ArtPortal: How did your connection with Radio Belgrade start?
Svetlana Maraš: Historically, a lot of groundbreaking innovation and experimentation in the field of electronic music happened in studios of radio stations. My own attraction towards the radio has a long history and this was recognized by Radio Belgrade when it was time to take the job at Electronic Studio. I was already involved in radio projects in Belgrade and abroad – very important at that time was my collaboration with Elisabeth Zimmermann who commissioned a couple of works for Ö1 – Kunstradio. My activity in this field led to my joining the Electronic Studio of Radio Belgrade where I worked as an artistic director from 2016 until 2021.
AP: What are the unique features of the studio?
SM: The studio is located in the building of Radio Belgrade which made it possible to live-stream the electro-acoustic works we produced. This specific format, the live broadcasting of experimental electronic music had a powerful impact on the way I think and everything I do. Another special feature of the studio is EMS Synthi100, an electronic instrument purchased in 1971. It was out of order for 10-15 years and coming to the studio, my main goal was to restore Synthi 100 and then to establish various programs (educational, artistic residencies, etc.). As Synthi was not made for live performances, Ksenija Stevanović and I recontextualized its purpose by using it in the live broadcast of our show “Elektronski studio uživo¨.
AP: Do you know why the radio originally purchased the instrument?
SM: In the history of electronic music, it is exciting to think about what or who influenced what: was it new technologies in music that influenced composers, or the other way around? Of course, there is not a clear answer to this question. In a similar way to Morton Subotnick who ordered Buchla for their San Francisco studio, the composers of our studio in Belgrade contacted Peter Zinovieff with the idea that they wanted an instrument that could do this and that. It was designed according to their wishes and became an iconic instrument that was tailored to the needs of musicians.
AP: What is the most interesting era of electronic music for you?
SM: I really like the beginning of musique concrete and the very first steps of electronic music in the 1950s and 1960s. Sometimes it sounds a bit too simple or rough, but innovation and discovery are so much present in the pieces composed back then. Musicians were working with many constraints and unknown factors and it is really inspiring to explore what they created out of these uncertainties.
AP: Are there specific artists from this time you especially like?
SM: If I would refer to specific artists it would probably give the wrong idea of what I am influenced by. Sometimes I gain inspiration from something I hear on the street, sometimes from a recording, or a live concert, so it is a mix of different things.
AP: Do you research archives for your projects?
SM: Sometimes I do, rather intuitively. For one of my pieces called Jezik, I used the archive of Radio Belgrade for the first time. I incorporated an imaginary archive material into a more recent piece “Post-excavation activities¨ and now I am working with tapes from Radio Belgrade again. This tangible relationship with archive material and tapes plays an important role in my work.
AP: Going back to your practice, could you tell a little about how your performance evolved? Why did you want to remove the equipment between you and the audience?
SM: Playing electronic music live was a part of an ongoing practice for me, where I feel free to experiment, explore, and change all the time. A process in which I can figure out what I like and what I don’t like. Maybe my experience in playing improvised music since I was very young contributed to these decisions. I always had an instrumental approach to whatever I am using, even though it is now computer technology. Instrumental in the sense that I feel like I am playing an acoustic instrument. Having a thinking machine between me and the audience was an obstacle and slowly I moved away from it. It also enhanced my listening: if you imagine the situation in physical terms, these laptop monitors are standing between your ears and the audience. When I play music my (imaginary) ear has to reach the audience to hear what they are hearing. If I have something in between it is a burden to build such a connection. Removing the equipment makes me more vulnerable and exposed when I perform but it also brings out the fragility and imperfection of music.
AP: What is your strategy to bring these qualities of music to the surface?
SM: The strategy is not to bring anything to the surface, just to let the music be what it is. Improvisation was always there in my practice. I started to learn music when I was 5 years old, I took classical piano lessons. I could never properly repeat the score or learn pieces note by note, but I was always improvising and my teacher wanted to kill me for it. If I wasn’t improvising I wrote my own pieces, this means playing music and composing happened simultaneously.
AP: What made your performance in Budapest special?
SM: This was the first time we performed together with Astrid Schwarz. We are both connected to radio in many ways, Astrid has been working for the Austrian radio Ö1 for more than 20 years. This similar interest of ours is central to the piece we will perform. We wanted to make a piece about what we feel is the process of composing for the radio. There is also a historical perspective in the project, a lot of reflection on the sounds that influenced our practice, and the sounds that we imagined related to the early radio. I used archive tapes from Radio Belgrade. These are particular recordings that probably the audience has not been able to recognize at first instance, for example, special effects that were difficult to record in the 1950s or 1960s with simple microphone amplification. These noises that were recorded in the studio has been only present in the texture of the music, not as obvious references, but they gave a specific color to the piece.
Astrid Schwarz conducted interviews with composers such as Beatriz Ferreyra and Éliane Radigue. These female voices are very important parts of our piece, as they represent the women who contributed a lot to the field of electronic music. I also played a small sample of Ludmila Frajt’s work called Asteroids composed in 1967. Ludmila Frat was one of the very few female composers who worked and realized their pieces at Radio Belgrade’s Electronic Studio. If you would open a book about electronic music history you would see mainly men figures standing next to the synthesizers, making music, very often without any woman around, so being inspired by the works and composers that we quoted in this piece, we wanted to bring them to the forefront, and express recognition to their great work.
This interview is a transcript of a conversation between Svetlana Maraš and Andi Soós.