Sunday, 13 October 2013

Tomas Dvorak is a musician, composer and multimedia artist. His soundtrack for videogame Machinarium is his most recognized project to date, but he’s also been making waves with his band Floex, as well as the BBC and Discovery Channel reporting on his multimedia project Archifon.

Machinarium was a hit. It’s an award-winning game and many critics attributed its ‘elegant’ and ‘Pixar’-like qualities with the soundtrack in mind. The games success has left a huge impact on its composer, “it influenced both my career and me, musically. I stopped being afraid—I was always trying to solve problems with my music beforehand” says Tomas.

He’s a likeable guy. Smart and sharp-witted with his feet firmly on the ground—he’s even humble in retrospect of Machinarium. “It [Machinarium] was massive. Many people played it—maybe millions of people. I was really surprised when I received many, many mails from different people. I was like… what?!”

Amanita Design, (the company behind Machinarium) has confirmed that one of its older games, Samarost 2, is to be followed up by a third, Samorost 3. Though little has been revealed, the game is said to be in the same style as Samorost 2 and Machinarium, a puzzle point and click adventure game.
Dvorak has been booked to compose the Samorost 3 soundtrack, “I dare say it’s really beautiful. I’m excited about it,” he says. It’s been dominating his time so much that it’s been “almost impossible to perform” with his band and work in the studio all at once.

The soundtrack for Samorost 3 is to be fragmented—meaning that parts of the soundtrack are likely to go in different directions than the other parts. The game is to have different planets and these different planets, in Dvorak’s words, “have different needs.”

Floex resemble the conventions of a typical electro four-piece but almost every member has at least two or three tasks to do when performing. It’s backed up with complex music. Described as ‘electro-nu-jazz,’ it is as sophisticated as any jazz quartet, needing a high class of musicianship to pull off live.

Putting the band together was a challenge. “I didn’t put people together spontaneously. I have a friend who worked with me previously, he had really good contacts and he gave me a tip for a clarinetist. She [the clarinetist] wasn’t interested, but it was through her friends that I discovered a guy who I saw at a clarinet workshop. I really liked how he played, so we got him,” said Tomas. “For the drummer, I auditioned many and I found our singer, Sara [Vondraskova] gigging in a small cafĂ© in Prague—I’d been looking to find a vocalist for almost a year beforehand. If I know what I’m looking for it comes.”

There are two videos that accompany the EP’s release—”Gone” and “Veronika’s Dream”—and they are definitely new territory for Tomas. This is the first time that he’s had professional video shoots to riff along with his music, “they’re a very important part of this EP—they’re the focus,” he said.

Both videos are complicated stuff, though Tomas hints that the process of making them was simple, “this project really attracted nice people, you know—it had beautiful energy. Usually there is lots of ego in the group, but here, we were all pulling together and being open,” he says.

The video for “Gone” was directed by Floex’s lyricist, Andrea Stuart, with Tomas taking a back seat, “I was more of a consultant on this one… this video is really her project. Andrea already had a really nice concept—she’s a very creative person.”

“Gone” is a dark piece of music, philosophical and serious in tone, and its video reflects this. It has a washed out grey palette accompanying the lyrics, which gloomily ask ‘where have you gone?’ “There’s a connection with the apocalypse in the video” explains Tomas. “She [Andrea Stuart] got a book for her birthday, which is about tapestries from a monastery not so far from Paris. She choose several images from those tapestries and converted them into modern scenes for the video shoot.”

The video for “Veronika’s Dream” is a cinematic piece that even plays like art cinema. The actors wear odd-looking costumes with gnarled masks, and are beautifully colorful and monstrous at the same time. Tomas was heavily involved in making this video, along with a bigger production team and director Tomas Hajek behind it. He laughs, “all the crazy things when I’m involved…”

“Veronika’s Dream” is full of metaphorical images—driven by suggestion over narrative. It begins with a woman being hunted by a wolf and ends with that woman preparing for a game of floorball.

