It’s always good to catch up with Seph, a long standing reference in the electronic music scene of Buenos Aires, who has performed in over 25 countries. We talk about Aula Magna Records, the label that he co-founded, his experience teaching, the music industry, ambient music, his most memorable experiences performing live, and even some memories from his time in Melbourne and Brisbane.
Cyclic Defrost: Hi Seph, please tell us where you are now and how’s everything over there?
Seph: I’m at home in Buenos Aires and I’ll be heading down to the studio in a while. All is good over here, spring is kicking in..
Cyclic Defrost: Let’s start talking about Aula Magna Records. The project begun 6 years ago. How has the experience been so far?
Seph: It’s been great! There’s always new things to learn, not only about managing a label with the group but also about myself and my music.
Cyclic Defrost: Is there anything about running a label that you didn’t expect?
Seph: Having a label and releasing on it makes you think a lot more about your music, your own artistry, career directions… You discover the many layers that support your music and ideology around it. You learn a lot by having a label, and that’s something very positive. It’s great to also have a group of people managing the label as this creates a healthy demand level between ourselves which leads to better results.
Cyclic Defrost: Aula Magna’s latest release is an ambient album by Mekas. Don’t you think that the reception for this kind of expression has gotten better in the past years?
Seph: Maybe. I’m no specialist on the matter but I can share some thoughts. Ambient music has been around for a long time now, and the thing about this kind of music is that the listening experience it demands can be very adaptable. From a possibly simplistic point of view, the listener can pay full attention or just have it as “background”, which is great for today’s hectic everyday life. If it’s “properly” listened to it seems like it can also induce the listener to get more in touch with his or her emotions, as if it enhances self-awareness.
You could possibly also argue that with the huge increase of connectivity through social media and such, the world as we live it now has become a noisy and aggressive flow of audiovisual information, with your attention and focus scattered and twisted into a way of life that can be easily overwhelming. This all adds up to greater anxiety and stress levels and ambient music can be a way of escaping into calmer states of mind. But, then again, isn’t techno, a noisier affair, another way of escaping? Also, ambient music doesn’t necessarily want to be the center of attention, it doesn’t want to be in the spotlight. This and it’s hierarchy defiance present in arrangements, mixes and sound design is very appealing to the new generations that in turn are also discovering ambient not only as beautiful music but also as an important element in electronic music’s history.
Cyclic Defrost: If you would only need to choose the place, which would be the ideal context to present an Aula Magna showcase, and why?
Seph: Difficult question! There are so many great places. But I’m guessing the best would be at the real Aula Magna, a unique, big apartment in Buenos Aires, which is where a lot of magic happened right from the beginning of our careers. We lived and had our studios there and we’ve also done many improvised underground parties throughout the years. It’s where we engaged with other artists and friends and developed lots of projects. We’ve never done a properly announced Aula Magna showcase there because it’s a private spot, but who knows. It’s a special place where we and our guests can truly be ourselves and experiment without barriers.
Cyclic Defrost: Which are your most memorable experiences performing live?
Seph: Hmm, out of my latest gigs, I’d say the one of the last Aula Magna showcases at Under Club in Buenos Aires was amazing, I ended up very happy with my performance and the overall turnout of the event, it was really good. There’s so many great memories from my tours, it’s difficult to pick them out. I remember a gig in Moscow I shared with Alva Noto, Mouse and Mars and many other great artists that influenced me a lot. It was a nice show because I was able to do a set that was club oriented but shaped around a more experimental approach, something that’s actually always present but this time I took it a lot further, like last year at MUTEK. I’ll never forget Carsten saying to me “is this all your music? it’s amazing!”, which really blew me away. This was at Gazgolder Gallery which was later named ARMA17, and all the shows I had there were really memorable. During my tours I also had great gigs in places such as Fabric in London, City Fox and Raumrausch in Switzerland.
Cyclic Defrost: Since this interview will be for an Australian magazine, I’d like you to remember the highlights of performing there.
Seph: I love Australia! In fact from all the places I’ve been to during my tours, Australia is honestly one of the very few places I could live in. All the people I met were really kind and friendly, I loved the food, and I felt “at home” at all times. The gigs I had in Brisbane (Earth Freq) and Melbourne (Lab) were really fun, just as the whole trip was. Sadly the gig I was going to have at Sydney didn’t happen, so I’m looking forward to having another go in the future!
Cyclic Defrost: What’s the hardest thing you had to overcome to dedicate yourself to music?
Seph: The music industry can be a bit unfair on some levels. Music can easily be put aside in favour of other things such as release formats, places of origin and now artist’s “likes” and “online personalities”, creating a disconnection between music quality and its potential reach and appreciation. This can take the enthusiasm out of things so it’s important to keep focusing on music and what you really like. Now and then I loose confidence in myself, probably a natural psychological state that many musicians and artists often go through. I guess it’s normal when you do so much and demand a lot of yourself and there are so many things happening around you. But throughout the years I’ve learnt that each person forges their own path. It doesn’t matter what you do, when do you it, how long it takes, where you are…
Cyclic Defrost: Have you ever faced a lack of inspiration period? And if so, how did you deal with that?
