von Zachinsky interview

Welcome at the very special occasion of a guest interview, an interesting one with von Zachinsky as the one who is being interviewed & the representative identity from ‘This Records’ as the one who asks the questions… The album that is being talked about is impressive, not released even, (July 8th is the date!!) but too impressive not be enthusiastic about. I’m sure you will read a ‘review’ about it over here when its out and available, but for now: let’s get up the enthusiasm and enjoy this guest interview between label and their artist & the photography by Convulsia Darklove:

We’ve asked von Zachinsky – dark folk,
industrial, ambient/electronic ambient
composer, songwriter, writer and painter
about his album “Die Urwelt” that will be
soon re-released via our label and we’ve
heard some interesting things about his view
on music, art in general and philosophy.


This Records: Before I ask you about the upcoming release of
special edition of your album, “Die Urwelt.” I want to know
more about your influences, for a start tell me something
about your dark folk works and lyrics. It looks like history
is very important to you, am I right?

von Zachinsky: When I started writing dark folk songs, I
focused mainly on the atmosphere. With time, I started to
write and use more lyrics, which reflect the more subdued
side of reality. I think the decorations you see once you
look up to the tops of old buildings are a perfect example:
you could walk by for years and never notice a frog
sculpture sitting up there. The same goes for history, you
can find countless curiosities if you really dig into it, taking
a different angle than what is usually considered
interesting, like great battles and political changes. Some
more quirky areas of historical research are getting more
popular nowadays for their unexplored potential, so
perhaps my lyrics are really quite up-to-date… It is always
interesting to broaden one’s knowledge, for example of a
particular area while visiting or living there. This touches
upon the general concept of my lyrics and music. Instead
of seeing a big renovated castle with hundreds of visitors
crowding in the rooms, I’d rather see two stones on a
hilltop or the site where a fort used to be in the Bronze Age
with only earthen walls left and a forest around. There is
more mystery in such places, which adds to the inspiration.


T: The second thing that seems to be important to you is
nature. Your lyrics often refer to it.

v.Z.: Nature is another part of the world around us, and
natural metaphors have been used in literature, probably
since such a thing was created. However, each age had its
own vision of nature and used images of plants, animals,
or rocks and seas to express something different. In lyrics,
there is really a lot of space to cover whatever one has in
mind. I’ve noticed that many works of art are based on
rather insipid subject matter, love stories and so on; and
I’ve never had any ideas to write about that. Nature
provides a good means of expression for rational views,
while it has its own dramatic value when elements clash, or
when animals are struggling to survive in difficult
conditions. There are many aspects to it, the plant life,
fauna, geology of a given area, the influence of sunlight or
moonlight on animal behaviour, weather conditions, and
probably many more things. And, exploration seems to be
natural to human beings, actually apes and even birds also
want to see what is inside of a closed box if somebody puts
one in their cage. It is always worth seeing how things
work, what is the underlying pattern for all that. Better
understanding of how the world is always useful, and it
helps one adapt a desirable Stoic attitude.

T: You’re a well-read person. I know that you’re very
interested in philosophy. Who was the most influential
philosopher for you (or was it not only one…)?

v.Z: Well, thanks, I always have this nagging feeling I
should read more so I grab something new and confront it
with what I’ve read before. I think this is the most valuable
influence, the process itself, the clash of different ideas
inside one’s mind so that everything is subject to critical
analysis (including the deep-rooted ideas a person might
have, or things that “everyone” considers a natural
necessity). I am doing research on Nietzsche’s ideas, so his
nature-related imagery has certainly been an influence,
even if not always directly. It has been incorporated into
some of the Young Poland literature, even though I have a
feeling that many of the authors of that period were much
more socially oriented that they cared to admit. That’s
what the research is going to be about, how much
Nietzsche is in the modernist literature. So far I have
discovered that, in that literary genre, the word “strength”
occurs most frequently with the word “we.” “Art for the
sake of art” was the slogan of the period, yet it seems that
social issues occupied the central place in most novels. Of
course, an analysis of poetry might produce different
results. I have also been reading about the Ionian School,
to broaden my knowledge of Nietzsche’s influences for the
work I have mentioned above. They struck me as
particularly modern, and Anaximander proposed that
humans evolved from fish about 2500 years before Darwin.
Can you believe it took humanity so long to come back to
that frame of mind? What I also like about the Ionian
School philosophers is that they focused on reality instead
of producing unverifiable ideas, they applied the scientific
approach to their philosophy before such a thing was even
invented. Speaking of more down-to-earth philosophers, I
have always appreciated Thomas Paine. “Age of Reason”
and “Common Sense” are what the world needs.


T: Now, tell me about composing music. Do you wait for
inspiration, or is it hard work with instruments and/or DAW

v.Z.: It is a bit of both. I don’t force anything, I am not
looking forward to a musical career, it is just a means to
express my interests and document my explorations of
different areas of thought and knowledge. So when
inspiration comes, I make a quick draft, currently it is
usually on a hand-held recorder: this way I can play a
melody on the guitar, or play the chords that I was thinking
about. Or even play and hum some melody at the same
time, so that I have more to work on in the future when I
dig up these recordings to make a full song. Sometimes I
just hum into the recorder not to disturb my neighbours
with the guitar when it’s getting late. Looping can also be
quite helpful when I am preparing a more detailed draft
and some parts are, obviously, repeated in the song. When
I have enough ideas to start some serious work, I work
around them. This is the “hard work” part where I have to
set all the equipment right, make sure the guitar is clearly
audible, everything is tight and so on, so I have to do
some practice to get a right take of the rhythm parts. As
far as solo parts are concerned, I sometimes use a guitar
or synth part from a draft because it just sounds right. It is
quite similar with lyrics, a draft comes first, and then I
work around it until the choice of words and length of lines
seems right for the music, which I make in the meantime.
Sometimes I lack a line or even a whole stanza, and it
rushes my creativity so that I write and record the lyrics
during the same day.

