Kenneth Kovasin has been releasing his ambient sound experimentations prolifically in the name of [ówt krì] since 2006. This year saw the release of the “Arra” album, [ówt krì]’s fifth, to add to six previous demos and numerous collaborations and contributions to compilations. Andrew Doherty sought out Kenneth to gain insight into his mysterious and outerworldly, yet somehow accessible platform.
AN: Hello Kenneth! We’ve had many conversations over time about your work and other music, but I’ve never collated your many thoughts, which is a pity! Thank you for allowing me to do so now. My first question is: do you consider yourself to be a sound technician, explorer or musician, or even none or all of these?
KK: Hello Andrew. Thank you so much for doing this and giving me a platform to present my thoughts and roots of my inspiration.
To the question about defining myself is very interesting. I am a bit shy about calling myself a musician as I am pretty much incapable of playing instruments according to the traditional patterns. From your given options I would say I’m mostly an explorer trying to find textures of sound that resonate to the depths of the listeners mind and maybe stir up thoughts, feelings or emotions. Privately I might also feel emboldened enough to call myself a sound artist.
AN: I hear you talking with excitement of improvisations and sound loops, of which I have only a simplistic understanding. It’s as if there’s something out there that you’re looking to achieve from these sound patterns but haven’t found. Is this the case?
KK: I think the sound patterns I am searching are more reflections of the world around me. Snapshots that project a creative darkness I need to extract from myself, but also reflections of the reality we live in at that given moment.
Looping and improvisation are my main tools for live performances. The performances and live shows could be characterized as voyages or expeditions in search for sound textures that ring a chord with where and who we are at that given time.
AN: Does the concept of sound come before theme when you are creating your pieces? One possible exception I can think of is your 2018 album “Ximenes”.
KK: Ximenes was indeed an interesting project overall and it was by all measures unique within my CV.
The theme of the Spanish Inquisition was initially planned for a collaboration with a friend of mine. I had some trouble in how to incorporate the theme with my style until I got the idea to experiment with all vocal soundscapes which felt for me a perfect match. As the collaboration process was sort of stagnated I ended up creating my own release using the material and process at hand.
Another example of material I auditioned for this project was the track “Integrity / I Believe” from the album “Pilgrimage (etd0024)”.
Normally my recording process starts with sound experimentations or an idea that I want to share. I often find the naming process most difficult, as I try to decipher the story arc behind the songs. Overall, I find it important that the end result tells a story, wakes emotions or thoughts regardless where the first spark came from.
AN: Do you equate the industrial style drone, heavy whisperings and sonic interruptions which I hear right through your works from “…Time” to “Arra” to the innermost workings of the human mind, dreams and nightmares? Sometimes it seems that way to me, then as I listen to tracks like “Arcane” on “Arra”, it’s as if I’m in a magical garden but without any sign of humanity. How do you see this?
KK: I often see my creativity as a ventilation system for darkness and angst. A safe way to out frustrations from my system, so for me these are all very real shadows in the dark and spooks in the closet that I dress in an abstract gown.
The industrial and drone style is something I thought I had ideas on how to utilize to tell my stories. It was also something I found aesthetically pleasing from the aural point of view and provided a suitable vessel for what I needed to express.
…but I have to say that my life is by no means so dark, brooding and full of frustration as you might think from my releases.
AN: I sense that you have a strong interest in empty spaces, voids and echoes and in particular the musical and sonic representation of them? Do these dark and scary effects have a particular symbolic significance?
KK: As I see this, my sounds and interests are depictions of my inner self… you can input here a joke about empty space and echoes inside my head. In all honesty I have a deep love for minimalism, brutalism and abstractionism in both art and architecture, so what you hear is in part my version of these themes in my art.
AN: I also detect violence in your work. It’s not violence in the sense of vandalism or crimes against humans, but it’s more of a Burzumesque psychological kind where you shock your listeners with stifling atmospheres and unexpected interruptions. I particularly sensed this on “Pilgrimage” and such tracks as “Darum” on “Arra”.
KK: For me darkness is always more intriguing than light and happiness in music. The psychological violence, as you call it, is a byproduct of the themes and darkness inside the music. An aggregate to have the listeners face hard issues and place themselves outside their comfort zones.
AN: Is there any light at the end of your dark ambient tunnels?
KK: Without darkness there can’t be light, but darkness is my creative force – what I want to extract from myself and get out as sound. As a creator I want to keep my light inside myself and radiate it to my loved ones. What I hope my creations would, or could, do is help the listeners deal with their own darkness, that they can also radiate light to their surroundings.
AN: Where does reality fit into your musical creations? It’s clearly there in your early work, where you evoke the sound of assembled crowds, tapping pencils and even washing machines, but I sense that your work has evolved into a more spiritual, subconscious and cosmic world over recent albums. How would you define the transformation from your earlier demos through to “Pilgrimage”, “Ximenes” and “Arra”, and the development that you yourself have realised?
KK: When I started [ówt krì] in early 2005 I was very much trying to figure out what I was doing, so many of my recordings where studies into what I could do and what I could get away with. Often what I did also reflected the music I was listening to at the times, searching new methods and ideas for where I would go next. The most important part of my evolution over the years is the exponential growth in self-esteem. I would say reality is always in the background watching over your shoulder.
My interest in using non-conventional sound sources lives strong within me still. For example, I have played gigs with a metallic IKEA bowl that I connected piezo microphones to. The aspect that I find extremely thrilling is shaping a non-musical sound into a completely different form and to be able to play it as an instrument. In difference to my album “Au-dessus… (Kultura Industrialna NET Label 2008)” is that now I utilize effects way more aggressively than back then. I would assume that is also the reason my soundscapes now feel more outlandish.
AN: What consideration do you give to potential listeners, or is ówt krì simply a solitary journey that you allow us to share?
