“Solastalgia has its origins in the concepts of ‘solace’ and ‘desolation’. Solace is derived from solari and solacium, with meanings connected to the alleviation of distress or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events. Desolation has its origins in solus and desolare with meanings connected to abandonment and loneliness. As indicated above, algia means pain, suffering or sickness. In addition, the concept has been constructed such that it has a ghost reference or structural similarity to nostalgia so that a place reference is imbedded. Hence, literally, solastalgia is the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of isolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory.”
Albrecht, Glenn et al (2007). Solastalgia: The Distress Caused by Environmental Change. Australasian psychiatry.
Rafael Anton Irisarri is an American composer who creates incredible suites of dense atmospheric soundscapes utilising bowed guitars, piano, strings, synths, field recordings, voices, and electronic instruments. Over the last decade he has released his work on labels of the calibre of Ghostly (USA), Morr Music (DE), Room40 (AU), and Umor Rex (MX), though he has enjoyed a particularly fruitful partnership with Lawrence English’s Room40 imprint, with his new album Solastalgia their fourth long player together.
Innerversitysound: This interview is generated as a response to your forthcoming album, Solastalgia. Could you tell our readers about your musical practice with regards to the album, how it differentiated itself from previous iterations and how it distilled learnings and structured patterns of your overall work.
Rafael Anton Irisarri: Solastalgia is a culmination of the last 10 years working with Room40. All that acquired knowledge in terms of sound processing and manipulation, as well as utilizing elements that I haven’t utilize before in my own music, namely my own voice. There are many vocal parts on the album, which I either recorded myself or had Leandro Fresco (frequent collaborator of mine from Argentina) sing. There are also more extreme use of automation and CV modulation. If you open a session, it almost looks like a painting with all the edits & automated lanes, points, etc… I tried to keep the music in constant flux and movement, even if they are very small movements.
Innerversitysound: I am interested in how musicians comment on topics and how this separates itself from their work or their being in the world. Solastalgia as a concept derives from the work of Glenn Albrecht, a scientist and philosopher working on sustainability in Western Australia and now the emotions of climate change at the University of Sydney. Do you see the role of the artist as a translator of conceptual work to a wider public? Is sustainable practice as a life philosophy integral to how you live in the world and respond to the questions of our times?
Rafael Anton Irisarri: Yes, that’s where the title comes from, I was reading about this concept on an article last year and really had an influence. I dunno about translating conceptual work to a wider audience to be honest. As an artist, my role is to provide commentary as I see it fit, I don’t view myself as being clever enough for more than that. I guess I’m no better than the average person commenting on social media, perhaps just slightly more refined? (if anything). The work for me always comes from an internalization of external circumstances, so Solastalgia seemed like a natural thing for me to explore, particularly since I’ve been creating works related to landscapes & location/localities for the last 10 years. All the works on Room40 have this aspect. If you look at the old catalog, starting with the North Bend, which explored the Pacific Northwest region of the US, or The Unintentional Sea which was about the Salton Sea ecological disaster.
Innerversitysound: In a wider sense, the central core of deep green philosophy has been a rejection of classical metaphysics and how people relate to the natural world and our place within it. Do you see this inclination as a reflection of the wider enlightenment project?
Rafael Anton Irisarri: Well yes, that’s kind of similar ethos to the music itself. It’s ALL about our relationship with our immediate surroundings. If you listen to The North Bend, that record is a reflection of the location where it was created. And the same can be said about Solastalgia. Even down to the artwork on the cover. The album cover is a photo of the vanishing glacier of Snæfellsjökull (ah, that rolls off the tongue really nicely, doesn’t it?), already thin from melting and is expected to be the first glacier to fall victim to global warming in Iceland.
Innerversitysound: There are some overlaps between deep green philosophy and new ageism, especially within the performative and representative arts. How do you ground your practice in regards to your deeper commitments to the question of fundamental knowledge?
Rafael Anton Irisarri: I dunno anything about being New Age. I’ve quite the antithesis of it. New Age philosophy is spiritual, and well, I’m not. I’m a humanist.
Innerversitysound: Back to musical questions: Mastering seems to be central to your life, you operate Black Knoll Studios and select highly productive mastering people to give the finishing touches to your albums. Can you tell our readers about your overall thoughts on why mastering holds such a central place in the production of contemporary albums, whereas a few decades ago the producer was the central focus.
Rafael Anton Irisarri: Yeah, that’s my dayjob essentially. I love what I do for work. I’m VERY lucky and privileged. Even though I can obviously master my own productions, part of the mastering process for me is a system of check & balances, and I want the feedback of another person I trust to opine and bring their own perspective to how the music I create should sound. Nowadays the role of artist is intermixed to that of producer, engineer, arranger, etc – a myth of ONE person doing everything. No man is an island and collaboration is key. All great pieces of recorded music have a great team of people behind them. Even “solo” producers like Brian Eno relies on great musicians for his ‘ambient’ albums.
Innerversitysound: Can you describe your core set of operating beliefs or practices with regards to mastering and what it is that people come to you for, or what it is that they say to you after the fact? That is what does it reveal to them that they could not see before and what does the practice of mastering others works inform you of in your practice?
Rafael Anton Irisarri: Well, here’s my full on mastering philosophy:
Mastering is an art form and there is not one authoritative studio or engineer – it is mostly all in the eye (or ears rather) of the beholder. As the saying goes: “there’s more than one way to cook an egg.” There is a plethora of mastering services online. I’ve heard great masters done all digitally, amazing albums done fully analogue, and I’ve heard many great songs completely ruined by an overzealous or inexperienced engineer. It can be overwhelming to find a studio or engineer that suits your music, specially if you are starting out and not familiar with any of these processes. And even if you are a seasoned artist, it’s still consuming finding the right place and entrusting your creations to another person.
