Expect the unexpected, better yet, expect nothing at all. All it takes is a leap of fate to engulf in the inception of sonic waves and dreamlike visual scapes that will shed all doubt that you are exactly where you need to be.
Avsluta plays in the liminal zones. Those between ambient and rave, between improvisation and composition, between life, objects and the environment. Her productions are suffused with a mystic atmosphere made of soft live acoustics, arcing tones and oblique nods to the dancefloor. She explores similarly ambivalent sonic territories through her radio show and platform, Introspective Electronics, however the live environment is where her ideas are captured most acutely, as she had the good grace to demonstrate when she posted up for a mesmerising two hours at Studio Sova last year.
“I actually didn’t expect it to be that long. I just kept on going,” Lucie Stepankova (as she’s known to you and I) told me when we caught up last month. “For a long time I’ve wanted to include more objects in the kind of electronic music performance that I do and this was really the perfect opportunity.” Just listening to the set is enough of a treat, but I’d recommend hitting full screen on the video and going for the total immersion version. That way you can appreciate the full extent of the Avsluta sorcery; the way she teases sounds from bells, beads, bowls and bric-a-brac, feeding them into her hardware set up where they’re subtly treated and melded with pre-prepared material. Augmented with Hanzo’s intricate live visuals, it feels as if you’re peering through a wormhole at some cyber-occultist seance.
This halfway point between improvisation and structure is an area Lucie has explored before, but she says the performance at Studio Sova was the furthest she’s pushed the concept. “It was the start of something that I want to develop a bit more. I do some performances that are just the objects and some processing with a computer, but here there were lots of tracks that were already made and I wanted to merge that with some more hands-on things. So it was kind of testing the ground of how this can all work together.”
Surprisingly, Lucie came to music relatively late. She first got into electronic music via a route familiar to many: the hedonic buzz of the rave. “I remember my first time in Berghain when I was like 20 and I thought ‘Wow what is this crazy energy!’ So I kind’ve flew into Ableton and started trying to make techno.” But the desire to emulate the Berlin thump didn’t last long. “I did a few techno tracks but that quickly became a bit boring because it was too structured. Also I’d heard so much good techno music and I just thought it would be near impossible to level with it. Some things are better left to those who have a more natural affinity for them.”
After dabbling in the rough tough regions of electronic music production, Lucie found herself drawn to softer soundscapes. “Ambient came and everything changed. It seemed like the horizons were way more open. So I bought my first synth - an Arturia MiniBrute - and started jamming on that.” Soon enough she was enrolled at the Sound Art and Design course at UAL, where her interests broadened to elements outside the hardware realm. Lectures and workshops on improvisation by legendary live electro-acoustician David Toop led to a particularly fruitful relationship: “Improv was something that I could do without any formal education so I kind’ve grabbed it. Then we slowly started performing together and from that it became just like a friendship in a way. I think of him as my mentor really.” When Toop stepped down from lecturing the course Lucie was asked to replace him and accepted. Big shoes to fill, but a telling endorsement of her abilities and intellect.
Last year the pair decided to work together on a release for Takoroku, Cafe OTO’s platform for lockdown projects. “I said ‘Maybe you want to experiment and work on something together’ and we just started sending each other files. So one would send something and the other would arrange it, and we would kind’ve work on the finishing bits together. It was back and forth.” Again, Avsluta finds herself in “the spaces in between,” as she refers to them. The duo are improvising with each, one posing a question and the other responding as they would in any normal performance, but the parts are taking place in different spaces at different times, connected only by the threads of cyberspace.
There is an inherent paradox at play when recording improvised music, a schizophonic discordance (if I may be so bold). The sounds are the product of spontaneity and reaction and the straining tension between each moment and the next, so to remove them from that time and place is almost to rob them of their value. But then, doesn’t all recorded music originate from some single snapshot in time?
It’s a doozy, one I’m certainly not prepared to launch into here. Luckily, Avsluta’s work interrogates the question far better than I ever could, and does so with the grace and emotion of a ballet dancer’s shadow. Seems to me like the spaces in between are the spaces to be in.