Name: Hania Rani, Dobrawa Czocher
Occupation: Pianist, composer (Hania Rani): cellist, composer (Dobrawa Czocher)
Current release: Hania Rani & Dobrawa Czocher's Inner Symphonies is out via Deutsche Grammophon.
Recommendations by Hania Rani: As we are from Poland I would recommend something from our own writers and artists.
For those who admire the narration of Italo Calvino’s books I would encourage you to try stories by Bruno Schulz, a writer who, as Calvino, was creating imaginative stories and impossible realities based very deeply on very real events.
For music - my own recent discovery - Symphonies by violinist Tomasz Sroczyński, who mixes traditional folk motifs with looping, electronics in a very sophisticated and fresh way.
If you enjoyed this interview with Hania Rani & Dobrawa Czocher and would like to stay up to date on their activities, visit their respective homepages: Hania Rani & Dobrawa Czocher. They also have a shared website for their duo work.
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Hania Rani: It was different for each of us. I started composing pretty early but just for myself. We grew up in a classical music environment when composing was reserved just for a very contemporary and traditional understanding of it. Nobody would imagine composing also means to compose songs or music that had regular harmony or melody.
It was during my studies that we started to open up more to other genres and musicians, who are working in different fields of music than classical. I started to be involved more and more in these new possibilities, so requests for composing or arranging music started to appear on the horizon. Nobody asked me about my experience, it was obvious that if you can read the notes, you can compose. I am grateful that it happened in that way.
Once I started to compose I was also encouraging Dobrawa to try. And so she started around one and half year ago, and I am extremely happy that it finally happened.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Hania Rani: I think in my case it was very similar, with this difference that I think classical education left a huge baggage on my back, which I am constantly trying to develop in something refreshing and innovative, not repetitive.
I think what is dangerous is not music itself - which is very often a true example of timelessness but the way it is brought on stages or released on albums. So it is not the music that I want to unlearn, but the schemes and habits of the approach to it and especially performing it.
Following the brilliant speech of classical pianist Vikingur Olafsson that we enjoyed a couple of days ago - we need to unlearn how we perceive the old masters. But I would go further - how we perceive music that we consider as classical. I love to explore new music, especially electronic music, because you don’t have this tradition present, so also there is always only new opportunities ahead, and less of the constant criticism and comparison.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Dobrawa Czocher: I believe these two matters are inseparable. Each creative idea that grows in my mind is in some way an extension of my very self, my sense of identity.
I think we as human beings (or artists) gather experiences, sensations, thoughts which we shape our understanding, perception and vision in a certain way that can not be separated from us when it comes to the creative process. Even if I wanted to create something innovative, which in my opinion is much different from everything I have done already, it is still how I understand "different" or "innovative". This is also what I love the most in life as well as in art - that every person has a different story and experience which give very unique results in embodied pieces of art.
It is very recognizable when listening to different performances of well known classical music compositions. One note can sound absolutely different when played by another musician. Your story, sensitivity, sense of identity can be audible then while playing one note. Isn’t that fascinating?
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Hania Rani: Each moment of working on your own music as a freelance artist is difficult and great at the same time. There are things that give you wings - like the freedom to create your own musical universe, but also often a feeling of being alone with all the responsibility and pressure that appear in the beginning, but also with the success and more serious proposals.
I miss my carefree creative process and motivation from the beginning of my career a little - mostly because I wasn’t even sure if my compositions would ever be released or heard by anybody. I was always very serious about what I was doing, but back then I was also way less experienced which sometimes makes your music sound effortless and light. On the other hand, now I can be a part of projects that are very often a dream come true. I am able to work with wonderful musicians, sound engineers, inspiring directors - this is something that I had always wished to happen.
My creative process needed to be squeezed in a bit due to the lack of time, which I am really sad about. My free moments of carefree creation are sacred for me, and I try to not miss a second of them.
Time is a variable only seldomly discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?
Dobrawa Czocher: Time, as well as silence are two subjects that, in my opinion, in order to compose a piece of music are the key ingredients and what makes them even more intriguing - they don’t exist in the same time – they are just in our human imagination.
I tend to think of silence as the mother of music and time as the father. I think that everything starts from silence - from an idea that grows into creation to actual sound. And time shapes sounds in a certain order, a musical language. Time is the note's length, time is the form-builder, but time is also everything that appears between notes, that can’t be formally described. And of course this last aspect fascinates me the most.
In my, and also our duo’s, compositions, repetition plays important role, which I strictly connect with our understanding of time in modern composition. For me, a repetitive approach to music allows us to build a specific atmosphere and state of mind for listeners. Sometimes it’s more meditative and calms your nervous system but it can also be repetition which forces you to think about something, or to sink back in thought to some imaginary place, in general - experience.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Hania Rani: I think this is the core of contemporary music in general.
Recording and post production allow us to change sound and colour after it has been recorded, and I would consider it as a new instrument, a new tool definitely. I am a recording type of artist - I love to spend time in the studio and work on the recording afterwards. I am deeply fascinated with the recording process and how many possibilities are hiding in producing a work. I love to see how tracks can really change from the very first idea, after working on them in a studio and making them sound totally different. Very often I am writing not very detailed scores just to be able to work on them afterwards, and I very often process sounds so much that you can’t recognize the original source of the sound.
So summing up - I really do think that contemporary music is based not only on music (abstract material) but definitely also on recording and production which can define its character and narration, but can also be the main core of the composition itself - the quality of sound and its colour.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives?
Hania Rani: It is a machine that makes you move forward.
I think we are really creative as human beings and as individuals, but it is in general a very narrow and limited perspective. If I want to tell different stories I need to listen to other stories than my own. By collaboration I mean not only making music with another musician, but simply being involved in different fields of making art, craft or simply living.
Collaborating means to me being curious about the other person, about the world.