Interview: Composer and sound designer Paul Baran
Glasgow musician on his projects, influences and working methods
Composer and sound designer Paul Baran is one of Glasgow's best kept musical secrets. Combining elements of electro-acoustic improvisation, modern composition and fragile pop, his second album The Other is a beautiful and unsettling meditation on life under neo-liberalism.
How would you describe The Other?
I would describe it as a 21st century album, by that I mean a postmodern cut-up. A lot of these influences were garnered as a result of decades' worth of listening and reading. That, in a way, was my formative education that filtered through these musical forms. My first sonic lesson was listening to the wind whistling through the chute rooms of our council flat and my childhood memory distorted the sounds and refracted them through an abstracted prism. In essence, sounds have come to me in dreams or memory as well as via an inner knowledge of the music disciplines I operate in.
How did it come together? I imagine the process was an accumulative one?
Yes, time was the main ingredient and just patiently waiting for the musical moments to lock together as opposed to forcing them outright. Setting up structures in the studio and waiting for the right improvisational language to compliment the material is usually how I work.
This kind of music is often completely abstract, but you allow rhythm and melody to come through...
A lot of electro-acoustic improv gets caught up in the mechanics of texture at the expense of pulse. I wanted to create a hybrid of this with rhythm for a change, and to see where I could take it and so far I think I have been relatively successful, especially on 'The Human Republic of Haiti' in which I suggested to Sebastian Lexer that we think about the poly-rhythms of Africa and AMM. That one would annoy the purists.
Could you comment on your use of voices on the album?
My own voice is imperfect, but I thought about it as another texture and in some cases as a narrator. In ‘Himmelstrasse’, the singer drifts through the holocaust, via words by Barack Obama, and to the Middle East of the straits of Hormuz. I refused to hide the imperfection because I wanted it to be a strong humanist element in the work.
You don't seem to be using 'The Other' in the post-colonial sense. How do you define it?
You would be correct. The Other is closer to French psycho-analyst Jacques Lacan's definition of it as an entity regulating human interactions. Without these social relations this symbolic 'other' would not exist in our daily lives whether it's through etiquette such as a civil handshake or a bow to a unpredicted geopolitical crisis in the 'real' situations that surround us, grounded of course in Slavoj Zizek's analysis of a complex network of rules. This is apparent in 'Looking for Bobby' in which I imagined [troubled chess champion] Bobby Fischer as a child playing out these rules while the music symbolises the unpredictability of the situations surrounding him. As we know this ultimately led to his mental illness in later life, when the big other in his case - the Soviet Union - collapsed.
You star in and have soundtracked a short film, which explores themes of urban change. Does this tie at all in with your interest in Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and the post-industrial landscape of The Zone in his masterpiece Stalker?
Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky has been a constant in my life ever since childhood, when I watched his films on Channel 4). His ascetic working methods and his ability to sculpt in time and use sound design before it was fashionable have been a big influence on me. The film I soundtracked was part of a larger autobiographical work which is still
to be finished by my friend Edyta Majewska.
Are you working on any other projects?
I will be possibly working on a project with [Japanese composer] Ryoko Akama later this year, and then next summer I will go to Berlin to start work on solo album three.
The Other is out now on Fang Bomb records.