Troum, Droning Mind (Interview with Troum)
The reason for writing this foreword is because after getting an email with Stefan Knappe and Martin Gitschel’s answers I had a feeling I should have asked them about totally different things; I should have engaged in the conversation in a different manner to know something different about Troum. I guess the unsettling sensation of elusory point («oh, if only a bit more, ah, if only a little more») is a symptom not only of personal neurosis, but also of a contact with an accomplished work of art. The art draws forth a willingness to speak.
However, conversations about drone music (or ambient music in general) often slip towards juggling definitions like «transcendental», «atmospheric», «ethereal», that basically have no meaning. Troum is by all means no exception here. As a result we stop at stating «an effect» – and tell, for example, about «imprintings», about a sound that «encompasses», «hypnotizes» and the other specific solipsist things. I think Troum’s case deserves some more respect, some more effort – even for a short literary sketch format. Sure, the ambient invites statements like «it’s atmospheric» itself: by erasing the distinctions within musical form it takes out the thing our speech can get hold of. This formlessness becomes followed by a claim to its totality. Traditional proto-forms of drone music (from Indian ragas to Japanese gagaku) follow designs integrated in a sacred social order. But does it mean that «nada brahman» formula stays meaningful in another age, in a different society? Ancient totality – how much does it correspond the totality of a globalized society permeated by IT-communications?Should we believe that modern drone ambient music is a sacred technology, i.e. an instrument, disposed of a context of its origin (just like drugs, sexual experiments and so on), which can be used to produce a certain sacred experience?
Of course it is: drone ambient is a technology for producing experiences of a certain kind; it’s obviously engaged in a dialogue with archaic contexts, successing them. Nevertheless, the question remains: what kind of «sacred» do we mean nowadays, when the fact of defining this phenomenon itself is problematic? The definition becomes emasculate: «sacred» for ambient music is just as empty word as «atmospheric», unable to make anything clear. Due to these empty words listeners” attention becomes focused on «percepts» instead of «concepts»: a piece of art is reduced to sensory experience («an encompassing sound»), which has basically no relations to the world.
As a result ambient becomes a perfect object to once more justify a myth about a freely floating art, existing by itself, outside the mundane reality, devoid of meaning and obligations. Music and sound art, though, are things-in-the-world (as Seth Kim-Cohen describes this), even though some authors (or critics, or curators) wish for these things to float inside a parallel dimension. This means that the music gains value due to certain circumstances and it’s not independent from the background of its production (that is probably why drone that evolved from school noise punk stuff made by common guys from North Germany may seem more sympathetic to some than ambient drawings made by sophisticated student of art college named Brian Eno). It’s worth noting that authors of Troum do not declare their music «otherwordly» or ‘’ethereal” at all. They straight up tell their creation does not escape from the world, on the contrary, it acts within the world, challenges the world – and its political and economical environment. This tension of yearning is present both in studio recordings and during live shows (it’s more noticeable in case of Maeror Tri though). Still for Troum notion of sacredness makes sense, remains a working concept which can make clear the principle by which this music functions. For this we should address the theoretical framework used by Strong Program on Cultural Sociology. These researchers view «sacred» as a basic category of reality which deals with collective experiences of utmost intensity as opposed to category of «profane»(meaning individual and moderate).
The sacred is intertwined with the most fundamental aspects of social existence. This being said, the sacred is paradoxical in its ambivalency – it is able to invoke excitement and horror, admiration and repulsion, thrill and still at the same time. Does that mean that the sacred has two sides, the clean side and the unclean side, and can we repeat Marcus Boon by stating there is sacred music of light and sacred music of darkness? No: the sacred is a whole, but ambivalency arises where the border between sacred and profane dimensions might become difficult to mark.
Precisely at this point of mixing what should not be mixed appears the unclean, i.e. the ambiguity space between the profane and the sacred. Instability of the mix becomes a source of strong and contradictory emotions, because the state of unstability is directly threatening the way things are. Fear of the archaic people caused by twins being born and the modern antagonism to human cloning are linked by the same emotional mechanism: the symbolic order is being destroyed in both cases. Play of transgressing borders is an all-powerful resource for the art. Yes, Pussy Riot case is also about this – in a current situation it’s the transgression that is the most favourable method to make the invisible sacredness appear.
However, the effect shouldn’t always be shocking and devastating. The mix of ordered and chaotic can act with a great delicacy, although its source stays the same. If Troum’s drone ambient does wield some sacred power, its emotional (the very hypnotic, encompassing) power arises from a play with uncertainty made an acoustic principle (and by no means from the explicit reference to, say, sacred themes).
