownian Motion is a one-take improvisation which I left as it is because it felt finished and I didn’t want to ruin it with my thought process later. The progress of the track reminded me of some stuff I’d been reading late at night at the time, about how small particles move randomly in both liquids and gasses, and I realised everything is randomly moving around us and was really intrigued by the idea. Brownian motion is named after the botanist Robert Brown, who first observed this process in 1827. It features some aspects of west coast synthesis developed by Don Buchla in the seventies such as additive synthesis and various sources of uncertainty, which influence melody in unpredictable ways, allowing the machine to make music on its own with minimal interference by the user. The machine basically made the song I just steered the wheel a bit.
How did the entire situation with the pandemic affect your musical/professional life?
With the pandemic, my gigs became just a distant memory. For one month I wondered what else can I do in life besides music but soon realized that this is really the only thing I live for and was prepared to live with my parents again just to be able to continue doing it. Fortunately, during the years of working with sound, I learned how to do sound postproduction for video and luckily that part of my skill set has proven useful over the last year as the demand for sound postproduction really took off, so I’ve been able to earn enough money to continue making music.