“For these images to work there has to be some story and meaning behind it. First you see fear, then you’re fighting it and then you can destroy it. This is the metaphor that’s there,” says Tomas.

It’s easy to bring your own meaning to the video—the images are too esoteric to grab Dvorak’s definition right away, “of course, everybody can find their own [meaning].”

Likewise his music can be too enigmatic for explanation, ‘feeling it’ is often so much easier. Tomas reflects, “I’m really looking in my music for something real or more deep. For me, the emotions are still the most important message of the music. I’m just trying to express emotions that are more serious… really real.”

Dvorak tells of “thinking in melodies since his childhood” that’s stayed with him during his career. You can hear this through the different tones and colours of his work. His sound shines so brightly on its own – sometimes it’s the videogames that are playing Tomas Dvorak.

Written for Igloo Magazine - published 10/11/13

Posted by Posted by Andy at 11:48 am
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Sunday, 25 August 2013

Teatronica is a step in a new direction for Irish record label, Diatribe. Up to this point their entire catalogue has been dubbed ‘experimental’ or at the very least, for niche audiences. The release prior to Teatronica was Thought-Tronix: My Guess Remixed, which featured electro-acoustic jazz – you can understand the surprise when the press notes for TeaTroniK read ‘electronic pop’. This record is a much more straightforward piece with the mainstream in focus. 
What you end up with is a simple sound - it’s quaint, tidy and settled. For better or worse, there aren’t many surprises. You could play Teatronica at a hipster cafe and none of the customers would be disturbed. Simplicity is the name of the game. The percussive sounds are bright and wispy, the synths and pads usually playing major chords. There are ambient moments and even a few drum breaks. Piano keys are layered in here too. Vocalist, Monika Harkin is Teatronica’s lifeblood, with all of the instruments playing second fiddle. The mix is pleasant without a matter of urgency. 
Harkin’s performance is definitely up to it - hanging in there with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and even reminiscent of Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins). She’s mostly wistful, but only because this kind of laid back electronica requires her to be. When things crank up on a chorus, she can really belt it out.
All in all, this is an interesting diversion for Diatribe Records. One that though not earth-shattering, is certainly accomplished. Importantly, TeaTronik plugs a gaping hole in the labels discography – the pop genre. Some may be put off by Teatronica's soft edges, but its change in direction is another string to Diatribe’s bow. This accomplished attempt at mainstream electronica proves the labels dynamism - the ability to work successfully in both experimental and popular genres.

