Name: Sirens of Lesbos
Members: Jasmina Serag, Nabyla Serag, Melvyn Buss, Arci Friede, Denise Häberli
Occupation: Producers, songwriters
Current Release: Sirens of Lesbos's SOL will be released on November 6th on their own label
Recommendations: [Nabyla] «In the Mood for Love» (film) and in addition to it «The Secret Lives of Colour» by Kassia St. Clair (book)
[Jasmina] «Vernal Equinox» by Jon Hassell (album) and «Meshes of the Afternoon» by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid (film)
[Arci] «The Tao of Wu» by The RZA (book) and «Gasthof Zur Muldentalsperre» by Peter Doig (painting)
[Mel] «Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ» by Giulia Enders (book) and «Mona Lisa» by Leonardo da Vinci (painting)
If you enjoyed this interview with Sirens of Lesbos, visit their facebook profile for more music and updates. They also have a very nice website.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
[Nabyla] Since each of us has found his or her individual way into music production, our stories differ a lot in this respect. To me SOL became the project that provided a lot of resources through my band mates –who already knew how to produce music, had a thing for writing lyrics, or in the case of my sister, mirrored my vocal gateway into production. The project allowed (and still allows) me to finally express myself through artistic means without having to have the initial obstacles of having to acquire this skill set by my own. Even if I felt a need to express myself musically in one form or another at an early age, it was only in the context of Sirens Of Lesbos that I pursued this need.
The influences that triggered the idea of expressing myself musically were extremely broad and ranged from the musical hard disk of my brother and sister, which was very formative for me, to live performances by various artists.
For most artists, originality is first 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? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
[Nabyla] Producing music together allows each of us to emulate other artists or even genres without restrictions or fear of copying. We trust in the process of sharing individual and initial inspiration with the three other people in the room who will always have a different approach to listening to your reference, and will provide inputs that neither the reference artist nor you yourself –as the emulating person– would ever have been able to deliver.
In the end, I think that the originality of our music stems from the different musical and also personal contexts (and references), phases and states of mind that we individually bring to the project and somehow successfully merge into something new.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
[Nabyla] Sitting in a studio with three people (sometimes more) and working together on a song can have advantages and disadvantages. While it can produce a certain sound that can only be achieved by the group working together, it can also be a very challenging and sometimes tiring process. It is accompanied by a lot of interpersonal work, discussions, disagreements that have to be resolved –in the end it is also about being able to make compromises, sometimes even about putting one's ego aside. And compromises often have negative connotations if they are understood as renunciation. To grow into a collaborative group of people who have learned when to compromise and when to insist on a certain point of view took quite a while, but it was worth the effort because it became the backbone of creating our own style.
Another major challenge was the fact that until recently none of us had completed a classical training on an instrument.To implement an idea by the trial-and-error principle, because the theoretical know-how is missing, requires an enormous amount of time. As a nice side effect, however, this has forced us to collaborate with other musicians and thus enabled us to expand the spectrum of musical inputs.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
[Mel] I started very minimalistic with an early version of Cubase. It was the era of Electroclash, Mash-up and Baltimore Club. Editing and re-editing existing songs, adding melodies and rhythms was an early approach. I had a DJ perspective on music. Little by little I taught myself how to add synths and drum machines to my setup. 10 years in the process of creating electronic music, however, I became slightly fed up of synthesized music.
These days I like to meld acoustic instruments with synthesizers. That’s why for me our most important gear is our Gretsch drum from the 60s, our acoustic piano and Spectrasonics Keyscape. Creation to us is a constant process of change, so the set up develops regularly.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
[Jasmina] Well, I can’t really think of any music related projects I’m involved in that do not make use of technology. Other than Mel, I am a tekkie when it comes to creating music. I might even enjoy using Max/MSP for a composition.
Basically, I see technology as a crucial element in my music making process. It gives me the possibility to tweak my voices’ timbre, to cut a drum sound in an ‘unnatural’ way to place sound in a room I have never been to – basically it increases my possibilities of expression exponentially. I see and use it as an instrument. There is only one stage of the process I can think of where technology does not play a role – the mental preparation when I work on my stuff.
