Interview with Vedran Mehinovic
Listen to Vedran's June Haze here >>
Could you talk about the process of recording / creating June Haze?
I assist with a chamber music festival in New Hampshire, and edit the concert audio when necessary. After days of looking at spectrograms (visual representation of sound), I had a pre-waking vision of the upper half of a spectrogram going in the opposite direction from the lower one. I tried this at some point later, and thought there was interesting potential if I reversed every other band of a more narrow frequency. My first experiment was on the second movement of Schubert’s Trout quintet, where I reversed bands of 1,000 Hz. I added a few types of reverb as well, eventually creating complexity out of a simple (if time consuming) process. I greatly increased the “resolution” to 50 Hz and applied it to June, a 2013 project by Michelle Zauner (Little Big League and Japanese Breakfast). I was inspired by the fact that she decided to record a short song every day in June that year, even though she was working a corporate job and didn’t have much time for creativity. The simple instrumentation and lack of heavy percussion made it suitable for my experiment. I bought the recording and spent dozens of hours sculpting it. The resulting sound was nebulous, and I called the 2018 piece June Haze.
Do New England’s culture and landscapes affect your sound, and if so, how?
I am not consciously affected by my surroundings. There is much inspiration in New England, however, and at some point I’ll probably make an electronic work based on its sounds.
What was it like growing up in a musical family?
It made my future path more clear, aided by the fact that I actually liked music. It also developed my solfege/piano technique early on, as I took lessons with my mother.
What is it like working as a composer?
I suppose it’s easier in countries with more support for the arts. It’s my calling nonetheless, and I can’t imagine life without it.
Could you tell us a bit about playing Bach and Haydn for Zubin Mehta at the Sarajevo Holiday Inn as a kid? Did you already know at that time that you wanted to pursue music? Has Mehta’s work influenced or inspired your musical trajectory?
My mother is the first female orchestral conductor from Bosnia. During the war (1992 – ’95) she worked as a producer for the Bosnian Radio and Television. Zubin Mehta visited Sarajevo in ’94 to conduct Mozart’s Requiem in the bombed ruins of the historic city hall (completed by Austro-Hungarians in 1896). My mother was one of the broadcast personnel. We found out that he was staying at the Holiday Inn (in turn built for the 1984 Winter Olympics), politely accosted him in the lobby, and he was kind enough to grant me some of his time. He ended up writing a recommendation letter which stated that I was talented, but would need to continue my studies outside of the war-torn country. As for Mr. Mehta’s music, I listened to his recordings growing up, as my mother showed me the work of many great conductors.
What is your connection to classical music like today?
I write avant garde music, and mainly listen to various popular forms, experimental or otherwise. From time to time I acquaint myself with classical works I don’t yet know, especially Early music (Renaissance and Medieval). I am also a fan of ancient music (from Sumer to Rome), and include it in my world music lectures.
You’ve organized concerts of Korean, Hindustani, Uyghur, and Chinese music, correct? Do these sounds or influences come into your music, and if so, in what way?
External influences are typically abstracted in my work, but I’ve used Balkan and Balinese elements. In 2014 I wrote an orchestral work called Jivari, based on the aesthetic of buzzing in various cultures. The term comes from India, but the practice has made its way throughout Asia (e.g. sawari in Japan). Noise is important in the flavoring of sound around the world. Some other examples are the Ethiopian lyre begena, and the Korean transverse flute daegeum, where the amount of noise can be controlled by rotating a metal ring with a paper-like membrane.
What do you think about human emotion? How and why does it matter?
We could not fully appreciate, or even understand art without it. We know an artist’s creation is effective when it pulls us in and makes us feel a certain way. As a grapheme-color synesthete, I associate colors with letters and numbers, but there are often emotions linked to this as well. Our psyches are more complex architectural creations than those of animals, so it’s also important to maintain a balanced structure, and not be at the complete mercy of emotion.
What kind of change can music create?
Vibration creates our reality, including music. Interrupting the vibration of particles (or one-dimensional strings in M-theory) can also mean obliteration. Simply listening to a song, or even a single note, focuses our thoughts (theoretical physicists might compare it to a wave function collapse). A large concert hall filled with people listening to the same music becomes a unifying mind field. The importance of sound and repetition can be found as far back as the Vedic mantras.
You describe June Haze as a spectral treatment of rock demos by Michelle Zauner- what do you mean by that? Did you use the demos as samples to build music from?
The demos are indeed the only sound source in the work.
Have you collaborated with Zauner in the past?
I have not, but I saw Japanese Breakfast in early 2019 and consider her one of the best songwriters of her generation.
The word spectral suggests the incorporeal. Music itself is somewhat incorporeal, compared to, for example, a stone. Could you talk a bit about incorporeality and transience?
The mystery of music is its simultaneously abstract and concrete quality. Vibrating air with the ability to evoke a range of emotions in a matter of seconds, clear a crowd when used as a weapon, or bore through granite when properly applied. As bodies of vibrating matter, we share this multidimensional existence. The Latin term spectrum does refer to an image or apparition, and was first used scientifically by Isaac Newton in 1672, to describe the rainbow components of white light diffracted through a prism. The sonic usage came later, referring to sine waves of various amplitudes that combine into a wide range of everyday, instrumental, and vocal sounds.
What do you think about echoes, literally or metaphorically?
This again leads us to vibration. Waves can reach someone and “tune” them accordingly, become amplified under the right circumstances, or disappear into the depths of space. Echoes play a part in Balkan mountain singing, where a shepherd’s voluminous song reverberates among the rocky slopes.
Are you into poetry or literature?
Yes. I recently saw a lecture on the Lettrist poetry of Henri Chopin, some of whose recordings would not be out of place in an avant garde music concert. As for literature, I gravitate toward non-fiction, but would read more novels if I had the time (e.g. the vivid language of Paul Theroux).
Do you have any suggestions for reading material at this time?
One of the most recent books I’ve read is the well-designed Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948 – 1980. I saw its companion MoMA exhibit twice. Yugoslavian architecture from that time period deserves much more research, as it diverges from what scholars typically associate with the Eastern Bloc (of which we weren’t a part after breaking with Stalin in 1948). A sound poem by Henri Chopin that might be enjoyable to some can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJXYqAim3ks.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
Probably a balance of both. I have no trouble being around people as long as I’m not wasting time (e.g. a band practice where everyone else is smoking weed instead of making music).
What is your favorite animal?
There are various. The mantis shrimp is one of them, for its alien colors and rapid strikes which create sonoluminescence (light from sound).