Seph: It’s more of a “lack of wanting to make music”. Not forcing it, stopping for a while to let music happen on its own is a good way to deal with it. Listening to music is also very important, but not as an “inspiration search engine”. It’s not about listening for something, it’s just about sound itself. I think it’s something a musician has to do in order to grow, at least in my experience. It trains sound perception and music abilities. I’ve also found it’s good to keep my ears as open and unprejudiced as I can at all times. A lot of the the best things I do happen by chance, by mistakes or something unexpected. “Good” results come by experimenting, trying out things without knowing the outcome. And even better if I’m actually not trying to make music, like in the music production classes I give. Sometimes really good sounds happen while trying out examples, showing how electronic instruments function. You could say that my students inspire me also, because they point out when something’s good and I don’t realise it. My friends and the city inspire me.
Anyway, this whole inspiration thing has always confused me. I never consciously think about inspiration. It feels like seeing, doing and listening to anything can be inspiring because they stay in the back of my head as influences, but in the end I don’t think at all about those things when I make music, especially because the best music happens when I don’t expect it to.
Cyclic Defrost: Have you ever dreamed of a song and tried to make it afterwards?
Seph: There’s a track called Dream I from my album Cinética that was inspired on a dream. I can’t properly remember what it was about, it’s more of a feeling or an emotion that stayed with me when I woke up and went into the studio. It’s not like I went in and said “I’m gonna replicate that dream”, it just came out while messing around with a few sounds and effects. If I ever try to make something I have in my head, or if I really want to do something specific, I just fail.
Cyclic Defrost: It’s been already a few years since you started teaching. Was it what you expected? Are there any significant changes in the procedure that you use since you started?
Seph: I can’t remember what I expected. The idea kicked off when a couple of guys wanted me to teach them a few things about music production. Word quickly got around and I suddenly had a big number of students each week at my studio. I had to review a lot of self-taught things and of course everything I learnt when I was studying Electronic Arts at the UNTREF. As a producer I’m always learning so there are always new things for me to teach, and once you pass it along, you grasp it even better. The procedure hasn’t changed much, although it can now adapt more to the student, depending on the situation. I tend to focus at the beginning on the physics of sound and then synthesis, but I could also start off with DAW interfaces and production basics.
Cyclic Defrost: It’s a common thing to see artists from South America emigrating and developing their career outside. You’ve toured Europe many times, and I always wanted to know if you ever had this thought.
Seph: Sure, there are great things going on over there in Europe, it’s probably the best place for developing a career in electronic music. But I guess I love Buenos Aires too much, and need to be close to my friends and family. I’ve also always wanted to push our local scene as much as I can.
Cyclic Defrost: Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? And, what’s your opinion on the not-so perfectionist approach to making music?
Seph: I can get very obsessed with the slightest of details and this can create a wall that doesn’t let me finish tracks, so I need to work on being more relaxed with this obsessive critical thinking. Im not sure if this means that I’m a perfectionist. I do think that any way of making music is fine. Music can be appealing to you or not. It really doesn’t matter how it’s done.
Cyclic Defrost: How did you live the comeback of Dumb Unit? Will you keep your relationship with them after ‘Aces’ ?
Seph: The comeback of the label is great news! Label boss Jeremy Caulfield and I have been very good friends since we started working together and now that he and the label are slowly getting back into the scene is refreshing news. I will definitely keep working with the label.
Cyclic Defrost: If you could travel back in time and give some advise to yourself in 2005, what would you say?
Seph: Be careful of World of Warcraft!
Cyclic Defrost: What’s the latest thing that blew your mind?
Seph: Hypernormalisation, the latest documentary by Adam Curtis. I’ve watched it a bit late, it’s from 2016.
Cyclic Defrost: And the latest great things you’ve heard?
Seph: There’s so much great music happening right now. For example, all the latest music by Porter Ricks, Conforce, Skee Mask, the Taapion and Parabel labels, Pattern Repeat, Evigt Morker.
Cyclic Defrost: Plans for this year?
Seph: We’re working a lot on the label. We’ve just released the album by Mekas and the first release by Rexilient, new techno project from Buenos Aires. After that we have new music from Mekas and myself coming up. We have a few other bits and things but I prefer not to announce them just yet. We’ll keep doing the AM showcases during the rest of the year and this makes us very happy. I’m planning to go back to touring soon, more news on that soon. I’ve had a very annoying and painful condition on my feet for a bunch of years (first Plantar Fasciitis, now re-diagnosed as Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome) and this has stopped me from touring but I’m hoping to have it fixed soon so that I can get back on the road.