The Exchange is a periodic in-depth look at the artistic motivations of musicians and collectives. We try to approach this from a more cultural and societal perspective, aside from the necessary musical one, because we cannot deny the influence of modern age bringing ideas from all over the world which broaden our horizons. It is a fact that we can learn a lot from movements that are foreign to us.
Soren Sheram, (From America, lives in the whole world)
Soren Sheram is, to say the least, an enigmatic producer. A first encounter with his visceral, moving productions happened during a manic episode of ‘online crate digging’, one that doesn’t stop until you come across a work that safely can be attributed as the masterpiece of the day, week or even month. Being humbled by the constant inflow of new music and maybe also slightly jaded because of it, I dare not to pass this sacred mark of ‘tune of the month’. Yet, when “In Spite Of It All” made its presence time stopped briefly, as it does when you smell a familiar scent. A vague jingle travelling on the air. And you remember, yet make great effort to discern what it actually was. Nostalgia was invoked by the washed out organ melody and my hunger rose. To know who made this and if there was more musical opium to enjoy.
Soren seemed to be a rather underground musician to say the least, until that moment not even trusting his work to Soundcloud. Yet he pointed me to his latest album, released on Another New Calligraphy, an American label I was happy to be introduced with. It hosts a wide spectrum of very fine DIY art, releasing books and records. Musically, this record is similar to the work of The Caretaker or Kammarheit, nostalgic ambient at its finest. But as opposed to answering certain questions, it only raised more. How could someone steadily put out this music of profound depth and not be noticed? It must be the irony of the contemporary music business. Needless to say we are very happy to welcome Soren answering a few questions and shed light on the personality behind the work.
Z – Thank you. Can you explain the thought behind submitting your work to Another New Calligraphy? What lead to collect those works and combine them under that single umbrella?
I had actually initially contacted them to inquire about publishing a textual piece, but noticed that they released music as well. The pieces themselves were curated by Bill Ripley who oversees the auditory section of Another New Calligraphy. I felt a certain sense of relief when the album was set into the final version, the fact that the work of choosing and arranging the music was someone else’s task.
I was nervous at first about submitting the works, not for fear they would be rejected, but for fear they wouldn’t be. The music on ‘In your absence’ was very intensely personal and written during a time when events in my life were put into my music in their rawest form. To be honest, I still haven’t listened to the album, the sense of that time is simply too heavily upon me to bear it still, the music places me immediately back into the spaces I was when it was written…
Z – The sense of fleeting nostalgia, broken beauty and lyrical motifs can be sensed in your work. Is it a result of your formal training in classical music instruments, such as the pipe organ? Would it also be influenced by your academic background?
The music I write is very much born of the tension between classical formalism and the desire to break free from those constraints. There is a phrase that I have always loved from one of the old Latin settings of church music ‘types and shadows have their endings, for eternal truth is here’. For me, form gives the basic structure that allows me to implode these types and shadows, to exploit and cover over them with something that originates in form- but only as a point of departure.
This tension is present also in my experience as a pipe organist. My classical training was fairly rigorous at certain points, as is to be expected from such an imposing instrument; yet the further I go into the formal aspects of music the more I find it frees me to explore what lies beyond those structures, and by contrast the more I divert from form the more insight I gain into it.
When I was a child, I remember a poignant experience in which I was walking through an empty church and I heard the most beautiful music. I walked here and there, listening to it, trying to follow its trail so that I could hear it up close, full and alive. After some time, I realized it was nothing more than the wind pushed through the air-conditioners that made a high and distant hum in the corners of the church. The beauty of that sound was both illusory and impossible, beautiful because it wasn’t ‘real’ in the sense that it could be experienced as such, only imagined. The sense of yearning, of the fragility of the impossible, this experience has remained perhaps the single most vital element of how I approach music.
Z – Is there a similar awareness that all things fade and come to an end in your approach as an artist to the music business? Might it explain your tendency to be shrouded in mystery, a certain kind of apathy to present yourself “socially” on social media?
My music presently is based around recording rather than performance. As a performer I enjoyed the attention because it allowed for a feeling of immediacy. The expression and its reception were direct. Social media, I honestly find to be alienating. Image and presentation often seem to take precedence over the actual sounds themselves.
Social media is both more real and less real. It feels both overly thick, and yet somehow lacking, like large blocks of styrofoam. The nature of internet presentation is highly mediated, made entirely of a record, a trace, which is somehow ‘owned’ by me yet not me at all. In a live presentation I am completely present, and yet the intensity with which I inhabit this presence evaporates completely- even a recording becomes merely a history, an afterthought, something extraneous to what was given. My avoidance of a sense of ‘social’ presentation through social media etc comes from this feeling of alienation. Far from being a ‘fake’ self, I find my internet presence makes me too real. The potential for lack, loss, and emptiness that exists in real life is lost in the inflexible presence of a hypostatized ‘self’ via social media.
Z – What also has shone through is your diffuse geographical heritage. Which places and inevitably which memories have influenced you in your productions?
My work has developed in synchronicity with my travels in a very living interaction between experience and practice. In an old junk-shop in Shanghai I found an accordion, and learning that instrument shifted my approach to music and gave me a new perspective from which to compose. From this influence I began to turn back to a more classically derived approach to music during my time in Europe, until a return to Shanghai several years later had me begin to branch out into more diverse forms again under the influence of the Shanghai noise music scene, so the influence turned around full circle.
Places for me tend to become diffuse, I experience them as isolated moments or streams of experience that are very personal rather than as geographical places. From playing an accordion on the streets of Ulaanbaatar to renewing my interest in playing Bach while in China, each place I have been is unique in not only location, but time and texture as well.
Much of the material from ‘In your absence’ was written while living in Hangzhou China, the narrow old brick apartments I lived in were populated by a richness of small markets and unexpected discoveries of abandoned shopping centers and carefully manicured Chinese parks. The tension between joy and sadness written into the music was refracted through these daily experiences, making my surroundings not one place, but many sites of experienced overlayed on top of each other.
Also the music I write is very much influenced by the instrumentation available to me while travelling. A violin found in a Hong Kong flea market allowed me to explore a richness of expression that was more fluid, and matched perfectly with the music I was writing at the time. The addition of the Chinese Hulusi in Chengdu altered several of the pieces I wrote simply due to its being tuned to a Chinese rather than western musical scale.
So the places I have been change both the options I have for making music, as well as the internal motions that provoke me to create musically, in a very organic fashion. The heavy grey skies of China over the monotony of the newer highrises gives a certain feeling of nihilism to some pieces, the sun bathing the ornate old buildings of Prague gives a sense of expansion to others, memories of the Himalaya mountains in Nepal give me a sense of vastness which hovers above both.
What I give in my music is an open and earnest expression of my life, perhaps rather obvious to one who could decode it; or perhaps just enough to provoke the listener to their own interior discoveries, just like the sounds of the wind in that church I heard long long ago- just enough to dream on….
Z – Now you have caught the reader’s’ attention for a short while, in this existence of futile concentration, is there something you would like to promote?
I have several projects that I seeking a venue for actually. The current material that can be found on my soundcloud and youtube pages is waiting for a place to be released.