T: Now a more personal question. Was there any situation
in your life that changed you and can be heard in you
music or seen in your art in general?

v.Z.: Most of the songs are based on places I have been to
or things I have read about, so you could say they reflect
my personal experience in that sense. I have always tried
to focus on the more concrete subject matter, there have
been so many songs written about personal experience
that I’ve never felt the need to write any more. Others
have been doing this since the days of courtly love, now
it’s time for songs about rocks and peculiar lichen. As I
think of it, that’s not particularly new either, but it fits my
ideas much better.

T: “Die Urwelt” is dedicated to the memory of Zdenek
Burian. Why did an artist like him influence you that much?

v.Z.: I have been interested in palaeontology for a long
time, never professionally, but it is necessary to know the
history of life on Earth to understand our own lives. I have
been browsing through books in the local library during my
school years, and there was a very interesting tome: the
Polish translation of Josef Augusta’s Zavátý život. It is a
collection of short stories based on fossil records. Augusta
has managed to turn the fossilized bones and tracks into
compelling prose, and only one of the stories has human
characters, but they are actually very human, they speak
of a modern human being’s perception of the lost worlds
and long-forgotten events. It must have influenced me
more than I have thought, since some of my songs are
about animals and their struggles, or about landscapes.
Burian was the illustrator. He has added great value to the
already great book with his precise drawings, based on the
then-current state of knowledge of prehistory. Of course,
some theories have changed (nowadays dinosaurs are
generally portrayed as more sleek and lively), but the
artistic value of his works remains great. I have also seen a
German-language book with his paintings of dinosaurs at
an antiquarian bookseller’s, but didn’t buy it because I
couldn’t understand the text, wish I had… Anyway, I have
also found other books with his illustrations, such as the
Polish edition of Menschen der Urzeit written by Josef Wolf,
and the internet has allowed me to find more information
(and already digitalized pics). By the way, I have noticed
quite a lot of works in German dedicated to the subject,
and in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth the
protagonists are Germans, that’s where the German song
(and album) titles came from. It seemed fitting to also
reach for the atmosphere of a scientists’ old, dingy office,
where specimens patiently wait to be examined. So, that’s
been with me for a long time, I’ve even attempted some
animal stories myself a long time ago, but doing it right
would require years of study.

T: You’re also a painter and you write poetic prose from
time to time, but I won’t ask you just about your paintings,
but how all these areas of art: music, literature and
painting are harmonized with your life? Are they connected
to what you do every day and to each other?

v.Z.: They are all interconnected, whatever can’t be
expressed through one medium, goes through the other.
That’s why I need all of those, it seems some things
translate better to words or music, and others are better
represented visually. I have always wanted to make
complete works of art, for example: an album with printed
lyrics, my own artwork, specifically chosen fonts, and all
that. I believe it is necessary to also take good care of the
presentation, e.g. choose one photograph out of a few
thousand done during multiple hikes, just to pick the one
that expresses the original thought in the best possible
way (not kidding, it does go to thousands in the long run).
With paintings there is more individuality, since one can
paint things that aren’t there and reinterpret reality
through the mind’s lens, so to speak. Or just paint things
that don’t exist anywhere, representations of mental
states, imagined worlds, and so on. I am trying to stay
alert and observe things, even in the city: what’s going on,
what the light is doing to the buildings and trees, what the
people are doing, to get the big picture, but also to pick
out some details to use as primal matter for my works.

T: And finally, the questions about „Die Urwelt”. I’m curious
how long the composing and recording of this album has
taken you, and what is the connection between Burian’s
paintings and your album, or was he just a big influence?

v.Z.: It must have taken me a month or two, the general
ideas were already in my head for a long time from reading
about all those volcanoes erupting and fish crawling out of
the sea and becoming tailed frogs, and all that. But they
had to materialize into musical ideas, which then had to be
thought over. As soon as I had the sketch, I would prepare
the rest of the tracks or leave it for a while to think about
where to take a particular song. As for Burian, he was one
of the people who directed me to look more closely at the
rocks below our feet, so it was a general influence, but it
can be seen in particular on track 7: the basalt rock,
towering over the sea where Elasmosaurs and Mosasaurs
fight (as far as I remember from my reading), was
described in one of Augusta’s stories, and appeared in one
of the paintings Burian did for it. It really stuck in my
mind, and brought on a very vivid image, even though I
have first read the story (and seen the picture) at least 15
years ago. I recommend Burian’s paintings to everyone,
they are full of life, and at the same time they breathe of
past ages. What’s more, he also did paintings of Native
Americans and illustrated modern adventure stories, so
even if you’re not that much into prehistoric animals, you
might find him appealing.

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