Slovenian electronic music pioneers Random Logic talk patterns and numbers, and deliver a mix of their organic hardware explorations
POSTmatter: Why did you decide to call yourself Random Logic?
Gregor Zemljič: The name was chosen years ago and we liked it because it’s a paradox but it really represents the way we work – the way we compose music, arrange it and mix it – it’s random, but really logical. It’s a branch of mathematics that tries to explain how the world functions with an explanation of random numbers and random number generators, etc, which defines the world around us. We always think of mathematics as something really strict and straight but if you go into the random numbers you’ll figure out that everything is curved, circular and non-predictable. And this is one of the reasons why we picked the name. Our latest album is called Pi and is based on numbers and represents this random sequence of numbers which constantly changes. The pattern slowly evolves over time. And this is also how our music sounds like.
PM: Have you seen the Darren Aronofsky film with the same title?
GZ: We heard about the movie but I never watched it. When we started working on the new album, the basic idea was to work with circles. We were using analogue sequencers only and all those sequences were looped in certain cyclic/numeric patterns which were not necessarily based on even numbers. Some patterns were odd, some were even. In a way we figured it out over time that we were combining different circles together. One pattern was running in a smaller circle, another in a bigger one and slowly we figured out that Pi would be an optimal name for the album because it’s based on circular loops of different sizes and those loops are constantly changing over time and are basically not predictable even though they are loops. So we are getting back to the basics of our name – Random Logic – which means we have a circularly shaped form, which is mathematical, but at the same time, it’s completely unpredictable because it cannot be calculated.
Personally I really believe that music should be based on circular forms because there are no straight lines in nature, no squares or triangles. A lot of electronic music tends to be very square, very triangular, very straight and this is not musical in my opinion. All classical instruments like the violin, trumpet, or the piano are always curved. With our music, which is electronic, we try to put as many curved shapes into it as we can so that we get this organic, more natural feeling. This is again one of the reasons why we use a lot of hardware and why we tend to improvise and play a lot of instruments live when we are recoding them so we get these random, but at the same time logical patterns into the music.
PM: Because I guess it’s also a sort of contradiction, with trying to be musical and organic and then also being inspired by mathematical abstraction.
GZ: We are not really philosophical. We just jam. Every time we start working on a track, we create a unique instrument. We combine different synthesizers and sequencers. When we have a session, we don’t know what kind of equipment we will actually use, so there’s always an element of surprise. Sometimes we record something that is usable, sometimes we record a lot of stuff and it’s completely unusable. We are not fascinated by mathematics or some sort of concepts, we just start with the music, and then some concepts which might resemble something in philosophy or mathematics emerge subsequently. So it’s the other way around.
We have a statement on the album, a description of Pi by Franco Berardi which is a perfect description of our music, so we used it as a main text, but it was actually sent to us by our friend who is a philosopher. He listened to the album in the early stages and we explained the idea about the circles and he sent us the text. Berardi perfectly described the concept of the album and the concept of the name of the band, but we never read his work.
PM: Are you also into generative music?
GZ: Not really, at least on this album, we used the computer only as a recording and editing device. As I’ve said, the idea was that we put as much organic – circular – movement into the music as possible, so we decided to work with analogue sequencers and synthesizers exclusively. It’s not about us having something against software or worshipping analogue stuff, but in a way, you can interact with hardware in a organic way. I really believe that the interaction with sound is much more soulful if you have the parameters available and you cannot do it in the same way with a mouse or a controller, it’s just a different experience. In a way, we created our own algorithms for every song. For every session, we created a new instrument which was running at a different circle speed and size, we used a lot of non-quantized stuff, a lot of odd numbered sequences/loops. Not everything is based on 4/4 rhythms, but it’s a little bit more complex. You can probably find mathematics in all of that but we didn’t start from mathematics, we started from sounds and basic sequences.
PM: You won an award for best Slovenian techno live act back in 2000. What impact did this have on your work?