Besides, in a conventional way I’m not a great instrumentalist so I mostly don’t enjoy figuring out musical concepts on the piano for example.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
[Mel] As mentioned above we never went through a classical music training. Thus a lot happens very intuitively. A chord progression on the Shruti-Box, a sound of the Yamaha PSS-480 or a simple drum loop can merge into a song. In the studio we try to get out of our heads, to lose control of the situation, to drop our skirts / pants and be vulnerable. Whenever that happens, the machines and instruments – or our subconsciousness?– can take control of the situation. As we go along it starts to float and blossom.
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 through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
[Nabyla] As a basic principle we consider collaboration with other artists as a valuable addition to our perspective on whatever we’re currently working on. The challenge here again is always a matter of staying true to yourself while also being able to fully commit to the process of (sometimes rather spontaneous) creative dialogue with another artist. But in the end, collaborating with other artists in a way is just a natural extension of the collaborative way of working already established among the five of us.
Lately we’ve also started the process of writing music with and for other artists and are thereby starting to explore what it means to write music that doesn’t carry our label.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
[Jasmina] Since I started studying again two years ago, my daily routine depends a lot on the given schedule of my studies. The degree course is music and sound related so I guess in combination with Sirens Of Lesbos and other music making I’m surrounded by these topics to a high extent. Other than that I don’t have any given orderlinesses.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
[Nabyla] We actually never had (nor do we strive for) the creative process. The starting point of the process of writing/producing a song together is mostly varying. Maybe we start with a reference, like a certain sound, mood, artist, song, memory, etc, that one of us wants to recreate. While trying to do so we quickly lose the initial reference and just work with whatever is emerging in this process. The result might be something we’re happy with, but it can also be a draft we feel is totally useless. Depends on how that specific workday with its specific moods translated onto the track we produced that day.
But it can also be that we start with a much more advanced design that one of us brings to the studio. In this case we are usually quick to come up with a product that we all find convincing.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
[Nabyla] We have not been able to find the formula to create a context that constantly allows us to create a creative state of mind. But over time we have established tools that allow us to continue working efficiently even in a creative low. Such tools can be as basic as having worksheets or having access to a wide range of different song sketches, which allow us to respond to the specific mood present in the studio.
Therefore, the key for us is not to reach a constant high of creativity, but to find ways to use the studio time efficiently as possible.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
[Nabyla] The live translation of the songs definitely forces us to deal with the songs in a completely new way – there is the aspect of the live audience or the fact that we are limited on stage to a certain number of people interpreting the songs, or the tightrope walk between communicating the mood created on the album and a live performance that is different from this experience ...
In the end, these two processes are definitely intertwined, but performing the songs live proves to be a balancing act. Much of what is created in the studio does not make it onto the stage.
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?
[Nabyla] Depending on the song we are working on, each of us has a different understanding of what the relationship between composition and sound is or should be. At what point in the production process should you work on sounds? How much deeper should the examination of the sound aesthetics or the compositional level be at a certain point of the production process? Are you just «polishing» your track with the development of the sound or is the sound an essential foundation of the track? Is it therefore essential to create the right sound and the right mood before thinking about any other aspect of the song?
Depending on the song, we answer these questions differently – usually such questions are also disputed points or moments of disagreement, because they suddenly become the most essential question of all. But since we don't maintain any regulated processes during production, we have to re-evaluate the relationship between sound and composition for each song.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
[Arci] I guess we don’t identify ourselves with being artists in the first place and we have never reflected on our role as social or political influencers … But that’s maybe because we are kind of isolated here in Switzerland, there’s no immanent, globally relevant culture movement or music scene here.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
[Arci] We kind of enjoy that basic concept of music. Yet, to be realistic: ground-breaking technologies and hence new storytelling formats are on the rise. Everybody talks about the impact of VR on visual formats but music will change as well. It seems like it will be less about the artist and his art but instead more about artists and fans co-creating experiences. Look how TikTok has already changed music, how producers have started to create music that works efficiently in a 15-seconds frame and leaves room for interpretation and interaction.