Some could argue that every musical piece is a result of interchange, namely disharmony being resolved to harmony. However in Troum’s case realization of this is necessarily brought to the fore, because the narrative aspect is minimized, element of events is reduced and the listener’s attention is invariably caught by a boundary between form and formlessness. In the language of sound this play means a two-step motion: a gradual dissolution of conventional, established musical structures to microfragments and tones on the one hand, and just as gradual reconstruction of the new harmonies from these tones and fragments on the other (I guess, Maeror Tri concentrated on the first part of the operation).
The strongest cathartic effect in an endless blinking between form and formlessness presents itself just as a new rhytmic order grows out from the chaos of sliding between reflections: we know Troum know about this too and use this technique with persistence of note – from the classic LP Sen to the recent Grote Mandrenke.
The difference between archaic sacred music and the music of our time thus lies in the fact that in the first case we’re dealing with fixation of an eternal order and in the second – with problematisation, doubt, frailty, with question mark distinguished by humanness. Where lies the productivity of the strategy Troum have chosen? What happens when the artist displaces the boundaries and lets chaos threaten order? Embracing the sacred unleashes intensity of emotions.
Moreover, the menace of chaos calls for efforts at understanding, cognitisation, production of meaning. In other words, something that happens when we dream takes place: a new meaning is born.
Ivan Napreenko (Translated by Midvet Sevirnyi)
Stefan: Yes, three times or passages I can remember from last night… Significant dreams are of course always too personal;) – but dreams with dead people or «lost» people are often important to me. For example an ex girlfriend appearing in a strange / surreal situation again.
Or dreams revealing a new perspective or insight on conflicts or past experiences. And I sometimes dream of Troum music that doesn’t exist so far – I can play it on vinyl then, I have the record in my hands, but its all completely new and unknown!
Martin: Indeed, the most significant right now is my dead Tomcat appearing. Normally, in times of stress, I dream about being hunted. Hunting myself or being confused by massive crowds of people.
Stefan & Martin: Some dreams can be important for you and if they are, they will tell you! As Christopher Bollas (psychoanalyst) once said: Dreaming is like being part of a drama, that has its own logic, that is not directed by ourselves. In our dreams we are like actors on a stage, directed by our Unconscious, which is «the alien in us». Dreams don’t have a clear meaning always, but they can start a reflection process about the past, present and future of your life.
Additionally, we think the dream-state is also present during the day-time, important for becoming creative, for memorizing, etc.. regarded as a whole we are probably more dreaming in our life than being «awake». So, dreaming is absolutely essential.
So for the music, it’s not about taking a specific «scene» out of a dream and turning it into music. It’s more that certain tunes, sounds and melodies “activate” (so to say) a dreamlike picture in which we start painting musically, in order to complete it.
Once you said that your music expresses a yearning to change reality. What kind of place it should be? And what does it mean if you say it should be more human?
Stefan: We dream of a place with less humans, that could be more human;) Well, to answer this in full could fill a book, it’s maybe the most difficult question of mankind. The most important change would be: developing more empathy! Many people act brutal against nature, animals, other people and even themselves. It seems «human culture» hasn’t even started yet. We need more co-operation, emotion, sensitivity. There are too many narcissists & psychopaths around that rule the world, the only value is “being strong”. But this will surely lead to the abyss for us all.
Martin: You could also put the first sentence differently – that our music expresses or shows that we both live with a different “catalogue of values”. In this catalogue is no place for hailing the god of consumption, greed, neo liberalism or any other kind of narrowminded reactionary nationalism. We mean religion that is destroying any sense of individualism with its brutal nature – the principle of «us» and «them» is pure poison in a globalized society which has to look out for new ways of living together.
Stefan: No, not at all. A yearning is a deep sentiment, a recognization of our inner needs. A very introspective process – the process of awareness. Before you act, this is the foundation.
Martin: Perhaps it’s the same as the problem with the “perfect melody”. When you find it, there’s no reason anymore to go on making music. If the society would change and become perfect in our eyes, maybe the yearning would stop. We would live all happy together and I would be pissed off that I have nothing to complain about anymore;)
And once again I go back to that interview, because it seems to me important. You also say that the music should touch ‘our whole existence’. Do not you think that the whole existence is a bit phantasmatic, and being human means to be not-whole at the very core, to be shattered by desires?
Stefan: With this we mean that music influences or even determines all aspects of life, it’s not just a “hobby” you do after work from 7–9. Yes, we can be shattered at the core – but all of this can be expressed or even cured by music. The very action of listening to music entirely can initiate processes that can have effects on your whole life.
