cover photo: Kino Šiška
Our fourth questionnaire for the upcoming compilation Ex-Yu Modular Electronic Vol. 1 is with Aleš Hieng (Zergon) , a chemical engineer by profession as well as a DJ, producer of electronic music and sound artist who also works in the field of audiovisual performances and in the vast field of DIY electronics. He is interested in club music as well as in sonic explorations and audiovisual experimentations. His sounds range from deep house and techno to idm, noise and abstract drone music. He is a member of Synaptic Crew since 2003.
Popscotch : When did your love for electronic music start? What is the first synth you’ve bought / played?
I always loved music. I used to attend cello and guitar classes and I was constantly searching for new music and new genres. My interest in electronic music was encouraged in the late ’90s with a local radio station “Radio Gama MM”, which was hosting radio shows dedicated to different electronic sub-genres (techno, house, drum’n’bass). Back then, I was so eager that I also recorded some of the radio shows to cassette tapes. I started DJ-ing and in 2003 joined the Synaptic crew.
The first synth I played was a Casio PT-10 (the VL-1’s little brother) that was given to me by my grandparents. It was a funny little toy keyboard with bleepy lo-fi rhythms and four tones (sounds) – piano, flute, violin and fantasy. The latter was especially interesting as it sounded unique apart from the other three emulated sounds. But the first synth I bought was a Waldorf MicroQ rack. It had some really cool presets, yet the neatest function was “random” that randomised all synth parameters. Most of the time I used the “random” function, it was just silence or some noise, still, there were moments when it spewed out the most curious sounds.
How did you get into modular synthesis? Can you tell us a bit more about your current set-up? Do you build your own instruments?
The first time I saw someone using a modular synth live was a prominent Slovenian producer and artist – Octex in mid-2000. I already had some experience of making music at that time, but seeing someone using modular was, at least for me, something extra. My modular journey started with MFB Kratfzwerg (small portable semi-modular synth). Later, I was adding and swapping more and more modules so the system was constantly expanding and evolving through different set-ups until I reached the point where the system is comfortable for playing and gives a broad palette of sounds. I currently use a 3-voice system housed in a 12U/84hp DIY case. As a DIY enthusiast, I build modules, effects as well as studio gear. Currently, I’m building a Buchla 208p Music Easel clone.
From listening to your two bandcamp releases “Tunse” and “Shiny Protons Bursting” I notice a tendency towards dub techno sounds, but also the bleepy, droney electronics. Is something currently cooking in Zergon’s kitchen, and which preferences will prevail in the future?
Dubbing is a must! I love dub techno with its delayed and spaced-out droney chords and deep bass. Although, I do not limit myself to this. I use a wide range of sound sources – analogue or digital synths, software instruments, drum machines, field recordings, acoustic sounds. At the moment, I’m finishing a release for the Kamizdat label that’s going to be on a more acidic side. Apart from that, I’m leaning towards more offbeat/ambient techno stuff, and I’m doing some remixes for New York’s multidisciplinary artist embryoroom.
You’re one of the rare artists involved in clubbing, but also sound art and audio-visual performances. I am very intrigued to hear more about your collaborations on interactive sound installations and their relation to chemistry and science.
In 2013 I was invited by media artist Roberina Šebjanič (https://robertina.net) as a chemist-scientist consultant on her upcoming installation project. She soon found out that I’m a musician as well and from that point, our collaboration started. Our first project was echo 10-9, audiovisual performance with nanobots, ferrofluids, nanofluids and analogue synths. After that, sound artist Ida Hiršenfelder (https://beepblip.org/) joined us, and in 2015 we developed a new project, Time Displacement / Chemobrionic Garden, a durational interactive sound installation, where the sound was changing with the growth of chemical crystal gardens. Following the garden idea in 2017, we developed the Sound Disposition / Crystal Gardens, an 8-channel sound installation, using sounds derived from piezo crystals. With Robertina and Ida, the group dynamic has a particular flow as each of us gives our part of theoretical, practical and esthetic input to the project. My latest collaboration was with Maruša Meglič, where I composed an ASMR sound design for her video installation Attractive Force.
Can you tell us something about your track “Photosynthesis”, from the upcoming Popscotch compilation?
The idea was to manipulate the main modular driven looping melody by adding and subtracting various layers of noises, mimicking the movement of leaves in windy conditions. I was going for meditative listening immersed in natural ambiental phenomena.
How did the entire situation with the pandemic affect your musical / professional life?
Sadly, lots of bookings got cancelled. Still, I played one live show last year and recorded two videos for embryoroom’s video stream that were a part of the latest extensive release on his Bandcamp. I also had more time to learn some new production techniques. I am concerned about the future of club culture and the general music scene if it will ever become as vital and influential as it used to be. However, the experimental sound art scene always had a small audience and focused listening sessions, and somehow, this new situation did not affect that much.