GZ: In the 90s we used to play at many parties, our music was much more club-oriented. Actually, they gave us this award when we stopped playing at those parties and moved towards making music for theatre and contemporary dance. We consciously decided that we do not want the project to develop towards being live -act/DJ kind of thing and moved into a field where it was still possible to experiment with soundscapes. We wrote music and sound design for many contemporary dance performances and it was very interesting for us because we had a lot of artistic freedom and I personally think that I learned most about music or how people react to music from contemporary dancers. Dancers told us things like: This rhythm is boring, I can’t dance to it, and I figured out that all 4/4 rhythms, the most common patterns, are almost impossible to dance to for contemporary dancers. We basically have this techno background but we developed it to a level that it’s not typical in terms of rhythmic patterns. But we still call it techno.
PM: You were also playing at several high profile society events and collaborated on high profile media projects in Slovenia.
GZ: We were really lucky that the directors we worked with were really bold in terms of what kind of music they would put on prime-time TV. We actually did the whole sound design for the national television, which was pretty bizarre at the time. They were shocked, but they used it. If we look at this sound design now, it seems normal, but fifteen years ago, it was different.
PM: Are people getting used to the more weird stuff even in mainstream culture?
GZ: Things that were unacceptable ten years ago are normal nowadays. But it’s also true that electronic music is becoming more and more boring. The tools are available for anyone and the whole industry gives you an impression that just by buying an equipment and specific sound banks you can create music. You can, but I’ve always liked the analogy of buying a box of Lego as a child and being able to do whatever you wanted and now when you buy it, you get detailed instructions of how to build something. The same thing happened to music. Too much music is made from ready-made elements, it’s too schematic, meaning everything is predictable, you know exactly what will happen. A lot of electronic music just hasn’t evolved much, yet it’s become radically more popular than ever before.
PM: Do you try to fight against it by using hardware?
GZ: We don’t have to be likeable. Every artist says they are doing music only for themselves and it’s something that they really like, but we really do that with Random Logic. When we compose and produce stuff, we don’t think about whether someone will like it or dance to it. Hardware is just something we grew up with when we started in the late 80s, there was no software back then. We learned everything by working with hardware.
PM: But you consciously try to avoid going down the easy and the schematic way?
GZ: Basically for the album, nothing was preset. Everything – down to the last kick drum or hi-hat – was synthesised from scratch.
PM: You have been around for a long time. How do you view the development of the music within the wider social and political context, in general, and the Balkans, in particular, over the last twenty years?
GZ: I think in the 90s, after the independence, the whole community was much more open to experiments and, at that time, the media attention that we got in our country was really incomparable to what we would get nowadays. Performing abstract electronic music or other arts at state ceremonies would nowadays be impossible – but was quite common back then. Things changed radically in a way, there is less and less space in general community for anything that is not intended for the masses. At events where you could see artists from the underground back in the day, there is mainstream pop now.
The whole society got less interested in progress in general. It’s interesting that more and more people don’t want to listen to any new music, watch new movies or see new theatre performances. They just want to see what they already saw or heard because this keeps them in their comfort zone. In this whole post-communist reality it became even more problematic. If I look back at the 90s, it’s almost unbelievable how much space we got, how much interest there was not only in music but also in contemporary dance, theatre or literature.
PM: Is it because of the novelty factor in the wake of the fall of the regime and the subsequent onset of so-called turbo capitalism here in the East?
GZ: Yes, basically. Even from my social circles a lot of people, who were open towards the more abstract ways of art in general, became more normal. They consume stuff which – if I’m really polite – is boring but otherwise stupid. We are not fighting against that, or being crusaders against stupidity of the modern world but we have the luxury that even though we are both in music professionally, we don’t have to do Random Logic for living. We can afford to do whatever we like but at the same time there is so little interest in general public that you can forget about any kind of opinions and experiment and develop the sound and do whatever you like. For our album, we really don’t have any expectations. For some people it will be extremely boring, for others completely unlistenable, and for the rest really interesting.
Random Logic will be presenting their new recording with an audiovisual show at SONICA festival (3-20 November, Ljubljana).
Random Logic are part of SHAPE, an EU-funded platform for innovative music and audiovisual art.