Posted by Posted by Andy at 9:57 pm
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A State of Emergency is declared. The weather hazardous, as Kiev is ‘paralysed by heavy snowfall’. Just our luck we thought, when we realised we’d be boarding to the Ukrainian capital two days later. This was supposed to be a holiday trip, organised by our Journalism department, during the week we had free for the Easter break. Before leaving I was already thinking about getting back to Finland.
Kiev was in chaos. Getting around the city was difficult. The footpaths were littered in snow, with thick layers of ice underneath. It was deceptive when we thought a pathway was clear of snow – we’d slip as our feet touched the glassy substance on the ground.
The falling debris of ice from the rooftops kept us on our toes. The military presence was escalated. Soldiers helped to scoop the snow from the busiest roads and the police were doing their best to orchestrate traffic. It was bitterly cold too.
Our plans to keep a zest of focus about the trip, rather than engaging in the hedonism of student life (Ukraine’s food and drink is considerably cheap) included making stops by the Mohyla School of Journalism, and Kyiv Post, an independent English speaking newspaper in Kiev.
“We have to teach our students about freedom of expression, how best to express it, and not to be scared,” says Yevhen Fedchenko Ph.D, director of the Mohyla School of Journalism, part of the National University of Kyiv. 
Liberties in expression are deemed a ‘recurring problem’ in Ukraine, and perhaps it’s easy to see why - the aftermath of the Soviet Union. 
The countries in the Soviet block had their media output completely controlled by the Kremlin, with censors on the lookout for anything that might be harmful to the Communist regime. The censored media culture of the past has left its mark. There is still a remarkable impact felt today.
“Bribery’s still a big deal. Institutions, politicians and wealthy individuals can offer you more than what you’re getting from your employer, for spin on a story”, continues Fedchenko. “Practicing journalism in the right ethical manner is not something we want students to consciously think about – we try and teach them guidelines to follow”.
We also visited Kyiv Post, the leading English speaking newspaper in Ukraine. Owned by a wealthy British citizen, Mohammed Zahoor, Kyiv Post targets the foreign and expatriate market in the city. Crucially, in Ukraine, it’s an independent publication.
We met Kyiv Post’s editor in chief Brian Bonner, an American, who decided to come to Ukraine, because in his own words “it’s an interesting place”. 
He’s a small man but his personality was larger than life. His suit and tie looked scruffy, his hair was uncombed and his glasses seemed like they were about to fall apart. Yet, his charisma was nigh presidential – perhaps owed a lot to the Texan drawl in his accent, “How are ya’ll this mornin’? You guys likin’ Kiev?”
Kyiv Post has had their controversies. In April 15, 2011, Bonner decided to publish an interview with a government official, despite the owner’s request to drop the article. Bonner was fired, which sparked a strike. Five days later, Bonner got his job back, and the strike ended. He laughed, “Thankfully the whole thing blew over pretty quickly”. 
What the strike would highlight was the status quo of independent journalism and freedom of expression in Ukraine. “Journalists have had their lives threatened here – it’s definitely not a profession for the faint of hearted”, he reflected.
“You know, parliament tried to push a bill on criminalising defamation not so long ago”. This means that if you spread deliberately untrustworthy information which undermined a person, institution or business, a potential prison sentence of up to five years could be served, by anyone - not only media personnel. “Yep, it’s a little crazy… thankfully, the bill didn’t go through” said Bonner, in mid chuckle. “We’d be going back to the dark ages”.
Indeed, these are reflections of times under the Iron Curtain, and Russia-Ukraine relations are notoriously complicated – a hot topic for the locals. 
Recently, Russia reacted aggressively when Ukraine looked to join NATO in 2008, a proposal that was shelved in 2010 by current President Yanukovych. Russia’s influence is obviously strongly felt with Ukraine on her borders.
But the controversies go far deeper. Accusations of genocide against Ukraine are still contested by both Russian and Ukrainian governments. The “Holodomor” incident, which happened between 1932 and 1933 is largely considered by many to be a man-made famine, created by the USSR – 2.5 to 3.5 million Ukrainian’s lost their lives. The cause of the famine is still debated, with some saying it was due to a lack of resources in the USSR’s transition to industrialisation. Others say it was a deliberate attack on Ukrainian nationalism. 
However, looking ahead to the future, Bonner was upbeat. “I moved here in the late eighties, and the transition has been rapid, and of course, it's still happening. Things are much, much better than where they used to be.”
As we ventured around the capital, it became easy to understand Bonner’s positivity. The signs of modernisation are clear. Kiev’s airports and public transport system can rival facilities made in the West – no doubt due to recently hosting UEFA’s 2012 European Championship.
Then there’s Kiev’s architecture, which at times is breathtaking. It’s often a mash between eastern, Soviet architecture and glass furbished western sky scrappers. In the face of transition, it was clear that Kiev had terrific character and identity. Yes, change may be on-going, but Kiev would always remain herself.
But, where does that leave expression? The answer is unclear. The optimist might think that with the progress already made by the country, expression will find its way too. The pessimist might think the damage has already been done.
Before saying his goodbyes, Bonner reflected, “In twenty years, I guarantee, there’ll be even more developments… politically, industrially, economically. Who knows how far the country will have come by then? It’s already came a long, long way”.

Posted by Posted by Andy at 9:48 pm
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Monday, 14 January 2013

Back from a temporary hiatus, the two-piece return to explore their complex doom-rock. The band are now onto a third release, continuing to produce unpredictable material. Elegant and fast paced in sections, slow and dreamy in others; there’s a distinct character in their dimensional sound.

