Interview with dark ambient producer Shrine, whose new album "Somnia" will be released via Cyclic Law in May.
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A: This autumn will be 9 years since i started with SHRINE, that was in September 2003. Around that time I turned to sampling and started making music with computers. Before that i was a guitar player. I was playing also a variety of folklore instruments, for example Bulgarian Large bagpipe, which in my opinion was the most interesting of it. I wasn't a professional player, but I was practicing a lot. Since I turned to computer music, I stopped playing any instruments as I felt the computer to be the best instrument for me. That's because it can turn you into a multi-instrumentalist and because it gives you the freedom to play alone, not in a band. You see, I always wanted to make music, since I was a kid, but I never wanted to be in a band. From my point of view, to play in a band is something very difficult.
A: Oh, it's the "inspiration" question :) here we go :) First of all, I really have to say that questions about inspiration are giving me the hardest time in interviews. I'll try to explain. In fact, I don't believe there is such thing as inspiration, at least not within the music genres I'm interested in. I mean inspiration is something that should be in the beginning of the creative process, right? Well, for me there isn't anything like this. When I start composing a track, in the beginning there is only sound. there is no vision, and there is no idea. then, at some point, the "imagery" of the track is showing itself up. but that's a slow and abstract process, especially for ambient music. Of course, it is possible the idea of a track to precede the sound, but that's a rare situation, at least for me.
As for the second part of your question, I passed through many music genres until I found what fits me best. Don't get me wrong, I listen to music in many different genres and will never limit myself within a single musical style as a listener, but as a composer/musician i already found what fits my innerself best and that's ambient music.
A: "Somnia" is going to be released in May/June on Cyclic Law along with BSE, Desiderii Marginis and Arcana. It contains 8 tracks and is about 53 min long. There is not much sense to talk about the music, you have to hear it for yourself. There are some excerpts uploaded to my soundcloud profile, so you can listen to it there. Keep in mind this is soundcloud though, a 128 kb/s compressed audio stream is not the greatest option to listen to music, especially for something full of clear nature field recordings as "Somnia". Anyway, at this moment there isn't anything better, so I'm using soundcloud too.
As for the cover artworks of the cd, this is definitely something you have to see! I am extremely lucky to have the chance to use a work by one of the most notorious digital painters in the world on my cd. I really hit the jackpot with that. You see, one thing I don't like about dark ambient is that it severely lacks a good quality "visualization". No offense, but most of the visual art (covers, videos, etc.) within the genre is quite poor. And that's normal - the scene is small, not too many listeners, sales are low, labels and artists see no point to invest in professional artworks. Instead they are using services of graphic design enthusiasts who are not professionals. There are some good examples of course, but the overall result is rather poor. Regarding the cover artwork, "Somnia" is going to be the first SHRINE release I'm happy with, and probably the last. Opportunities like this are once in a lifetime.
On your question what makes the new album different from previous SHRINE works, well, pretty much everything I can say. "The Final Asylum" was recorded in 2004, "Wander" and "Distorted Legends" were recorded in 2006. At that time I haven't had a home studio yet, so my ability to manipulate sounds was limited to software only. Things changed after 2007 when i started to build a small but useful home recording studio. Another thing is that "Somina" contains various sound layers made with acoustic instruments played and recorded by myself (there is no such thing on my previous releases). Also I can mention that I spent much more time on this album than on any other before. Summary, it's about 3 years I was working on it and that's a very serious amount of time. It's enough to turn a good album into something superior.
A: Hah, the "inspiration" question one more time :) I created "Wander" in spring/summer 2006, then I sent a demo to Stefan Knappe at Drone Records. After a while I've got an answer from him, saying he really wants to release it but the material is too long for a 7" vinyl, so it's necessary the tracks be shortened ("Wander" contains 2 x 12 min, and it turned out a standard 7" release should be 2 x 7 min or less, and since I never listened to music on vinyls, i wasn't aware of that).
