Resurrecting Memories and Exploring Emotions: An Interview with Abul Mogard

Posted by on April 29, 2014

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Although Serbian soundscape composer Abul Mogard’s career as a musician is relatively new, his work is already turning heads. His self-titled debut cassette on Steve Moore’s VCO label is a mind-blower, not only because of its rich, subtle electronic timbres, but because of how well those elements have been crafted into a heart-wrenching, almost lyrical emotional journey. I was shocked to discover that Mogard only began playing music a few years ago, after retiring from the factory in Belgrade where he worked most of his life. His music was explained as an imaginative recasting of the sounds that droned on throughout his workdays. Since then, he has also released Drifted Heaven, a tape that’s even more effective as post-breakup music than his debut. This year, VCO released a collaboration between Mogard, Justin Wiggand, and Siegmar Fricke, an epic masterpiece perfectly summed up by its title, Lulled Glaciers. Mr. Mogard kindly agreed to answer some questions for me via e-mail. He’s already posted two new songs on Soundcloud, and I can’t wait to hear what he does next.

Diego Aguilar: Let’s start with an introduction. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you like to do on a rainy Sunday?
Abul Mogard: My name is Abul Mogard and I am from Belgrade, in Serbia. In a rainy Sunday I would be at home making music.

First thing’s first: what is that beeping noise at the beginning and end of each tape? Is that the sound your synthesizer makes when you turn it on?
I don’t know what that sound is, but I guess it has been added by VCO Recordings as I noticed it is on other cassettes they released.

According to the label, you didn’t start making music until after you retired from your factory job in an effort to recreate the sounds you’d gotten used to in the workplace. Why did you decide to re-imagine factory sounds, and how did you get started?
I have always been aware of the sounds and how they gave character to a place. When I retired from my job I felt lost. If you are used to an environment for such a long time, it is very hard to adapt to a new condition. I realized that making similar sounds to the ones I was used to in the factory made me feel somehow still in my workplace; I felt I was still [living] the life I was used to and that my identity was in some way preserved. Music was for me, at that time, a way to keep my own self alive.

What kind of factory did you work in, and what was your specific job?
It was a steel plant and I was a production line worker. It was a repetitive process.

What instruments have you been using, and do you have any favorites? Can you tell us about the electronic equipment you designed yourself?
My favorite instruments are my Farfisa Organs because of their rich and organic sound. I used them quite often in my pieces. I also use a Moog keyboard and some of my electronic equipment that I have built such as filters and oscillators. I have recently finished building a more complex synthesizer that I am using on my new compositions.

We’re told you have no formal musical training, yet your music seems to involve a very particular, informed style. Who are your influences, and how did you start your musical training?
I remember myself listening to music and I was always interested in the quality of the sounds around me. However, not having had a music education, I cannot recall earlier influences precisely. More recently, since I started releasing my work, I have become more aware of music and composers. I have been particularly enjoying Steve Reich, Sergei Rachmaninoff and also an electronic group called Coil.

“I would be truly happy if, after listening to my music, people were more aware of their own hidden emotions.”

My training has been a slow and self-[taught] process. In the past, when I was still working at the factory, I used to build small electronic devices such as radio transmitters and receivers. The sound quality was not very good but I became fascinated with the way the interferences randomly changed the music that was broadcasted. This made me want experiment more and I built some more specific machines that generated new sounds. Yet, it was only when I retired that I started using [these] sounds as a way to explore my emotions and recreate my memories. Gradually I acquired more instrumentation and learned how to use the equipment. All this practice took years to develop.

How is the music scene in Serbia? Do you play any local shows or get together with other musicians in Belgrade?
I don’t go out to see concerts or play shows so I am not really aware of the music scene in Serbia.

Your songs feel very cinematic, as though each chord had a particular landscape we’re meant to envision. (Today I was listening to “Drifted Heaven” at a bus stop, in the pouring rain, and the sun came out just as I flipped it over and heard the first chords of “Unarmoured Love.” Great song for seeing rainbows, I must say.) Are you visualizing anything while you compose? Where is the music supposed to take us?
My music is very personal and when I compose I try to dig deeply into my thoughts and feelings. I believe that where the music takes the listener depends on their state of mind. Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact that “Unarmoured Love” is a good piece for rainbows. I certainly never thought about it.

On a related note, there’s a real breadth of emotional pathos in each tape. By the end of each side I get the sense that I’ve felt every emotion in existence. What do you hope to effect in the minds of your listeners? How will my life be improved (or not) after listening to your music?
Making music for me is a necessity to explore, express and document my feelings. I am glad that my recorded states of mind are finding resonance in other people’s hearts even though it was not my intent. I would be truly happy if, after listening to my music, people were more aware of their own hidden emotions.

Your new tape “Drifted Heaven” experiments with more rhythms, particularly the dark track “Tumbling Relentless Heaps” — were you going for any particular new direction with this tape?
On “Drifted Heaven” I worked using several layers of sounds and for that particular piece I experimented with rhythm for the first time. I was interested in finding new sound textures that would help me express my emotional state. The work took shape quite slowly and I spent more time modelling the compositions than I did with my first album.

This new “Lulled Glaciers” tape you did with Justin Wiggan and Siegmar Fricke is spectacular. I was struck by how incredibly unified the sound was — it doesn’t feel like a collaboration at all. How did you guys get together, and what did each member contribute to the finished product?
First of all, thank you for the kind words. Justin Wiggan wrote me a message proposing to collaborate. I liked the idea as I never made music with anyone else before and thought of involving Siegmar Fricke with whom I have been in touch for a while. Justin and I sent audio files to Siegmar who then compiled them, treated them and added his own input. I think each of us provided very different material that Siegmar Fricke carefully mixed together.

imageThe cover art for your albums, all by Marja de Sanctis, fits the music quite aptly. How did you end up working with her, and do you think your next release will also feature her art?
Marja contacted me a few years ago to ask if she could use one of my tracks for a short animation she was doing. I liked her work and when my first album was completed I asked her if she could do the artwork for it. I agree with you and I think the artworks really fit the music. I surely hope to work with her again in the future.

Are there any artists in other mediums (literature, painting, etc.) that have influenced your work?
Certainly I am influenced by what is around me but it does not have to be necessarily art. Nevertheless, I have been recently reading the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. I cannot tell how much this has actually influenced my work, but I could sometimes associate the places or circumstances he described with my own reminiscences, which inspired the titles of some of my new compositions.

This might be an over-analyzed issue by now, but can you comment on your use of both analog and digital media? How do you see your cassettes, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud pages working together, and what do you think this means for the future of music consumption?
I am not an expert in music consumption and distribution. I started my Soundcloud page in 2010 to see if other people would appreciate what I was doing. The idea of releasing audio cassettes and using websites such as Bandcamp came from VCO Recordings and I trusted them, as they have a lot more experience in this field than me.

At the moment I am using Soundcloud mainly to share my unreleased compositions that hopefully will be released on other mediums.

You recently posted a new song on your Soundcloud page. What can you tell us about your future release(s)?
At the moment I am in touch with a label from the United Kingdom called Emotional Response and we are working on an upcoming release but it is not finalized yet.