Name: Stefan Węgłowski
Occupation: Producer & Composer
Current Release: What is Hidden on bandcamp
Recommendations: Continuum by Paul Jebanasam. Everything from the concept itself, through to the sound, attention to every detail, is amazing, unique and beautiful. I wish I had seen the performance of “Continuum” live in Atonal in Berlin. I love it!
Website/Contact: Visit Stefan's website at stefanweglowski.com
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I've been composing since I was a child. In principle it was a natural process for me, connected with learning the classical guitar. I was a little surprised that the kids in my class only played the piano or the violin. During high school I mainly knocked around jazz clubs, hip-hop concerts and record stores. It was a time of looking for inspiration, while being aware that I had nothing to say at that point. I went back to composing when I was 23. These early musical influences are a topic for a separate interview- I listened to practically everything... except pop, of course.
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?
Copying is a natural process that is inextricably linked to the initial phase of development. A problem arises when you do not take the next step. Since the Flemish school or even earlier, the medieval period has been the time of copying masters and progress based on developing the style of the predecessors. It was not until the 18th century that sudden stylistic shifts were made. This is the moment when the first "pop stars" appear - the situation reverses - the artist has to start to please the audience, it starts to matter how many tickets you sell for a concert or an opera performance. If your pieces are not understood you won't make any money. This is a time when public theatres appear, so you confront the taste of people who are often uneducated. Today everything is broken apart. Obviously, I'm talking about the development of the Western culture. I'm unable to answer if such a relationship exists now, or if there is a trend. My musical growth was very unusual, but when I look at the artists I respect and learn music from, I see that their development was also unusual. We're all “typical in our atypicality”. Certainly, on the way to further development - if you work earnestly and with the greatest dedication - style becomes more and more recognizable. But, you remain a student for your whole life - without that your inner progress doesn't exist. The day I find out that I am the best producer in the world is the day I change my profession, because such a statement will indicate an absolute end.
What were some of the most important creative challenges when starting out as a composer and how have they changed over time?
In hindsight, it seems to me that the piece that was the most challenging and taught me the most is my second concert for piano, orchestra and electronics. After writing it, I felt that I was fully in control of the big form. It was a feeling similar to the way Neo started to see the world in the last scenes of the Matrix. For a few days, I felt the power. Then, of course, life caught up with me. Every piece is a challenge. Everybody teaches me something. When it comes to the electronic aspect, the biggest challenge is always the sound and its quality, and this kind of search will accompany me for years or even decades to come.
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
Right now I'm in the middle of some changes. I have most of my equipment at home, and this is where I work most of the time, but I'm slowly moving to a new studio. For the past six months I haven't even had even three days to write under normal conditions, so the basic setup is a laptop and headphones. I also really like to just break away from daily duties, rent a hotel room and work. Then I add Elektron Heat, iPad plus and a small controller like Kenton Killamix to my setup. So, as you can see, I'm very ergonomic. When it comes to equipment, I'm a minimalist. I think for months before I buy a single effect. My foundation is the computer and the monitors- Genelec 8351. The creative process takes up eight hours a day, at least three or four days a week, and the rest is pedagogy, i.e. time spent with students at the academy. I don't believe in moods and creative gusts. I lived like a vagabond for a decade, I had only a backpack with the most necessary things, so it was very easy for me to move. It taught me that it's not worth it to surround oneself by equipment and gadgets, which are supposed to be useful. The most important part of my studio is my head, my ideas. Thanks to that, I spend most of my life in the studio.
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?
On a macro scale, I divide the year into the academic time, when I spend three days a week on composing and holiday time where I can spend all of my time in the studio. On a micro scale, a "studio" day is like working in a corporation: I start at 8:30 with mixing and work until lunch. At 3 p.m I check the samples from the previous day, practice my "live act", so for a few hours I just improvise, listen to new material and take notes for the next day. I finish at 6 p.m and try to distance myself from work- I ride my bike, go boxing or drink wine with my friends. The most important thing is continuity and discipline, similar to sports training. I never work on a material for more than 2 months. After that I put it away for 2 months and start working on the next thing. This gives me freshness and distance. Of course, there are moments when you work all night or suddenly catch the "wind in the sails" and mix for 12 hours without a break, but you have to be careful so that there are as few of those phases as possible. There’s also periods when I work with musicians and record new sounds. It's always exciting for me to see if what I've written in the score makes sense and works seamlessly with electronics. I once read an interview with Yair Elazar Glotman, whom I love, and he pointed out the same thing. It's very easy to get lost. Your mind then starts playing tricks on you, you have a feeling, you're still dissatisfied, you venture into areas you shouldn't have gone into, and then it turns out that you've wasted a few weeks on it. Quite often perfection is the enemy of good.
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?
For me, the world of sport is analogous to that. In both of these worlds you can boost your body with different substances. But you have to ask yourself at what cost? When you listen to Miles Davis records from the 1970s you hear that they are recorded in different states of consciousness. When I was a kid, I was impressed by the fact that you can play like that and be so relaxed and yet rebellious at the same time. I thought that by using drugs you could play better. But after some time, you come to a realization that Miles was a genius who worked under the influence as well as he worked sober. He had a gift he was self-aware. He knew what was best for him at a particular time. And that's how I look at it from today's perspective. Everyone has their strategies and their methods. Some people work at night, some start at dawn. I myself prefer the sports lifestyle, because I assume that the creative process is like physical condition. It is long-lasting and permanent. Sometimes you rise to 90 percent of your possibilities, and sometimes to 70 percent, but the whole time you have to think like a long-distance runner. When I write - especially in later stages of production - I work on nothing else. I take care of myself, no drugs, no alcohol. This is a bit like meditation. It is also important to let go at the right time, to end the process, because there's a danger that you're going to be making adjustments forever. Most often after such a period of work you can't listen to your own music anymore. You only hear mistakes, you lose yourself. This is when you should take a break, rest and stop working on music. This is my magical circle, a cycle which is still a mystery to me.
Could you take me through the process of composing on the basis of one of your pieces 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?
My last album What is Hidden was the most challenging. For some years now, I think in terms of a single piece – I think about the concept of the whole album. That's why I consider myself more of a producer than just a composer. My dream, unfulfilled for years, was to create an ambient album. For a few months, I listened nonstop to Basinski, Cortini, Jebanasam, Aphex Twin, Eno, Burial, and other greats, whose works are somehow connected to this genre. It was very difficult for me to create musical spaces where basically every unnecessary sound is immediately audible, and at the same time the form is very simple. I've been working on various concepts of this kind for years, always throwing everything away. It was my Achilles heel. I think it was very helpful in this case that originally it was a sound installation for Arobal's paintings which accompanied his beautiful exhibition (What is Hidden is also the title of Bartek Arobal Kociemba's installation which premiered in 2019 during the Industry Biennale in the Silesian Museum in Katowice). It was he who inspired me and directed me towards his worlds. It gave me a sense of security. The choice of tone was very intuitive, and the composition process itself is my established patent.