Interview (ENG/DE) - Zweikommasieben Magazin - 2015
Questions by Marc Schwegler - website

Over the past two years, Hungarian computer musician Gábor Lázár has caused a sensation. A limited-edition tape released by Last Foundation, which he shared with Russell Haswell, was followed in 2014 by the album I.L.S. on Lorenzo Senni’s Presto!? label as well as by an EP (EP16) on Boomkat’s The Death of Rave. The music by the Budapest-based artist, who studied electronic music and media arts at the University of Pécs, combines sound synthesis and compositional techniques with dance-music patterns that have been reduced to a minimum. Similar strategies that use a minimised crossing of rather academic practices with a deep awareness and knowledge of club music can be found in the work of Mark Fell, with whom Lázár collaborated on a joint album (The Neurobiology of Moral Decision Making, also on The Death of Rave), this year. Gábor Lázár, House of Electronic Arts Basel, Lorenzo Senni, Mark Fell, Presto!?, The Death of Rave

During an artist residency at HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel) in October, Lázár has been working on the installation A Trap For Your Attention (see video below). In the context of this residency, Marc Schwegler asked some questions.

You’ve studied electronic music and media arts at Pécs University. How was that? How much of the things you learned are still relevant to what you do nowadays? Further, in what way did the university prepare you to the music industry?

Yes, I did a BA there—it was fine, I learned a lot I think. The purpose probably is to get to know different approaches and then find your own way. Though I have a non-academic background I enjoyed to get an insight into a structure of knowledge, that the university offered. Maybe the university also tries to prepare students for the so called industry—but I don’t think they’re very successful in doing that. Maybe it is not possible to do this at all. Certain things you can’t be taught, but rather to experience and figure out yourself.

Do you see yourself as a part of a certain tradition, in terms of musical schools? Has—just as an example—the Hungarian tradition in “experimental music” any influence on what you do? Or are there completely different references/influences?

I got introduced to Max/MSP at the university, also to early electronic music history. I first heard terms like algorithmic or generative music there. But I have my own personal background that led me to do things the way I do. I was between 15 and 16 years old when I started to hang out with Martin—S Olbricht—who lived in the neighborhood. He was into drum and bass at that time, stuff like Metalheadz Records—which was a good label or movement at that time, I think. Thereafter, we discovered other labels like Editions Mego, Ant-zen, Old Europa Cafe, Southern Lord, Touch or Sähkö Recordings, just to name a few. We spent almost ten years doing music together. Later on we met Gergő Szinyova, a hungarian painter. We became friends and we did some projects together—like fanzines with music, releasing tapes or he was doing an exhibition where we would play a DJ set. So we did things in many different combinations and we influenced each other in a way. I have great memories of that time and it’s been crucial to what I do now.

How would you describe yourself? Are you a “composer”? An “artist”? A “producer”? And what would be the right term to describe the field you’re working in? Experimental music? Sound Art?

My music is inspired by music technology or a reaction to it. But I rather prefer to talk about the aesthetic aspects of my practice instead of analyzing the technical side of it. I’m also interested in the possibility of realizing ideas using other mediums such as light for example. I like the idea of musically non-relevant sources as compositional tools, for example generative techniques to capture changes and use that as the conductor of my music. It does not mean that I let my music be totally random, I always set up strict limitations regarding to what changes could happen. Unpredictability and randomness are key to the timing: When and how long that particular change appears. This said, I come from a background which is mostly identified with techno music which also plays a key role and significantly determines my approach. I feel really comfortable with it.

How would you describe the relation between your compositions and chance?

My music is not about putting random processes on. Those processes are compositional tools, extensions of the body, so it’s like having a few more hands to interact with my instrument. What I’m doing is to allow the computer to do certain things and then it selects which option appears in music at a certain point in time. I set all the possibilities how the music could sound—which is actually one of my main concerns, because it must sound good to make me happy and to start recording. So at the end the computer just combines my settings and creates different modulations on a certain sound. Many musicians use similar techniques in other contexts. Mozart also used dices at times, when composing music… So it is not like since we have the computer we all just go crazy… Similar techniques have existed since ages and not just in music, but in many disciplines.

Is the notion of minimalism important to your style of composition?

What is minimalism today? It’s again a problematic term. I like to work with just a few parameters to articulate the details and the compositional possibilities of that particular sound or that particular rhythmic pattern. I like linear structures. Again, techno music had and still has a big influence on me. I think repetitive music gives people the opportunity to listen to the details again and again, so they will understand what’s the difference between two clap sounds or between two slightly different rhythmic pattern. They will become sensitive to the temporal and textural qualities and then they can go deeper in music. This is what happened to me also, i just listened to a lot of music and then also made hundreds of shitty, meaningless tracks… The music I’m doing today is still some kind of techno i think.

The installation you made for HeK is called A Trap For Your Attention – it’s based on a quote from famous media theorist Marshall McLuhan. He was relating to art as well as advertisement. Do you see similarities in these fields?

In this lecture I’ve watched on YouTube, McLuhan was asked to explain his statement that advertisement is the folk art of the 20th century. According to him, the main purpose of the advertiser is to catch attention. But he also argued that any painter, poet, musician or any artist is trying to set a trap for your attention, this is the nature of art. So McLuhan talks about art in a very psychological sense, which is a good way to approach music I think. So I thought it could be a nice title for my work. The title doesn’t mean that what I would like to do is a virtuoso eye-catching light show with abstract sound to catch people’s attention. Rather it suggests a possible way how to think about music in terms of perception and cognition without building a pseudo-scientific context around my work.

Is it possible for a visitor to “escape” the trap? Meaning: Is there any way to establish a certain understanding of the construction of the piece? Would you like visitors to do that?

You mean if they can understand the relationships inside the work? Sure, they can. Each piece consists of just two to three variables and works in an intuitive way I think. So you just watch it and you feel and understand its language even if you don’t know the technical background. But the point where you understand something is not necessarily the point where you’re getting bored. I think it is still interesting when it is already clear what’s going on. For example, maybe the reason why people enjoy repetitive music is because they know the structure of it so they can pay more attention to the details, I hope. I think it works similarly in the case of a more sophisticated context.