Nature, Technology & Electronic Music: Finding the Path to the Essential
Nature has often been a source of inspiration to artists, but in today’s fast-paced digital and technological world, these dichotomies inherent to ambient, deep and dub techno become a fascinating topic of reflection and exploration. Paul Herincx has chatted with various electronic music artists from these musical universes for their personal take on this paradox.
In an increasingly technological world, a desire to return to nature has been witnessed in multiple aspects of our everyday lives. Today’s permanent flow of information has its downsides, and the music scene is also exposed to this issue.
Recent research demonstrates the significant benefits that the sounds of nature can have on mental health and general wellbeing. Interesting dualities between the technological basis of electronic music such as deep techno, and the organic and natural sounds and aesthetics which form a primary source of inspiration.
With this article, Melifera intends to open a space of expression, inviting artists to share their thoughts and feelings about the paradox they may encounter in their creative processes.
Organic aesthetics & volatility of digital data
Organic aesthetics are a constituent part of ambient, deep and techno music. Nevertheless, most of the music sharing, posting and releases nowadays occur on digital platforms. This can be regarded as antinomic when taking into account the search for authenticity inherent to such types of music production.
Indeed, most deep techno artists but also listeners are willing to (re)connect and anchor into spaces and textures that are directly inspired by natural environments – mostly far-off from their everyday urban living places and surroundings – through digital, so subsequently immaterial and volatile musical creation.
Clément Davout, aka Adhémar, DJ producer and member of the duo Aucuba Replica, reacts to that question: « I see what you mean with this idea of paradox and I believe our music was born from it: trying to make the intangible tangible, and anchoring it in some place, somehow. It is all about giving materiality to it, in order to transcend the digital. With Aucuba Replica, we create a lot of natural atmospheres that inscribe our tracks into ‘spaces’ – just like some kind of sound geography. »
What kind of experiences feed the imagination of music producers living in great urban areas ? Clément explains: « I enjoy walking a lot, for my daily journeys as well as going on hikes. It really helps clear your mind. I also draw on memories of times when I used to live in a more natural environment. »
« Reading and documentaries are another source of inspiration to integrate nature and animal sounds in my music, such as killer whale clicks, bird singing and wind sounds. I am also interested in observing and capturing multiple environments and cultures: many societies still deify plant or animal species, and practice rituals in their names. »
Face-to-face & interfaces
The ability to explore and connect with natural environments through digital means is one singularity of our modern times. One might easily get lost in it, blurring the lines between virtuality and reality. So does Alice with her project Jan Loup: « You may find samples online that sound very man-made and still convey really nature-like images. It might be difficult sometimes to tell whether a sound is from a natural or an artificial source. You can mix together synthetic tones and nature atmospheres – for instance, authentic bird peeps and nature-identical, although completely made-up effects. »
« I actually feel like I’m treating sound just like any other modern audio-visual material: it mostly turns out to be uprooted, torn off its references, deprived and transformed to a point where it gets unrecognisable. Like a tree out of the forest. All sounds are no less than pieces of material to be assembled, just like a collage, and once together they tell a new story, create a new universe while their past is gone. And the past doesn’t matter much to me. »
Even as subcultures, DJing and music production are conditioned by the technological industry: they depend on digital devices such as computers, machines, hardware, digital files… As a paradox, some genres like deep, dub techno & ambient display a lot of organic tones such as nature sounds, percussion, tribal singing and ancestral instruments.
Alice asks herself: « I do not play an instrument and I sometimes feel like I’m unable to connect to the nature’s music. I capture it frenetically with my recorder, and then hurry back home to re-craft it, but I wish I’d sing it together with the forest. Maybe producing organic music is an intuitive medicine to that loss of physicality, as music is now only digital data? »
Azu Tiwaline (Livity Sound) comments on this shared attraction to organic ambiences at the era of Internet: « I find it funny how many people in different places all over the world get to have the same ideas and aspirations at the same time. It feels like we don’t invent anything and everything already exists someplace around us. We are inspired from just anything we get to sense and to grasp. It definitely echoes with the time and space we live in – all things are connected nowadays and music is also subject to that globalisation. »
« For my part, finding myself in nature puts me into the right mindset for inspiration, it makes me emotionally connected and receptive, soothes me and helps me focus. It all feels way more fluent than composing in the city – which requires a lot more concentration for me. »
Withdrawing from the agitation seems essential to release the mental pressure, feel, absorb & create – to find a moment of grace in isolation, before sharing one’s creation in the abundance of the data flow.
The quest for the essential, the need for connection and addictive technology
« I do a lot of field recording during my bike trips. They allow me to get lost in nature, to go to places where there is as little man-made noise as possible. Taking the time to listen to nature is something of a ritual, a way to connect with the essence that drives us and nourish my music » shares Pierre, aka Ephere (Stellar Transitions). A vital breath before moving back into the civilisation machine and the range of internal distortions it brings.
Pierre continues: « Personally, what I see on a daily basis while living in the city, makes me anxious. When I see everyone on their smartphones it terrifies me. We are not made to receive so much information and hear so many artificial sounds. Socially, everything gets shut down when everyone is listening to their headphones in the street – although I’m the first one to do it. It’s a psychological block. »
« There is a very strong sociological and psychological dimension to the music we make. It’s not just music to chill and relax to, » Pierre continues. « For me there is a much deeper meaning. We live in a world that goes at thirty thousand miles an hour where we hear a lot of industrial sounds. Even popular music today is very compressed, it’s aggressive to our ears. To make this kind of music, inspired by nature, it’s not for nothing that this is happening now. It’s a need for emancipation and letting go. »
« There are quite a few covers that refer to natural elements, as if augmented, sometimes as a dystopia, sometimes perhaps in an attempt to make the ‘sacred’ appear that the world no longer seems capable of seeing, » remarks Alice.
« For my part, the unease is always present inside me. Now that I’m back in the city, I often think of this idea of ‘going back to nature’, of becoming more respectful and perhaps leaving behind this devastating technology that exploits natural resources such as rare minerals as much as it does human beings. I think of those who make these things, those who lose their lives in them. And at the same time I feel that if I did that I would lose the music that has saved me a little from despair. So I keep looking for the answer. »
The answer may be through experimentation and non-dualistic reasoning – no right, no wrong. Rather than fantasising, it is about feeling. Walking, exploring, and, as you experience, choosing the practices that best suit you in the present moment.
Words by Paul Herincx
Translated from French by Pamina Fayt-Grenat