As an artist myself, I seldom master my own music. I relish having that extra pair of ears listen to my creations, opine, and give me some feedback. I think of it as a system of check and balances. An impressive array of expensive equipment – sometimes a piece of gear that cost as much as a luxury car – means nothing if the engineer doesn’t understand the content or the artist’s intention. I wouldn’t want, for example, the same engineer who worked on the latest EDM atrocity touching my music – it just wouldn’t be right for me. Thus, I have built close relationships with a few engineers that suit my aesthetic, understand the vision behind my music and know how I intend it to sound.
If you are hiring me to work on your music, you are doing so understanding the value of what I’ll bring to the equation and are familiar with my aesthetic. I will find a good balance between fidelity and audio levels across a multitude of sound systems. My goal is to add a new perspective on how your music should sound, based on my own ethos, experience and musical taste.
Mastering shouldn’t be about only making tracks sound louder, but about making them sound nicer, fuller, with a distinctive tonal character so it sounds “like a record.”
Innerversitysound: Lawrence English through Room40 has continually provided a welcoming home for your musical efforts. Can you describe to me how this relationship has developed. What is the role of a label and how they interact with artists and the wider public. What does Room40 bring to your efforts that differentiates them from other labels for you?
Rafael Anton Irisarri: Lawrence in many cases fulfills the role of a producer, providing guidance, strategies, etc to the work I create. “Strategies against confirmity” as I call it, pushing, kicking in the butt a bit, which I desperetly need sometimes. We’ve been working together for 10 years now, and it’s always been fantastic. Someone I respect and admire very much and someone from whom I’ve learned a lot. The role of a traditional label nowadays seems rather archaic, particularly with the ascend of streaming but from proposals like mine, working with a label like Room40 seems the right fit. Particularly given the type of working relationship I’ve described. I couldn’t see an album like Solastalgia being released anywhere else. Some of my other works have come out on other labels, like Umor Rex for example, and it’s an entirely different relation but also different type of work.
Innerversitysound: On a more specific note I would like you to think of music as a form of eliciting emotions (or psychological states), or of generating affective emotional response within audiences. While this question has a long historical aspect I am interested in whether certain audiences respond to certain structures of music and how the change in the structures reflect the emotive responses of the listeners. This might be a non question if we consider that the generation of emotive response to musical form could be just a mistaken affective response and if people were just more careful about how they managed their emotions they would pay less heed to those who structured noise into forms.
Rafael Anton Irisarri: Interesting question. I see it the other way, I’m not trying to elicit a response from the audience. For me the music making is a form of therapy (certainly cheaper than paying to see the psychologist in the USA). So I let everything out with it
Innerversitysound: If one was to consider music as eliciting emotional content and that the conjunction of the rather dire beliefs of the future of the environment within the sustainability movement generally, would you consider Solastalgia as giving voice to these concerns? That the shape of your relationship to the natural world and the shape of your musical output both find their audience and reflect their audiences psychological condition with relation to their conceptual commitments. That Solastalgia is a psychological outcome of seriously considering climate change and its descriptions within the performative arts are not only intimately linked but necessary outcomes of the structure of this domain due to the forecasts of our future existential risk.
Rafael Anton Irisarri: No, I’m not trying to make the album to raise awareness if that’s what you mean. For me it’s a subject that weights heavily, particularly after witnessing first hand the effects of climate change. So making an album like this was a natural response to cope with the fact that we are pretty much fucked. Particularly since we are doing absolutely nothing to reverse course
Innerversitysound: The description of Solastalgia is a description of a psychological disorder brought about by rumination on the state of the environment. Do you see some form of way people can negotiate the terrain of environmental studies without becoming captive to such a psychological state? Or is it an inevitable condition as we could describe certain musicians as reflecting or documenting their psychological states through their musical output rather than inventing, composing or producing, they are merely using art as therapy?
Rafael Anton Irisarri: I think it’s merely a reflection of the heavy times we are living in. For instance, as you probably are aware, there is very little financial incentive from making music, certainly next to nothing compared to the golden era of music in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. So i’d say personal growth is probably the best incentive one could gain from music-making (well, or art in general). I’ve always been a fan of functional art. One that serves a purpose and it is not just art for art’s sake. Form vs function kind of dilemma i suppose. Perhaps it’s about finding a balance. but for me personally, I work on music all day long and not mine particularly, so by the time I get to make my own, it’s gotta serve a cleaning function. Palette cleanser sort of speak.
Innerversitysound: What other questions are of concern for you and are occupying your future output? Whose work have you been excited to master at Black Knoll Studios? What technical challenges have you given yourself and what conceptual questions will you be linking your future output with?
Rafael Anton Irisarri: Concerns: late-stage capitalism. Works at Black Knoll Studio: I just delivered an amazing Steve Hauschildt album i’m excited about. Plus another album for Ghostly I’m not supposed to name names, but it’s incredible.Technical challenges: the studio is in a constant state of flux, it’s never “finished” so lots of building, changing, creating new systems for the workflow, selling gear, acquiring new gear, etc… And also, REPAIRING gear: one of the flipsides of a fully analog setup. Things break down from tear & wear constantly. I guess it’s a good thing to have these challenges and finding new ways of creating around it. Being comfortable only fosters mediocrity. Creating because of those challenges, not in spite of them. So whatever the challenge becomes part of the creative process itself
Rafael Anton Irisarri is playing
Friday 21st of June at the Substation in Melbourne. You can find more information here.
Saturday 29th of June at Carriageworks in Sydney. You can find more information here.