Of course i didn't want to shorten the tracks and suggested to Stefan to record a brand new material exclusive for Drone Records during the next few months instead of that. As for the tracks of "Wander", I was wondering what to do with it, it was too short to be released on a normal cd. I've asked several people what would they do and I was advised to make a split release with somebody. So the initial idea of the split was not mine, it came from Stark from Poland (he's an audio journalist who has been writing articles for various Polish web zines, currently writing for "Santa Sangre"). However the idea to make a split with Lingua Fungi was all mine. Actually I sent invitations for a split release to 3 artists whose music I like very much. One of them said "no", the other never answered, but Jaakko of Lingua Fungi said "yes". That's it. Together we had enough material for a full-length cd. Soon it was scheduled on Corvus Records as a 2007 release, but there was some delay and it was released in 2008.
About inspiration :) Honestly, there was none, when I started with it. I composed "There" first and it sounded so organic and natural and in the same time so mystical, that after a while I started to feel it as a metaphor of the Nature itself. Then I decided to make another track opposing the first - industrialized, full of sounds of machines, anti-natural... So in the end I had this dualistic work (or antagonistic if you prefer) and decided to name the tracks "There" and "Back" as a metaphor for wandering into a heavenly place and then coming back to the strange reality. You see, it's the music that makes inspiration, not the opposite :)
A: As I said, "Distorted Legends" was created to replace "Wander" as a 7" vinyl release on Drone Records. It was composed and recorded in the autumn of 2006. Shortly after that I moved to the UK (London) where I stayed for nearly 2 years. The covers for the 7" were printed there in 2007. As for the inspiration, I'm sure you already think I'm the most uninspired person on this planet, but one more time - there was no inspiration. most sounds in those tracks were processed by using various types of distortion effect, so at some point I felt the whole thing this way - distorted, rusty, desolated. That’s where the imagery of the EP comes from.
The original material for "Distorted Legends" contained 4 compositions. I mean there was no "part 1" and "part 2" in the beginning, but I had to split it into two parts in order to fit a 7" vinyl plate. So on your question about the second part - it's already recorded, back in 2006. But it needs more work to be fully finished. someday I will get back to it, but I don't know when exactly. Probably not soon.
A: My studio is small but useful. In the heart of it there is a RME Fireface audio interface and a SPL SX-2 Vitalizer (that's an analog aural exciter I'm considering as the most important part of the current SHRINE sound). Except for those, I'm using also a small Allen & Heath mixing console, a Roland SP-404 digital sampler, a 30-band RANE dual graphic equalizer, a TC Electronic M-350 dual reverb processor, a Boss DD7 digital stereo delay, an AKAI Headrush2 loop machine, a RADIAL ENGINEERING passive stereo DI box and an AXIOM midi controller keyboard. I also have a pair of guitars (acoustic and electric) and a RODE NT-4 stereo condenser microphone (which I bought on recommendation by Tobias of False Mirror and it's a great mic). For field recordings I used to use a Zoom H4 but it was a bit noisy and its frequency response wasn't linear enough, so i sold it. right now I don't have a field recorder, but I'm planing to get one later, probably the new Roland R-26. As you can see, I don't use hardware synths, and I'm not planing to buy any, for now. But if I decide to get one later, it will be a rack synth, not a keyboard, that's a waste of space. I'm creating my sounds mostly with software synths and also with a heavily processed guitar. I'm spending a lot of time to create my own sound samples or synth presets, then I use it to compose tracks later. This way is more interesting than just using "factory" presets or samples made by others. But of course if I come across a factory preset that fits the rest of the music well, I don't mind to use it.
A: Nobody knows the future :) Right now I'm taking a long break with SHRINE, there was too much work on "Somnia" and I need a rest. Perhaps I won't do anything until the end of the summer. Actually there is another full-length album that is almost completed. I was creating it in parallel with "Somnia" during the last few years, but it's totally different from it. I don't want to get into details about that right now. As I said, I'm taking a break now.