Festival Of The Horned God sees the band in fine form. Despite the two-piece settled on a conspiracy theory involving the Pope (the name National Sunday Law is the name of that very conspiracy theory) they’re a clever duo when it comes to song structures and rockability. They’re able to work outside of the genres comfort zone - occasionally using synths and vocoders – which along with the doom tag, gives their sound a unique complexion.

So, while you have the guitars and drums hammering away, you also have an ethereal quality in their sound. The vocal vocodes into harmonies, the synth sometimes doubles up on the guitar chords, and the guitar runs through a multitude of effects; huge reverbs are often used, with massive delays of cheesy acoustic strings ringing in the background. It makes for a big impressionable sound.

What makes Festival Of The Horned God stand apart from NSLs previous outings, is that the band are now going wherever they want, whenever they want in their songs. They’ll just speed up and slow down when they feel like it. It somehow stays coherent. It’s a confusing experience but not over the top. You’ll be dizzy after the ride, but remember what the sign-posts looked like.

The EPs opening tune is full of urgency, veering into the melodramatic through the use of synth and big piano notes - similar to a Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor production colluding with Cynic. It’s a big and weighty sound, that’s perhaps meant to be engaged with rather than headbanged too.

The EPs final track, Preservation In Stone, chugs along in an awkward Virus vibe. It’s discordant and constantly wrestling with itself to find a steady rhythm. The tune is given a hard edge through the duos vocal performance. The vocal is mixed at around the same volume as the guitars and drums, and when they both shout, it sounds like they’re trying to sledgehammer their way through a thick wall of sound.

At their best, NSL demonstrate how doom can evolve – indeed, perhaps how it is evolving.  Before you’d have bought a progressive record and doom record separate, for different experiences. The progressive record would be for the beard-stroking intellectual, the doom record, perhaps for those as high as a kite when wanting to rock out. The choice has now been made unnecessary. This particular rendition lets us have our progressive-doom cake, and eat it.

Posted by Posted by Andy at 9:51 pm
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Sunday, 16 December 2012

A tune from my latest EP, Find, is available for free on Psychonavigation's bandcamp page. There's a good lot to be had, with eighteen other contributions.

Roll on 2013!

Posted by Posted by Andy at 4:28 pm
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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Hey, my latest EP 'Find' has been signed to Nippi Records. If you're curious, up for leaving a tip, or feeling generous, please, please, please feel free to check out my work via the label's homepage, HQ, Pyschonavigation Records.

There's also a blurb there which helps to explain what the EP is about, as well as a 'listen' link to the new remastered copy.

My cheesy thanks!

Posted by Posted by Andy at 11:51 pm


Friday, 14 September 2012

They might sound like Sabbath, grimy and stoner like, but Trippy Wicked roar into life on their self titled track Going Home. It's an indication of what the album feels like. Yes, the production might reflect earlier times but "Going Home" is an energetic affair, flirting with the Sabbath sound and rocking like Queen's of The Stone Age.

Similar to their record labels first release “Stubb”, Going Home is an album characterised by imperfections. The choppy takes of vocalist Peter Holland, make for a raw performance, sometimes hitting the notes, and sometimes just growling through a riff. It keeps everything focused in a vintage era, even when the riffing occasionally veers into the modern and progressive. 

The more subtle, proggy moments, help them avoid pastiche and with the greatest intentions, set them apart from what's kicking around in the underground. That's not to say there's nothing derivative throughout the record. Quite the contrary; the stoner love-in has been echoed countless of times for better and for worse.

Trippy Wicked are in love with the Sabbath theme, and the rock-rebellion lifestyle that might come with it. If you sample "Going Home's" tracks, “I want Another Drink”, and “Pour Me Another One”, they're written about times that are cliched within the genre. That's fair enough, after all the very genre to express emotions about being stoned is in something 'stoner', but it might be more interesting if the three-piece wrote while being inebriated, instead of documenting the process while being sober.

Ultimately, Trippy Wicked have an album alight in production, but stuttering in content. It makes for an album that's only half full.

Posted by Posted by Andy at 1:02 am
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