Martin: Music goes directly to the emotions, like smell goes directly to the memory, brainwise. When we stay with the picture of the core you could also say taht the task (or meaning) in life is to keep those pieces together in order to not “loosing yourself”. Using now your emotions, working on them, relativating them, strengthening them, reflecting on them let these emotions becoming the “glue” that stick the pieces of the core together.
Stefan: It doesn’t mean you must be «happy» all the time, not at all. We don’t regard someone with a very melancholic soul as «ill» – on the contrary, it’s the appropriate reaction to our world, so to say. Or a bit more explicit: Music can help you to survive in this insane world. Martin: True, being depressed in a “fun society” makes you look quite normal (back to the “value catalogue”) ;)
Stefan: Not really, as we once said: «Our Brain is our Religion.» The God is in yourself. Or you could also say: God is in a Butterfly!
For me, being in Nature (best is a forest), being really absorbed by Nature, answers all of these questions immediately. It can be the most spiritual practise to hug a tree;)
Martin: I perceive the world, the cosmos and everything around as a big mysterious miracle anyway, and the try to understand it is already a kind of “divine service”. Understanding means somehow a kind of enlightment in a buddhistic way. You could call it «Scientific Animism» maybe.
Troum ambition to ‘go back’ to archaic pre-sources of sound/psyche is quiet similar to Russian avant-garde ambition to find some pre-constructions of reality (think of Malevich, for example, famous for his ‘Black Square”). Do you believe that such universal construction exist and can be defined (Russian avant-garde has failed as we know)?
Stefan: Yes I believe it exists and music can touch it! We can not «define» it, words will always fail to describe it, as these are completely pre-verbal areas of the mind. I personally believe there is a an undestroyable «untouched core» in every human being, and it can be reached through music. It also explains why many people can’t stand certain music – its too painful. If this «archaic core» is touched, you can only cry, its too intense!
To put same question in different words: is there any universal law in human nature?
Stefan: hm, very difficult question, with many possible answers. I think there are two laws that are striking, and they belong together: – Men tries to dominate/exploit Nature, but he fails as he forgets he is Nature, too. – Most actions of Men are based on his fears (especially the avoidance, elimination and suppression of fears), and the most arcaic fear is the one of uncontrollable nature-forces (these are also inside himself)
Martin: You can always count on the selfishness of mankind. Look at a baby and you see that it’s motivation is that someone is nurturing its needs (food, clean diaper, etc.). Later the child learns for example that sharing something is making someone else happy, which makes the child happy, which is again selfish. So even doing something “good” is selfish because you do it in order to feel satisfied and well yourself.
Stefan: As said, there’s a deep relation or imagination with Nature. Yes there are various personal «magic places» outside for me. They exist everywhere. Indeed, I dream of living very close to nature or inside a forest. Not sure if its an influence for us both, or for Troum in general. It’s more the effect / expression of what was already there inside me.
Martin: Apart from that, the complexity and beauty of nature shows you a model of a great opus of life: Microcosm ~ Macrocosm => The soundtrack to the Multiverse.
Your music seems escapist in some sense of word. Have you ever thought that there is another time when you would like to be born?
Stefan: We rather think that music (or real art in general) is not there to escape reality, but to stand it! We are confronted with reality already enough, every day, no one can really escape it.
To imagine to live or being born in other historic times is very interesting, but at the end there was probably no other time in history that was easier to stand.
Martin: You also have to split this topic: The creator of the music is working and reflecting with this music on his reality and surrounding life-situation. He’s putting out frustration, love, sadness about a lost love, etc.. so the music is there to stand reality while the listener of the music is escaping his personal reality and visiting the reality of the maker, so to say. But this can strike back at you – when the maker is for example struggling with the pain of a lost love and might be right now in the same position, his reality becomes yours and there’s no escape anymore.
Can you tell more on Mare… trilogy? It seems much more articulated than your previous works.
Stefan & Martin: Yes you can say that we developed more the aim for “composing” and details in the sound, for example the mixing of Mare Morphosis took very very long, as we had about 30 single tracks/layers to combine into one big piece. The «Mare» trilogy expresses our fascination with ocean-related themes, or rather sensations: the infiniteness of an ocean, the constant change of waves & water, the abyssal deepness and existence of unknown / unreachable areas. It’s all a perfect metaphor for the human psyche itself.
Last year you played in Russia with Helge Siehl. Have you ever thought on revival or collaboration?
Stefan & Martin: I guess you mean with Maeror Tri? Many other people seem to think about it, but we don’t! We really hate re-unions, revivals and the whole retro-culture… we want to develop into more unknown areas, and not repeat the same over and over… at least we try it. So, NO revival or collaboration definitely!
Photos by Ivan Napreenko.
TROUM – Transcension Drones
These are dreams, dreamt by dreamers who are awake