KK: [ówt krì] was very much confided within the four walls of my bedroom studio for many years and thus it was a solemn path which I grew accustomed to. Except for the collaborations the process functions as a kind of sound therapy on myself, so I would say the works reflect only myself, but I have been extremely happy to notice that the sounds have resonated in a positive manner with a small audience also.
AN: And where does the journey or even pilgrimage take us to, if it indeed is one?
KK: I hope the pilgrimage takes each one of us towards a personal enlightenment, but likewise I am touched and humbled to hear of each person who have found solace from the journey itself.
AN: Your output is amazing. You always seem to be working on something. Do you ever have time to reflect on what you’re doing or what you want to do?
KK: Once upon a time I used to have a ton of projects going on at the simultaneously with the result that I never got anything finished …so I try to be more systematic now, but due to my impulsive nature I have a need to realize my ideas right away, otherwise I tend to get bored by the idea and it just fades. One could say I have a very active imagination and I do get a lot of ideas. At the end of the day I try not to worry too much about where I would like to be and try to make the most of where I am.
AN: Conversely, your work seems very thoughtful with all its layers and depth. Is there any room for spontaneity?
KK: My creative process actually leans a lot on spontaneous ideas and recordings. After having the initial “spark” I usually start out with completely improvised recordings that I start building upon. I add layers on top of layers until the result sounds strikes a chord with me. Sometimes, on the other hand, I end up removing the initial layer if it doesn’t align with the other elements, or stripping down everything except the initial layer. My live shows are always 100% improvised without any prearranged material.
AN: Another amazing fact is that you built your own instrument, which you played at a recent concert, and features on “Arra”. Can you tell us about that?
KK: I love to expand my creativity and do things on different levels, so to be hands on and doing something physical now and then my go-to hobby is woodwork. I have a few guitars that I have assembled from DIY-kits, but as I grew tired of the guitar format I decided to tackle something different. The instrument you are referring to is a 12-string mashup between a lap-guitar and a kantele with two guitar pickups and a contact microphone under the bridge. To play it I use various techniques like playing it with an E-Bow and slide bar or using a classical bow, but also fingerpicking or tapping it.
AN: You also put on a lot of concerts in your native Finland, and have been a regular participant in the Akusmata sound festival. Akusmata sounds incredible, with so many musicians and artists involved. How has your participation in Akusmata helped you to develop your own ideas and projects?
KK: Akusmata is truly a magical place, it is the first ever sound art gallery in Finland and it showcases exclusively sound art installations in addition to sporadic live music events. I originally got in contact with Petri Kuljuntausta, who runs the place, when I needed to find a venue to perform. One thing led to the another and eventually I was also an event organizer! What I do around there is mostly curate live music evenings and help with technical aspects of those events. It is in honesty a two-edged sword, for most parts it is rewarding to give other artists a forum to bring forth their music and sounds specially as I work with a very niche type of music. The concert evenings are very social events where we often sit down and discuss a polyphony of things within sound art and music – share ideas and tips about methods, philosophy and gear. It is almost like a community of likeminded people, both artists and audience alike.
As a downside, the curating and organizing does take a lot of time and energy resources away from my own creativity. Being a family man, I need to carefully allocate my time between family, friends and all the undercurrents of my musical interests. Also it doesn’t help to have a day job that takes a portion out of my everyday life.
AN: Can I ask you about wider artistic projects. I see in the artwork, hear in the music and sense through your collaborations that you see your work much more widely than just a musical experience. Are there other artistic genres or areas that you want to collaborate with – film scores would seem to me an obvious example – or would such collaboration present too much of a constraint?
KK: Interesting you take that up, back in 2009 I recorded a three track release called “3”. The minimalistic drone tracks are based upon a concept of a triptych painting I had painted, which works as the coverart for the said release.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure to realize one of my artistic dreams when I collaborated with a dancer for one of my performances. It was a truly thrilling experience as we both improvised the performance, feeding ideas to each other with sounds and movements.
I also had the interesting possibility last year to accompany a Shibari performance with my sounds.
Usually when I do collaborations with someone, I tend to give the artist at hand very free reign over their part in the process. For example, considering the artworks of my 3 CD’s (The New Seed, Pilgrimage and Ximenes) I gave the cover artist, Mattias Norén/Progart, the theme and title of the record and he worked his magic. Essentially I want the collaborator to be equally invested into the creative process as I am.
Overall, I would love to do more cross-artistic performances. Recording a score for moving pictures would be something I would love to delve into.
AN: I seem to remember you telling me that you’re looking to release another album later this year? How’s that going and what are we to expect?
KK: This is correct, my friends over at Sombre Soniks, a British netlabel, asked if I wish to release something under their label. I have about 45 minutes worth of material recorded already and only need to put some finishing touches on the material, so depending on when I get everything finalized, but I assume it will be out during the fall.
AN: Do you have further projects in mind, or are you taking each step as it comes?
KK: As said I work in a fairly impulsive way, but I have been thinking about collecting my thoughts, methods and philosophies to paper and maybe release it as an essay or lecture if I have a chance. Also pending is an art-video project where I was asked to participate in creating a soundtrack. Beyond that I plan to play some more concerts this year, taking on each new opportunity as it presents itself.
AN: And finally, is there anything you’d like to say to readers of Ave Noctum
KK: Thank you all for your patience with these ravings of a madman. I have been very lucky to work with numerous talented artists from different genres. For the ones aching to delve in deeper into my world, head over to my bandcamp page where most of my discography is available!
AN: Thank you so much, Kenneth! We can resume the conversation at ProgPower in October but for now, it’s been great to hear your thoughts. I wish you all the best in all that you do, and look forward to more intriguing and exciting creations from [ówt krì].