Photographs and Interview with Ariel Kalma commissioned by The Old Carpet Factory.
Hydra, Greece. September, 2019.
You had a busy summer touring Europe’s major cities, releasing on vinyl never before heard archival tapes recorded in the 70s, playing an underwater concert in Moscow during the Red Bull Music Festival. What brings you to Hydra?
An invitation from “Il Vulcano,” an Italian collective founded by Paquita Gordon, to record and film a ritualistic performance alongside Gorkem Sen, the inventor of an instrument called Yaybahar. The performance happened in nature in the secluded village Episkopi on top of a mountain. The Old Carpet Factory became an ideal place to have as a base in the days leading to the performance. I never met Gorkem before coming to Hydra and heard the sound of Yaybahar for the first time at the Old Carpet Factory.
The acoustic-treated soundproof recording room and Neumann and Earthworks microphones impressed me enough to record some test tracks with Gorkem in the studio before the Nature Performance in Episkopi. This was a wonderful meeting of like-minded souls (actually no-minded fits better!) We played along my electronic setup as I blew didgeridoo, saxophones, flutes in my long loop system. As we progressed, I could appreciate not only the music we were creating together, but also the sound quality produced at the Old Carpet Factory.
There is a lot of praise in the media about your early work recorded in the 70’s and also heightened enthusiasm about the projects you did in the recent years. What happened to you during the three decades in between? Were you on a hiatus?
Music industry is a trap. I didn’t want to be in that system. Anyone with a talent is going to climb in popularity. I wanted to develop my spiritual strength and not to be convinced by religion or society. The most important thing for me was to become a good human being. It was very easy for me, because nobody liked my music in the beginning. Nobody wanted it. In the 70s and 80s I played concerts for 50 people, only 5 people stayed till the end.
The business of becoming a better person took me to some very nice places – places where there is a value in the total human potential. And there is a lot to say about potential because potential is a “verb,” it’s not fixed, it changes constantly. While exploring it, I became more successful inside. I never quit practicing my instruments. I always recorded but commercial success wasn’t my main focus.
Two places that had the most profound influence on your career lie very far apart, not only geographically, but also in nature. These places are India, where you spent one year in your late twenties studying music, spirituality and learning breathing techniques, and the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (INA GRM) studio in Paris, founded by Pierre Schaeffer known for pioneering a radical innovation in 20th century music by merging it with science, technology and engineering. How does one combine such antithetical experiences and what can be learned from them?
Before I found myself, I managed to get very lost. When I was 28 years old, a concerned friend gave me a one-way ticket to India four days before the departure date. So I went.
India put me into a cultural shock. At that time the country was still pure, rather isolated from the influence of the Western culture. People had very little in material terms and endlessly more spiritually. I used my time to develop the spirit and the ears. In India I understood what the musicians I admired were talking about when teaching to “go to the end of what you want to say,” “tell the story with your music,” “never finish what you are talking about.”
Another cultural shock came upon my return to Paris. I did not fit in, could not play music as I used to, had to develop my own music. It took me some time to readjust back. A school friend was a technical director at the INA GRM studio and offered me a position of an assistant engineer. The job exposed me to new technology, introduced me to the innovators of the music world like Philip Glass, who was such an avantgarde person. There I developed the long loop system and recorded some of the most significant personal works. The collection “Nuits Blanches au Studio 116” released in June on vinyl by Transversales Disqueswas recorded during that time in the studio at night or during the weekends. However, comparing all these experiences to India, I thought, what a waste!
I can’t avoid being modern but at the same time I think in ancient times. Electronic music and Vedas are always on my mind.
Which work do you consider your magnum opus? Have you recorded it or it’s yet to come?
“Let Temp des Moissons” or “The Time of Harvest” album will carry through time and space – it was “timeless” and “spacious” enough. It represents the spirit I had after coming back from India. I named the album for the future.
After 1000 copies were pressed, I ran out of money and had to be creative. I purchased 1000 blank sleeves, traced my hand on every one of them and signed each copy by hand.
What are your most memorable moments from Hydra besides the cancelled boats back to Athens, the missed flight back to Australia and being stuck here for an extra two days due to strong winds?
The welcoming at the port upon arrival. The donkeys, learning that there are no cars on Hydra. The steps: to get to the house you have to walk your way up from the harbor while donkeys carry your luggage. The light is very interesting: the white and the blue of the houses. The ancient feeling walking through the streets, the polished stones… picturesque!
The Old Carpet Factory is ideal for an easy creative retreat if you plan your trip well and stay ready for the unexpected…
More about Ariel Kalma www.ariel-kalma.com